Selling Ads Online: How to Easily Sell Ad Space On Your Website

Read time: 13 minutes

It’s no secret that website owners can make a lot of money.

Whether you already own a website or need some ideas to get started, many publishers wonder how to start increasing the amount of revenue their website generates each month.

Selling ad space is one of the easiest ways to make money online using a website.

There are many ways to go about the process of selling ads (also referred to as “ad inventory” or “ad zones” when being sold by a publisher), many of which can become reliable sources of passive income.

By the end of this guide, you’ll understand how to monetize your website by allowing advertisers to buy ad space directly through different methods from your website.

Table of Contents:

How much money can you make selling ad space on a website?

Let’s cover the most exciting question first.

The answer?

It depends on a lot of things.

In some instances, people dream about simply making an extra $100 USD a month.

In these cases, people are looking for a “side hustle” project to supplement their income.

In some instances, people dream about making $1,000 – $1,500 USD a month.

In these cases, people are looking to replace part or all of their income through ad revenue.

In some instances, businesses dream about making $350,000,000 USD a month.

In these cases, corporate publishers want to turn their websites into major revenue engines.

If a website follows the guidelines outlined below, all of these outcomes are possible.

The higher quality a website becomes, the more ad revenue it’s capable of generating.

Higher revenue potential is also achieved through an understanding of the different ways to sell ad space on a website, as well as the tools used to serve ads.

This guide covers these factors, but it also pays to keep up with ad tech’s financial landscape and the fluctuating cost of “ad tech tax” – especially as a larger publisher.

There are a lot of different ways to monetize a website besides ads, too.

We’ll only be covering how to monetize a website with ads in this guide.

But if you want to get creative, this list of 33 ways to monetize a website is a fantastic source for more ideas.

Website guidelines for publishers selling ads online

Not all websites are made equal.

The average person sees around 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day.

What advertisers really want is for their message to reach the right audience.

High quality websites are more likely to accomplish this objective with less ad spend.

So, what attributes are advertisers looking for when they purchase ad space online?

Traffic Numbers

It’s basic, but a website needs traffic in order to show ads to visitors.

More importantly, the traffic a website receives should be steady and sustainable.

The role website traffic plays in monetization depends on the type of business relationship.

For instance, some ad networks and affiliate programs have minimum traffic requirements.

When applying to the Google AdSense platform, the recommended minimum number of daily visitors is around 250.

When selling ad space directly to advertisers, the number of impressions (the number of times each ad is delivered and viewed by a visitor) is an important topic of negotiation.

While it varies (and certainly, it never hurts to send proposals), when dealing with advertisers directly, the recommended minimum number of daily visitors is around 500 to 1,000.

However, don’t get discouraged if traffic to your website is currently low.

Traffic isn’t the only thing that matters to advertisers.

Audience Loyalty

High traffic is good.

Loyal traffic is better.

You may still be able to sell ad space from a low traffic website.

The level of engagement your audience displays is a valuable asset to advertisers.

Advertisers are willing to pay multiple times to get their message in front of a returning group of highly engaged and loyal website visitors and email subscribers more than once.

Being able to prove an audience’s engagement levels through content comments, email click/response rates, and other interactive signals increases the value of available ad space.

Quality Content

It goes without saying, but websites need to feature original content in order to sell ads.

Websites that focus on specific niches (topics) are typically more valuable to advertisers.

Niche content allows advertisers to understand what type of traffic will visit each page.

For example, advertisers in the automotive industry are keen to negotiate deals with websites that publish a lot of content surrounding driving, car parts, and car repairs.

In contrast, there are certain types of content which can limit a website’s ad opportunities.

Controversial niches including weapons, drugs, pornography, and gambling, may dissuade certain advertisers from associating their brand with a website, and some ad networks and affiliate programs may reject applications from websites that focus on these types of content.

Need tips on how to create great content? Learn from one of the famous kings of content.

Functional Design

Having quality content is great, but the way it’s presented is equally important.

A well designed website not only improves user experience – it appeals to advertisers, too.

When navigation is simple, users can explore a site’s content more easily.

For instance, relevant “related content” sections can increase clickthrough rates.

The more of a website a visitor explores, the more ad zones they’re exposed to.

Ad zones should also be strategically placed to be undisruptive, but retain ad viewability.

Eye-catching graphics, appealing visual design, and unintrusive interactive sections like comments can increase time on page, and subsequently, increase exposure time to ads.

When optimising a website’s design, don’t forget to pay attention to page load times, too.

For actionable website design tips for effectively presenting ads, check out part 1 and part 2 of a series on best practices to follow in website ad structure design.

