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Maintaining Ethics and Standards

Whether you're just trying to make enough to cover your hosting costs or building your website as a full-time business, money talks. Even those who start out with the best intentions can be led astray by the lure of a big ad buy.

To maintain your operation's center of gravity, it's helpful to develop a set of guidelines in advance to provide to potential advertisers. Decide what ads you will and won't accept before you're confronted with a questionable situation.

Ad Standards

As a site publisher, you'll want to set up standards for what kinds of advertising you'll accept. Common areas of contention are ads for gambling, firearms, and adult content. While you're able to change this policy at any time, having made some initial decisions will keep you focused on the advertising you ideally want without getting distracted by potentially lucrative but questionable opportunities.

Ad Specifications

Ad specifications are common among larger publishing websites. This document tells advertisers what ad units you display on your site. It describes the size of each unit, the maximum file size and format you'll accept. It may also include a screenshot example of where ads are placed, and if they're interactive, how they work.

The Internet Advertising Bureau maintains a list of standard sizes for online ads. There is no requirement to comply with the IAB's sizes, but it can be a good way to get start. Plus, building around these sizes may help increase the likelihood that your ad sizes will match ad creatives that a prospective advertiser already has.


Rate Cards

Although all printed publications have a "rate card" that lists prices for various sizes and frequency of ads, the same has not been true for websites. Some sites have pricing listed in an online media kit. Others require potential clients to contact a staffer to get more information. Having a rate card allows you to provide information quickly to those who inquire. At the same time, it may set a price that is too high for some potential buyers. Not having a rate card requires you to negotiate every sale individually. This is time-consuming but enables you to modify your prices to your advertisers' budgets and create custom packages that reward higher-volume advertisers. In the end, you'll need to decide which model will work best for your site.

Future Considerations

The world of online advertising changes constantly. Every year a new ad size, technology or placement becomes popular with advertisers. Regardless of how good your ad units are today, tomorrow someone will come along and ask you to place a bigger ad in a more intrusive place. So how does a good online publisher or editor develop guidelines and standards that continue to hold throughout all the changes? There isn't a perfect method. Perhaps the best way is to consider what you're trying to avoid in general.

Some questions to evaluate new ad opportunities:

  • Does this ad get in the way of providing a good user experience?
  • Does it greatly inhibit a user's ability to get to the editorial content?
  • Is it still clear which part of the page is advertising and which part is editorial?

Additional reading:

The Federal Trade Commission's Q&A on Advertising Policies

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