Media Buying Fundamentals

media logos

Media buying has been getting huge attention lately. All due to a couple of super-duper affiliates coming into mainstream affiliate marketing world and screaming they’re making from $10K to $100K a day. Some say that’s profit. Yeah, such numbers definitely knock down a bunch of Clickbank “gurus” showing how to make $5000 a month with Adwords or SEO tricks.

But in reality, very few scale to that level. And it’s something you try to achieve for many years. Definitely doesn’t come in a few months as many claim to be. So without further ado let’s try to understand what is media buying and how can you start with it.

Definition of Media Buying

Technically media buying is purchasing advertising. This meaning includes even advertising offline media. Any kind of paid advertising really. And if you can get it free from your buddy who runs media buying agency, then it also includes free advertising. As you can see, it’s almost any kind of promotion really.

But what most folks mean when they talk about media buying – it’s banners. Banner advertising. I know for so long people have talked that banners don’t work. It could’ve been a few successful marketers’ propaganda just to make more money themselves. Or it was those unlucky guys who simply failed at media buying. Who knows?

How it Works?

So if we run with the most widely known meaning of media buying, that means banner advertising, then it doesn’t take a genius to realize how it all works. There are websites, there are people who want to promote on them. Connect the two and you have a media buy.

But it can be divided into more specific categories:

  • A) Direct Media Buys

    It’s one of the simplest and still the best ROI producing methods. How it works? You simply go on Google, find websites that relate to your product. Contact website owners. Negotiate the price for a media buy and run with it. You can start from as little as $50 there and achieve great ROI’s. It’s worth trying.

  • B) Self Serve Media Buys

    This is the place most guys start. Just like Adwords program, there are networks like Pulse360 and Adsonar that offer you to buy inventory on large news sites for as little as $100 deposit. Bids can be pricy at those, because they’re really competitive. Just look at all the MSNBC ads. All dominated by farticles and flogs. Pretty much all large scale affiliates. Hard to compete.
  • C) Large Network Media Buys

    This is the elite class of media buying campaigns. You don’t start with it. People go here and lose their shirt. You must know what you’re doing. I’ve blown $5K with 0 conversions on a few campaigns when I was naive and thought this should work for me. Nope. You only go to these places when you have steady campaigns going for you. And IO’s start from $5K usually.

If you buy media direct from the site, you don’t need to guess where the traffic is coming from. On the other hand with places like ad networks, traffic comes from a bunch of places. These networks act as middlemen and cut deals with many sites so you don’t have to. Of course, they charge more. But in some cases you can save when going with a network. Hard to tell.

Pricing on Media Buys

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I touched on the subject briefly above, but let’s get deeper into the pricing details of media buys. For starters – direct or self serve is the way to go. You don’t need to huge budget and you can get return pretty fast. Self serve networks are easy. No phone calls, no emails. Signup, deposit money and start running. But because of that they’re overused. Competition is fierce and it’s difficult to expect success when starting out.

That’s why I suggest going with direct publishers. Price is a little higher initially, from $50, usually around $250-$500 per site. Unless you go niche. Then you can do buys for less than $100. However, it’s not as cluttered. More room. And more chances to succeed. Find forums, some authority information sites and contact them. As long as it takes more work, like contacting each pub individually, very few are doing it. And it means more playing ground for you.

Advertising networks are pricy. $5,000 minimum insertion orders. Sometimes more. One tip here is to NEVER EVER pay their rate card. We all made the mistake in the beginning. Rate cards are for idiots. Brand advertisers who have more money than brain. $5-$7 CPM is absolutely nuts to pay. You can drop that down easily to $3-$4. If not, move on. Networks have unsold inventory. They need your money. If they’re bitching about it and don’t want to lower the rates, you’ll find the ones who will. Period.

Always pick up the phone and negotiate with them. They’re not your friends. Even if they act so. They’re trying to squeeze you like a lemon. Don’t trust them at all. Know very well what you’re doing before hand and only then approach those guys. Dictate the rules otherwise you’ll be eaten!

Media Buy Tracking

That’s why I mentioned not to trust them. At first you might want to follow what ad reps recommend you and use their ad servers, and let them optimize your campaign etc. Don’t. Always have your own adserver. (Adserver is a tracking platform for media buying. It’s like have your own Adwords account when you pause/add new ads and let them rotate and clearly see what converts and what doesn’t).

For direct or ad network buys I recommend AdShuffle. These guys are the cheapest. You pay no monthly minimums and they’re perfect to start with. You pay them $0.10 CPM in the beginning. It might be pricy if you pay publisher $0.20 CPM. That makes a huge portion of your ad spend. But for average $2 CPM buys, it’s great. And it’s IAB compliant. Which means people trust its accuracy and it’s reputable.

In order to track conversions, you need to place their pixel (1x1 image) on a thank you page/conversion page. It will fire the pixel and let you see what banners/placements made conversions. This way you can start optimizing.

For self serve media buys, you don’t need anything. They have the platform that acts as an adserver already. Just bid, manage the campaigns and pretty much it. Again, very convenient.
3rd party tracking. If you’re affiliate, you’re probably running some CPA offers/affiliate campaigns. In that case, often times you need to use landing pages to pre sell the offer. But adservers don’t tell you what is the CTR from landing page to the offer. Plus you have less flexibility driving traffic directly to the advertiser.

The best platform to use is Prosper202 or Tracking202. These guys are top notch. Free. Yep, it’s totally free and you can track almost everything with it. If a publisher agrees, you can track data and be billed solely off tracking202 numbers. Make sure it’s installed on servers other than Hostgator. I love gator, but they allow prosper202 only on VPS or dedicated. It’s bullshit in my opinion, but if it’s ok for you, then go with it.

Success Tips with Media Buying

Yep, that’s the toughest part. You don’t achieve success immediately. Rarely you do. That’s why media buys has been for the big boys most of the time. You blow money to get data. Only then you optimize. And you need some cash for testing.

But I say that as with any platform you’re advertising with, make sure you set your own rules. Having your own personal system that you follow is crucial. And you need this with media buying. What I mean by that?

Well, let’s say knowing when to pause the ads, offers, how many clicks/impressions are enough and so on. Everyone will say different things. Each has his/her own personal system they’re following. I for example, never run the campaign if it’s losing me 80% negative ROI. I spend $1,000, make back $170 or so. I’ll most likely cut the campaign. On the other hand, it depends on placements. If all conversions come from one placement and you’re profitable there, then I’d give it a second change. But it depends.

The best tip I can give you is to start elsewhere first, unless it’s a small direct media buy. Seriously. Think about it. There are so many elements to test. Landing page and usually you need 3 or 4 to get good statistics. Ads. You need to start with 10-30 banners. Banners include images, ad copy. Websites/placements/pages. Offers lastly. If you test each element, you offer pays out $40, then you can do the math:

10 ads, 2 LP’s, 2 offers, 1 placement =  $40 x 10 x 2 x 2 x 1 = $1600 for a small campaign test. Of course you can usually tell earlier if it works or not. Getting back to negative ROI assessment. If you spend $500, make $20, then it’s probably not gonna work. Again, who knows? It’s very grey area, hard to tell.

Final Words

Media buying is great. You can scale your campaigns fast and to a very large extent. Problem is, margins are very low. It means you’ll be lucky to get back 20% profit ($1,000 spend and $1,200 revenue). You make profit by scaling high. But for a start, you’re not in position of scaling. So stick to cheaper, less risky traffic source like PPC, PPV. Make your money there and expand gradually to media buys. This will ensure you’re not wasting money and will be the best path to take probably.