The Highly Profitable Traffic Strategy You Aren’t Using Yet

The Highly Profitable Traffic Strategy You Aren’t Using Yet

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You like free, right?how to buy traffic

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

She wouldn’t even know how.

After this round up post on how to get more traffic, a reader commented that Ana should consider buying traffic.

Here’s what she said.

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 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 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.

Here’s a free ebook of this article.

Image Credit: Design inspiration for the Featured Image from: KISSmetrics

traffic generation cafe comment below

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58 Comments (click here to leave a comment)

  1. I never tried buying direct ads. Simply because I didn’t wanted to sige owners since it takes quite long time to deal with.

    But after reading this post I can image how much traffic can I fet from direct ads.

    Thanks for the great post.

  2. Michael,

    You and Ana are excellent teachers. Direct Media Buys is something else to add to my list of things to do.

    I have never paid for my traffic because I have heard of too many horror stories. But the stories could have come from people that had no idea what they were doing.


    To see for myself, I may test it out once I am more familiar with it and create a sound strategy.


    Stacie Walker

  3. Michael, in-depth and much appreciated. At least I know that to do it right will take a little planing and effort. I just heard an interview with Google’s former poster boy for white hat SEO who makes a convincing argument that Google isn’t motivated to share its SERPs because it has its own products going forward. The take-home advice was to pay for advertising to get traffic. You make an excellent point: paid traffic must work for someone.

    • Ana Hoffman

      I think Google is cornering many sites to do just that, Astro – pay for the same traffic they’ve been enjoying for free for years.

      • I totally agree with that. It really seems like Google is moving toward becoming a paid search engine. I hope not.

        There is just something especial about free traffic from SEO (of course its not technically free since you spend a lot of time and resources on ranking so you can get that “free” organic traffic) that I would hate to see it gone.

        • Ana Hoffman

          I suppose that’s the nature of being completely dependent on a third party to bring us traffic, Satrap – they are the voice behind the throne.

          I am with you though; hopefully, SEO is here to stay, just change shapes.

  4. JamesW

    Great post Michael, and yes I tried buying traffic for couple of times, some went good but some went bad. And meaning bad, the traffic wasn’t targeted and that can make a huge impact on the business.
    And the money will be wasted, but again, I would recommend buying traffic since it will save you a time and will speed up your online presence and increase your user base. You just need to know how to convert them.
    thanks for sharing

  5. I’ve done a few direct media buys and didn’t convert as I thought it would…then again, I didn’t test more than one product, which needs an updated sales page.

    (My book Duct Tape SEO is the product I’m talking about, FWIW.)

    I’d have to agree that it’s a viable traffic source (as I did get traffic), but will need to experiment further with various offers and landing pages. I like how you broke down your process (using Quantcast’s Ad Planner feature, for instance, is a new route I hadn’t thought of), even finding the targets leveraging XMarks, etc.

    One question, though – you mention using Google’s URL creator….when I clicked that link, Google suggested the tool needed to be “deprecated” or was otherwise phased out. When was the last time you used it?

    Seems they no longer support the tool.

  6. I remember when I asked Ana that question and was somewhat surprised at her response..

    But since then I’ve tested out various paid traffic sources and have found success even with smaller far less expensive sources. In fact I even got a free ebook currently within the navigation menu of MSB listing many Paid Traffic Resources because I truly believe it is important enough for any netrepreneur to look into instead of a continuous cycle of “kneeling down to the Google gods” as I wrote in a recent post.

    One thing I will say concerning most of the paid traffic sources I’ve used so far is that they do not seem to convert well for blogs YET have been awesome for certain affiliate offers and squeeze pages!

    But just like everything else in this business, I shall continue testing and tweaking :)

  7. This is really an incisive and indepth information on buying direct traffic. My site is a micro niche site and i am working on SEO for organic traffic which i think is long term. I do think that buying traffic do have a lasting effect on blog or website.

    Another thing is the the consistency of the site where one is buying traffic.What happen if traffic drops on such site.That would defeat the purpose of buying traffic in the first place.

