Friday, April 24, 2009

Ad Swaps: A Smart and Easy Way to Get Free Traffic

After yesterday’s post , I decided to follow up with a strategy you can use to get quality free traffic. One of the easiest ways to get visitors to your web site is to spend money. Nothing is more effortless then paying for traffic. But if you can’t afford it or don’t want to pay, there’s an equally simple but free way to get traffic: ad swaps.

An advertisement swap or ad swap is simply an arrangement where you agree to put up someone else’s ad on your site or email newsletter in exchange for them doing the same.

The goal of an ad swap is mainly to get exposure for a specific purpose, such as selling products/services or improving awareness of your brand/site. This is different from a link exchange because you are not seeking to improve your search engine rank.

The link value doesn’t matter at all. What matters is getting visitors into your web site.

Four Pre-Requisites for a Successful Ad Swap

ad-swap-prerequisite
Image Credit: Erik K Veland

For an ad swap to be successful and fair, there are four pre-requisites to be fulfilled:

  1. Equal traffic and exposure: Both parties ought to have websites that receive a steady amount of visitors everyday, or an email list with a decent amount of subscribers. Otherwise, there is no meaning in setting up an ad swap in the first place. Ad swaps are most agreeable when both parties have an equivalent audience reach/traffic count.
  2. Fair and Good Ad placement: Traffic flows more easily to you when your ad is displayed in a spot which is easily viewable and accessible by visitors. While site designs may differ, both parties should endeavor to exchange ads that are displayed in a similar fashion. A pop-under does not capture visitor attention in the same way as a site-wide banner, so seek to use equivalent ad formats too.
  3. High Relevancy: In the best scenario, an ad swap should occur between websites in the same niche, as both parties would benefit from a trade in visitors with an already established interest on the same topic. But it is possible for trades to occur for sites in different niches. The essential point to remember is that your ad/message MUST be relevant to the page or site where it is placed and vice versa for your ad partner.
  4. No Conflicting Purpose. If you’re a merchant selling a product or a firm offering a service, you should not do ad swaps with competitors (other merchants/firms in the same niche). However ad swaps can be done for joint promotion of a specific event or shared project. You also should not do an ad swap with a site that contradicts your brand’s ethos or image (e.g. PETA doing an ad swap with Kentucky Fried Chicken).

There is one more important factor and that’s networking. Webmasters and bloggers are often inundated with requests for link trades: they have a defensive barrier against requests from strangers. Unless your site has some reputation or authority in your niche, ad swaps usually need to be prefaced with an established relationship.

People are far more likely to do ad swaps after they become more comfortable with you, when they don’t see you as a leech but a potential benefit. So keep this in mind as well when you aim to fulfill the four other prerequisites.

Seek Quality Ad Partners, Don’t Settle For Anything Less

traffic-exchange
Image Credit: andy frankwick

You may be familiar with the traffic exchange networks of the past (and present), places where webmasters can go sign up, submit their site and browse through each other’s websites in order to earn viewing credits that can be converted into pageviews for their own site.

It’s all about trading incentivized glances in a merry-go-round of self-interest. You look at my site, I look at your site. Everyone is happy. And it goes on ad nauseam.

Even though these pageview-trading rings are called traffic exchanges, they aren’t useful because you don’t get truly targeted and interested viewers, people who click through to your site because they were honestly compelled by curiosity or desire, not because they want more hits to their own website.

I bring up the topic of the old-school traffic exchanges to emphasize the importance of having a quality ad swap. One should carefully select ad partners because you need to maximize your returns with a limited inventory: you only have that much ad space to trade.

Your goal is to get the best quality visitors from your ad. To achieve that, you must try to only trade with websites that have a quality audience. Don’t do ad swaps just because someone asked you to, it could end up being a waste of time and ad space.

You probably know how to find quality ad partners already, as you should be familiar with your niche. If not, find them by doing a Google search for your site’s keywords.

If you can’t set up a good ad exchange because your site doesn’t get enough traffic, try again after you’ve developed a greater audience. Or you can negotiate with more popular sites by reducing the display length for your ad against their ad, although even that may not work.

Types of Ad Swaps You Can Set Up

All ad swaps can be measured with tracking links and analytics so both parties can compare how many hits they received with the clicks they sent out. If you’re doing an ad swap with a friend or prefer a looser agreement, you can forgo click data and stats altogether. The choice is up to you. Here are some ad swap formats you can use.

  • On-site Banners and Text Links. This includes banners of all sizes and text links on a site-wide basis or on specific webpages. Includes blog post promos.
  • Email Newsletters. Involves inserting a mention of your ad partner’s website or product/offer. This can be accompanied by a personal endorsement or not.
  • RSS Feed Ads. These are either text links or image banners placed within an RSS feed.

Some Extra Tips and Recommendations

One guideline I follow is to never send traffic to my homepage or any page that is unoptimized. A custom landing page must be created for each ad swap. I can design it for the purpose of capturing leads (freebie + opt-in) or set it up so that it becomes a welcome page (’Hello, visitors from Site A!’) with a short introduction and deep links.

I also pay special attention to the ad banners used. Banners that reference your partner’s site name or brand tend to get better click throughs, although you should get permission first. Sometimes they do not want to appear as if they were endorsing your site, although they are already implicitly doing so by having your ad up.

Ad Swaps Aren’t Hip Now But They Still Work

While it’s a common email marketing practice amongst internet marketers, I don’t often read about ad swaps being recommended as a traffic strategy for bloggers or webmasters. There were a few ad trading networks around but none of them really caught on for some reason.

Perhaps it sounds archaic and boring compared to all the super cool social media viral marketing buzz building tactics being promoted right now by all the experts. Yes, ad swaps may sound dull but they still work if you know how to do them right. If you’ve got ad space you can’t sell, why not give it a shot? You have nothing to lose at all. ^_^

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