Getting Started With Banner Ads
If you've been in the Internet marketing business over the past few years, you've probably heard more than once that "banner ads are dead." It's such a common (and blatant) misconception that it almost seems deliberate. You hear it every time you turn around, but if you actually talk to big players in the business about where they get their traffic, the most common answer you'll get is "media buys." Folks, "media buys" means banner ads.
Banner ads are probably the single most scalable sources of traffic available online. Banner advertising is what you do when you want to get your offer in front of tens or even hundreds of millions of eyeballs per month. Nothing else even comes close. The smaller players do SEO or PPC or PPV; the big players do media buys, and they can bring in more traffic than all those AdWords or SEO or Facebook campaigns combined.
Starting Small in Banner Ads
Crazy as it may sound, one of the best places to get started with banner advertising is Google. Their contextual ad network is still the largest placement network existing today, but here's the catch: there is no minimum buy! You don't have to do a $10,000 minimum insertion order just to get rolling.
Almost every website out there that has opted in to the Google AdSense program is a potential target for image ads, and you can target sites either through keyword placement or by specifying the site itself. You can do basic split testing across 10-20 sites, drop $50 on each one, then scrap the ones that aren't producing click-throughs or conversions and focus on those that are.
Other Small-Scale Banner Sources
There are quite a few other possibilities if you are looking for smaller scale ad buys; there are a lot of outfits that act as "middle-men", linking up advertisers with websites that are making ad space available. Buy Sell Ads is one of the better known of these, along with Advertise Space, Puxee, and AdSella.
Keep in mind also that there is nothing stopping you from contacting websites directly to arrange banner ad buys. You'll find that a surprising number of sites, even large-scale sites, that are open to offers to buy ad space from anyone who contacts them directly and acts in a professional manner. Do some Googling for keywords specific to your industry, identify some high-traffic sites, and contact the site owners directly to request ad space.
Joining The Big Leagues
Unless you've got a lot of money to burn, you shouldn't move up to these larger sites and ad networks until you've familiarized yourself with the process. You should have already identified the creatives you want to use, ones that you know from heavy split-testing will convert for you. You don't want to be doing your creatives split-testing, or tweaking your sales funnel, at this point; the only variable should be traffic source.
Once you start using these big sites and ad networks, you are going to be spending significant money. Basically, expect to spend $5,000 minimum, often even 10,000. That's the *minimum* it will cost you to get your foot in the door at sites like WebMD.com or the huge ad networks like Tribal Fusion.
Don't be *too* scared off by those numbers, however; you can minimize your exposure by two standard techniques: a 48 hour shutdown clause and stipulating the traffic period. If you stipulate a one-month traffic period, then the traffic will be spread out over the entire period. This effectively turns a $5,000 contract into a $167/day order. Combine this with the 48-hour shutdown clause, and if you find that your campaign isn't converting, you can shut it down after only two days and about $300 spent.
So, the general process you should use for your banner ad campaigns is really pretty simple: first, use the "no-minimum" networks to split-test your ads and tune your sales funnel. If you are successful at this level, you should also be able to build up enough cash to scale up to the big traffic sources with large insertion orders. Track things carefully for the first 48 hours, be ready to shutdown the campaign if your CTR or conversion ratios drop off. Once the campaign has proven itself, just start scaling and watch the money come in!
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