Creating an Ad Program for Small Sites

This week is part three of my four-part series on creating an advertising program for small sites. The subject: How does one technically implement a directory-based or sponsorship-based advertising program?

Directory Advertising Model

You may recall that the directory advertising model is basically a list of links in which each link connects to a page with more information. To offer the most value to an advertiser, the directory should be on every page of your site (or at least on the high-traffic ones).

If you have a database-driven web site or want to use frames, then the problem of having the directory on every page has a straightforward solution. You create an area within the template (if it is database-driven) or a frame set (if you are using frames) where you want the list to appear.

But if you want to keep your pages static HTML for the purposes of index-ability by search engines and type-ability of your URLs, then your solutions are limited.

You can use what’s known as “server-side includes” to do the job. Basically, you define a certain action within the HTML document that needs to be taken when the page is served out to the web browser. In other words, you write an “include” in the HTML code that says, “Hey, server, when you send out this page, be sure to ‘include’ this information here.” The catch here is that a web server only checks pages that end in .shtml for such commands. Humans, on the other hand, often overlook the “s,” which is why you might have problems when site visitors type in your URL.

Or you can use a site management tool such as Macromedia’s Dreamweaver and put all your pages in a template. Then when you make a change, you update all the pages of your site with Dreamweaver and reload them on your server.

Another important consideration is rotating the position of the links in the list. Advertisers on the top and bottom of a big list are easier to see; therefore, they get the majority of the clicks. At the time of this writing, I couldn’t find an off-the-shelf program that would do this. Your best bet is to hire a PERL programmer to write a program for you that does this. All it has to do is rotate a list of items each time it’s invoked and display the results as HTML code.

And finally, all links in the directory should lead to static HTML pages with a single directory on your web server. Then with a service like FreeFind — a free search engine tool — you can offer a “search our sponsor information” feature. Just set up FreeFind to index only the directory containing your sponsors’ pages.

When it comes to advertisers submitting site content, set specific guidelines. Don’t let them do their own HTML (they will most likely not code correctly), and have them send their text and graphics in separate files that you can plop into a template.

Sponsorship Advertising Program

The sponsorship model, if you recall, lets a sponsor put its branding exclusively on some section of content on your site.

If you don’t have an in-house designer that can work with each sponsor, your best investment is to get the tool I mentioned above, Dreamweaver, and set up each of your site’s content areas in templates. Create areas within the templates where you can place sponsors’ logos and advertisements.

I highly recommend setting up an email list that site visitors can join for each content area. Once you have an email address, you can push the new content out to the reader rather than hoping the reader remembers to come back. The cheapest and easiest way to do this is get PostCast. It’s basically an email server attached to a Microsoft Access database that lets you extract data from an email message and put it in the right fields of a database. It then lets you do mailings against that database — including HTML email mailings. With PostCast, you can easily manage multiple mailing lists.

The final thing you need is an ad server. One of the best deals out there is WebAdverts. It is a set of PERL scripts for managing banner ad rotation. For $50 you get a program that can handle more than 100,000 impressions a day and has all the features you’d ever need to manage banner ads.

I’m out of space.

Next week we’ll talk about how to sell your ad package.

Happy holidays!

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