How to Purchase Banner Ad Space

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.

Just how do you go about purchasing banner advertising space? Here are your alternatives.

Interactive Media Ad Agencies

Ad agencies — “Media Buyers” is the correct term — can provide full services to a company, so long as you have a large enough advertising budget, starting perhaps in the $5,000 per month range and going as high as the sky. Ad agencies can do everything from helping you design an ad campaign, from preparing the creatives (banner ad graphics) and selecting sites on which to purchase ads, to making the media buys, serving the ads, and tracking the results. I’m convinced that for companies with the requisite budget, media buyers provide excellent value.

The right media buyer makes you money rather than charges you money. Typically an advertiser will go to a media buyer with a specific budget to spend on a campaign. Media buyers earn their living by purchasing advertising space at “net” prices, 15% less than the “gross” prices they charge their advertiser clients. Since advertisers would have to pay gross prices anyway, the media buyer doesn’t really cost anything extra. But media buyers have lots to offer. They know their way around available sites. They can tell the good deals from the bad ones. They often have the clout to negotiate a better price for a buy than an individual company is able to. They’ve likely dealt with a site before, are aware of how much flexibility there is in prices, and know how to ask the questions that bring the price down. They pass this savings along to the advertiser so the ad budget purchases more banner impressions.

It’s hard to recommend just one or two agencies. There are many good ones with conscientious and knowledgeable media buyers. You can find lists of the Advertising Age Top 100 U.S. Interactive Agencies ranked by revenue from US marketing operations, Realize, however, that bigger is not necessarily better, unless the size of your ad budget is on a par with other large clients. Yahoo’s category is “Media Buying and Planning.”

Do-It-Yourself Ad Space Buying

It is quite possible to be your own media buyer, so long as you can increase your workload some. The biggest difficulty is finding the right sites on which to advertise your product or service. You may have found some sites that you think are good matches. Contact the webmaster and ask for a Media Kit or Rate Card. If you are going to be doing a lot of media buying, consider subscribing to the Standard Rate and Data Service (SRDS) Interactive Advertising Source, which costs $519 annually. It contains up-to-date listings of sites, categories, rates, etc.

Realize that there is a lot more banner ad space (“inventory”) available right now than is actually being sold (though this may not be true for the niche sites you may be interested in). It is a buyer’s market, so it pays to negotiate. Of course, each site will have a minimum number of impressions you have to purchase, and if you are close to the minimum you don’t have much negotiating strength. The more impressions you are ready to buy, the stronger your position. The Rate Card price is just a place to begin the negotiations. If you don’t get the price you think you should get, state your offer clearly, and if they don’t accept it, encourage them to call you if they change their mind. Of course, you’re free to call them back and accept their best offer, too.

Search Engine Keyword Advertising

One approach is to display your ad only to a targeted audience by purchasing keywords on a major search engine, such as Yahoo, Lycos, AltaVista, and Excite. Expect to pay $55 to $65 CPM (cost per thousand banner views), but remember only those searching on a particular keyword will see your ad. If you’re making a large buy, try to negotiate for a lower price, or ask them to throw in a few low-traffic keywords in for free.

Banner Ad Networks

A growing phenomenon is banner ad networks, where websites contract with a single company to serve their banner ads and handle ad sales for them. In turn, these networks divide their sites into categories and subcategories to allow advertisers to advertise on particular sites within the network that are the most highly targeted. DoubleClick offers both highly targeted (higher price) and run of site (untargeted, lower price) options. They also offer very sophisticated tracking tools that give you lots of valuable information about who is visiting your site, and what actions they are taking.

Small businesses may be more interested in Microsoft bCentral’s LinkExchange Banner Network that allows advertisers to make buys of under $1,000. LinkExchange prices range from $16 CPM for broader categories, to $23 CPM for “narrowcast” subcategories. (Currently, they have a half-price sale, which may give you an idea of the depressed price of ad inventory at present.)

SmartAge Media Buyer allows small businesses to set up ad campaigns from $100 to $2,500. Rates vary according to the degree of targeting, but, for example, allow purchasing search words on Excite for $85 CPM, and untargeted ads on Excite for $12 CPM.

Of course, smaller ad buys mean you will be paying premium CPM rates, so use LinkExchange and SmartAge for smaller tests. Once you’ve found an effective banner and approach, then negotiate better prices for your larger budget.

Pay-Per-Click Networks

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising only charges you when someone clicks on your banner and comes to your site. However, this approach is subject to fraud by unscrupulous siteowners. One reliable PPC network is ValueClick, which has found ways to prevent fraud. They charge advertisers 55 cents to 65 cents per click-through, and screen their network sites carefully to limit fraud. A minimum advertising buy is $5,000. The advantage of PPC is that you can better control advertising costs. If you know it costs 65 cents to get a visitor to your site, you can more easily predict the cost per sale.

Pay-Per-Sale (Affiliate) Networks

A pay-per-sale (PPS) network only costs the advertiser when a purchase is actually made. Another name for this is an affiliate program. Here the advertiser pays a set-up fee of $500 to $10,000. The affiliate program service provider has already aggregated affiliate sites that desire to link to certain types of advertisers. The advertiser pays only when a sale is made, typically from 5% to 15% of the sale price. The affiliate network receives 20% to 30% of the commission paid the affiliate, but in turn tracks everything carefully and makes all payments to the affiliates. The difficulty with affiliate programs is getting enough qualified affiliates to feature your site, since 95% of the affiliates signed up with the major programs have little or no traffic to their sites. The more expensive programs are BeFree ( and LinkShare. ( Lower priced programs are Commission Junction and Microsoft bCentral’s ClickTrade ( I’ve been quite impressed with the aggressive way Commission Junction has moved to serve small businesses.

If you are a do-it-yourselfer, I encourage you to do a lot of looking before you buy. Ask to speak to other advertisers that have used a particular agency or network, and see what kind of results they have found.

Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
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