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...

Launching SidebarAds

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.

The backend is built with CakePHP and is mostly to power the advertiser's administration section. The JavaScript embed does a quick and dirty 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.


Finally, many thanks to MailChimp and JumpChart for hopping on board right from the ground floor. I'm excited to see where this goes and as always, I'll be sure to report on its progress.

Published June 08, 2008
Categorized as Business
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14 Comments · RSS feed
Paul Stamatiou said on June 08, 2008

I've shared many of the same frustrations of advertising on my own site. I've tried many solutions and sold my own ads for a long time, but it was a huge hassle. There have been times when I have considered going ad free just to get rid of the annoyance, although that's not much of an option with my high rent and gadget obsessiveness (that a word?). Looking forward to being a part of the team. :-)

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.


Sumesh said on June 08, 2008

I'd noticed SidebarAds first on Stammy's website, and immediately clicked through to inthesidebar website. I was impressed with ad sizes and all, and it kinda reminded me of Deck (especially love it on Daring Fireball, as it is a minimalist design and the ads actually stand out). Deck, and now SidebarAds are actually two networks whose ads I look at and admire.

I wonder why there's only one spot, though. Most sidebars are wide enough to fit two ads.

Good job on the members you've already got - all elite websites. Looking forward to more members.

Jonathan Snook said on June 08, 2008

@Paul: and of course we're happy to have you on the team!

@Sumesh: I'm happy to hear you're happy with the format. The reason for just a single slot is probably very similar to the Deck. We're trying to be tasteful and not overbearing. That's harder to do when you start having too many ad spots on the page (and why I've been happy to be able to scale it back here on

kailoon said on June 09, 2008

Means that this is going to CPM?

The format is nice and also one single slot is good too. But, publishers will prefer to have more slots to generate more income. But IF the pay is high enough to cover the other slots, then it will be no problem.

Is is some kind of premium advertising program, right?

How to register as a publisher? Can I join? I wish to try too.

Paul Irish said on June 09, 2008

Offering the option of using DOM methods instead of document.write is a huge plus. Something publishers have been aching for for a long time. Thanks for leading that charge.

Adrian said on June 09, 2008

Looks like a great concept, very similar to The Deck or Creative Eden's Miiingle (which seems to have been abandoned in favor or Just curious, are you not part of The Deck by your choosing or theirs? I always felt this blog would be a good fit among Veerle, SimpleBits, Zeldman, and the rest of The Deck members.

Jonathan Snook said on June 09, 2008

@kailoon: as mentioned in the article, we're not opening it up to publishers at this time (I called them member sites).

@Adrian: they never asked me and I never asked them. Possibly because I already had advertising on my site. One of the stipulations (or at least used to be) with running The Deck is that it must be the only ad system on the site.

Rainer said on June 10, 2008

Same frustration about using ads - too much afford for too less revenue. If not there were the big distance (not only in miles) to Germany - I would join your project!

Jeffry said on June 10, 2008

SidebarAds looks amazing, both for publishers and viewers of the sites. I wonder how are you handling payments? Is that part automated as well?

Thomas Wright said on June 12, 2008

@Jonathan: I'd be really interested to know whether you think that we'll see a trend towards this style of 'boutique' advertising on small networks?
It seems much more personal and targeted, but do you think the market will soon be saturated - making it difficult for advertisers to choose between these micro-networks?
I guess I'm just really intrigued by the whole phenomenon...

Maikel said on June 12, 2008

I think this brilliant idea of making a micro-network ads, it seems that this model works quite well in specialized content sites.
I personally do not like me adsense sites for web development, although I have in my lab.

WD Milner said on June 13, 2008

Sounds great! Congrats on the new project. I look forward to the day I have enough traffic to actually be able to genrate income from my site *chuckle*.

Jonathan Snook said on July 04, 2008

Realized that I forgot to answer some questions...

@Jeffry: Payments are currently done manually since each ad needs to be reviewed before it can go live. However, I may improve this process by building it into the admin flow.

@Thomas: Yes, I've already been seeing a trend of boutique networks and plenty of networks targeting the blogger crowd. The ad industry as a whole is quite large and I think there's still plenty of room. I suppose the biggest problem is getting the word out. As a publisher, we have to actively present SidebarAds as an option to companies we know, especially ones we know who advertise. That and referrals will likely be the ways we grow the business.

web pixy said on July 08, 2008

Congratulations, I think the idea of this project is great! SidebarAds look really cool, I'm sure they will be very useful!

Sorry, comments are closed for this post. If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to send them to me directly.