Small, Low-Risk, Direct to Site Banner Buys

By Ian Fernando

Chad has been a full time CPA affiliate and internet marketer for 2 years and is located in Calgary, AB, Canada. He owned and operated a small web design studio for 10 years. He specializes in paid traffic generation and particularly PPC, Facebook, and Display. On a completely unrelated note he has 18 fights in MMA and Muay Thai and coaches fighters in his spare time.

Hey guys,

First I just want to thank Ian for allowing me to guest post on his blog.

So, what I want to cover today is something that has helped me make some great headway in my marketing endeavors over the past year. Originally I was all about AdWords and Facebook, and for a while I was spending anywhere from $30K to $35K per month on AdWords alone. This is an awesome way to have all your eggs in one basket, and an unstable basket at that.

Well, probably like many reading this I had a couple AdWords accounts banned and my revenue slowed considerably. I've been fortunate to have tried and succeeded with a few different traffic sources since then, but the one that has consistently generated my best ROI since then has been direct to site banner buys. I started out with smaller flat rate buys then eventually graduated to larger CPM buys with higher minimums.

In today's post, I want to talk about the process I use when finding and negotiating small flat rate buys. These have a really low barrier of entry for anyone interested in eventually getting into display buying.

So no, this post might not be as exciting to those expecting to spend 5 figures per day direct to site, but you got to start somewhere.

Before getting into the process here are just a few of the advantages I find to going direct to site especially on smaller buys:

  • We'll be buying on a flat rate. Great if you want to minimize risk.
  • You can get most for under $500/mth and often under $300 per month.
  • Although overall revenue might be low on these, ROI for me is typically 100%-300%.
  • Most small time webmasters have no clue how to monetize their sites, take advantage of this.
  • It takes some digging and research, but there are an unlimited number of sites to go after.
  • Far fewer restrictions than most self serve networks.
  • Everything is negotiable.
  • Full transparency
  • Since I like to attack specific market segments, I go after sites that match my market demographic and sometimes (but not always) interests.

So let's look at how to get going with these smaller buys, step by step:

Step 1: Know Your Market

So basic stuff here, or at least it should be basic. Too often people start with just an offer and build their business around that, I made that mistake early on. Now I focus on my market. Who are they? Where do they hang out?

Don't think just literally here. Think in terms of demographics. So for example, could you market a fat loss product on a gardening site? Do the demographics match? Would the gardening site owner be as savvy as a fat loss site owner? It's not always necessary to match interests.

Basically going this route, you're finding demographic matching traffic sources, then plugging offers and monetization schemes into it.

Step 2: Finding Sites

For small direct to site buys, what I like to do is find about 20 - 30 potential target sites that fit our market demographics. You can go for less but the biggest negative about this method is that a lot of small site owners won't get back to you. So I try to go for volume.

I look for sites getting less than 20K to 30K uniques per day if possible. Even smaller can work. One of my best small buys in terms of ROI had only 2,500 US uniques per day.

When I'm looking for larger sites to buy on, finding the sites is a similar process but with different volume requirements of course.

Here's a few of the methods I use to find some potential target sites:

Method 1: Google Search

  • Simply go to one of the Big 3 engines, preferably Google, and search for very targeted terms to your vertical. Take a look at the sites in the organic search results. This method works best if you have previous converting keywords from a search campaign.
  • At this point I cross reference between Google Ad Planner,, and to find rough estimates on volume. I'll confirm demographics on Google Ad Planner and Quantcast at this point to make sure we're close.
  • This method requires us to be targeted in terms of keywords and demographics.

Method 2: Google Ad Planner & Quantcast Planner

  • I prefer Google Ad Planner over Quantcast Planner for this as it seems to give me deeper and more varied results. In Google Ad planner I'll also search by categories for deeper results still, and I prefer to sort by "Best Composition", which will give me lower volume sites that closer match my audience.
  • Again, I'll cross reference traffic levels in, and
  • In both Google Ad Planner, I'll also scroll down the page of a websites profile and look at the "Audience Also Likes" section. This is audience affinity and basically the higher affinity means the visitor to one site is more likely to visit another site than the average internet user. This gives me even more site options now.

Method 3: Forums

  • If I need even more site choices I'll check out and find forums dedicated to my specific market. Keep in mind, forum traffic can be leveraged in ways other than just banners, such as sponsored forum sticky posts and member message blasts. Honestly though this is my least favorite method as it requires more rotation of creatives to keep them fresh for the forum audience.

Method 4: Previous Google Display Network Data

  • If you've had successful campaigns on GDN and have the Prosper202 or tracking data to confirm referrers, then it's a pretty easy play to contact these converting sites and negotiate a better deal.

