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Direct Ad Sales

     
7:53 pm on Jul 24, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I'm going insane on this, guys, and can use some advise from those of you that sell your own ads.

My oldest site is 17 years old, with a regional demographic. I block most non-US IPs at the firewall, so 99.5% of traffic is from the US. And I have around 120,000 unique visitors per week, and about 5 million monthly pageviews.

I have 54 other sites, too (all targeting other regions in the US), and combined have around 15 million monthly pageviews.

I have Google banner ads, but I also set up 300x100 photo-text ads for local ad sales. I built an ad manager for the photo-text banners, so the user can log in and create their own banner without any help. They can also update it on the fly, as many times as they want.

I set the rate to be very cheap in the hope of getting a higher number of advertisers that stay on for a long time, and because I prefer to target small and micro businesses that can't necessarily afford more expensive advertising. Instead of PPC, which I was afraid would be too confusing to the average business in these regions, I simply did a flat monthly rate of $30 per site for unlimited impressions and clicks. I set that rate in 2004, and have never changed it.

On my main site last month (June 2019), the average banner had 841,058 impressions and 214 clicks. That's an average cost-per-click of about $0.14, or about $0.035 per 1,000 impressions.

Sounds great, right?

Well, the problem is that I get VERY few businesses signing up for the photo-text ad! Last month, I had a mere 11 advertisers. Worse, most of my new advertisers are short-term; eg, they just have a single item for sale (like a car), or it's a business on the verge of bankruptcy and this is their last-ditch effort.

I've hired and fired no less than 20 ad salesmen over the years, but have the same problem with every one of them: at the interview I repeatedly talk about how I need someone to go out to businesses and talk to the managers in person, but in every single case, they just sit at home and wait for the phone to ring. But shoot, I could do that myself and not split the money! LOL No one wants to actually go out and get the business, so I end up letting them go after a few months.

The pay rate I'm giving is flat commission, 50% of the sale for as long as they're advertising. Which, obviously, $15 per sale isn't HUGE, but it's an easy sell. And since the commission is residual each month, they could just sell 2 ads per business day for 6 months, then sit back and get paid $2400 /month for the rest of the year!

In the beginning I gave a $1000 base + commission, but they never sold anything so I just wasted money.

I've considered raising the ad rate to give a better commission, but then I risk losing the few I currently have. And, of course, a higher price means it will be a slightly harder sell.

Can you guys suggest some ideas I haven't considered? A way to get more businesses to sign up without having to aggressively sell to them? Or a way to find a hungry old-school salesman that actually wants to work?

And how do you determine what your banner is actually worth? I would think that basing it on $1 per click would be fair, but I'm not sure that I would have people continuing to pay $200 each month. And, of course, as I get more advertisers then the number of impressions (and presumably clicks) would go down.
12:26 am on July 27, 2019 (gmt 0)

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@csdude55 ...

Know your market, know your reach, have the traffic, THEN find the advertisers THAT fit, both demographics and geography. When I say FIND, I mean work at it. One bulldog ad sales person can make (or break) a campaign.

As for setting values you can only do that by offering RESULTS ... to the ADVERTISER.

While all this seems like nickel and dime stuff (thousands of a cent per ad) the result DESIRED is conversions, both on your end and the advertisers. If those are NOT happening, try something different, otherwise both you and the advertiser are bleeding cash for no benefit.

I can't tell you what works. I could give a long list of what does NOT work.

What I know works for me is knowing my ad client, my market, and my user base. Basic commonsense and reasonable expectations.

Content and advertiser must match as closely as possible so that the serps feeding the SITE/CONTENT will present the best face for both site and advertiser. (You don't put an ad for "guppy food" on a site that deals with "bovine fodder")

More importantly, don't promise more than can delivered. MEANWHILE, the short term stuff (I have a car for sale) can fill in the gaps, but in and of itself will NOT pay the bills, unless you have 10 zillion of them.

My DS (direct sales) are in an industry where the products start at 7 figures, a rather rarefied market ... and advertising there is a completely different game. Small stuff, local, generic, is something I used to do in PRINT media (mid-1960's-1980s) and that was such a rat race of 50-100 phone calls, 10-30 SNAIL MAIL LETTERS, and 4-6 OFFICE VISITS to glad hand ... PER DAY. Advertising direct is not easy---hence the love of g's gut and paste (sic, no typo in there!).

What I will suggest is to offer your SALES folks $150 a week with 25% net on sales/conversions per month. The go-getters will get it, and go get it!
8:19 am on July 27, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I think you have the same problem as the farmers who complain that they get paid very little for their product, which they see being sold very expensive in the supermarket.

In these times we have overproduction of advertising of reasonable quality but the problem is that content creators
a) we feel very much above administrative or commercial tasks
(b) we do not understand the value of marketing in the production chain

In the end, as always, either you have a differentiating value (an incredible site that guarantees advertisers a stratospheric conversion) that automatically sells your advertising, or you improve marketing, going out yourself to sell your product because no one is going to sell it with the solvency and passion with which you are going to do it when you go out on the street.

