Survey of Online Advertising in College Media [Infographic]
The following document talks all about how I put the information together and has links to code I used. There is also more pricing information for those interested in setting or altering their online ad prices. There was a lot of fragmentation among college media sites. Also, you can check out other colleges’ media kits.
- A flat extra rate for Flash ads seems like a good idea.
- Sell online ads and put online ad rates on your website.
- Provide a PDF and HTML version of your media kit and allow people to download the PDF
- Local businesses will be more attracted to flat rates than CPM, so you should probably use them. Monthly is the most common.
- If you are going to use terms like CPM or ROS in your media kit, you should probably define them.
- Your online ads should match up with the IAB standards.
All the reasoning and details, along with full statistics on pricing, terms, etc… is below.
Table of Contents
- 1.0 – Introduction
- 2.0 – Methodology
- 3.0 – Observation and Conclusions
- 4.0.0 – Full Findings
- 4.1.0 – IAB Compliance by College Media
- 4.2.0 – Rates
- 4.3.0 – Ads
I’ve recently completed a survey of how college media does online advertising. Out of it came some very interesting results, which I’m going to go over here. If I were to sum up what I discovered, I’d have to say that college media outlets have wildly different ideas on how to sell ads on their websites.
Just as an example, the George Washington University’s Hatchet sells a 120×240 advertisement for $137.50 a month while the University of Connecticut’s Daily Campus sells the same size ad for $1,995. The two sites have had roughly similar traffic over the past year; in fact The Hatchet has had slightly more unique visitors this year. Of course, it could be a matter of demand, though I have no way to tell from the site or the information they give to advertisers. But that’s not the only way in which college media advertising presents enormous fragmentation. The college media universe offers 76 different advertisement dimensions, 49 different options for placement on a site (not including no options for placement) and 171 different ad names. It’s enough to make you want to go back to referring to ads by column inches.
The survey includes 193 universities and 203 different college media online publications. In addition to the cool infographic, I hope this post can help anyone looking to start selling online ads in college media to decide what ads to offer and how to price them. I hate when people create infographics with no explanation or sources. So I’m giving you everything. Perhaps some publications might be able to use the information to improve their offering.
The publications selected for the survey were found from four sources:
- Links from CoPress.org’s main site
- Winners of the 2010 Online Pacemakers
- Publications listed as Student Media Operations on the College Media Advisers website, with the following restrictions:
- The publication had to have an online presence.
- The publication had to post content to its website at least once a month while the college was in-session.
- The online presence was active, that being they had to have visibly posted content in the last period of classes.
- I followed links from one college media site to another, where such links were visible.
Of note, there were a few universities whose websites were temporarily down for upgrade during the break. They were not included in the survey.
The first 365 entries (there are over 500) were initially made in a Google docs spreadsheet for a few reasons. For one, when I started I didn’t realize the scale I was working with. The other reason I continued using the spreadsheet even after deciding to use SQL was to make sure that I would have all the right fields for the data I needed to enter.
Once I decided I had enough data to start putting it into the SQL database, I built a database and table using phpMyAdmin (I wasn’t able to get command line access until after compleating the project). I then wrote a rough script to input data into the database. I ended up making a couple of changes to the script as I went forward, but I’ve posted the final version online. If you have any questions about this or any other code I link in this post, I’ll be glad to answer them.
I input the data from the spreadsheet and then continued to input data from the remaining websites. If I came across a website that did not offer online ads (to the best of my ability to find)I marked it No Ads. Some publications stated that they did offer rates but I couldn’t find them on the site. I marked those as well. I tried to input ad names exactly as listed.
When it came to rates, some student publications offered CPM (that’s cost per thousand impressions) prices but also made data available so that it would be clear to advertisers what the equivalent of a monthly purchase would be. In those few cases, I entered a monthly cost as well as a CPM.
Whenever there was a distinction (College, Local, National, etc… ) I entered local rates.
I also tried to save any rate cards I came across and printed HTML pages that described pricing to PDF. I’ve made all the rate cards I’ve saved available online. Some I may have forgotten to PDF, others I tried and came out with something useless and unreadable.
Collecting all this data, as well as exploring various college media websites, has been very interesting. Besides the conclusions made from the statistical data there are some interesting observations that I think might be useful.
