Learn From My Failed Attempt at Private Advertising

Shane Labs February 24, 2014 6

Most of you know that I use Google AdSense to monetize most of my sites. I always wonder, is there a more profitable alternative? Here’s my story exploring one of those alternatives, which as you’ve probably figured out, didn’t work well.

I got an email from a fellow named Ben

I got an email from a fellow named Ben, offering to advertising on my side project: songkeyfinder.com

Hey this is Ben from Music Marketing Classroom.

I wanted to talk to you guys about an advertising deal.

As a first target we’d be looking to send you around $4800 per month.
If you could get back to me with a ball park of your traffic numbers
I’ll send over all the details of what we can offer.
Thanks very much,

P.S Here is the kind of thing we do:

It seems like there would be quite a crossover

in the audience we’re both reaching out to.

At first glance it looked kinda automated, so I thought it might be spam. Or maybe he had sent it out to thousands of people just hoping for a response. But when I realized his product had to do with music, I looked further. Turns out he runs a training program where musicians learn how to market themselves. I get a lot of musicians coming to my site, so perhaps this might actually be a good fit.

Song Key Finder

Someone wanted to “advertise” on this site of mine

I clicked on his link to check it out, and (Ben, I hope you’re not offended by what I’m about to say), it seemed a little rudimentary to me. Basic design, a couple videos, not a lot of copy. I actually didn’t even know what it wanted me to do (I didn’t bother to watch the videos because I was not motivated to). And on top of that, there was no call to action on the page at all – no signup, no purchase, no next page!

Regardless, I sent him a screenshot of my Google Analytics stats so he could see how much traffic I get, and waited to hear back. He promptly responded with an eager message, attaching some code for me to use. He had already set it up in clickbank for me and all I had to do was paste the code on my site. But I wasn’t quite ready to do that yet.

His first email seemed to exaggerate the earnings potential of this. I responded back:

Hi Ben –

I appreciate the offer, but your numbers seem a little off to me. What is your average conversion rate on the signup form? What is the average conversion rate on getting people to buy? What is the price of your program, and how long have you been doing this?



He gave me sample numbers, but I still didn’t believe them. I had previewed the ad. Signed up for the opt-in from the ad, and looked through his sales emails – and I didn’t think this was going to sell.

If this guy was offering to buy advertising from me, great! But he wasn’t. He wanted me to join his affiliate program and sell his product. If I don’t refer anyone that buys, I don’t get a penny. And since I didn’t think anyone would buy this (based on the limited material I saw), I declined the offer.

I politely declined

I politely declined. Told him honestly I wasn’t sold on the product and didn’t think my visitors would be compelled enough to purchase. I offered a CPM model (where he pays a price for every 1000 views of his ad), but didn’t hold my breath.

He responded back that he was going to improve his funnel and get back to me. I didn’t hear from him for 2 months.

Looking for a win-win

He got back to me 2 months later saying he had improved the funnel, but I had been following his changes and I still wasn’t convinced it was going to be a good offer that my traffic would be interested in. I simply wasn’t ready to risk my AdSense earnings while this thing played out. I let him know that, and then once again offered a CPM model. I was earning about $1.50 CPM from AdSense, so I set the price at $3.00 CPM. If his numbers were correct, he’d still come out ahead, but he’d be taking the risk instead of me. We went back and forth with the numbers, and realized neither of us wanted to take the risk. That was a bummer because we both saw potential.

I’m a big fan of looking for a win-win situation in every deal. For example, if you buy a car for way over the retail price, the car salesman will have won a big commission, but you’re unhappy. You’re never going to go to that salesman again. But it also works the other way. If you nickel and dime a car salesman out of his commission, you’re winning, but he’s not. Do you think he’s going to throw in some free extras, or give you extra goodies when you take your car in for service? The key is to find a deal that makes both parties happy, and then long-term the relationship will thrive.

So I was trying to look for a win-win deal in this scenario with Ben. I didn’t want him to take advantage of my traffic, but I also didn’t want to leave him without any upsides. If he took the CPM model, then he’d come out ahead if his predictions were correct. If I took the CPA (cost per action, in this case a share of the sale) model, then I’d come out ahead if his predictions were correct. But I didn’t want one of us to come out ahead, I wanted this to be a win-win deal.

Eventually he shot me an offer that I couldn’t refuse:

I think I figured it out.

On Monday you offered a CPM model at around $255 for the month.

