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May 24, 2006
Case Study

How to Sell In-Text Ads

SUMMARY: Looking to boost ad revenue featuring user-generated content on your site? This can be a thorny problem since sponsors may have reservations about content quality, and users may get annoyed because they're being bombarded with ads. One solution might be in-text advertising. This is not your typical contextual ad. Instead, it pops up when a user hovers over a word in content. tested it two years ago but stopped quickly thereafter. Read on for another publisher having better success.

 “Forums is the busiest part of our site,” says Jan-Willem Aldershoff, Co-founder and Marketing Manager, CD Freaks, an ad-based site publishing technology news and reviews on CD and DVD burner and burning software.

The site, which has 220,000 registered members, sees 80,000 unique visitors a day in its “Forums” section and 120,000 unique visitors a day overall. CD Freaks thought its active user forums were the main reason its traffic stats were beating its rivals, such as CDRInfo and

Although the site could sell banners in other sections, sponsors shied away from the popular forum section. Sponsors “don’t like to be affiliated with user-generated content because there’s less control than with static content,” Aldershoff explains.

One possible solution: in-text advertising -- which keyword-matches ads to text in content like articles or user forum discussions and displays a relevant ad when readers float their mouse over the word.

But Aldershoff had concerns. How would such a system be implemented? Could he find any sponsors? How many people (if any) would click through? And how many ads per page would be too many? Four? 40? 400?


Aldershoff’s team conducted two main tests:

     -> Test 1: Gauge reader response

CD Freaks kicked off its effort with in-text ads, placing the in-text ads only in the forums section because of concerns that the ads might be too distracting on other parts of the site. Readers accepted the ads, but CD Freaks wasn’t 100% pleased with the ads’ relevancy.

A year later, the site changed providers to see whether it could improve the relevancy issue and increase revenue.

     -> Test 2: Test the number of in-text ads per page

After deciding it was pleased with the relevancy of the ads being provided by the new provider, Aldershoff upped the ante and started running more in-text ads per page. The company, which had been running a maximum of five ads per page, increased the volume to as many as 40.


In 16 months, CD Freaks increased ad revenue in its forums section nearly 500%. Clickthrough rates on the in-text ads, as measured by the number of users who hovered over an ad and actually clicked through, were 3-4%.

The overall amount of in-text advertising rose, plus CD Freaks benefited from the fact that there was no middle man between it and its ad provider. (In the previous arrangement, an ad agency took a cut of the ad revenue.)

Reader complaints jumped when CD Freaks tried to add 40 in-text ads to a page. “There was too much of the ads in the text, and it became a bit unreadable,” says Aldershoff.

Ultimately, CD Freaks found a limit of 14 ads per page worked, and it continues to use that threshold. “Less and there would be a drop in revenue. More and it would be annoying.” Of course, some forum pages only show one or two ads; it depends on how many ads keyword-match to the given text.

Best of all, the company didn’t see any traffic decreases because of the in-text ads. But the advantage of in-text is clear. “As soon as someone posts a message on our forum, straight away the ad comes up.”

CD Freaks does show some banners and Google AdSense material within forums, as a secondary effort, but the clickthrough rate on the in-text ads beats what it sees from those ads.

Aldershoff’s advice to other online publishers? Don’t be afraid to test the in-text ad approach. Depending on the technology you choose, implementation may be as easy as adding some Java Script code to your Web server.

Useful links related to this article

Creative Sample of In-Text Ad

Kontera (makers of ContentLink in-text ad technology), CD Freaks’ text-ad provider

CD Freaks

See Also:

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