Thinking of placing ads on your blog or site? Before you do, read this!

These days, nearly everyone who’s got a blog or site (or who’s thinking of starting one) has toyed with the idea of advertising. After all, wouldn’t it be awesome to bring in a little extra cash while you’re busy building up your business, project, or world-changing movement?

Not necessarily. Every site has the potential to be a money-maker eventually (especially if you write high-value content and offer it up for free), but before you plonk down some ads in your sidebar, there are some important points to consider. The health of your site (and your online reputation) may depend on it.

And if you DO decide to advertise, I’ll show you a fun little tool that will let you preview how your ads are going to look before you place them on your site (because you wouldn’t want to mess up that gorgeous layout you’ve got going on, now would you?).
 

Things that make you go “hmmmmm”: what to consider before you advertise.

What kind of advertising have you got in mind?
When a student in my Girl’s Guide to Web Design course brings up the idea of advertising on her site, she’s usually talking about one of three things:
- Drawing attention to her own products and services (or maybe a series of posts she’s written) using some cool boxes/buttons that link to other pages or posts on her site and that are placed in her sidebar.
- Advertising someone else’s products and services, and charging that person a certain amount for month to occupy that “real estate” on her site.
- Joining an affiliate program for a store, product, or service, and collecting commissions every time someone clicks through a banner on her site and makes a purchase from that retailer.

The first thing to do is to get clear on which of these (if any) feels like something you might want to explore.
 

Why do you want to advertise?
Advertising on your blog or site can be one of those ethically touchy subjects. Unless you’ve got a large following of people who trust you and your recommendations, you’re not likely to make a lot of money from placing ads on your site. So if you’re hoping to make a mint, you’ll likely be disappointed. You’re far better off if you approach this as a potential small supplement to your income, promoting stuff you can really get behind

Advertising your own stuff is pretty much cool 100% of the time (it’s your site, after all!), but it’s a little trickier when it comes to pimping other people’s stuff – so it’s important that you don’t just blindly dive into it.

First of all, you’ll need to think long and hard about whether you want to promote brands that you haven’t personally tried and loved. If you stick to giving exposure to products and services that really made a difference in your life or business, you’ll feel good about the money you may be making from advertising them – because you’ll know they’re helping other people, too.

Shilling stuff that you don’t have personal experience with, on the other hand, can come off seedy. It may not be worth the hit to your integrity – even if you’re the only person who knows you never read that e-book or did that workshop.
 

Is now the right time?
You don’t have to be as big as Design*Sponge to get advertisers on your site, but you do need to be able to demonstrate a certain amount of traffic and visitor engagement. Don’t expect advertisers to pay you for space on your site until you’ve amassed some solid stats. The best way to get these? Put Google Analytics on your site (it’s free, and it’s a cinch to install if you’ve got the Thesis theme for WordPress), learn to interpret the data it collects for you (there are lots of tutorials online), and put together a “media kit” that shows your number of unique visitors per month, length of time people usually stay on your site, and other telling facts. Potential advertisers will want to see this when they approach you, or you approach them, about placing an ad on your site.

Similarly, you may have trouble getting into the more exclusive affiliate programs (think Net-A-Porter and Nordstrom) if you aren’t a well-established site. That’s why when it comes to affiliate programs, it’s often best to stick to joining independent programs for products and services you’ve participated in personally. Most people who sell info products or run online courses are THRILLED to have their past customers promote their stuff, because they know it’ll be an authentic, happy partnership.

And whatever you do, for goodness’ sake…don’t join random affiliate programs that will have you putting ads for lawnmowers next to your lovingly-crafted posts about your personal spiritual journey! That just won’t fly – with anyone. :)
 

Is advertising “worth it”?
By its very nature, advertising on the web involves pointing people away from the page they’re on and taking them somewhere else. Ads are always clickable, so there’s a “destination” involved. Even if you set your ads so that they open in a new window (see this post on how to do that), you’re essentially taking your visitors away from what they were doing (engaging with your content, which is always a good thing) and directing them elsewhere.

If you’re advertising your own products and services, this is probably just fine. But if you’re advertising someone else’s stuff, it’s a bit of a trade-off. Is the money that you’re making from the ad being there worth the potential loss of a new subscriber, client, or customer? This is a decision that only you can make.
 

