Here’s a little secret very few people know: there’s a lot more traffic available than there’s demand for. The easiest and fastest way to get a million visitors is… (drumroll, please) to buy traffic. I’m not talking about Google AdWords. There’s way too much competition there these days and although it is possible to keep AdWords campaigns profitable, it’s not as easy or affordable as it once was. I remember when I used to get extremely qualified visitors for 5 cents each. Those were good days!
So, where can you buy quality traffic at a low cost these days? You need to buy advertising space on websites where your target audience is hanging out. This can be extremely profitable if you do it right or break your bank if you do it the wrong way, so please pay attention.
Note: before I get started with how to buy ads profitably, let me say something: a lot of people are against paying for traffic. They think that everything on the web should be free. What they need to consider is that nothing is free. If you spend an hour of your time doing social media and you’re worth $25/hour, then you just spent $25. If you can get more and better traffic for less than $25, then you should. Let’s debunk the myth of free traffic. Traffic is only free when your product is so amazing that people talk about it, link to you and share your content.
OK, so here’s the system to run a profitable advertising campaign.
Step 1: Create a Great Landing Page
These are the most important characteristics of a great landing page:

  • There’s only one call to action and it’s obvious what you expect your visitors to do
  • The call to action is above the fold
  • The headline gets your visitors to pay attention and you use bulletpoints to explain how your product or service will improve your customer’s condition. I also love videos; they’re a great way to get your point across in less than a minute.
  • You have social proof (testimonials, list of clients, case studies, celebrity endorsements, etc.)
  • You get rid of all the distracting elements (i.e. everything that doesn’t help your customer complete the goal you expect them to, whether it’s to fill out a form or buy a product).
  • Invest in great design. Trust me: for every dollar you invest in design, you’ll make at least $10 back. Great design significantly improves conversion rates. You can check CSS Galleries for some award-winning designers.
  • You can use Unbounce to create great landing pages and Visual Website Optimizer to test headlines, calls to action, offers and other elements on your page.

Step 2: Know Your Numbers
You need to know how much you can afford to pay for every visitor you get. This is how you do it:

  • Figure out how much a conversion (sale or lead) is worth to you
  • Figure out your conversion rate (how many visitors you need to get one sale or lead). If you don’t have this data yet, take a guess and adjust it later based on actual data.
  • If you make $100 per conversion and your conversion rate is 1%, you need 100 visitors to make $100, so every visitor is worth $1 to you. Now you know that if you’re paying less than $1 per visitor from a traffic source, this traffic source is a good one.

Step 3: Find Out What’s Working for Your Competitors
There are two elements that will make all the difference:

  • Your creatives (banners, text ads, etc.)
  • Your placements (what websites and pages you advertise on and where on the pages the ads are placed)

Use these two awesome tools to find out what your competitors are doing:

These tools show you ads that your competitors have been running for a long time. Your competitors aren’t stupid; if they run an ad for months, it’s because it works. This is a crucial step in the process. Don’t try to be creative; copy what’s already working for others.
Step 3: Buy Ads Through an Ad Network
There are two ways to buy ads: through a network or by dealing directly with website owners. These are some networks you can buy ads through:

Very important: choose one ad network and get to know it extremely well. Don’t spread too thin at first. Once you have a winning campaign, you can start expanding to other networks.
Step 4: Track Everything and Stop What Doesn’t Work Immediately
It’s all about the numbers. Use parameters in your links so Google Analytics shows you what campaigns, creatives and placements are working and which ones aren’t. Simply put, if an ad is costing you more than it’s making you, get rid of it.
Step 5: Negotiate Directly with the Site Owners
When an ad is working great for you, contact the site owner and offer them to pay a monthly fee for the ad (as opposed to CPM, or cost per thousand impressions). You’ll get a much better deal because most networks take a 30%-50% cut, and the site owner (called publisher) will get more money as well.
If they want to do CPM instead of a flat fee, that’s OK. Just make sure you run your ads through a third-party ad server so both you and the publisher can see how many impressions you get.
Some tips to buy ads directly:

  • Go for sites with more than 10,000 uniques a month. You can check this with Quantcast and Compete.
  • Medium-sized blogs are great. They have a good reach, their visitors tend to be of high quality and they’re not full of ads, which will help your ad stand out.
  • If the site has a newsletter, ask them to include you in it. This is usually extremely effective.
  • If you have an affiliate program in place and have developed a strong relationship with the publisher, offer them to become an affiliate instead of paying them for ad space. They’ll work harder to promote you and can make much more money this way.
  • When you pay by impressions (CPM) a very important metric is pageviews per visitor. The lower it is, the better. This is because when you pay for 100 impressions, you want 100 different people to see the ad, not one person to see the ad 100 times. In the beginning, ask for a frequency cap of 1. Later, if it converts well, you can increase it to 3.
  • Xmarks is a great resource to search for websites by keyword.
  • Whenever you find a website that performs really well, do a “related” search on Google:
    You can also use Quantcast’s “Audience Also Likes” feature:

    When you negotiate with your rep, share your numbers. If you can afford to pay $10 per conversion, say something like: “I want to do a $15,000 IO (insertion order) but I want to make sure you can make the numbers work for me. I need my CPA (cost per action) to be under $10. I’d like to run a test and if the numbers work, I’ll place the $15,000 IO. I’d like to spread it over 90 days and I want a 24 hour out clause.” (Which means that if the numbers don’t make sense after 24 hours, you can void the contract.)
    Before negotiating directly with portals and sites, make sure you’ve gone through ad networks and you have creatives and landing pages that work. Once you know your numbers, it’s much easier to approach sites directly.
    You’ll get much better rates if your rep knows you and trusts you. Go to Ad Tech and meet as many reps as you can. And call your rep over the phone; everyone emails them and when you call them, you’re standing out from the crowd.
    Always ask for remnant traffic. This is traffic inventory the publisher couldn’t sell. This is how you should word it: “I’m interested in buying some remnant traffic. What’s the lowest bidder paying?” Knowing the lingo makes all the difference because it shows your rep you know what you’re talking about.
    If you only serve the US market, ask for US traffic only.
    Use day-parting to show your ads only on days of the week and times of the day when your ads convert.
    You can use exit popups to ask for email addresses when visitors try to leave your landing page.
    When you negotiate directly with a site, give them an iFrame to place on their site. By doing this you’ll be able to test stuff on the fly instead of having to ask the webmaster to make all the changes you want.
    Always say you’re an agency. They’ll respect you more and you’ll get better rates. Create a basic website for your agency.
    Some ad networks auto-optimize your creatives based on which ones convert best. Definitely take advantage of this feature. If you go directly to the publishers, make sure they allow you to use a third-party ad server that optimizes your creatives.

And remember: never stop tracking. Track every campaign, every ad, every traffic source and every creative. Get rid of what doesn’t perform quickly.
Do you have any questions?