Practical Ecommerce

Sell banner advertising? Yeah. Sell banner advertising.

You should sell ads on your e-commerce site. I’ve yet to find evidence that putting banner advertising on your e-commerce site to be a bad thing.

I know it sounds counter intuitive. We’ve all spent so much time and effort getting visitors to our website and the last thing we want to do is to send them away, right? Well, hardly anyone clicks on banner ads, so you don’t have to worry about that too much.

Most banner advertisers expect less than 1 in 1,000 impressions to result in a click. They’re more interested in the impression than the click. Plus, anywhere from 97%-99% of your visitors are going to leave without buying something anyway.

Secondly, a fast-growing segment of banner advertising is retargeting. Often, the ads your customers are going to see on your site will be familiar to them. It’s not going to feel “weird” when they see the ad.

Your conversion rate will be fine. I know what you’re thinking. Won’t this destroy my conversion rate?! I sincerely doubt it. It hasn’t hurt mine. I’ve been running an A/B test that has resulted in more than 1,000 conversions for both versions (one with ads and one without ads). The reason the experiment is still running is because Google cannot yet determine a winner. Both versions are neck and neck.

Get something from the visitors who aren’t going to buy. My site’s conversion rate is quite low. We offer a lot of entertainment and often cater to a young demographic. So, we have a lot of visitors who are simply checking out what’s new. Why not take that massive percentage of visitors who aren’t going to buy anything and make a bit of money off them, right? Absolutely!

You won’t look like a NASCAR. Most site owner’s other fear is looking like a low quality “content” site that is riddled with ads. So, don’t. Don’t litter your site with a ton of ads. Use just one or two. And don’t put ads on your home page (sell that yourself in a less conspicuous way). Put banner ads on your longer product or category pages and push them lower on the page.

Any reputable ad network (I recommend Google adSense to get your feet wet) will allow you to control the types of ads as well as block any ads from direct competitors.

Don’t expect big dollars. Are you going to make a lot of money? No. But, if ads don’t negatively affect your conversion rate, the question is moot. You shouldn’t expect a very high CPM. If you’re lucky, you’ll make $1 per thousand page views. Maybe less. But again, it’s a “reverse” lagniappe; it’s gravy, baby!

In addition to banner ads, I suggest looking into Google’s custom search ads service. It allows you to display Google’s text ads on your site’s search page. We’ve done it without any effect whatsoever on our conversion rate. It’s simply displayed below our results. You can greatly customize its look and feel to match your site.

Massive retailers are already doing it. You may think I’m crazy, but the hard evidence and the anecdotal evidence supports allowing advertising on your site. In addition to not affecting conversion rates, there are quite a few large online retailers doing it.

Explore WalMart.com and Macys.com carefully and you’ll find the ads. In fact, many larger retailers employ direct ad salespeople. Their job is to sell real estate on the home page and other high value areas of the site. The bottom line is that if you’ve got eyeballs on your site, you’ve got a potential revenue stream.

The best way to convince yourself of this easy-to-exploit revenue stream is to test it! Create a Google adSense account, hook your site up to Google analytics (if not already), and run an A/B test. See for yourself. I’m sure you’ll find that it’s “money for jam”.

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