I'm back today with the next installment in the Basics of Blog Monetization series: everything to do with ads!
(You can see the introduction to this series here and my post on starting your money-making blog here.)
In my opinion, display ads are the easiest way to monetize a blog. Of the four types of monetization I discussed in the first post, this is the type that provides the most passive income. Passive is my favorite kind of income - that's the money you make without really having to do anything after the initial set-up. In my opinion, the more passive income you can make off of your blog, the better! That frees your time up to explore blog work that you really want to do but might not have the opportunity for when initially setting everything up.
Here's a very basic run-down of what an ad can be on a blog (repeated from my intro post)...
Simply put, these are displayed graphics or words that make money each time they are viewed by a reader. Sometimes, they make money each time they are clicked...we'll go into more detail on that later. On my blog, I have display ads...
On my sidebar (graphics that vary in size)
On my blog post pictures and graphics (appearing at the bottom of select images within a blog post)
Ads within select popular blog posts (like this one)
Many bloggers also utilize resources that turn the actual words in their posts into ads. For example, you might see a word within a sentence linked to a certain company. Sometimes this is automatically done by an ad company; sometimes a blogger might sell that link to the company directly and install it themselves.I'll list a few terms that you might hear when exploring your options for display ads:
CPM - If you've researched blog ads at all, I'd be willing to bet you've heard of CPM. The CPM of your blog ads cost per thousand ads displayed on the blog. This typically ranges from a few cents to as much as $20-30 for any given ad, and there are a ton of variables that can go into deciding that cost (size of ad, placement on the webpage, quality of advertiser, negotiations of ad company, etc.). Another slight variation on this you might hear of is eCPM - that stands for Earned CPM. Basically, it takes into account the fact that you will have some page loads that don't display an ad, and factors in your fill rate to show how much you're truly earning from an ad spot.
RPM - This is slightly different from CPM in that it analyzes the revenue per thousand page views. You are more than likely going to display more than one ad on your blog...this totals all of the display ads into one big number. The basic equation to figure this out is (Revenue/Impressions)x1000.
CPC - This stands for Cost Per Click. Some ad companies pay for ads each time they are seen by a viewer on a blog; some pay each time an ad is clicked. Obviously, you're going to make a lot more per click than you would per view, since ads are not clicked on nearly as much as they are viewed. I don't encounter a lot of ad companies that pay on this basis anymore, but one big one is Google Adsense - if you're involved with them, this will factor into how your ads pay.
CTR - This stands for Click Through Rate. This is the percentage of viewers that actually click on your ads. Very closely tied to CPC and should be watched closely if your ad network is based on CPC.
Above the Fold - This is the area of your blog that is visible when it first loads in a browser, generally the top 600-700 pixels (depending on the ad network's definition). Most premium ad networks require that their ads (and no other network's ads) start "above the fold."
Impression - When an ad is viewed, this is considered an impression. If you have 5 ads on your page and all five load/are viewed by one user, this is generally considered 5 impressions. A page impression is each individual time your page is loaded.
Fill Rate - This is the amount of time a viewer is seeing an actual ad (rather than just blank space) in any given ad spot on your blog. You're always aiming for 100% fill rate, but that rarely happens. The higher the fill rate, the better...after all, you want as many people as possible seeing ads!
Backfill - Many times, an ad company won't be able to fill an ad spot on any given page load. So, in the instance that the ad company can't fill that spot, there are ways you can set an ad up to backfill...essentially, it's a back-up ad that displays in case the primary ad service doesn't display one. The ensures that the viewer is seeing an ad as much as possible! This can also be called a waterfall strategy to ads in some instances.
Remnant Ads - These are ads that might have a lower CPM but can be used to backfill in the instance that a primary ad service can't display an ad for a page load.
Is your head spinning yet? :) That's a lot of info at once, I know. Don't think you have to know it all right now - I still get confused about CPM vs RPM, to be honest with you! Displaying ads is much simpler than those definitions make it out to be.
Now on to how I do it! For my main blog page, I am currently displaying 8 ads (one right above my post area, 6 on the sidebars, and one pop-up at the bottom). There is an ad that displays when you actually click on my post links (between the post and comment section), making the grand total 9 if you're viewing that way on desktop. I've found this to be the best balance personally for my site. You really don't want to get above 6-8 ads on a page...past that and the quality/fill rate of your ads starts to suffer. You might display 15 ad spots on a page, but if they only have a 40% fill rate, what's the point? That's just taking up real estate on the page that could be filled with other useful information for the reader. I also have the in-image ads (those display depending on availability from the ad company) and in-post ads on certain posts that I discussed above.
I am currently using the following companies for display ads on my blog:
-BlogHer (now also known as SheKnows): I absolutely love working with BlogHer. They are typically pretty picky about the blogs they accept for their network. When I first started blogging in 2009, I applied within the first month or so of opening up shop. To my surprise, they accepted me within a few weeks (I honestly still don't know why they accepted me when my blog was so young, but I'm glad they did!).
BlogHer offers both traditional sidebar graphics, in-image ads, and text link ads...I'm currently using the first two of those from the company. The rates on both are great (typically higher than any other company I've worked with). They also give the option to select the type of ads you do/do not want to display on your blog (so if you want to stay away from controversial topics, that's definitely an option).
BlogHer does require that their ads fall above the fold on your page and that no other ads are above the fold. They also require their members to sign a one year contract when they start with the network. This can be cancelled after a year if you're not happy with them or renewed for another year.
And, I'll address this in the post on sponsored content, but they also offer many different opportunities for sponsored content on both your blog and social media. Their rates in those categories are amazing!
You can apply for The BlogHer Publishing Network here.
