The Secret of Selling Banner Ads: When Less is More

Portrait of Todd Garland
by Todd Garland
Aug 18, 2010

Minimalism can be viewed as a trend, akin to "lean startups" these days. If you are an "against the grain" type of person as I am (maybe we didn't rebel enough as kids?) these trends can start to feel cliche and overdone, but there is a lot of value in their principles.

They are extensions of the "less is more" mantra with additional emphasis on clarity. These same principles apply to selling ads, too: less options for advertisers will result in selling more ads.

The fewer ad zones the better

At BSA, an "ad zone" is defined as an area on your website where one or more ads of the same dimensions appears. For example, if you have six 125x125 ads where all six show at any given time, that is considered a single ad zone.

We often emphasize to BSA publishers that they keep the number of ad zones available to a minimum; the "sweet spot" for an average website is less than five. If you have 10 ad zones available for sale, you are asking the advertiser to make a harder decision than if you have only five ad zones to chose from.

The fewer payment options the better

At BSA we impose 30-day payment cycles on all ads that are sold. This is the only option. Most people pay their bills for 30 days at a time. Most marketing and advertising budgets are awarded in monthly budgets. Most businesses review their ongoing performance on a monthly basis. Monthly cycles are a natural part of our culture.

Over the 2+ years that we have been in business we have seen requests from time to time suggesting that we allow 1-day or 7-day payment cycles. Why add more complexity to the buying process? Why force an advertiser make another decision? The idea behind the 30-day cycle is the following:

  1. You are asking the advertiser to make a commitment to you for 30 days.  Advertising is an investment, and investments require commitment. This helps ensure that the advertiser is serious about advertising on your website. The advertiser is voting with their dollars saying "I want to be associated with this website because I think I can find the right users for my website/application/company". This is how you acquire repeat quality advertisers.
  2. 1 day, 7 day, or even 15 day campaigns are not enough to know the real effectiveness of an advertisement. Sure, if you are looking to simply drive traffic to your site and want clicks, a 7 or 15 day time period might be sufficient. If that is your goal, pay per click networks will guarantee you clicks. With banner campaigns, 30-days should be considered a minimum; in fact, when you purchase a sponsored banner ad you should plan to keep it for 90 days, at least. You cannot build momentum in 30 days or less.

The fewer interactions the better

Over time, we have found that in small batch ad sales (i.e. sales for advertisers spending less than 25K/month) the less human interaction the better. Interaction can add friction to the sales process. So how does one sell ads as an ad network if it's better to not interact with the ad buyers?

It's simple: you make it very convenient for them to buy ads; you aggregate inventory of similar websites; you provide tools to facilitate the discovery of new placements; and lastly, add the right amount of human touch with just a pinch of mojo (this one is for our competitors who read our blog, so you can sit at your desk and wonder what "mojo" we're referring to :) ).

The human touch is key. It is important to have the proper software and automated processes to support this human touch; the overhead that we – and our publishers – would incur if we were to hire and rely on 10's of sales people to call on all of our advertisers would be staggering. Quality software with assisted human touch (and some mojo!) leads to fewer interactions and more ad sales.

In summary

Don't add friction to the ad selling process: don't force the advertiser to make too many decision's before they click "Complete my order" and send you their money. Keep it clear, and easy, for advertisers to understand how to advertise on your website and you will sell more ads.