Informative Transparency

Advertisers want to know more about who they’re working with before they buy ad space.

When it comes to initiating business relationships, transparency is key.

The more information about who owns the website, where it’s hosted, the history of the site, and what it’s core values and objectives are can all be helpful information to include.

It’s also particularly helpful to prospective advertisers if a website’s traffic metrics are visible.

Whether displayed somewhere on the website or sent via email response, analytics like website traffic, time spent on page, clickthrough rates, and others should all be available.

Like anyone looking to make a purchase, advertisers want to be able to make the most informed decisions they can before they commit to buying a website owner’s ad inventory.

One of the best ways to showcase this information is by creating a media kit.

This post has 20 media kit examples to give you some presentational inspiration.

The most important step of selling ads: Getting an ad server

Every publisher requires their own ad server (known as a “first party” ad server when used by publishers) in order to participate in forms of website advertising that involve ad creatives.

An “ad creative” refers to the finalized ad delivered to a website by an advertiser, including creative media such as images, videos, and audio.

Ad servers are simply pieces of technology that automatically manage decisions about which ads to show on your website, based on what details are known about a visitor.

Ad servers automatically collect data such as impressions and clicks, and provide reporting options for you (the publisher) to gain insights about your ad performance.

They also serve as a library to store and manage the creative media of the ads themselves.

As a convenient analogy, ad servers are sometimes referred to as the “Wordpress” of online advertising – in that they’re used to store, manage, and choose which ads to display from across your various ad campaigns (similar to how WordPress stores, manages, and displays webpage content).

Typically, you can install an ad server’s functionality by simply copying and pasting a simple piece of code (also referred to as a “tag”) into the code of your website, which allows the ad server to start functioning.

Check out AdButler’s ad server solution

Different ways for publishers to sell ad space to advertisers

Once you have your ad server, the world of selling ads opens up entirely.

Some of the most popular and effective ways to sell your ad inventory to advertisers include:

Method 1 – Programmatic Advertising

Programmatic advertising is the use of technology to manage the process of buying and selling of ad space automatically.

While this may sound like it offers less “control” over the process, it’s actually the opposite.

Programmatic advertising offers a wide range of control options that benefit both publishers and advertisers, while saving immense time by eliminating the need for manual negotiations.

As a publisher, you can easily take part in this automated process as a “seller” or “supplier” of ad space within the programmatic ecosystem.

While the programmatic process can seem overwhelming when looking “under the hood”, there are only two main technologies you need to understand to get started as a publisher:

Step 1 – Get an Ad Server (Covered Above)

Step 2 – Connect to an SSP:

SSP stands for “Supply-Side Platform” or “Sell-Side Platform”.

An SSP is a publisher’s gateway to programmatic advertising.

SSPs are pieces of technology that connect you (the publisher) to the other parts of the automated programmatic advertising ecosystem, which include:

• DSPs (Demand Side Platforms, aka an advertiser’s gateway to programmatic advertising)
• Ad Networks (Intermediary platforms that list available publisher ad space or “inventory”)
• Ad Exchanges (Online marketplaces where advertisers and publishers interact without intermediaries)

If you imagine your ad server as a computer, you can interpret an SSP as your “connection” that allows the “computer” to interact with the rest of the programmatic advertising “network”.

It isn’t necessary to understand exactly how each of these technologies work in order to get started (as this begins getting into the “under the hood” part of programmatic advertising).

Different methods for selling your ads online become available through an SSP’s connection:

• RTB (Real-Time Bidding)
• Header Bidding (A more effective, subset method of RTB bidding)
• PMP (Stands for “Private Marketplace” – only allowing specifically invited advertisers to bid)
• Programmatic Direct (Bypassing auctions and selling at a fixed price to an advertiser)

Each of these selling methods offer different ways to monetize your website’s ad space.

These are the basics, but we would encourage you to research more about each method based on your specific needs (our objective is just to get you started as quickly as possible).

Bonus Step – Avoid Confusion:

It’s a cardinal rule that ad tech descriptions can be confusing.

In modern times, many functionalities of ad servers often overlap with those of SSPs.

To avoid confusion, remember that you always need an SSP to connect to the programmatic advertising ecosystem if you’re interested in selling your ad space online automatically.

Method 2 – Ad Networks

Ad networks, as previously mentioned, are part of the programmatic advertising ecosystem.

However, publishers can also interact directly with ad networks outside of that ecosystem.

An ad network is simply a platform which connects advertisers with publishers (like you) who are looking to sell their ad space – the ad network’s functional service is to index and categorize a wide range of available publisher ad inventory into easily searchable lists.

In essence, an ad network’s service can be understood as simplifying and facilitating ad buying through a conveniently managed platform for both advertisers and publishers.

