Are ads on your website effective?

One of the biggest questions for website owners large and small is how to monetize it. Big companies like Twitter have struggled with this question as have fledgling independent website owners. You’re spending your time creating content, but you need to get paid for your work. Many people turn to banner ads as a solution. But are they effective?

Most users ignore banner ads

Let’s cut to the chase here — the answer is simply no. If you browse the Internet at all, you likely already know that.

But while we could simply leave it at that, let’s break things down a little further.

As far back as 2007, Dave Morgan of AOL Global Advertising Strategy performed a study on banner ads. As often happens on the Web years later, the study is no longer available, but Danah Boyd archived some of the study results in a page that still exists. A few takeaways from the study:

  • 99% of Internet users do not click on banner ads.
  • Of the 1% that do, most only click on one ad per month.
  • The people who click on banner ads browse sweepstakes more than any other type of content.
  • In Dave’s words, “Yes, these are the same people that tend to open direct mail and love to talk to telemarketers.”

So from his study, we learn that researchers have known for a long time that banner ads are ineffective, and the few people who do click on them could be characterized as gullible. Boyd characterized them as lower income and less educated — which means these people are likely not who you’re targeting.

As time went on, banner ad success didn’t increase. A 2011 study from Business Insider tells the folly of banner ads with almost comedic comparisons. For example, you are 279.64 times more likely to climb Mount Everest and reach the summit than you are to click a banner ad. Those odds clearly don’t work in your favor.

Why do so many websites use banner ads?

This leads to a fairly obvious question. Knowing how unsuccessful banner ads are, why do websites keep using them?

There are a few possibilities:

  • People want to monetize their site and don’t know of a better way.
  • Site owners think, “As long as I get paid, who cares if anyone actually clicks?”
  • People see their sites losing money and see no other option but to sell ads.

How should a site owner monetize a site?

If banner ads don’t work, what’s a better alternative? Here are a few options.

Create content to generate traffic

First, you need people to visit your site. The more content you create, the more traffic you’ll generate from online searches. Check out our SEO tips to find some suggestions to help you generate traffic for your site from search engines, and use our Social Media Strategy Guide to help you generate traffic from social sites.

Affiliate marketing

Once you have traffic on your site, affiliate marketing can create revenue for your site. For example, if you link to products on Amazon, using an affiliate link can generate money for you when people click the link to buy the product. Be strategic about how you use affiliate links and make sure they’re a natural part of your content — don’t just drop random links into your posts in hopes of making money — but if you use them wisely, they can provide a nice extra benefit.

Sponsored content or paid posts

When you have a decent following on your website, you can begin to create sponsored content. Depending on the type of content you create, vendors might reach out to you to review their products on your site and pay you to do it (or give you free product in exchange). You’ll want to add a disclaimer to any such posts for transparency, but most people don’t have a problem with sponsored content as long as it isn’t the majority of what you publish.

Sell something

Selling a product or service is another obvious way to monetize your website. Create T-shirts or bumper stickers if you have a brand that catches on, or if you’re writing content about a specific industry, you can sell products or services related to it.