You like free, right?

Ana is an expert on free traffic sources, but doesn’t write about paid traffic.

She wouldn’t even know how.

And here’s the thing – why would Ana pay?

Traditional paid traffic sources aren’t designed for her.

Google ads are for big brands. They are a waste of time and money for bloggers and entrepreneurs.

AND YET, Ana sells banner advertising space on her blog.

Clearly paid traffic works for somebody.

There is a paid traffic strategy that will work for you.

Master this strategy and you’ll get enormous amounts of targeted traffic fast and cheap.

What’s the strategy?

Direct media buys.

Why direct media buys will work for you

Direct response marketers have known this for decades. The right offer to a targeted audience is HIGHLY profitable. Best of all, this strategy allows you to control your business — for example, you’ll know that if you spend $1, you can make $1.45 (or whatever) back.
– Ramit Sethi, on the advantages of paying for traffic

A direct media buy is when you buy ad space directly from a publisher instead of going through an ad network like Google AdWords.

Here is why you should consider them for your marketing mix.

Direct media buys…

  1. uncover new traffic sources
  2. get massive traffic without worrying about keywords or quality score
  3. bring in passive traffic
  4. don’t compete with 8 other advertisers for the same ad slot
  5. earn high ROI by targeting the exact right audience you know will convert
  6. scale easily
  7. can start on a small budget and see results immediately

There’s another big advantage direct buys have over ad networks.

You cut out the middleman.

You save 50% and get the same traffic for a much lower price.

Here’s how to do it.

How to do direct media buys

This guide is from a course Ilya Lichtenstein taught on Mixergy: How to buy traffic profitably.

Ilya, a successful affiliate marketer and founder of MixRank, lays out a 4-step process for mastering this strategy.

Step 1: Build a list of sites to advertise on

The first step is to build a list of target sites to advertise on.

Here’s how to find them.

1. Go to social bookmarking sites like Delicious and XMarks.

These sites help you build a list that is highly relevant, but not obvious.

They also favor higher quality sites that people bookmark and return to. You don’t want sites that rank with SEO spam and provide no value.

2. Search for a keyword related to your industry or audience.

It doesn’t have to be long-tail or niche.

3. Look at related topics to expand your list.

Try alternate keywords or enter specific websites within your industry.

If you have a popular site, search for your own to find related sites.

4. Click-thru and scan sites for quality.

The ideal site is relatively small, where you don’t have to spend a lot of money testing or time negotiating.

Here’s a checklist of what to look for:

  • Aim for medium sized blogs, forums, discussion groups and content sites.
  • Best targets aren’t huge, but have some core audience.
  • Sites with an email opt-in list are ideal because they can be reached quickly. Also, these people are most likely to convert.
  • Look for active forums, message boards, classifieds and comments.
  • Have ad space available “above the fold”.
  • Have empty ad spaces, or spaces occupied by the hosts’ own ads.

Here’s a checklist of what to avoid:

  • Don’t deal with anyone who has an ad sales team.
  • Sites stuffed with ads.
  • Sites with media-kits or that already sell direct to brands. These are hard to negotiate because brands consistently overpay for traffic. You’ll know if an ad is direct if you hover over it and the browser shows a link to the ad’s site instead of an ad network.
  • Expensive ad sites or sites with no ads. Instead, find out where else their audience hangs out and buy ads there.

Expert tip: Use a free SEO plugin like Mozbar to estimate site traffic, and find out how many backlinks a site has.

It’s not always accurate, but gives you some sense of a site’s traffic volume.

You want people who spend a long time on the page, who have read through the article, and are looking for, OK, what am I going to do next? What’s my next step?
– Ilya Lichtenstein, on your ideal target

Keep track of your list in a spreadsheet, then get ready to refine it.

Step 2: Refine your list

This step is about reaching a very specific audience.

You consider demographic and psychographic factors to determine where your target market is hanging out online.

By targeting a specific type of person you’ll increase your return on advertising dollars.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Go to Quantcast.com and enter your website in the search box.

If you don’t have a website yet or want to reach a new audience, input one that you think has your desired audience.

2. Examine the data.

You’ll have access to information like gender, education, income and location.

paid traffic research

Decide on your ideal target, for example: college educated American men who earn over $60,000.

(Tip: you can also use this information to find sites to guest post on)

3. Use Quantcast’s free ad planner to find sites who have similar audiences.

Filter for desired demographics, sites with 10k to 100k views, and affinity to desired keywords.

4. Determine if there is a community by looking at traffic frequency.

Some regulars are good.

Too many might mean your ad is continuously seen by the same group, and should be rotated.

5. Find sites with a desirable page-view ratio.

The average number of page views per visit is six.

You want to find sites with a number lower than six, otherwise, you waste impressions showing the ad to the same person over and over.

