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Sales success without the sales staff?
November 03, 2010
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  • Self service can be used as a tool to help publishers broaden their advertiser base
  • The user interface on a self service platform should be simple and straightforward, so advertisers can create campaigns quickly
  • Publishers will need to decide whether to allow their system to only standard ad sizes, or to offer non-standard units as well
  • It is best to set up your self service system so that ads only go live after you have reviewed and approved them

In 2007 and 2008, Facebook and MySpace, respectively, launched self service systems for their advertisers to buy from. Other publishers watched as Facebook quickly won advertisers and earned significant revenue without the cost or difficulty of hiring a sales team. These publishers are now very interested in offering self service systems on their own sites. Self service technology platforms can be built in-house or licensed from a third party (like an ad server or specialized small company).

Many publishers, big and small, want self service systems; in fact, we get many emails each week from publishers that want to incorporate them. Ultimately, some will succeed with this type of system, but it's not right for every site. Here are some advantages to launching a self service platform on your site, and some tips for making it work.

For smaller publishers, self service can replace a sales team
Small websites are generally managed by an individual or a small group of people. Hiring a dedicated sales team to sell advertising is both an expensive task and difficult to do successfully. With self service, smaller sites can earn some ad revenue directly, even without a sales team.

For larger publishers, self service can expand demand
Even if a site already has a dedicated sales team, self service can be a tool to help them broaden their advertiser base. For example, is a well-known web information site, and often received far more incoming emails about advertising than its sales team could respond to. By incorporating a self service platform, many interested advertisers no longer had to email a salesperson at all, but instead just needed to click the "Advertise on this site" link at the bottom of the page. From there, they were able to create an ad, enter a credit card number for payment, and start the campaign, all in just a few clicks.

There are fail-safes for the system, as well, to protect all parties and open important dialogs. For example, as soon as an advertiser's spend exceeds a certain amount, a sales rep can be alerted to contact them, so they can get approval to move forward, or make adjustments to the campaign. In this way, small advertisers can happily buy on self service, and the sales team gets good information on when it's time to engage on a more direct level with a customer.

A simple UI keeps advertisers coming back
Self service tools should have a user interface that is simple and straightforward; advertisers should be able to create campaigns within seconds. Some self service products also provide advertisers with built-in ad templates to choose from. As a publisher you should be sure your platform offers some very simple templates to start off, providing additional choices when necessary. Remember, simple is better: It's surprising how often advertisers who want to buy give up because they don't understand the choices.

Deciding between standard and non-standard ad sizes
When using a self service platform, publishers will need to decide whether to allow their system to only standard ad sizes, or to offer non-standard units as well. Non-standard ones often fit better in to a site's layout; they also often get better CTRs as they can look more like content. However, some advertisers may have existing standard sized ads and won't buy if they can't use them. So offering two dimensions is a good option. One tip is to offer both 300x250s for image ads and 100x80s for text ads. This gives you the flexibility to rotate three of the smaller units in a 300x250 space.

Be thoughtful about targeting options
Self service products can offer a wide variety of targeting options. Publishers can set different rates per targeting parameter (e.g., geographical location and gender). But be careful not to go overboard. Too much targeting confuses advertisers, which can reduce what they will be willing to spend. For example, if you offer city targeting, an advertiser may choose to only target people in Los Angeles and San Francisco. But if you only offer state targeting, he's more likely to advertise to all of California. Consider the type of advertisers who are interested in advertising on your site, and offer targeting options that are likely to make the most sense for them. For example, a social network should offer age, gender, and geo-targeting; a newspaper site might offer targeted placements, such as home page, business section, travel section, weekend supplement, and sports pages.

Maintain creative approval
Be careful. Some advertisers will try to get terrible casino ads, or even ads containing malware into your site. Therefore, it is best to set up your self service system in way where the ads only go live after you have reviewed and approved them. To protect from malware, it is safer not to accept flash uploads. If you really want to offer flash ads, then it would be safer to offer customizable templates, where the advertiser customizes the logo and the text but doesn't need to upload any flash code.

Promote your offering
A final, but important, tip: When you go live, tell all your site visitors on every page about the new, easy option to advertise on your site. Encourage advertisers to try it by placing an "Advertise Here" link under every ad. Even better, offer a coupon or deal for $20 of free advertising. Good promotion will get advertisers to test it out, like it, and buy much more.

Self service systems are a useful tool. They should usually be used as a first step or to supplement other revenue streams, as they won't provide sufficient revenue on their own. They are most successful when working with advertisers that are motivated to work with your site because of its great content.

Google sells billions of dollars per quarter with a self service system. While you might not be able to expect that kind of revenue, with a decent effort, you can get some increased revenue, too.

What was the significance of receiving the TRUSTe seal of approval?
There has been some concern in the industry around policing the practices of small private companies who create value for customers by helping manage their advertising information. We wanted to be proactive and transparent about the way we do business and use technology, so we became the first entity in our space to be vetted by a third party.

We know that TRUSTe is just a piece of the puzzle, and we are working with multiple industry initiatives around standardization of terms and practices regarding ad verification.

Has ad verification become a necessity in online advertising? Where do you see the space headed in the near term?
We recently conducted a survey of more than 200 agencies and networks, asking them about ad verification, and we’ll be releasing a white paper on the results. As a preview, I can tell you that nearly every respondent sees ad verification growing significantly in 2011, and that the category is here to stay.

Near term, we see ad verification becoming table stakes for the majority of networks and publishers selling high volume inventory, and growing from there. In terms of consolidation, there is certainly potential for technology-driven, scaled businesses to provide strategic value to a host of categories.

For our part, we look at the web analytics space as a good proxy for how ad analytics overall might mature, and obviously there was room for a few big players to create a lot of value as that space grew up. Again, we don’t see ad verification as an end in and of itself, rather a way to build relationships and create value for end users that we can expand to a broader analytics offering.

Who verifies the verifiers?
Whether it is IASH, the IAB, the MRC, TRUSTe or any other three letter acronym, the key is that verification and analytics providers should be held to the same standards as measurement companies and others who are critical drivers of valuation of inventory and confirmation of delivery in this online ecosystem.