How do you buy profitable ads for your site by piggybacking off your competitors’ ad buying experience?

In Mixergy’s recent profitable ad-buying course, Max Teitelbaum taught how he did it. Max is the co-founder of WhatRunsWhere, a competitive intelligence service for online media buying.

If you didn’t take the course yet, this Course Highlight will get you started with a rundown of the major points.

Summary of the big tactics

Step 1. Spy on your competitors to figure out where they run ads

Start by finding the sites from which your competitors already buy ads, because buying ads on those sites will likely be profitable for you too. You can find out where your competitors are advertising by using Alexa’s Clickstream feature or searching on For example, if you wanted to buy ads for a diet site, first look up where similar sites bought ads, like Jenny Craig and South Beach Diet.

Step 2. Build a list of all the sites that your competitors advertise on

This will help you deconstruct what’s working for your competitors so you can figure out where to run your ads, and more importantly, who is most likely to click your ads. An Excel or Google Docs spreadsheet is all you need to keep track of the sites your competitors’ buy from. When Max did this during the course, he put together a list of 633 web sites where charity: water’s competitors run their ads (Premium members, that spreadsheet is available for download here).

Step 3. Create a demographic profile of the people your competitors are targeting

Instead of wasting money on ads that target people who have no interest in your business, let your competitors’ ad buys tell you who your ads should reach. Use tools like, Google Ad Planner and to search for the demographic profile of the sites where your competitors are buying ads. When Max did this for charity: water, he discovered that its competitors target men over 35, so he wouldn’t waste his ad money on sites that, say, cater to teen age girls.

Step 4. Look at your competitors’ banner ads and see what they have in common

The elements used in your competitors’ ads are likely to work for you too. To find the successful elements, just write down the kind of image, call to action and style that each ad uses, until broad themes emerge. Max’s analysis of the banners used by charity: water’s competitors found that World Vision used banners featuring pitiable eyes staring at the user, together with a direct appeal (“$20 provides a family with water”) and tie-ins to current events (e.g. earthquakes in Haiti and Japan).

Step 5. Create your own banners using elements that work for your competition.

If you see the same themes in many of your competitors’ ads, then it’s a good indication those elements convert well, so use them in your own ads. Hire an inexpensive designer from an outsource service like odesk and ask them to use the elements you discovered to create banner ads for your site. When Max created an ad for charity: water in this course, the design he commissioned had the same captivating stares that worked in competitors’ ads.

Step 5.5. If you’re buying ads directly from a site, find out what else is being advertised on that site

You want to confirm that your competitors are advertising on a particular site, and you want to make sure that the ads and content don’t cheapen your brand. To find the brands being advertised, you can either manually go a site and just refresh the page, or use a paid service like the placement reports on Max’s WhatRunsWhere site. For instance, in the course, Max went to and saw banner ads for charities similar to charity: water.

Step 6. Buy ads on sites and ad networks that match your demographic profile

Buy ads from sites and ad networks that match the composite demographic profile that you’ve created. Many ad networks often require a minimum ad spend, even before you know your campaign will work, so Max recommends using AdBuyer or SiteScout first to allow you to buy remnant ad inventory on multiple networks or sites without committing budget to a particular network. Taking this step helps you avoid pitfalls, like Max’s first ad buy where he committed to spend a $5k budget on an ad network without pre-qualifying its demographics and only made $200.

Step 7. Compare results and go directly to the best networks and websites

Using a meta-network like AdBuyer or SiteScout lets you find which networks or sites work particularly well for your campaign, so the natural next step is to take out the middleman and buy ads directly from the places where your ad performs best. To do this, just contact the best-performing networks or sites and negotiate a direct ad buy with them. Max suggests telling them “We’re already buying inventory from you, but we want to go direct with you.”

Step 8. Cut the losers, keep the winners and scale by doing it all over again

After stopping campaigns that don’t work, the next step is to scale up the campaign by spending more where your ads do well, as well as finding sites and networks similar to your winners. You can do this manually by looking for commonalities in the categories and demographics of the sites and networks from which you’ve bought. For instance, Max suggests that if an ad performs well on one sports site, look for other sports sites to test.

Need more?

When you take the profitable ad-buying course you’ll also get:

  • On-screen walk-through of this process, so you see how it’s done.
  • The MOV & MP3 files, so you can learn away from your computer, if you prefer.
  • Full transcript, to help you go over the details of what you’ve learned.
  • Links to all the online tools and resources you need.

Start this course now.