Ok…so let’s say you’ve decided you want to put some ads on your site. Classy ones, of course. Now, how do you make sure they’re not going to ruin the look of your design?

The first issue that comes up when it comes to banner and block ads is usually sizing. If you want to start selling space in your sidebar, you’ll need to tell your advertisers what size the ads they give you should be. Or, if you’ve joining an affiliate program, you’ll need to know what size to pick from the collection of banners and boxes you find inside the affiliate center for the program.

Usually, you want to keep all the ads on your site the same size – or at the very least, the same width. This will allow you to keep clean lines on your site, which are pleasing and restful to the eye. But how do you know what size of ad to ask for or grab the code for if you’re not exactly used to measuring things in pixels?

Enter PLACEHOLD.IT, an awesome (and again, free!) tool that lets you preview how an ad will look in your sidebar, like this:

The numbers you see inside the boxes are pixel measurements. The one that comes first is the width of the box in pixels, and the one that comes second is the height. To help you “think in pixels”, just remember that the width of 100 pixels is about equal to one inch. I always find that helps me. :)

So how about testing out some ad sizes in your sidebar? To use PLACEHOLD.IT to eyeball the size of ad you want to use on YOUR self-hosted (WordPress.org) WordPress site, just follow these steps:
1. Log in to your WordPress admin. If you want, you can install and activate a plugin like Maintenance Mode to hide your site from the public while you’re playing with this stuff.
2. Go to Appearance –> Widgets.
3. Drag a “Text Widget” over to the sidebar that you want to try out an ad size in. (You may have one, two, or three sidebars on your site, depending on your theme and the way it’s configured).
4. Leave the “Title” box in the Text Widget blank, and paste the following into the bigger box below it:

<img src="http://placehold.it/100x100">

5. Click the little blue “save” button, and in a new browser tab or window, visit your site to see how the placeholder graphic looks. Right now you’re looking at a placeholder graphic that’s 100 pixels wide by 100 pixels high.
6. If the placeholder is too small or too big (in terms of height or width) and therefore looks messy on your site, you can adjust it! Just go back to your Text Widget and tweak the numerical values in the chunk of code. The first value is always the width, and the second value is always the height. For example, if you want to see how it would look if the placeholder graphic was 300 pixels wide and 200 pixels high, you can replace the code you put in the Text Widget with this:

<img src="http://placehold.it/300x250">

7. Once you’ve got a placeholder size that creates a nice clean line from the right edge of your header down to the bottom of your page (or that just looks good to you!), you know what size to tell advertisers to make their banners – or what size to look for when you’re sifting through affiliate banners.
8. If the size that fits your blog or site perfectly is kind of a random one that isn’t available for the affiliate program you’re getting set up with, you have two choices: either tweak the layout of your site so that your sidebar is wider or more narrow (thereby perfectly fitting that affiliate banner for the online course you’re obsessed with), or try putting two ads side by side in your sidebar. With a little HTML and CSS knowledge (which I teach in The Girl’s Guide to Web Design), you can “float” them beside one another and get a nice “grid” effect.
9. When you’ve got the size of the placeholder down, just drag the Text Widget out of your sidebar (you’re still under Appearance –> Widgets in WordPress) and into the “Inactive Widgets” zone at the bottom of your screen. That way, it will no longer show up on your site. If you used it, you can turn off Maintenance Mode at this stage, too.
10. When you’ve got the actual ad ready and you’re ready to place it on your site, you’ll use a Text Widget, just like you did when positioning the placeholder graphic. Simply paste the code for the ad in the bigger box inside the Text Widget, save, and you’re done!

PLACEHOLD.IT offers other fun options you may want to play with, too – like changing the color of the boxes and the text that appears on them. Check out all the other cool stuff you can do at the bottom of the page here.

And if you’re a web designer or developer, you’ve probably already clued in to how useful PLACEHOLD.IT might be for you. Waiting for the client or a graphic designer to provide an image? Just stick a placeholder into the site’s header, footer, or anywhere else you need to “save room” – and you’ve got an easy way for you and the client to visualize how the finished site will look.

Have fun with this one, guys!

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