  8. Hi Ana and Michael.
    Michael, this is completely new to me. I haven’t thought of using direct media buys. It is not in my strategy to use Google adwords but I am not convinced about its performance especially if I want to bring traffic to a blog. This is something different. I have to check out in details the steps you mention here and evaluate the cost.
    Thank you for sharing.

  9. Michael,

    My personal experience with paid traffic was a solid, “meh!”. I made a very slight profit overall, but never enough for the time I expended.

    But I absolutely acknowledge I went into it with less than a expert knowledge. You have some great tips here and I can see where driect medi buys would be the way to go, and perhaps quite a profitable endeavor when done properly.

    Thanks for sharing all this.


    • Ana Hoffman

      He reads my post and actually follows my advice. lol

      Standing out is the point.

  10. Hi Michael,
    I haven’t try direct media buy but after reading your step by step guide, I think I have to make it in my consideration. Thankyou so much for such an informative post.

  11. This is completely new to me. I started to think about having paid traffic since I am desperate enough with my monthly traffic reports.

    Your post here is a great plan for me to take.
    Thanks Michael.

      • Hi Michael,
        I know about it along time ago, but I finally tried it in January. My firt concern was cost. I’ve tried link exchange membership … Not worthy.

        I’d like to try something such as adwords but cost is still my first consideration. Besides I am on progress to finish my first eBook. So I learn a lot from any recomendation like yours here in the post.


  12. Michael, this is extremely interesting stuff. It might be the circles I run in, but discussions of paid traffic are super rare :)

    You’re look at it, especially the relevance of direct media buys, is awesome.

    I’m not sure if it’s a move I want to make immediately or anything, but it’s planted seeds.

    Great stuff, man :)

  13. Very interesting article Michael. Right now it’s a long shot for me to do this but it actually opened up my thoughts to running direct media ads for my SEO Hacker School. Will give you a heads-up once I do dive into this.

  14. Hi Michael, that is certainly a detailed look at how buying traffic works.

    I know a lot of people,(myself included) who do quite well with Google Adwords. Of course you can’t just “pop in” and expect any kind of recent ROI, you have to actually, you know, LEARN to use the system.

  15. Nice detailed article Michael. I will also agree with Micah. I know a friend who makes more than 2K a month from Google ads… and that’s a result of creating hq content, nothing something like a great awesome strategy. I believe every strategy works for some people. It’s just you have to have the experience and become an expert in a specific strategy. This one here, can work best for you but not for me, another can work best for me but not good for you too either.. As for Google and penguin, it is how someone take things. If you want to play by the rules of Google you just do what they want you to do. I know people that are in the internet marketing business since 1998. Their old method still works. Easy and fast methods to produce money are never a success and I don’t believe anyone who tells me that. Thanks for sharing.


  16. Interesting article, Michael…

    I have heard the term ‘Direct media buys…though, I guess I totally misunderstood the actual concept….

    I have been researching the utilization of paid site advertising from the other end( on own site) so I had to re-read through your post, to get the concept of applying the opposite method…and the fact that your article is quite detailed….as far as the processes are concerned…

    Site advertising is a much broader area, with far more forms of application(ways of going about it) than I would have ever guessed…

  17. Chikara

    Nice tips, Michael. I’ve been using some of the second tier sources of PPC traffic but getting more direct might be a great idea. Thanks for the post.

  18. Hi Michael, we don’t read very often how we can take advantage of paid traffic so it’s nice to read a step by step guide of the whole process of buying direct ads, I really learn something new today and whenever I decide to advertise a service on other sites I will use this post as a reference, thanks for sharing…

    • Thanks Kostas – when Ana and I discussed post topics, this one stood out as being “something new”. Glad it was useful.

      How are you promoting your blog now?


  19. Hi Michael,

    Very interesting post, with great details.

    I have tried it, and with some success. I got traffic, but I believe that I didn’t plan the landing page right. So, in the end I didn’t get enough customers.