As I noted in the introduction, there is an enormous variety of offerings across college media outlets, ignoring the semantic differences in names, there are still 76 different ad dimensions. That’s a huge number and it doesn’t even count the ads without dimensions, which include sponsorships and multimedia ads. I can’t help but wonder about the possible confusion this would offer to potential advertisers, especially national advertisers which create one ad for (at most) 18 different dimensions and sending it out. Besides that, with the rise of local online news organizations, small local business owners are going to become more and more familiar with online ads and the standards that most sites adhere to. I feel that offering non-standard ad sizes is just one more obstacle in the process of selling online ads.
I’m sure that part of the reason that these odd ad sizes are around is that people are customizing ads to squeeze into the various nooks and crannies of their web design. Additionally, when dealing with those businesses that have done little online advertising, no doubt a significant number of local businesses, it really doesn’t matter what size you are offering them.
All that being said, I think that the next time you do a site redesign, you should look towards insuring that the spaces for ads can fit the standard sizes.
A few student publications increased rates for Flash ads. Of those, even fewer specified limits on the Flash ads. Flash ads are popular and while they don’t really require any extra work on your staff’s part, they are more annoying to users. Advertisers tend to consider them more effective. I think that charging extra for placement of an animated advertisement is a good idea, though I have not seen the practice anywhere else. You should also make sure to clearly state a limitation on the length of the animation. The standard recommended animation length is 15 seconds.
In determining what to charge for Flash placement, I saw two prices, $50 and $100. If you are going to charge more for a Flash ad, a lump sum is the way to go. I didn’t see any Flash ads on the site that charged $100 for them, but even if I did, it feels a bit pricy. I think that $50 would be the maximum.
As I noted in the infographic, 53 publications seemed to offer online ads but did not list rates for them anywhere online. That’s a bit over a quarter of the college media outlets. Of those 53, some had pages that claimed to list prices but did not. A number of them had web pages, rate cards or media kits that mentioned online advertising while simply calling on the user to contact them via e-mail or phone. There were some very irritating sites that offered prices on their print ads online, but didn’t make the price of their online ads available.
I know that the journalism industry seems to prefer to hide all their rates behind an advertising staff, but I think that the more information that is out there and publicly available the better it is for all parties. It looks like 88 of the publications I surveyed agree with me. I think anything that makes online advertising more accessible to potential buyers is a good thing. If you have online rates, put them online. Especially if the print rates are already available.
Also, if you are one of those student publications giving online ads away for free with print ads, that’s just throwing away possible money.
I saw a lot of different ways that for displaying advertising rates, good and bad. Here’s my recommendation:
- Provide a PDF version of your rates or an easily printable web-page.
- Provide an HTML version of your rates
- Make both one to two clicks away from the front page of your publication.
The most annoying thing I encountered was having to rummage around a website trying to find the rates. You shouldn’t make it a chore for someone to give you their money. The next annoying thing was Issuu embeds of media kits. Yes, Issuu is cool. Yes being able to view PDFs is incredibly nifty. You know what isn’t good? Only being able to print 1 to 2 pages at a time and not being able to download the document. Of all the publications I found using Issuu, zero provided download links.
A few publications have separate webpages with different URLs that act as a multimedia online media kit. If you can put something together that looks good, go for it. There were some very nifty digital media kits. Just don’t forget to offer something that is easy to print out. In my experience, most people like to have something physical for files or to hand around. It can’t hurt.
Clearly, the price range on ads is huge. Ads go for as low as $10 and as high as $1,995. Deciding on the pricing for your ads is something that’s very dependent on what your market can bear, preexisting customers, demand, location on the site and the number of hits your website gets. Only you can determine the prices for your stock of online ads.
I’ve provided minimum and maximum prices, as well as the average price, on the IAB standard sized ads, since those were the most used among college media groups.
When it comes to rates, at this point, I’d recommend providing non-CPM rates. I think that monthly is probably what businesses are most attracted to, though weekly is not a bad idea either. Either way, local businesses are more attracted to flat rates. Building alternative vehicles beyond the standard display ads are valuable too. Listings, sites for reviews, topical or event-centric sites, all of these may be equally or more attractive to local businesses for purchase. If you’d like to see a good example, I’d point to Central Michigan University’s CM-LIFE and their various associated sites.
There’s nothing wrong with also providing CPM, in addition to other rates, especially since that may be what national advertisers are looking for. If you are going to set CPM rates, there is a useful Quora post online with advice. The gist is, try out a third-party ad system, like AdSense, and see what the sort of payment is going to place ads on your website, then move from there. If you are going to provide CPM rates, you should probably include a brief explanation somewhere in your media kit about what exactly it means.
Oh, and since we are linking to Quora, here is a useful question that can help you sell ads to local businesses.