-The Blogger Network: This is the company I use for my below the fold sidebar ads and the ad that appears between my post and comments. Unlike using a provider like Google Adsense, The Blogger Network optimizes your ads to make sure you're earning as much as possible from each ad space they service. They use backfill and remnant advertising (with methods that are honestly above my head) to optimize those spaces. In return, they ask for a 5-20% cut of your earnings, depending on your performance. Their rates are great and I've really had a wonderful experience working with them. If you're interested, they also offer a mobile site that displays ads.
The Blogger Network Ascend program (what I currently use) requires at least 80,000 monthly pageviews to apply for their ads. They also have a Propel network for 10,000-80,000 pageviews that requires a set-up fee...I don't have experience with that one though, so I can't personally speak for it. You can apply for Propel here and The Blogger Network here.
-Media.net: This is the company I use for my in-post ads (you can see an example here). I don't put these on every post, but if I see a post is getting popular, I usually pop one of two of these in. From my experience, the CPMs for these tend to be lower than my other display ads, but I like using them for my posts with higher views. I wouldn't recommend more than a couple of these per post though.
You can apply for Media.net here.
The following companies are also options for ads, I am just not currently using them:
-AdThrive: This is a premium ad service that is very similar to The Blogger Network in that they manage your ad inventory to optimize revenue. They only accept websites that have monthly pageviews above 100,000, and the wait time once you apply can take awhile (I applied, and it took a couple of months for me to be accepted). I am not currently running these ads because they aren't compatible with some of the other ads I'm running, but I have heard wonderful things about them! You can apply here.
-Google Adsense: I addressed Adsense in my last post...it, in my opinion, is the best option for beginner bloggers that are just getting their feet wet in the monetization world. The ad rates aren't always the greatest...they pay per click, which can be a little bit lower than what you earn when your ad rates are based on CPMs. But, if you're just starting out, the setup is incredibly easy and they accept just about anybody (so you can have lower pageviews and still run these). One thing to note: you are only allowed a maximum of 3 Adsense ads per page.
You can apply for Adsense here.
The following 3 companies, from my experience, are really similar to Adsense...
I have used all three of these ad companies in the past...they are all great options for beginners. Again, the CPMs aren't incredibly high, but the set-up is easy and they aren't very picky about who they accept.
-GourmetAds: I haven't worked with this company, but they are very popular in the food blogging category. This company displays food & wine ads on food- and coupon-centered blogs. The CPMs aren't super high but they have a very high fill rate. You can apply for their network and see specific eligibility requirements here. (One note: Gourmet Ads does require that bloggers have a top-level domain, meaning you can't have a blogspot.com address if you're on Blogger. From what I've read though, as long as you have your own domain on Blogger, you can use them.)
-Mode Media (formerly Glam Media): This is a company that's similar to BlogHer...they offer both display ads and sponsored campaigns. I couldn't find a lot of information about this one, but have heard great things about working with them in my blogging Facebook groups. You can sign up here.
Now, once you apply for a company and are accepted, what happens?
That really depends on whether they do the set-up for you or not. I know that The Blogger Network takes care of everything for you...you can literally give them your login info and let them do the rest. For most networks, you're given a section in the site to set-up your ad codes. You put in what size ads you'd like to display (depending on your sidebar size and location of the ad) and they give a code you'll copy and paste into a sidebar widget. Obviously, the bigger the ad, the more it usually pays...that isn't the case 100% of the time, but typically, the bigger the ad (and the closer to the top of the page), the more you're going to make off of it. Of course, there are a ton of other factors that might affect that, like fill rate, backfill set-up, and CTR.
Once I get ads installed, I usually like to play with the placement a little if it's a CPC-based ad. You want to put it in the best place to be clicked, and it can take some trial and error to find that place. I might give an ad a week or so in one position on the blog, then change it around for a week and see if the click-through rate improves. If it's a CPM-based ad, you really just place it...that's it! Just make sure it's above the fold if that's a requirement of your ad network (and that it's not above the fold if another ad network you run has exclusive rights to that section of your blog). Your ad company might also look at the percentage of readers that viewed the ad for a certain amount of time, so be sure to pay attention to the areas of the blog that are usually viewed when placing those ads. In essence, don't cram all of your ads at the bottom of the blog and expect to earn a lot from them!
If you're happy with the revenue you're earning once you get your ads set up, you're done! Enjoy the passive income. But unless you're in a contract with a company that prevents it, I would encourage trying lots of different ad companies to see what works best for your blog. Maybe pick 1-2 ad spots on your blog and try different networks in the same spot for a couple of weeks at a time. This will let you know what company makes the most money for your blog. Pay attention to fill rates, CPMs (your dashboard on each company's site should tell you this information), and the types of ads that are displaying...if they don't align with your content, you might want to talk to someone at the company about editing what your readers see.
Ad revenue, once set up and optimized, is an absolutely amazing source of income. Approximately a third of my income each month is from ad revenue, for doing nothing other than gaining pageviews! After you get over the initial learning curve, it is by far the easiest money you can earn from blogging.
If you're a blogger, what networks/methods do you use? Share what works or doesn't work for you in the comments below!
Check out the other two parts of this series below!
The Basics of Blog Monetization: An Introduction
The Basics of Blog Monetization: How to (Frugally) Start a Money-Making Blog
The Basics of Blog Moneization: Using Affiliate Links on Your Blog
The Basics of Blog Monetization: Creating Sponsored Content
You might also like this post!
**Please note: I am not a lawyer, so nothing in this post is intended to be taken as legal advice. If you have questions regarding the legality of putting ads on a blog I'd suggest consulting a professional! I also cannot guarantee the results I discuss in this post...they are just my experience.**