In some cases, if a publisher only wishes to sell their ads exclusively through a particular ad network, it’s possible to do so by using an ad server owned by that ad network.

The drawback of relying on an ad network’s ad server, however, is that it can’t be used to serve ads outside of the available formats and options offered by that specific ad network.

In most cases, it’s highly recommended for publishers to own their own ad server if they wish to engage in the other types of ad selling as described in this guide.

Additionally, like any convenience based service, ad networks maintain themselves by taking a cut of a publisher’s ad revenue, a drawback which many website owners prefer to avoid.

Nevertheless, ad networks offer an easy to access, guided approach to selling ads reliably online, and may be a preferable standalone option for novice publishers who want to start selling ads.

Method 3 – Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is another easy way for publishers to monetize their website with ads.

In many cases, all a publisher needs is a link from an affiliate program to get started, making affiliate marketing arguably the easiest method of all for generating ad revenue on a website.

While advertisers often need to pay to join affiliate programs, publishers may do so for free, further increasing the accessibility of this approach to monetization.

Affiliate marketing involves a web publisher (either an individual or a business) deciding to promote products and/or services on their website in exchange for a commission fee.

Affiliate marketing is also one of the most diverse methods of monetization. Publishers can make use of blogging, video, email, any form of display advertising, and even social media.

As a performance-based marketing method, there are several different compensation models frequently used by affiliate marketing programs:

• PPS (Pay per sale)
• CPA (Cost per action)
• CPC (Cost per click)
• CPM (“Cost per mile”, meaning cost per 1,000 impressions)

The majority of affiliate programs use PPS compensation, as it alleviates the risk of not turning a profit presented to advertisers by the other models.

Affiliate programs often pay anywhere from 30% to 50% commission rates on closed sales.

Method 4 – Selling Ad Space Directly: Publisher to Advertiser

While it sounds easy, selling ads directly to advertisers can be a complicated process.

However, it’s also the most lucrative.

Because selling ads directly doesn’t involve a “middleman”, publishers can avoid fees, negotiate their own prices, and create custom contract arrangements with advertisers.

Selling ads directly to advertisers also opens up different payment methods and options.

But, with that said, the time cost of performing all of these actions manually adds up:

• Researching and prospect hunting for potential advertisers
• Cold calling and cold emailing the proposal
• Negotiating contract terms and pricing
• Configuring the ad campaign based on the contract
• Uploading and managing creative ad media manually
• Providing status updates and performance reports to advertisers

To overcome these time consuming obstacles, many publishers implement a self-serve advertising technology to strike a balance between manual action and automation.

Self-serve advertising comes in different forms, but typically includes the ability for a publisher to establish a self-serve advertising page or “portal” on their website.

The self-serve ad portal allows advertisers to purchase, configure, and place ads directly on the publisher’s website, alleviating much of the need for manual interaction.

As a reminder from earlier in the guide, an always-useful sales resource for publishers to create is a media kit that showcases their website’s information and statistics to advertisers.

But how can publishers actually find advertisers to work with directly?

To find advertisers, publishers can try researching websites and blogs similar to their own to identify brands that are buying ads, as well as search for representatives on LinkedIn.

Additional tips for finding advertisers to sell ads to directly can also be found in this post.

What’s the best way for publishers to sell ads on their website?

A lot has been covered in this guide – so let’s recap.

Whether your ad revenue objective as a publisher is $100, $1,500, or $350,000,000 per month, you know that it’s possible if you continue to build loyal audience traffic through quality content and a strategy for delivering ads unobtrusively through a well designed website.

(Of course, be realistic about setting your objectives, based on your resources. If you’re an individual looking to make $350,000,000 per month… we’re rooting for you!)

• You know that a media kit to showcase your website’s performance is a powerful sales tool.

• You know that ad networks and affiliate marketing are easy ways to start selling ads online.

• You know that programmatic and self-serve ads offer higher price control and efficiency.

Finally, you also know that a reliable ad server is a core component of the most sophisticated and lucrative ad selling strategies.

So, the verdict?

It (still) depends on a lot of things.

Some questions you may want to ask before making your decision:

• How much time am I going to commit to this project?
• Am I comfortable with managing a direct sales process?
• Could I be making more ad revenue and saving time with an ad server?
• Am I alright with a “middleman” taking a cut of my ad revenue (ad networks)?
• Is my website’s niche suitable for product and service reviews (affiliate marketing)?

There are a lot of factors to consider, and you don’t have to consider them alone.

The AdButler team has over two decades of experience in adtech, helping publishers like you to make informed decisions about selling ads on their website(s).

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