When it comes to looking at the price ranges and figuring out your prices from the chart, some of the minimum prices seem to be just too low. I think that any of those online ad sizes could go for at least $100 a month. Anything less than that and you are probably squandering an opportunity.
Also, it doesn’t hurt to remember that value is created through the position of the advertisement. A number of universities offered different prices on same-size units depending on their place on the page. Some included granularity in pricing ads above the fold. Providing different price points is definitely a useful tool for pulling in advertisers. You may even want to go a step further and offer different pricing for ads to appear on single pages.
As with CPM, if you are going to distinguish different levels of advertising placement or just use the term ROS to describe how ads are displayed on your site, define it. ROS, or Run-of-Site, doesn’t even have a full Wikipedia page. If I were an advertiser, especially a small business owner, I’d be very confused to see the term in a media kit. Making your customers confused is never a good strategy. I stumbled across a couple of publications which used the term ROS without any definition.
If you have a placement method that can support it, I think that providing placement only on particular sections is a great idea. Providing more, lower-priced, options for businesses to target their ads has to be a good thing. Very few of the publications I surveyed provided more placement options than just ROS. I suspect that part of the problem is the technical barrier. We’re trying out OpenX’s free option as an advertising server and I like what I’ve seen so far. I’m not sure what other publications are using, but I’d love to find out. Post in the comments if you’d like to tell me what system your site is using to serve ads.
Some possible placement options:
- Front page
- Campus news page
- Sports page
- Opinion page
- Entertainment/Style page
- Bloggers page or on their individual blogs
In addition, there are a number of options for placement positioning that can be indicated in the materials you give to advertisers:
- Above the fold (explain where the fold is and what it means)
- Below the fold
I was able to calculate a number of results as well as produce a few charts to which I applied some funny looking CSS from an old project. I generated the results almost entirely using MySQL queries. I have the code I used to calculate advertising statistics as well as the results page itself available. Also, if you choose to look in depth at any particular section, I’ve also built a search page that will allow you to look through the results set. I’m going to apologize in advance to anyone trying to figure out the results code, it is a huge mess. I didn’t realize just how many queries I was going to be using until I was done and it ended up sort of disorganized. I’m new to this type of SQL use, so there may be some mistakes in the code. If you find them, I’d be glad to correct them, credit you, and change the infographic. Most of the general information I found, as well as the IAB information is in the infographic.
You can also browse the entire data set.
The goal of this section is to offer the most relevant snippets of that information in a way that will allow a publication to better determine their own online rates, as well as what types of ads they’d like to offer. The rates on the results page dynamically update with new data. These do not.
Universities Surveyed: 193
Publications Surveyed: 203
Ad Types: 171
Package Types: 9
Ad Level Types: 49
Dimensions supplied: 76
Total number of Publications with Ads: 141
Student Publications that either do not have ads or do not list rates online: 115
Student Publications that do not sell online ads: 62
Student Publications that have rates but do not display them online: 53
Publications that designate ad placement options: 65
Publications that do not designate ad placement: 76
Publications that offer advertising placement in email newsletters: 10
Publications that offer mobile advertising: 4
Publications that offer video ads: 9
Publications that offer audio ads: 3
About 711 Pixels per $1 a Month
I thought it would be interesting to chart college media’s compliance with the recognized standards set forth by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). The IAB includes the organizations who sell 86% of online advertising in the United States (according to them at least) and tracks the ad market. They have a committee that creates official Interactive Marketing Units (IMUs) which are sizes and names for the most commonly traded ads online. In other words, their sizes and the names for those sizes are a standard. They have plenty more information on who’s involved and how these things are decided on their site.
What I found was that in some form or another, college media outlets use either the dimensions or the names of 16 these 18 ad types. The ones not used are the Pop-Under (720×300), Button 2 (120×60) and the Micro Bar (88×31). The statistics on the rest of the ads are in the big infographic, but I’ve reproduced the chart portion here. To determine width, I multiplied values by 10.
If it is not clear:
- The blue bar (numbers on the right) represents publications that use the stated dimensions of an IMU.
- The orange bar (numbers on the left) represents publications that use the stated name of an IMU.
- The green bar (and center numbers) represent publications that matched the correct IMU name with its standard dimensions.
The textual representation is on the results page.
Also, I included ads for the Square Pop-Up class of IMUs as those that were just Square. As far as I saw, no college media websites offered pop-up or pop-under ads.
I’ve collected all the statistics on rates and aggregated it in this section. For more detailed information about specific ad sizes or types you should use the search page.