The most valuable impression is the first time they see the site.

Once you’ve completed this step, you will have a highly targeted list of sites.

Step 3: Decide on your technology platform

There are three ways to serve your ads.

  1. hosted on your own server
  2. from a free ad server
  3. from a paid ad server

Don’t host ads on your own server.

Once you scale to advertising on several sites, the traffic will slow down your server and slow down the loading time of the site the ad appears on.

The publisher won’t be happy.

Instead, use a reliable ad server.

That’s it. You just give them the code. It’s ready to go. It’s being monitored. You know exactly how well it’s doing.
– Andrew Warner, on the simplicity of ad servers

Ad servers work like this:

  1. upload creatives/images;
  2. input the URL you want to link to;
  3. system generates code;
  4. it’s pasted into site to replace existing ads or in rotation.

There is also a free method of serving ads called doubleclick for publishers.

Ask your target publisher to sign up, and follow the steps for displaying ads on their site.

The advantage of using a paid ad server is you have full control of the process.

Use a tool like AdShuffle and you’ll be able to set up the ads yourself and just send the display code to the publisher.

With paid ad servers there is usually a minimum spend (i.e, $50) based on a charge per impression (i.e, $0.01 to $0.05 for 1000 impressions).

Using an ad server also provides accountability.

Since you will likely be buying ads on a CPM (cost per 1000 views) basis, the ad server provides a neutral third party reference for the number of views.

The publisher can’t con you – you just pay whatever amount the ad server says.

Next, you want to track your ad performance.

Use Google URL builder to create trackable links for your ads. Build a separate URL for each ad.

Note the amount of click-thrus you get, but this isn’t the metric that matters.

You want to combine this with Google analytics to find the traffic that converts best – whether that means subscriptions or sales.

For a good start optimizing your ads, use MixRank.

Input a competitor’s website to find out where they are displaying ads and what designs have the best position.

A higher position means that it is working for them.

For example, if you see that “free coupons – print now” is performing better than “free grocery coupons”, you can use that kind of copy in your own ads.

The final step is reaching out to the publishers.

Step 4: Reach out to the publishers

You want to basically send a few emails, do a buy and then move on to somewhere else because you want to be able to do this quickly and you want to be able to do it at scale.
– Ilya Lichenstein, on reaching out

The first thing you need to know is whether or not a site accepts advertising.

Some will have a page dedicated to advertising information.

It should tell you exactly who to reach the publisher and may even have prices.

Otherwise, email the publisher and ask.

If you can find their email address or a contact box on the site, use it.

You can also use a WHOis lookup to find contact information.

However Ilya warns that a publisher that doesn’t provide contact information on their site likely doesn’t want to be contacted.

Here’s a simple email you can send.

I’m an entrepreneur, just like you.

I’m trying to get more attention for my site and would love to negotiate a buy with you.

How much are you selling your cheapest inventory for right now?

By asking how much they are getting for their cheapest inventory (nothing, in the case of leftover space), you anchor the negotiations at a lower starting price.

Warning: Publishers who have not sold ads before, or who have only gone through ad networks may have very unreasonable expectations about what their traffic is worth.

In this case say something like this:

I know how much this traffic is worth to me.

I know what my CPA (cost per acquisition) target is.

I know what I’m looking for.

Let’s start with a $5 CPM test for two weeks.

You will have more leverage if you reach out to more people.

If you have lots of responses that say $5, you can use that against the guy that says $30.

The key is that you don’t want to seem like someone wasting their time.

You want to be legit and credible, but also don’t want to be seen as someone willing to spend a ton of money on testing.

You may also have resistance from publishers who have only ever used ad networks.

They’ll say (or at least think), why take the risk?

Your ideal publisher is the one who has sold a few ads directly and can run things smoothly.

For the publisher, stability and predictability of revenue are major selling points for doing direct media buys – especially if you can lock in for several months.

By using ad networks, their payment can be adjusted or they might even be blacklisted.

It changes day to day.

Here’s the email you can send to most publishers.

I represent mywebsite.com and we’re interested in advertising.

We would like to buy ad space, both in the U.S. and internationally.

We have this budget for this test or we can launch a campaign immediately.

Please put me in touch with the right person to discuss this further.

This works because you:

  • make it clear you want to buy ads directly;
  • suggest a budget, which shows you are serious;
  • say you want to start immediately, the money is waiting for them;
  • it is generic enough to work for small blogs and bigger sites that do ad sales;
  • you say where you are from – publishers don’t want spammy ads.

And you’re done.

Now that you’ve mastered direct media buys, sit back and enjoy the influx of highly targeted traffic.

Have you tried a paid traffic source?

Have you tried paying for traffic before? What happened?

Let us know in the comments – we will respond to every one.

Get My Newsletter

I write about marketing, productivity, personal finance and charity.