So how about we set up the partnership and if you don’t
make at least $255 in the first month I’ll guarantee you the difference.

So for fear of sounding like one of those weird infomercials I see
when I visit America…


So basically I get a minimum payment at the $3 CPM I proposed, and if it does better I get more payment. Why would he do that? Why would he give me more?

It didn’t make sense to me until I realized what had been holding him back: he didn’t want to pay the CPM charge up front. It made more sense to him to pay me from earnings as a result of sales, than from money he may not have yet.

Ahhh…it clicked for me. There’s our win-win. We had a deal, and within a day, we were live with his ads.

And we’re live!

Here’s an example of what his ads looked like on the site. A little big, but for a site with no other distractions on it I was fine with it:

SongKeyFinder with ad

The ad we ended up placing on my site

Unfortunately after 4 days he contacted me saying he wasn’t seeing much activity, and at this rate he’d just have to pay me out of pocket. I encouraged him to let it run for longer, after all – it was only a few days, and traffic is always weird during the weekend. But after a full week, it was obvious my traffic wasn’t interested in his offer. We pulled the ad and I went back to AdSense earnings.

When it came time to payment, my impression count was vastly different than his. I didn’t wanna argue with the guy, even though he seemed open to pay whatever I came up with, so I thought I’d just send him a bill for what I would have made from AdSense. I ran the numbers, and it would have been around $20.

Really? That’s it? This whole thing and just $20? That wasn’t even enough to ask for. I mean, I would feel like I was counting pennies if I sent him a request for $20. So what’d I do instead? I offered a barter: if he’s open to answering some private questions about his business and allowing me to share them with my SideProjectProfit audience (that’s you!), then we’d call it a wash. He obliged, and you all will be happy to know he gave me some goooooooood stuff.

Lessons Learned

Looking back on this whole adventure, I feel like there are a few lessons to be learned.

  • Be in tune with who your audience really is. At first I was thinking that since the audience to that website is primarily guitar-players, that they’d be interested in a guitar player who can teach them how to market their music skills. WRONG. My audience is full of hobby guitarists, not musicians. I really doubt there are professional musicians visiting a site where you learn about guitar keys. The offer just didn’t match the audience.
  • I should be the one seeking out advertisers. Don’t let them come to me. I bet I will have more luck, and a better ad fit, if I seek out advertisers myself. That means doing some research, coming up with a list of people to contact, emailing them, and getting ready for rejection.
  • Always consider cashflow when making deals. I thought there’d be no way that Ben would find the final offer advantageous, but he did because it meant he probably wouldn’t have to pay money out of his pocket up front. That’s a great benefit I had never really given much thought.

Stay tuned for a follow-up!

Stay tuned for a follow-up post! I’m in the middle of putting together another article about Ben – where he exposes all his traffic, earnings, and sales secrets that he agreed to reveal in exchange for the week of ads. You’ll be surprised as me to learn that this is his full time gig – and is very successful!

Until then, I’m curious about your experiences. Have any of you tried private advertising, or always used ad networks?


  1. Adam Kamerer February 26, 2014 at 10:10 am - Reply

    This is a great article, Shane. It sucks that the deal didn’t work out well financially, but I’m glad you were both able to bring something positive out of it.

    I haven’t tried private advertising myself, but it’s something I’m definitely interested in.

    • Shane Labs February 27, 2014 at 6:20 am - Reply

      Thanks, Adam! Have you tried to monetize your site? I don’t see any ads (although it looks great as-is)

      • Adam Kamerer February 28, 2014 at 11:07 am - Reply

        We’re working on it. I just added Adsense yesterday. Advertising is new to me — I’ve monetized other sites through direct sales, but this is the first time I’ve done much with advertising beyond a token effort.

  2. Walt February 28, 2014 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    Hey this was genuinely helpful, going to bookmark your blog. Keep it up!


  3. Robert Farrington March 13, 2014 at 10:25 am - Reply

    Interesting story – thanks for sharing. This is one of the reasons why I always negotiate a flat fee for private advertising – you never know if the offer will resonate with your audience.

    I’ve even done a few ads myself to advertise my courses, and I only wanted a flat cost structure. It splits the risk. If the offer is a dud, I pay more than the ad was worth. If the offer was a goldmine, the website owner loses potential revenue (but they still get the flat rate).

    It’s an art, not a science.

    • Shane Labs March 13, 2014 at 5:30 pm - Reply

      I like that – it truly is an art. Cheers to becoming artists! Thanks Rob!

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