An Evolution of Advertising: SidebarAds
It's been over a year since I've last talked about adding advertising to my site. It has come time to provide an update and fill you in on how things are changing.
Once again, my biggest downfall was the lack of automation. Campaigns would end and I'd fail to do a followup. In one particularly awkward case, I double booked a spot because I had forgotten that an advertiser had prepaid. It was unprofessional and not something that I'd like to repeat.
I continued on without any statistics beyond what I track on my own site. That meant advertisers had no way to actually track their campaigns, to see how many impressions they got, or how many sales conversions it offered up. I know in a couple cases where the client did no referral tracking on their end either, so the campaign was mostly a shot in the dark. I can only assume that it paid off enough for those that chose to renew.
Over the past year, things have been pretty stable, with various advertisers coming and going and some staying for the long haul. It's become somewhat of a routine now, checking for campaigns about to end, and getting any new advertisers set up.
The number of ad spots continued to shrink including dropping TextLinkAds from all inside pages. It was nice to be able to reduce the advertising footprint on the site while still able to maintain the level of revenue coming in. The footprint got reduced even more this week by going from the two ad spots in the sidebar to the single, new SidebarAds spot. Which leads me to...
However, after a year and a half of running my own ads, I'm switching things up. Last year I hinted at the idea of creating an ad network. After some discussion with the guys in Sidebar Creative, we decided to build and launch SidebarAds.
The network is currently a small collection of sites, including the four of us in Sidebar Creative, along with Roger Johansson at 456 Berea St and Paul Stamatiou. Despite the limited size of the network, we're serving up approximately 20,000 page views a day, which is just fantastic.
Adding Member Sites
We soft-launched the site about a week ago to give member sites time to get the ad script in place and time for advertisers to get their campaigns started. However, we've already had a few people enquire about being added as member sites. It's flattering that other people think this is a good idea and want to join in.
We have no intention right now to open it up to the masses but we do intend to bring on more sites one at a time as we balance the number of advertisers against the number of member sites we have to pay out to. The largest hurdle is always finding advertisers.
Learning from past mistakes
Of course, with SidebarAds, I wanted to learn from past mistakes. The biggest thing was automating the process. There's a sign up application that allows advertisers to configure their ads, upload their image, add their ad copy, all without intervention. All I have to do is confirm payment and approve the ad.
I kept the simplicity of my current setup by using a flat fee per month regardless of clickthroughs and simplified it even more by setting campaigns to always start at the first of every month. That compared to my site where they could start on any day and simply end a month later.
I also made sure to add stats tracking. Advertisers can now view their impressions and clickthroughs per month (and per day, soon enough). And being a bit of a stats junkie that I am, it's fun to see how all the campaigns are doing.
How it's put together
This was a fun site to put together. Dan Rubin did the design, Bryan Veloso put together the HTML/CSS, and Steve Smith assisted with testing.
document.write but I want to offer an alternate version that uses DOM methods that's less likely to impact member sites if the SidebarAds site goes down.
Speaking of going down, after just a few short hours on Dreamhost, the SidebarAds site went down. I immediately decided to pay for a dedicated box at Hostway (whom I've used with a couple other clients and have been pleased with the reliability). After a bumpy start getting the server configured (due to some poor setup from the Hostway folks), things have been smooth sailing. The site hasn't gone down since and I'm getting sub-half-second response times. I've added a ping service to the server to maintain uptime (so far, 100% with sub 500ms response time). As you can see, performance and reliabilty is important.