“How I turned a $10/m blog into a $200/m blog in 3 hours”
Sounds great huh? First a little history though. One of my other sites is a niche blog I’ve run for about 18 months for fun. I have a pretty healthy stream of between 10 and 20 new posts per month, reasonable traffic, and have pretty regular email contact with individuals and companies sending me stuff to blog about. A few shareasale links and other affiliate links were earning the site about $10 – $15 a month – enough to cover the hosting costs.
In late November I received an email offering me $500 for the site and domain. On the face of it this seemed like a pretty decent offer, after all it was gaing to take me 5 years to earn that much at the current rate. But I enjoy posting on the site and would miss it – so I politely declined the offer. It was worth more than $500 to me to have fun posting, it would be like selling a pet!
It got me thinking about the value I’d built in the site though. I should try to get some cash out if it – but how? The old monitization question!
I really didn’t want to litter the site with Google Ads, start affiliate linking every second word, or otherwise blasting ads in the face of my readers. I needed a subtler approach – so I did two VERY simple things.
STEP 1 – Build a rate card
I looked at my site and saw three logical spots for ads. I tweaked my templates a little to accomodate these in standard sizes. I gave them simple names, and standardised pricing per month. I wanted a minimum number of transactions – so selling individual days wasn’t for me. I wanted a one off monthly, quarterly, or annual fee through paypal.
Setting the value of the ads was tough – and to be honest I think I set them too low. But more about that later.
Things I included in the rate card
- Overview – the salesy bit, explain why these ads rock
- Screenshot – with highlighted example ads for each ad position
- Ad slot details – highlighting the placement, dimensions, and any limitations (i.e. no animated banners)
- Basic site stats – monthly impressions, uniques, demographics (if you have them)
- Payment terms – simply states pay before the ad should start, using my paypal
Three slots gave me three price points – with the top ’site sponsorship’ slot being both the most expensive and the most exclusive.
STEP 2 – Pause before sending every email
Before I emailed anyone in relation to the site I paused and thought ‘would they advertise?’. If the answer was ‘yes’ or even ‘maybe’ I added a closing line about the new ad scheme I was launching next month. I personalised this to suit the individual. I stressed that the ads were sold monthly, and were in limited supply. These emails are my primary contact with potential advertisers.
It is tempting to post on the blog about the ads – but this is, in my opinion, a bit daft. My readers don’t care – and so will just be irritated by a post saying ‘ooh look, we do ads!’. Any potential advertisers will see that we run ads when they see the ads we run. To a potential advertiser ‘we run ads’ is a stronger message than ‘we would like to run ads’. If you haven’t sold any yet you can always give some away to friends, top targets, and other people who would look good on your site. This at least lets you say ‘we run ads’ – even if you didn’t sell them.
So don’t post about it – just add a footer link to ‘advertise with us’. Don’t link to your rate card, link to a contact page with a VERY brief overview of your ad scheme.
Within 48 hours I had sold 4 ads. Two of which were the top priced site sponsorship slots.
How much to charge?
The answer to this is ‘as much as you think you can’. Personally I did a quick back of an envelope calculation. I figured that I should be able to sell the high profile site sponsorship for every month of the year, but would probably be lucky to sell all the other slots.
I knew that I could buy ads on a similar site in my niche for about $5 a day. 30 x 5 is $150. That’ll do for starters.
As it turned out, selling the first four months took no time – so I could probably have charged significantly more. The other ads I priced as percentages of this headline ad – if I sold them all they’d total double the site sponsorship each month. So the maximum my site could pull in was pegged at around $450 / month.
Running the scheme
I’m pretty happy with WordPress (you’d hope so – being wpguy!) so I run my scheme using a combination of a custom plugin to manage the content of the ads, a Google Spreadsheet to handle scheduling and accounting, and a moleskine notebook to remind me when to change what. This is fine for now, as placing a new ad takes no more than 5 – 10 minutes. It gives me full control, so I can bend the rules if I want to.
You can run a basic scheme by just using a sidebar content widget and manually updating the content at the appropriate time.
Make sure you use at least Google Analytics and WordPress stats, and track outgoing links using both. This lets you see how effective the campaigns are. If you spot an ad that is really under-performing just drop the advertiser an email and suggest they change the design as you think it should be doing better than it is. Not essential – but the last thing you want is to have someone badmouthing your site because they had a crummy ad.
Promoting your scheme
The ad merchants are great – project wonderful and google adwords (and dozens more like them) allow you access to thousands of potential advertisers and take just minutes to sign up for. They have scripts to do almost everything for you. Life is sweet! But, they pay peanuts in my experience. Going it alone lets you set your own price – but that’s pointless if you can’t access potential advertisers.
My niche site has a key advantage – I’m in constant ongoing email contact with individuals and companies who sell things that I blog about to people who read my blog. They know I’m impartial, that I don’t just regurgitate every press release I receive, and that I exist (i.e. the site isn’t run by a bot). In short – I have a direct trusted route to my potential customer – many of whom have already benefited from links from my posts in the past.
In part two of this case study I’ll expand on the scheme promotion aspects, and look at other ways to gain the attention of potential advertisers…