Being a small publisher isn’t always so glamorous. One of the most difficult aspects of being one: selling ads.

Like it or not, size matters to online media buyers. That means that many small publishers with great content and quality audiences don’t get the attention they deserve and have to rely on ad networks and exchanges to sell their ad inventory.

But small publishers don’t have to settle for a second-class existence. Selling ads directly is a possibility for small publishers who have time, dedication and the right approach. Here are five tips for small publishers when it comes to the latter.

Target endemic advertisers.

As a small publishers you have to sell smart because, without a sales team that’s working the phones for eight hours every day, you can’t sell big. That means you have to go after the right advertisers. Typically, endemic advertisers are your best bet because it doesn’t take as much to convince them that there’s a good fit. After all, if you run a website for auto enthusiasts, for instance, an auto parts supplier or auto insurance company doesn’t have to question whether your website is appropriate. You can then get right down to the nitty gritty.

Get over CPM.

How much can you sell advertising for? If you’re a small publisher, thinking solely in terms of CPM is probably a bad idea. Instead, try to come up with pricing you can live with that can realistically be justified to advertisers. When dealing with large advertisers, keep in mind that larger budgets don’t necessarily mean you’re entitled to a larger payday. Instead, be smart about pricing. Deals below a certain amount typically don’t require sign-off from higher-ups at larger companies, so it may be wiser to create a package that you try to sell for, say, $10,000, than it is to create a package that you try to sell for $25,000. Do your research here.

Develop assets, utilize them.

If all you’re selling is a bunch of ad space on your website, you’re minimizing your opportunities and you’ll probably never make any money of note. To succeed with direct ad sales as a small publisher, you have to develop saleable assets that will be of interest and value to an advertiser who can buy traditional ad space much more efficiently elsewhere. These assets might include a mailing list or a following on Facebook. Whatever they may be, they should offer the advertiser an additional integration point that increases the likelihood that they’ll reach your audience effectively.

Integrate, integrate, integrate.

To succeed as a small publisher, you have to think beyond traditional ad inventory (eg. display ads). Find ways that you can integrate an advertiser’s brand into your user experience. From contests to sponsorship-style branding, concerns about “selling out” are valid but keep in mind that tight integration, done well and done thoughtfully, can actually be far less intrusive to the user experience. And since being associated with the right brands can often boost the credibility of your brand, remember that integrated promotion isn’t a one-way street.

Manage relationships.

Many big publishers don’t have to work very hard to retain their customers, and they often don’t care when they lose them. That’s because they know that they’ll always have buyers given their size. Small publishers, on the other hand, usually have to work much harder to retain their customers. Once you’ve sold some advertising directly, treat your advertisers like royalty. Keep in touch, provide updates and share ideas that you think may boost the success of their campaigns. By going the extra mile and becoming a resource for them, you have a much better chance at building a long-term relationship.


Selling ads direct as a small publisher is tough work. But by being smart and playing to your strengths, it can also be very rewarding.

Photo credit: jlz via Flickr.