This is what (in Spain) has always been called "getting your shoes dirty".


(According to your own numbers, if you had done it in the last four years, now you would have an additional 19,600 dollars per month in your pocket, which is not bad at all
8:44 pm on July 27, 2019 (gmt 0)

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we feel very much above administrative or commercial tasks

We say the same thing in the US about getting your shoes dirty :-)

But my issue is a little different. I get over 1,000 emails a day (not counting spam) that need replies, I have to moderate the message boards and classifieds, I handle all of the web design and development, as well as networking... there's just not enough time in the day. I literally wake up and start working, then work until I go to bed.

Web design is a priority because I desperately need to rebuild my sites to be more modern and mobile friendly, but I've seriously been working on that for over a year and I'm not even halfway done... because I have so many other duties that I'm juggling at the same time.

I don't make enough money to hire someone to do any of those jobs while I do the ad sales. It would require at least 3 or 4 full time employees, 1 or 2 of which would be skilled labor that would expect a relatively high salary.

So instead, all that I can afford to hire is a commission salesman. But that seems to be a dead art.

It's a catch-22 that's seriously killing my business. I can't do everything, and anything that I put on pause to do something else ends up hurting the business as a whole.
9:46 pm on July 27, 2019 (gmt 0)

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There is a lot to unpack and consider in the OP.

First, the data points:
* US regional site
---120,000 unique visitors/week
---aka 120K * 52wk/yr / 12 mon/yr = 520,000 unique visitors/month.
---5-million page views/month
---aka 5-million pv/mon / 520,000 visitors = 9.6 pv per visitor.

* 54 other US regional sites
---15-million page views/month
---aka 15-million pv/mon / 9.6 pv per visitor = 1.5 million unique visitors/month.
Note: extrapolated from main site stats as likely max. May well be less undercounting unique visitors.

By these numbers you are looking at between 6.5 and perhaps 8-million unique visitors per month. On the face of it well worth selling direct ad space. However, several points:
1. are all the sites within the same niche or at least within a single overarching niche?
If yes, then they can be marketed together to advertisers.
If no, then they need to be appropriately segmented then each grouping marketed separately.

2. what is your level of confidence in the humanity of those numbers?
If you are using common hosting solutions and relying upon GoAn to identify bots I'd suggest you are undercounting bots by 50%. Conservatively.
If you are using Cloudfare or similar hosting I'd suggest you are undercounting bots by 20-25%.
Further, if those uniques include 'good' bots they need still be removed from calculation.

3. what is your current Google banner ad conversion rate? MoM? YoY? Velocity? Trajectory?
This is the foundation from which all conversion calculations will be derived until you have explicit direct ad comparisons. When selling to advertisers you need hard numbers based on existing reality. And it is usually better to under promise.

4. what is the source of those traffic numbers?
Is it mostly/all Google search referral? Or is it more diverse?
If diverse, what is the volume and CR for each referrer?


Second, the value on offer:
This is a serious problem. You are not going to outcompete Walmart nor third party ads networks with a similar offering. 250x250 (or your 300x100) ads were 'the' way to sell direct space 15-25 years ago. Once AdSense et al arrived they had, by a decade ago, basically wiped that format from viable contention.

Ye olde typical text/image ad offering is unlikely to provide sufficient value above similar third party offerings. You have to offer uniqueness, customisation, differentiation, etc. The most popular methods the past few years have been native ads, in image/vid product placement, in content mentions/testimonials. However, there are others and variations and combinations.

The critical points are:
* the offering must be sufficiently 'other' to tempt the advertiser to trial change.
* it must be dramatically 'more' to garner the 10-20+ times the usual third party network rates.
* imagination is almost a requirement.
* do NOT set pricing too low. If you do not value your offering why should the advertiser?
* unless you are targeting small business you need to network and get introductions to CMOs and ad agency product managers. These folks aren't interested in sales type people. They will require professional presentations.
* small business will nickel and dime you to death so set a level for an offering and be willing to walk; think advertising NOT listing service!
* learn your niche advertising; it's players, their budgets, their venues. And price accordingly.


For idea reading, some threads I started, a decade ago, at Cre8 (RIP), courtesy of IA WayBackMachine:
* Lift Up Your Eyes From The Adsense Plains, There is Ad-Gold in Those Hills Over Yonder [web.archive.org], January 2008.
* Lift Up Your Eyes II, Ad-Gold Has Been Found in Web Multimedia [web.archive.org], July 2008.
* A Webdevs Dream: Ads-as-content, Coming Up From An Underground Near You [web.archive.org], September 2008.
All that was in play a decade ago by a few sites. It's almost mainstream now. Most webdevs are wrong in what they think advertising on the web is or where it is going. You need to get caught up, the past decade has been wild and the next is looking wilder. :)

Added:

But my issue is a little different. I get over 1,000 emails a day (not counting spam) that need replies, I have to moderate the message boards and classifieds, I handle all of the web design and development, as well as networking... there's just not enough time in the day. I literally wake up and start working, then work until I go to bed.

