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Developing advertising rate cards

I've been in the market for some ad space recently and downloading rate cards from all over the web. The formats vary widely and some presentations have certainly grabbed my attention - so here's my thoughts on what makes a good rate card.

What is a rate card?

A rate card lists advertising prices, but it also functions as promotional copy; i.e. not just how much it costs to advertise on the site/in a newsletter, but why the target should do so; plus general information on the industry covered and a profile of the people using the site - demographic information such as age, profession and income.

"Rate card" is a term left over from the days of old media - print magazines, tv etc; when advertising information was in hard copy. Most rate cards for sites these days will be in PDF format. It's recommended to have it in PDF as it's easy for the interested party to distribute to others within their company or to present at meetings. It's also wise to have much of the information on a normal web page too as it becomes search engine spider food.

It's not unusual to have to register to get download access to a PDF rate card and its a good idea as you grab the interested party's details - most people won't balk at supplying an email address, but don't make a phone number mandatory; most won't want to be harassed by an ad sales rep and many will suspect that's what will happen if they do provide that info.

Show me the money

The problem I struck with a few of the rate cards I downloaded is finding the actual rates. One rate card was 12 pages long - 11 pages of marketing spin followed by their pricing buried in a small paragraph. Another was the same, but didn't even include the rates.

Depending on your target market, the first two things people are going to want to know is:

a) Coverage/circulation
b) Price

... and those basics can be on the first page.

People are busy - if you make the person trawl through all the self-trumpeting and they have to look hard for those two important pieces of information; you'll likely set yourself up for little advertising business. Drill-down demographics and industry statistics are an important part of a rate card, but to me, it's secondary - the person is on your site as they already have a good idea that your traffic is the kind they are after. 

Leave the pretty bar and pie charts, graphs and associate information for subsequent pages; but if you can add some sort of hook that can fit on the first page such as testimonials or sample results, that's certainly a good idea. Consider the rate card first page to be an executive summary of the rest of the document - a landing page of sorts.

Ad rate card accessibility

As mentioned earlier on, there's nothing wrong with making people register to download a rate card in PDF version, but first of all they have to find the page. On quite a few sites I visited, the advertising page was buried, or I needed to click here, there and everywhere just to get to the point that I could register. Bear in mind the "3 click rule" - a visitor should be able to access any information regarding your product or service within three clicks of any other area of your web site.

Advertising pricing

Just a thought on pricing - while the big players often quote outlandish prices on their rate cards, it's not uncommon for them not to achieve it. Some of the major online destinations can have over 50% of their advertising inventory available at any time and they just use in-house ads to fill those spaces. Their advertising rates are published in the hope of scoring their desired amount, but are often just a starting point for negotiation; so it pays to haggle.

A colleague of mine recently scored advertising on a site at around half their listed price! It's just the way things are done with the bigger sites and companies. 

While that's a good tip if you're looking for advertising, but if you are trying to attract smaller advertisers too - chances are they'll just see you as being overpriced and not even attempt to contact you to negotiate a deal; so keep things realistic unless you don't really need the cash flow.

Filling ad inventory spots

Handling your own ad sales can be a very time consuming task - if that's something you don't have a lot of; or if you're looking for ad revenue options that can fill empty inventory while you await advertisers, consider using Google AdSense .


Creating landing pages
Crafting marketing copy
Developing an ecommerce web site

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
Tutorials, web content, tools and software.
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