Step 3: Contacting the Sites

So contacting these smaller sites can often be a challenge. They don't have the advertising firms that larger sites have that you can deal with.

The first obvious step is just to look at the navigation or scroll down and see if there's an "advertise" link. If there isn't, check if there's a contact link.

If there's neither of these, I'll either move on, or I'll perform a whois look up if I really want to get on that site.

For forums, if none of the above work and you really want to get on there, post in the forum on how to get a hold of an admin or the site owner. I’ve had to do this before for a forum in GCN that was converting great for me and I wanted to cut out Google.

At that point I just send them a message, for the smaller sites it tends to sound much less "pro" than the larger sites:


“Hi there (if there is no contact name)

I was wondering if I could get some info for banner advertising on your site

I’d like to do a test buy as soon as possible.

Thanks very much,

Chad Hamzeh


This is a template I pretty much copy and paste since we are contacting so many sites. Sometimes I don’t even put their URL in the e-mail. This is a numbers game. You could even outsource this if the person knows how to select good targets. With smaller sites I usually use this more casual and personal approach.

Step 4: Deciding What to Pay

So here's the thing. Maybe 10%-15% of these sites will actually get back to you. Sometimes more but usually the number is low, and if they do contact you they want you to name a price. At this point I confirm with them how many impressions my ad will see for the month, and I tell them that I need to buy the entire ad slot for the month or there's no deal. This is really important, you don't want to be rotated with other advertisers on these small deals, the impression count is lower as it is. And again, I'll take the number they give me and cross reference it with the total page views number in Google Ad Planner, if it's available.

Also, keep in mind the geography of the traffic, this is very important. If you're using an ad server like AdShuffle for your tracking, then you can restrict countries, but always keep geo in mind especially if your offers are restricted to one or 2 countries.

If we have previously targeted this URL on GDN, or we decide to do so now, we can get an idea of what to pay to maintain profitability. The following was a response I got from a previously successful site on GDN:

"I normally don't offer banner advertising outside of Adsense because I don't want to deal with the maintenance and upkeep of client accounts, billing, and all that.

That being said, I am willing to replace the

Adsense ads on 50% of the page views, with your banner ads, for $400 a


Currently I receive 130,000 unique visitors a month and over

225,000 pageviews. I will rotate a couple banners if you wish. I can cloak

the links if you want, can link to you with whatever URLs you want, and

will include tracking code if you wish....”

So, on Google Display Network this site was very profitable for me, but at a certain CPM.

So first thing I do is calculate a proposed CPM. This might be a bit of overkill for most people but it's how I do it anyway:

Campaign Cost/page views x 1000 = CPM

$400/112500 x 1000 = CPM (112500 is 50% of his pageviews)

$3.55 = CPM

Then, I'm going to calculate my Max CPM based on my previous campaign data:

Payout x 1000 x CTR x Conv. Rate = Max CPM

$40 x 1000 x 0.004 x .01 = Max CPM

$40 x 1000 x 0.004 x .01 = $1.60 CPM

Finally based on that data, I'm going to calculate my Max Cost for this buy:

Max CPM/1000 x Impressions = Max Cost

$1.60/1000 x 112500 = $180

So you could see in this case, $3.55 CPM /$400 flat rate was too much based on my previous data in this case. Sometimes you can take the risk but it's not advisable. I did it once because I let my emotions get in the way and lost about $1k on a buy. Don't do it.

In that example I had the luxury of knowing my previous placement data from Google Display Network. If I don't have that data and I really want to take it this far, I'll calculate a theoretical Max CPM based on page view data, a lower CTR of 0.25%, and a conversion rate from the click of 0.5-1%. But theoretical data is just that, theoretical.

As a guideline I'm usually looking to pay what would equate to be under $1 CPM and usually under 50 cents CPM.

And finally sometimes I'll just throw out a low ball figure of $50-100 and see the web masters reaction 🙂

Step 5.... and beyond.

I'm not going to go into banner creation and rotating/tracking right now because I think I've already eaten up too much of Ian's real estate on his site. Maybe he can let me come back and continue this but for myself I started out using Prosper202 even for small direct to site buys, but rotating banners was a bit of a pain, and now I use an ad server even for small buys. Overkill, yes, but I like the control it gives me.

So that's it for now. I hope you guys enjoyed the post and will make an attempt at this. It's a great way to build up a portfolio of proven demographic winners that you can later take confidently to larger buys and possibly networks down the road (that's a whole other game)


Chad Hamzeh

Ian Fernando
Involved in the internet space since 2002 and have been through the ups and downs of this online industry. I am a traveling digital nomad, media buyer, online strategist, and many more online titles.

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