I originally set up queries to determine the overall average rates for ads. However, I realized that it was including zero values, because I had neglected to allow NULL values in the numerical fields, so I recalculated the rates so they would exclude zero values. This was how I determined the average pixels per $1 a month statistic.
|Average Monthly Rate|
|Average Weekly Rate|
|Average Daily Rate|
|Average Semester Rate|
|Average School Year Rate|
|Average Summer Rate|
|Average Cal. Year Rates|
Keeping in mind the caveat in 2.0, monthly rates were, by far, the most commonly offered rates in college media, with 61 individual publications offering monthly options. I’ve sorted the rates by dimensions of the advertisement and given you average, minimum and maximum rates. Note that one online publication referred to the Peel Back ad as 500x500x250, which is what is listed here.
|Dimensions||Avg Monthly Rate||Minimum Monthly Rate||Maximum Monthly Rate|
Once more I’ve sorted the rates by dimensions of the advertisement and given you average, minimum and maximum rates. I’ll be doing this with the rest of the rates tables.
|Dimensions||Avg Weekly Rate||Minimum Weekly Rate||Maximum Weekly Rate|
|Dimensions||Avg Daily Rate||Minimum Daily Rate||Maximum Daily Rate|
It is notable that some of the publications which offered CPM rates did not fully explain what CPM meant.
|Dimensions||Avg CPM||Minimum CPM||Maximum CPM|
Very few publications explained how long a semester was. Anything that listed as a semester rate is here.
|Dimensions||Avg Semester Rate||Minimum Semester Rate||Maximum Semester Rate|
None of the publications which offered rates for the entire school year provided dimensions for their advertisements.
None of the publications which offered rates for the summer provided dimensions for their advertisements.
|Dimensions||Avg Cal. Year Rate||Minimum Cal. Year Rate||Maximum Cal. Year Rate|
I’ve also created a table which includes all rates where ads did not offer dimensions. It is found on the bottom of the results page, as it is too wide to duplicate here.
I was able to collect information about three aspects of the ads provided by college media (when available). The first is the Ad Type, which is where I entered the exact name of the advertisement that the publication was selling. The second is what I called the Ad Level, which is information about ad placement. There’s a brief overview of that in the infographic, but I have more details available, which I’ve put together here. Finally there were the dimensions of the individual ads, which were not always available.
I found it notable that 11 publications provided advertisement names without providing dimensions. One of those publications did provide some dimensions, but the PDF they provided was completely unreadable, so I counted it as without dimensions. I also accounted for the publications which offered clear packaged deals.
|Article and Page|
|Below the fold|
|Bottom of Page|
|Top Home page|
|Top Large Square|
|Top of Homepage|
|Top of Non-Home page|
|Top of page|
|Top, ROS-front page|
|Apartment Search listing|
|Audio Podcast Commercial|
|Blink Text Coupons|
|Bottom Banner Ad|
|Bottom of page|
|Bottom Page Banner|
|Button Web Ads|
|Center of Homepage|
|Directory Hub ads|
|Email Edition Banner|
|Email newsletter ad|
|eNewsletter Full Banner|
|Entire Site Banner|
|Full Banner Footer|
|Full Flash Tower Ad|
|Full Tower Ad|
|Game Sponsorship Ads|
|Half page – right|
|Half-size Flash Tower Ad|
|Interactive Game Sponsorship Ads|
|iPhone deal listing|
|LCD display for campus departments|
|LCD Display for off-campus groups|
|LCD Display for student orgs|
|Level 2 Button Ads|
|Livestream video block|
|Marquee Web Ads|
|Micro Tile Ad|
|Mini Title Ad|
|Mobile Web Ad|
|Navigation Menu Side Ad|
|One time web setup fee|
|Peel Back Ad|
|Rectangle Side bar|
|Side Column Box|
|Side Page Ad|
|Side Tile Ad|
|Small Horizontal Banner|
|Text Link Ad|
|Top Banner Ad|
|Top Header Half Banner|
|Top of page|
|Top of Site|
|Video podcast commercial|
|Video Webcast Sponsor|
|Web stream sponsorship|
|Wide Skyscraper – right|
|Available Ad Dimensions|
|300×600 + 300×250|
|Banner Ad w/5″ print|
|Button/Title and Mighty Mini package|
|Online Banner and 9″ print|
|Online Leaderboard and Front Page Print Banner|
|Online peel back and Front Page stickies|
|Online Rectangle and 15″ print ad|
|Side Tile Ad w/5″ print ads|