Just because it is cheap, doesn’t mean you should buy it. The inverse is even more true. Numbers spouted by web sites are like listening to stock broker cold calls – put your hand over your wallet and carefully hang up the phone. Page views, visitors, time on the site, demos, reach – bull shit. I don’t blame the sites, they don’t have a clue either. But there again, most sites won’t tell you much of anything.
I’ll give you a case in point – LikeTheDew.com. We started the site and are very much involved. We don’t accept ads, because we know we can’t deliver enough eyeballs for a traditional advertiser – at least, not yet. The site is about 6-months old. We have over 100 writers – many of them extraordinarily experienced, acclaimed and serious journalists. The site is doing great, particularly since we have zero promotion budget. We’re growing in unique visitors by about 25% or so a month and have jumped up 400,000 places in the site rankings this month (if this holds up, we should pass Google in a couple of weeks).
We monitor just about everything on the site. I can tell you who is on the site and where they are. I can tell you what system they run and browser they use. What they click. Where they came from, how they got there and where they go. Who gets our newsletter (all opt-in). Who opens it. How many times they open it. And what link they follow to get there. We don’t trust just one set of numbers, we have six different tracking software programs running at all times, plus “independent” analytics.
Each uses different technology. Each filters robots, spammers, feeds and the like. Each comes up with widely different numbers. So we look for clues to come up with realistic numbers. We can afford to, because we don’t accept advertising.
- So if I want to impress you, I’ll spout pageviews: 176,135 last month. Basing your advertising buy on pageviews would be like buying a magazine based on circulation multiplied by the number of pages read. Nice to know, but MEANINGLESS in total viewers. If does, however, tell us that our readers spend better than average time with us.
- So if I want impress you but seem conservative, I’ll spout visits: 50,420 last month. Basing your advertising buy on visits would be like buying a magazine based on circulation multiplied by the number of times they picked up the magazine. DARNED CLOSE TO MEANINGLESS, but more valuable on a site (repeated advertiser impressions) than in a magazine, since it’s unlikely the reader reads the same stories over and over, and thus will see the adjacent ad over and over.
- So if I want to be more realistic, I’d quietly spout unique visitors: 9,875 in the last thirty days. Basing your advertising buy on visits would be like buying a magazine based on circulation and adding pass along copies. A good number, maybe the best you’ll get, but who are these people, where do they live, will they respond to my ad, buy my product and did they mean to come to the site in the first place? Good questions.
- 11% came from outside the US, had an 80+% bounce rate and averaged less than a minute on the site. So discount these numbers by 11%.
- 44% of the US visitors came from outside Georgia, so if you don’t sell outside of Georgia, you might want to discount the numbers.
- 47% of the Georgia visitors came from outside Atlanta, so if you don’t sell outside Atlanta, you might want to discount the numbers.
- That drills us down to 2,609 unique visitors in Atlanta.
- They spent an average of 4 minutes and 37 seconds on the site on each visit (excellent).
- Averaged visiting 2.65 pages, but 52% only visited one page (decent, but not spectacular).
- 24% were new visitors to the site (pretty good growth).
- As a group, they averaged visiting the site a little better than 8 different days in the month (strong loyalty).
Now file that information away and let’s consider how you are going to be charged for an ad on a typical site based on cost per thousand (cpm). Let’s take a figure like $5 a thousand for impressions (many small sites charge upwards of $20 or more per thousand). On LikeTheDew.com, a one-month schedule, if it were available, would be $880 (176*$5), but what you’d get is 2.6 thousands in Atlanta which turns your cpm into $338.46. Seems a little high, don’t you think?
Does that make LikeTheDew.com (or any other small web site) a bad buy for your company? Not necessarily. It is also important to look at some other things. For instance:
- Environment – few or no ads, and yours stands out.
- Influencers – just how involved are the visitors and how many degrees of separation does it represent to a much larger population? Many smaller web sites have very involved readers. Lots of comments, means loyalty, involvement, etc. which can be meaningful to an advertiser, particularly an affinity advertiser. Likewise, if they have a good number of twitter followers and a high number of Facebook fans who are exposed to each post and comment, can be an enough of a multiplier to make it worth it.
- Audience composition – LikeTheDew.com is more like the features section you used to find in a good newspaper. People stories, reviews, lifestyle and even politics. These readers are involved, upscale and smart. Might be the intangible that makes the price worth it for the right advertiser with this target.
- Value adds – do you get a daily email newsletter with your buy? LikeTheDew has 1,100 opt-in email readers. That is a bonus.
- Content – if your product aligns with editorial (food with food), you might find that promoting to this audience is worth the premium.
- Cause rub-off – if your company uses cause marketing to promote your brand, being a supporter of a small web site that advocates causes consistent with your brand, may make it a valuable buy.
- Partnership – most small sites will work with you because they want your support. Set some reasonable and trackable goals (clicks, transactions on a unique offer, etc.) and ask the site for a make-good if you fall short.
On the flip side, if your company needs numbers – sheer, quick reach to make the transactions work, stay away from small sites. They won’t work for you. There are plenty of opportunities out there for lower cost impressions.
Bottom line: just because it is affordable, doesn’t mean it is.