How to sell advertising space on your website

Do you want to sell advertising space on your website?

This is what we do for a living so get in touch if you want us to help you make money from your website. If you want to have a crack at it yourself though, here are my ten top tips for selling ad space on your site.

1. Know your audience

Whether your site is a small niche site or a mainstream consumer site you need to have the facts at your fingertips about the visitors to your site.

The most common information source is Google Analytics which, once installed in your site, will give you a wealth of information about your users’ surfing habits.

Key information includes number of unique users (UU), number of page impressions, page views per user and dwell times.

If you are selling to advertising agencies they’ll verify the information you give them on third party tools such as Alexa, ComScore or Quantcast so make sure your site has a listing on these sites at bare minimum.

2. Adserving

You’ll need a system to serve advertising across your site. This is what an ad server does.

Advertisers frequently want to target certain areas of your site or of your audience.

Targeted digital advertising campaigns include running adverts against relevant content (i.e. within a certain section of your site), frequency capping (making sure the same user is only exposed to an ad campaign a limited number of times), geo-targeting (geographic specification, so for instance an ad campaign only runs to users in the UK), and daily capping (to ensure the entire budget isn’t blown in a single day!).

There are a number of great free adservers available. We like Google DFP and we used to use Open X.

3. To phone or to network? – that is the question

The answer is that unless you are a very versatile sales person then it’s likely you’re better suited to one type of sales over another.

Some sales people put in 100 targeted calls a day, whilst others aim to attend 2 or 3 meetings a day.

Depending on your core skills (and you know what they are) you should focus in this area.

If you’re making lots of calls, then research who you’re going to speak to outside of core selling time (9.30am-midday and 2pm-4.30pm) and then blast through the calls when everyone is at their desk.

Don’t be distracted by admin during these precious times.

If you’re a networker then get meetings through your existing contacts and by linking up with people at networking events.

Go to as many relevant events (drinks, seminars, conferences, exhibitions) as you can and join associations that will help you network with people you want to do business with.

4. Ad agencies (you’ve got to love them!)

Most bigger brands use advertising agencies to help them plan and buy their advertising campaigns. Agencies are who you will mostly be selling to.

Sometimes you can do a deal with the brand directly (especially if you are a niche operator in their space) but if you do find yourself batted back to the agency it can be pretty hard work to find who you should be talking to.

There are a bunch of subscription products that will help you through this minefield – one we have used is BRAD Insight’s ALF which gives you a great breakdown of which agencies act for which clients. The same company also publish BRAD which is a subscription product that the agencies use to find relevant publishers. Make sure you get a free listing here and you’ll get the odd incoming call from agencies who want to buy space on your site.

5. Direct-to-client

If you’re selling directly to the client start by ensuring you’re speaking to ‘THE MAN’/‘THE WOMAN’ – ie they have the money, authority and need to deal with you. There are lots of people who work in businesses who’ll be happy to chat to you all day but could not and would not ever place any business with you.

You have been warned!

Once you know you’re talking with the right person then try to have a proper conversation (an old adage is that you have one mouth and two ears so use them in that proportion).

Ask open questions not closed ones (‘what…’ and ‘how…’ questions are open ones) to get them talking as the more you can find out the greater the chance of discovering an opportunity to do business.

Always ask for business at the end of the call – this doesn’t have to be crass – just ask for the business.

6. Media packs and presentations

When you make lots of cold calls, you’ll hear “can you send me something” on a regular basis.

So, send them something, and make it good!

If you’re not sure what a media pack should look like then download a few from your competitors sites, pick the best one, add your brand and stats and hey presto – you have a great media pack.

Similarly if you are doing sales presentations make sure you spend some time pulling together a great presentation that gets across everything you’d want to say and then practice your delivery in front of the mirror.

Whatever you do, do not practice your delivery in front of a potential client!

7. CRM system

This is an acronym for Customer Relationship Management and if you are going to be making lots of sales calls (or even if you just need a way to organise yourself) these systems are invaluable.

You can input all of your contacts so you can manage targeted mailshots/e-mail campaigns.

You can keep notes of all correspondence and phone calls as well as append any documents shared between you and the client.

It’s amazing how remembering the name of someone’s dog can be an icebreaker when you speak to them a month later.

You can set reminders in the system for you to call or meet people at a pre-arranged time and, in general, web-based CRM systems can be heavily customised to suit your exact need.

There are loads out there but some of the best are Salesforce, ACT and Goldmine. Licences are as little as £99 per year.

8. Surpass expectations

Think about any situation in life, it could be the performance of a company on the stock market, or the time that your wife/husband is expecting you in after a night out.

Very often, as long as you surpass the original expectation then there will be a positive outcome.

People like to be in the loop of what to expect and are pleasantly surprised if you over-deliver.

So, it should come as no surprise that you should set clear expectations (“we’ll deliver a campaign with a click-through-rate of at least 0.1%”) and then you should over deliver.

If you’ve delivered an improvement on your original commitment (“I’ll be home by midnight darling” – and you get home at 11.30) then human nature is to trust you in the same scenario again.

Always over-deliver against the expectations you originally set and you will win the repeat business (and get to go out again the following week).

9. Passion, enthusiasm & complete belief

There are a lot of people in life who are successful because their enthusiasm sweeps you up.

Selling is an extension of this: if you’re not passionate about your product no-one else will be. You need to believe in your product and credibly project that belief.

Your 100th call of the day needs to be as sparky as the first – even if people said “No” in the previous 99.

And remember the old ad sales adage – ‘every No brings you one step closer to the next Yes’.

10. USPs aren’t dead

Everyone wants to know what your unique selling point is.

Most products don’t have one – or so you think. Not so. You can, and really should, find your USP.

If you research your market and competitors thoroughly (when was the last time you did a ‘Billy call’ to get all of your competitors media packs and then actually read them all?) then you’ll find areas where you have the edge – then all you have to do is leverage them!

11. Handshakes are (nearly) dead

People have a way of ‘misremembering’ things.

So, if you strike an agreement with someone, make sure all of the salient points are in a written agreement signed by both parties.

Then you have something to over-deliver against and something to fall back on if there is ever a dispute.

Agencies don’t tend to sign publisher agreements, but have their own booking systems with their own Ts&Cs – use these if you have to in order to get written agreement.

If someone doesn’t want to sign a deal, be really careful to get payment in advance or at least an agreement in writing (by e-mail for example).

Some people still shake on deals but I know someone who went bust for the sake of £250k when a client reneged on their promise, so why take the risk?

12. Set targets

Finally, point 12 of 10 (always over-deliver against expectations, remember!) set yourself targets.

This could be the number of calls per day, number of meetings booked, number of converted sales, value of converted sales etc.

Give yourself something to aim for and then over-achieve.

This is the same principle of ‘Every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’.

Break things down into manageable bite sized chunks and enjoy your small successes.

It feels great to beat targets and when you look at your monthly sales figures it feels great to have surpassed your targets too!


And if you do all of this and you don’t make more sales I’ll get my wife to eat one of her hats.


Written by

Chris is founder of The Internet Works, whose aim is to help clients make more money from their web presence via Digital Ad Sales, SEO, Software Design, Social Media and Web Applications

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