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Online advertising for writers

WritersServices Self-publishing

Online advertising and the writer

The early Internet was a medium for organisations and businesses who quickly recognised the commercial value of websites. It was only a small step from providing information about themselves and their products to actually advertising.

But it was Google which really seized the moment and made Internet advertising a global business. Their Unique Selling Point was that they delivered adverts that in some way matched what the browser was looking for.

The Internet is really the marketers’ dream. The ads are  responding to a user request. A web page is a unique ‘magazine’ or ‘newspaper’ that can be prepared for each ‘reader’. The key point is that the system knows just enough to allow adverts to be targeted to the interests and possibly the interests, gender and ethnicity of the person.

There is also a different, inverted economy of scale when working on the Internet. For conventional newsprint, an advert has to bear its share of the finite print space booked. Rather than paying for tens of thousands of items to be printed, or space paid for in unread newspapers, each Internet page is unique. It only springs into existence at the behest of the person calling it up, so the unit cost per reader, as well as the absolute costs, can be very much lower. On the Internet, the ‘print run’ can be one but is potentially infinite.

So online advertising is good news for emerging companies and micro-businesses where big advertising budgets are not available. They can still be visible online.

Online display

The Google ads model (also provided by other search engines) can appear when you do a search or when you visit some websites. The space on the page is allocated by the site owner but it is Google that chooses and sends the ads. What makes this such a powerful tool is that ads are based on the page content which the search engine has analysed. So the model works like this: ‘If you chose to look at this page, you might be interested in these adverts’.

As far as we know, they do not know anything about the person browsing except that they are interested in the contents of that page. But be aware that all browsers are sequestering a profile about users to help target ads. They will deny it - they juts want to make the service more relevant and responsive to your needs.

The Google ads model (They call it 'AdSense' - also provided by other search engines)

Everybody's equal!

All ads look similar and again it is the page owner who selects the shape, size and colour. This introduces an unprecedented degree of equality among businesses - All the display ads look the same so the author of one book and the world's biggest publisher would look the same on the web page.

However, not all ads are really equal - some are 'more equal' than others as George Orwell would say. The ads to be displayed are selected from among the businesses that have subscribed and it is the ones that are selected that is important.

This uses a sophisticated model, as you would expect. There is nothing as simple as rate card. You make your bid. Then where-and-when you appear depends upon what you pay.

  • If you are selling music, you will need to pay more to be displayed than someone who is selling antique music instruments.  

So, as an advertiser, you will need to study the metrics and tweak your payments to make sure your adverts are actually displayed. Your $50 budget could last a long time because your ad never gets displayed. It is like budget airlines and ebay – the price is set by the market. The more you pay, the better your position. Pay pennies and you will not make it to the first page.

  • There is often a pay per view (some call this impression, mirroring the old print terminology) and a pay per click model as well as a pay per view model. The only way to see which one works for you is to go and experiment. You will find people who will tell you the ads are so wonderful as they only pay if people respond to the ad and others who argue that just being there is what matters, as it is cheaper and brings people in.  

The high level of acceptance of these small ads is because they are there on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis. They don’t shout at you but just give you a tagline. When this appears on somebody’s site, Google call this ‘Affiliate marketing’ and that term has been adopted: The affiliate gets paid for hosting advertisements. If your website relies on selling things then you probably don’t want rivals advertising alongside your offering (although some targeted blocking is allowed). But if you are looking to fund lots of free, quality content then Google ads are one possible way to help pay the bills.

Should you host online adverts? The average small business has little chance of building a massively popular site that will attract the quantity and quality of visitors you need to support decent advertising revenues. WritersServices displays about a quarter of a million ads per day, but even at that level you won’t pay one proper salary. For small businesses, think of paying for small online ads to drive sales to your site, rather than hosting them in the hope that they will boost your income.

The future of display ads

If you wanted to see the shape of things to come, open an Amazon account and I challenge you to resist their recommendations. They not only know where you live (to deliver your books), they know your credit status (from your payment card), and as much information about yourself as you are prepared to give. So they are very good at getting me to buy books because they suggest ones that I want. It is like one of the old book clubs except that Amazon actually offers me books that I want to buy.

Facebook and similar social networking sites can use profiles to select the adverts. So this model can generate cost-effective results but you are dealing with the most savvy group of users, so do deliver what you promise or you will get shot down in flames. Social networking sites often allow you to include widgets on your site and what is a widget other than an advert. The cover of your book can have a link to download or buy your book.


The online ads are just widgets. The ad will then have a link which can lead you to an information and sales site. So a book widget can bring people to you but will you hold them? Your widget dives people to the place where you can sell your book. All of the online booksellers will generate widgets for you as they will bring the sale back to them.

It works like this:

  • You put your book in Amazon (for instance)  
  • Make a widget and copy the code
  • Paste it into your social network and update your page
  • When somebody visits the page there is an image of your cover (or whatever) which is supplied by Amazon, in this example

This is a no-cost online advert - so it has to be profitable.

But not every on-screen ad works.

Banners are making a comeback. These can be a static or an animated banner with companies pushing the technical boundaries in their attempt to catch our attention because of their ‘entertainment’ value. A banner might have media such as video or audio included, and various gimmicks are being employed.

Some banners sometimes have the page to themselves for a while: Others use ambiguous wording to encourage users to click through to the advertiser’s website. There are also floating ads that are at the front of the screen until they are watched or you click on them.

There is plenty of evidence that intrusive ads have the power to irritate and the reader will leave and not return: So these are not recommended if you are devising a long-term strategy, but they do work if you need to ‘shout’ at your audience. And banners are ideal for small screens common in mobile devices.

A free lunch?

Some service providers offer you a free website in exchange for hosting their advertisements. But you will have little or no control over the adverts that may damage your brand and lose you readers.

But beware of complacency. Users of the Internet are increasingly sophisticated and you still only have a few seconds to meet their expectations. Internet users know to look for signs of reliability and credibility before they part with their money. So online advertising will get you a lead, but it won’t land you the business.

Get on with it!

The trend is unmistakable and irreversible - Web ads are the future. The low entry cost plus their capacity to be aimed at people who are interested makes this an excellent marketing tool for writers.

Online adds are cheap and targeted. It is well worth a few experiments. One final tip, make sure you have your blog/sales site in place first.



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