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Making Money By Selling Ads

Is selling ad space on your website a viable business? The question comes up a lot when I’m talking to would-be entrepreneurs. After all, it’s the most basic and well-known way to make money from a website. I’ve heard countless tales (some of them true) of average people making thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars by building a great site that doesn’t sell a thing, except for a few strategically-placed inches for advertisers to occupy.

The reality is a little complicated. It all depends on the kind of website you’re running, the goals you have, and the time you have to reach them. Many people overestimate the earning potential of online ad space, and to them I advise caution. That said, it’s not impossible to build a significant revenue stream this way, provided you approach it realistically.

Big Money From Ads

Some websites make incredible profits from ads. Unfortunately for the budding entrepreneur, most of those websites are massive, nationally known entities. Yes, TMZ and The Huffington Post make bank on ads, but they traffic in such incredibly high volume that it’s impossible for them not to. HuffPo, for example, gets around 4 million unique visitors daily. No business starts out with that kind of traffic.

Even relatively successful independent businesses don’t get that many eyes on their websites, and therefore can’t count on supporting themselves that way. A business website that sells an actual product can survive on as little as 20,000 visitors a month- because they’re selling an actual product. Making a living on ads alone, however, is a horse of a different color. It can be done, but it’s one of the more difficult approaches to entrepreneurship.

There are some independent pioneers who make their sole living through ads. Joel Brown launched addicted2success in 2011 as a relatively simple collection of motivational blogs, quotes, and advice. He didn’t quit his job to do so, but eventually the strength of his content (and some savvy social media marketing) allowed him to. This didn’t happen overnight, but it happened nonetheless. With a million visitors per month- modest compared to juggernauts like HuffPo- Brown is able to pull six figures on advertising alone. It should be recognized, though, that this is a major feat.

5 Tips for Making Money Through Ad Space

In general, the ad space game is about traffic above all. A long, patient effort is required to build that traffic and make your website a prime target for advertisers, and the statistical odds of doing it are sobering. However, if you can pull it off, the earning potential is staggering. If you’re ready for the challenge, there are a few strategies that will increase your odds of success:

  • Understand that it takes time. You are very, very, very unlikely to make significant profits from ad space within a year. Or two. Or even three. Building that kind of traffic as an independent content producer requires a long, steady effort like the one Joel Brown made while still working his 9 to 5. It requires not just strong content and smart marketing, but sheer patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Romans weren’t competing with TMZ.
  • Publish constantly. The content must flow like the Nile if you’re to have any chance of success. This doesn’t mean publishing content just for content’s sake; it has to be useful, unique, quality stuff. If you’re selling an actual product, content is a means to an end. To sell ad space, however, content essentially is your product, and you’ll have to devote much more time to it.

This requires creativity, diligence, and above all, time. The biggest content-only sites produce several articles per day, along with video, infographics, and the rest. Advertisers know that their customers need a daily reason to revisit your site, and it’s on you to give them one.

  • Use and (try to) understand Google AdSense. AdSense is a comprehensive way to bring advertisers to your site, but their decision to do so (or not) is based on a complex and fluid formula. Based on your website’s subject, target audience, and the likelihood of your site’s visitors actually clicking an ad, Google determines what your website is worth to advertisers. Unless you work for Google (and I suspect, even if you do) it’s almost impossible to predict what you’re going to make using AdSense.

However, just because it’s unpredictable doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. AdSense is what helped catapult addicted2success from small independent blog to million-dollar juggernaut. How it works may be indecipherable to most, but that it works is beyond question.

  • Know that it’s better for creative endeavors. If your objective is to market a product, selling ad space is only ever likely to be a minor bonus to your overall revenue stream. Your time should be devoted to developing, producing and marketing that product, with ad space as an afterthought. For creative types, ad space is the best (and really only) way to monetize your work.

If you have a passion for a topic, or want to educate the public, or otherwise want to share a viewpoint, ads are the way to parlay that persuasiveness into a living. That’s why artistic, political, motivational, and educational websites are the best candidates. With ad space revenue being so very unpredictable, it’s the websites on which people spend more time being engaged that bring in the money.

  • You can solicit business on your own. While services like AdSense and AdRoll can be very helpful, there’s always the other option: selling your ad space yourself. Contact businesses whose products are directly relevant to your content, and offer your own custom advertising packages.

Put together easily understandable proposals that explain the terms of the deal, including where exactly on the website the ads are displayed, how they’re displayed (pop-ups, sidebar, etc), and the length of the contract. Matt Giovanisci at Swim University sells his spots directly to pool-care companies, cutting out the middleman. This way, he’s not only in more direct control, he can make more accurate revenue forecasts.

Selling ad space is a tricky, but achievable means of making money. For most, it’s merely supplemental, and not to be counted on when making serious predictions. It can, however, be a boon for those willing to put the time and work into building a high-content, high-traffic website.

It’s an uphill climb, but where would we be without uphill climbers?