      • I can’t remember exactly, because it’s been a while since I did this. But, I probably invested apx. $200 and I stopped because I realized that my traffic didn’t convert. So, I had to work on the things in my end (the landing page, and the sales process with email sequence etc…) and I never got back into paying for ads after that :)

  20. Hi Michael,

    Really interesting and informative post, I haven’t tried Direct Media Buys but I did try Google Adwords. After reading your article, I understand how important role “direct media buy” can play in getting relevant and targeted traffic on your site even at lower cost.

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

    What is this, some kind of joke? lol

    I know a lot of people,(myself included) who do quite well with Google Adwords. Of course you can’t just “pop in” and expect any kind of recent ROI, you have to actually, you know, LEARN to use the system.

    I really cracks me up when people rag on PPC, it just shows they have no idea what they are talking about.

    The rest of your article may be spot on, but your comments on PPC are asinine.

      • No I have not,

        Look, I’m sure it works great, you obviously put a lot of time and effort into making it work for you. Awesome. And if that’s what works for you, well more power to ya.

        It may even be a better option than PPC for a lot of people.

        But to make a broad sweeping statement like “Google ads are for big brands. They are a waste of time and money for bloggers and entrepreneurs.” is absurd.

        I just don’t understand why some bloggers and marketers feel the need to bash one option in order to promote another. I mean it’s not like the two are mutually exclusive. You do need to have more than one source of leads.

        You may have written a great article, you gave resources and even e-mail templates. You just didn’t have to alienate everyone who actually uses PPC to do it.

        • It sounds like PPC is not a waste of time and money for you.

          So I’m wrong :- )

          But with finite resources for marketing, it seems incredibly wasteful to pay Google. With direct buys you can lock in a price and not have to worry about getting outbid for position, etc.

          Save time and money.

          What did you use PPC for? How’d it go?


    • Ana Hoffman

      It might be a common misconception among bloggers, Micah, but I am with Michael on this one.

      Maybe it’s because, even though I did a lot of research on how to use AdWords in the past, I never actually used it.

  22. This is one serious and outstanding article David. Don’t misunderstand me about the word “serious”.. can’t find the right one of what I am feeling right about now :) This is indeed an effective means of getting traffic without having to worry on a lot things (e.g. Penguin and “panic at the zoo” stuff). Nice… Heading over to Quantcast and test that “ad planner”. looks interesting

    • The Quantcast tool is VERY cool, and as I mentioned in the article: the “building a list of targeted sites” steps could work for getting your guest posts in the right place as well.

      What’s the Penguin/zoo reference?


      • What I meant about the “Penguin”, is all these changes that are being done by Google with their algorithms. Before it was Panda, now Penguin, and then.. who knows some other “cute” bird from the zoo :) These changes caused many sites to loose traffic and “paid traffic” is a great alternative, if you have the budget.

  23. Hi Michael, that is certainly a detailed look at how buying traffic works.

    I think it gives me fantastic insight for when I’m approached by a direct buyer.

    Currently, I don’t see a need for me to buy ad space with someone else. It takes time and testing to get a good ad an then after a while you have to test again because a banner can get ‘tired’.

    You laid out a solid step-by-step process for those interesting in persuing this route. That makes this a reference page if I ever do need this information.

    So, thanks again.

      • Michael, that is a great idea!

        I didn’t think of that.

        I had decided to skip adwords because the topic is one they sometimes give people a hard time over (health related).

        But a direct media buy would probably work a lot better – especially on the right site.

        Thanks for the prompt – that is a great idea.

        • For sure. Cut out the middleman (AdWords) and build a profitable campaign.

          I think the best parts of direct media buys are a) you can start really small and see results, and b) once you find something that works it is very scalable (you don’t have to worry about being outbid for the adspace that is working).

          Would love to know how it goes – and I’m sure other TGC readers would appreciate any tips, like “for this part I did X instead of Y”, or “I kept hearing A from publishers, so I responded with B and it worked to keep the price down”. Or whatever :- )