Can running your own advertising be worthwhile?
The short answer is yes, running my own advertising has been worthwhile, and it's been a good learning experience. In talking with those that advertised, the response has been good with many saying that it resulted in additional business. Let's take a look at some of the lessons I've learned.
Running your own advertising gives you the benefit of having ads fit into the overall look and feel of the site. I had a couple people actually compliment on how well the ads were integrated into the site. When you get compliments with advertising, you know you're on the right track. That's one of the things I didn't like about Google Ads. They always seemed so garish and they really had to stand out. They had to be obtrusive to get results.
In retrospect, however, I should have stuck to standard IAB sizes. Redesigning can be terribly restrictive when you start having to consider advertising in the mix. It gets awkward when dealing with odd ad sizes that — while they fit the current design — are just out of place in the new design.
While on the subject of design, trying to redesign the site has been made more complicated with advertising. I'm not just designing for myself. There's now an additional facet that has to be considered. Where do the ads get placed? Does shifting their placement increase or decrease their value? It's definitely tougher to design with multiple ad spots and considering how advertisers might feel about various placements.
RSS ads = Evil?
My biggest surprise has been the lack of interest in the RSS ad. I figured it'd get snapped up right away. I'm not entirely sure what to attribute this to. It may be that most people may think RSS ads are an abomination. Others may have felt there was more bang for the buck with the site ads.
Too many choices
I think my first mistake right off the bat was offering too many choices. I ended up simplifying things within a couple days, dropping a couple of the ad slots. I've also recently, due to the lack of interest, dropped the RSS ad option.
People need to be able to see value and if there are too many choices, it makes it difficult to make any choice at all. People also tend to ask more questions to clarify any comparison between the slots. Keeping it simple makes it easier for everybody.
Use a decent stats program like Google Analytics which allows you to drill down into various segments. Advertisers sometimes want to know more detailed demographics to ensure they're hitting their target market. Doing a survey of your site visitors can also be advantageous as you'll hopefully get more insight beyond what a stats package can offer, like gender, age, and interests.
Automate as much as you can
Especially considering the number of ad slots that I have available (ie: more than one), I couldn't manage it unless it was at least partially maintained by some system. Currently, it's a really simple system of a couple CakePHP components and helpers that manage things. However, I could definitely use an automated email notification on pending expiration. It would have saved me on two separate occasions.
Another surprise has been the type of companies choosing to advertise. In the first couple months, the variety was decent. A dev shop, a tax preparation company, and an HTML slicer company. Then, as the months progressed, things began to shift. To the point now where almost all advertisers are now HTML slicer companies. I don't have any exclusivity clauses and even after mentioning this fact to new requests, they've gone ahead anyway.
Expanding the Ad Program
Ultimately, I'd like to expand the program. In the near future, I'll more than likely be expanding the system to WithCake.com. However, could the system be used as an ad platform for anybody, similar to The Deck or TLA? I suppose more importantly, is anyone interested in yet another ad system?