Web design is a priority because I desperately need to rebuild my sites to be more modern and mobile friendly, but I've seriously been working on that for over a year and I'm not even halfway done... because I have so many other duties that I'm juggling at the same time.

I don't make enough money to hire someone to do any of those jobs while I do the ad sales. It would require at least 3 or 4 full time employees, 1 or 2 of which would be skilled labor that would expect a relatively high salary.

So instead, all that I can afford to hire is a commission salesman. But that seems to be a dead art.

It's a catch-22 that's seriously killing my business. I can't do everything, and anything that I put on pause to do something else ends up hurting the business as a whole.

Been there.
Once you fall behind it takes all you can do to not fall further and further...

Unfortunately, direct ad sales is NOT a typical B2C sales position. It is B2B. And it requires a solid understanding of your niche, site, business; the advertisers, ad agencies, and the principle players in same; etc. Because of existing contracts and budgets it may well be one to two years from agreement in principle to contract for larger organisations. Smaller businesses can change quicker but are less inclined to change.

Finding the right ONE person, if you are unable to do it yourself, is critical. Perhaps a webdev who can free you up to handle it. At least you understand the need.

Best wishes.
8:56 am on July 29, 2019 (gmt 0)

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@csdude55 ...

Keep it simple. I started with ONE advertiser direct. Made them happy (and paid my hosting for a year... and some change) and went from there. Add ONE then add ANOTHER and ...three months down the line you have five or six.

As for your web page UPDATES for responsive, et all, avoid that by making all NEW pages responsive and let the rest do what they can.

You cannot be everywhere ALL THE TIME, or you can be there SOME OF THE TIME; Pick and choose your times ... and your ad clients.

One man shops still do well, but can beat you up ... if you LET IT.

Good luck!
2:21 am on July 30, 2019 (gmt 0)

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@iamlost, I'm not sure if you were asking rhetorical questions or actually wanting a response, but...

By these numbers you are looking at between 6.5 and perhaps 8-million unique visitors per month. On the face of it well worth selling direct ad space.

No, this is actually a bit misleading, and something I regularly have to explain to people.

My sales data comes mostly from Google Analytics, but there's a lot of overlap so it can be misleading. It shows that my main site has about 120,000 unique visitors each week, but most of my users come back daily. So at the end of the month it's not really 500,000 people, it's more like 100,000 people that have visited all month long.

I keep track of the last time that each user logs in to the site, and when I run a query of "select distinct(username) from users where lastlogin > 20190720000000" it's usually around the 100,000 mark. I figure that this query eliminates bots since they're not going to create an account.

1. are all the sites within the same niche or at least within a single overarching niche?
If yes, then they can be marketed together to advertisers.
If no, then they need to be appropriately segmented then each grouping marketed separately.

Yes... ish. Each site targets a specific county within a single state, so while they're usually marketed individually to reach small businesses, they CAN be marketed as a group to hit larger advertisers.

2. what is your level of confidence in the humanity of those numbers?
If you are using common hosting solutions and relying upon GoAn to identify bots I'd suggest you are undercounting bots by 50%. Conservatively.
If you are using Cloudfare or similar hosting I'd suggest you are undercounting bots by 20-25%.
Further, if those uniques include 'good' bots they need still be removed from calculation.

I'm confident on the number of users (as described above), and I'm somewhat confident about the click-throughs because I use "rel='nofollow' " on the links to eliminate most bots (at least, the ones that follow the rules). It's hard to be sure on the pageviews, though, I just have to accept what Analytics says on that one.

Which I think is mostly OK, because any normal advertiser is going to compare what I say to what Analytics says. I haven't heard of anything better for either of us to use.

3. what is your current Google banner ad conversion rate? MoM? YoY? Velocity? Trajectory?
This is the foundation from which all conversion calculations will be derived until you have explicit direct ad comparisons. When selling to advertisers you need hard numbers based on existing reality. And it is usually better to under promise.

I have no clue... any suggestion on how to find that information? I regularly ask long-term advertisers about their results, but all I ever get is "it's doing great" or something like that. I have no clue how many clicks turn in to sales for them, etc.

4. what is the source of those traffic numbers?
Is it mostly/all Google search referral? Or is it more diverse?
If diverse, what is the volume and CR for each referrer?

According to Analytics:

47.66% Direct
42.59% Organic Search
6.34% Referral
3.4% Social

"Organic Search" is misleading, though, because at least 98% of those are people searching for my company name or something similar. So it's not like they found me by accident, they were specifically looking for me and just don't know how to type in an URL.


One man shops still do well, but can beat you up ... if you LET IT.

@tangor, I'm feeling like Rocky after his first fight with Drago... I'm getting whipped, no doubt! LOL I just need to go chase some chickens, chop down some trees, and farmer-carry those logs in the snow, then I'll be back in the game!
 

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