Selling Your Site to a Third-Party Channel

Last week in this space, we promised an up-to-date review of the third-party advertising sales options that exist today for web site publishers looking to generate some revenue from online ads. We made this promise in response to tons of email we get from site publishers seeking a sales solution that works. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be discussing the various players and their business models, as well as what kind of site and inventory each is ideally suited to handle.

But to prepare you to take in all of that information, we first want to talk about what you need to be thinking about in positioning yourself to prospective third-party firms. To make sure that your own expectations are realistic, it helps to take a cold, hard look at your own site inventory and make an unbiased appraisal of what you really have to sell. Let’s face it, web sites are like our children, and we all think our own kid is the cutest. But, objectively, unemotionally, in pure business terms: What is the value of your site’s inventory? The better you are at telling yourself the truth about that key question, the stronger will be your negotiating position in signing on a sales agent or ad network.

How much do you know about your audience? Do you have reliable demographic and psychographic (behavioral) information? Can you measure stickiness, return rates, average length of visit, or average pages viewed per visit? If not, what can you measure to indicate the degree of loyalty and affinity visitors feel toward your site?

How about click-through rates? Do your visitors tend to click more in some situations, to some kinds of offers or on certain pages more than others? Do you have any data on actual conversions, once a visitor has clicked off your site from an ad or link?

While many of the ad networks have their own proprietary means of gathering the sorts of information listed above, anyone selling ad inventory will be more interested in sites that tend to make advertisers happy than in those about which nothing of advertiser value is known. Whatever attention you can pay to answering these kinds of questions is likely to make your site more interesting to an ad sales operation.

How much demand exists for the audience you reach? If you can show your audience to be technically oriented or proven online shoppers, or to have high incidences of sold-out professional or small-business categories, you have a great position to enter into higher-level discussions with the ad sales firms. If your visitors represent any high-demand category, make sure you verify that fact before bargaining with ad networks they are seeking the inventory they can sell most easily, and at the highest rates, so your proof of sought-after target audiences is your best tool for getting the best attention from a sales firm.

If you have any regular advertisers already running on your site, gather testimonials from them to offer to the perspective ad sales organization on your behalf. Those kind words from friends will not, by themselves, get you an ad sales contract, but having good results to show from satisfied advertisers can’t hurt. Remember, they want to know that they’ll be able to sell your inventory successfully, and a satisfied customer is a good start.

Finally, if you have none of the above, know that the high-end site-specific sales operations are not likely to be for you; your best option in this case is to sell with the low-cost bundled networks until you can build a defensible case for the value of your site’s inventory. Don’t try to bluff your way around this; inevitably they will learn the truth anyway, and you’ll be locked into a contract that won’t be achievable. Better to start at the low end and build a better story over time than to con your way into a situation that will fail for you anyway.

OK, so you now have a week to evaluate your own situation. With that assessment in mind, next week we’ll start categorizing and explaining your myriad sales-partner options.

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