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Smarter Online Marketing And The Results Of The Million Dollar Homepage Experiment

By Yaro Starak
36 Comments

Entrepreneur’s Journey conducted an experiment to test how much traffic the Million Dollar Homepage (MDH) could bring in by purchasing the basic advertisement (100×100 pixels).

Our ad (this little Million Dollar Homepage Ad) was placed in the top left corner area on October 5th. You can read the full details about this experiment and the MDH in my previous post – The Million Dollar Homepage.

Advertising Results

I can now report back to you that the MDH experiment ad performed very badly. At this point in time the traffic from the site totals about 30-40 visits and that’s for the last four days. The case study on the MDH site reported more than 500 new visitors per day for the same period of time so you have to wonder what went wrong with our experiment.

I think I know why it didn’t perform well – the MDH is now crowded. When that case study was tested the site wasn’t nearly as crowded with ads as it was when the Entrepreneur’s Journey advertisement went up. In the period it took to raise the funds to buy the advertisement close to $100,000 in new pixel square purchases were made on MDH making the above the fold area very busy. A 100×100 advertisement just doesn’t stand out anymore. I was hoping that the small size of our ad shouldn’t have mattered too much due to the sheer amount of traffic coming through to the site. We only needed a very small sliver of it to get some reasonable results, just as the case study reported.

Perhaps I made a mistake by positioning the ad as far to the top left as I could given that area is the most crowded space. In fact it would be interesting to place another ad somewhere else on the site where the competition for eyeballs isn’t so tough and see how the results compare. But we won’t be doing that, I think it’s best to leave this experiment as it is and report that buying a 100×100 block on the MDH is now a waste of time. You might get better results from a larger square but to be honest if you have a spare $1000 in your wallet for advertising I would spend it on more targeted traffic than what the MDH would bring through for your money.

Smarter Online Marketing

On the same day that our MDH advertisement went live I published this article, PageRank Explained – Keeping SEO Simple, on Entrepreneur’s Journey. The posting of this article turned out to be a much more effective marketing tool than an advertisement on MDH and offers a great comparison study of online marketing.

During the same period that I reported above for the MDH advertisement, the PageRank Explained article brought in over 1000 new direct referrals (visitors), a handful of PageRank 7 backlinks (these are damn valuable) as well as lots of PageRank 6 and 5 backlinks and accounted for the first 1000+ unique visitors day. Previously Entrepreneur’s Journey averaged about 500 unique visitors per day and after this article there were a few days spiking over 1000 (as high as 1400 so far). Things will settle down over the next few days no doubt but clearly this result was a lot more successful than a MDH advertisement.

A Secret Formula?

Let me explain how this happens and how you can replicate it on your website or blog. There is no guarantee or secret formula for a result like this, but if a combination of variables come together the effects can be amazing as your article spreads like wildfire over the web generating lots of backlinks and traffic. I will break down the important variables for you.

First, write a good article. Okay, it’s not quite as simple as this, it’s even simpler! What I mean by this is that the basic, simple articles, with tips and advice – the practical stuff on mainstream topics – have the best chance of being picked up and circulated online. If you read over PageRank Explained you will see that it covers the basics, offers some practical advice that is simple and digestible. None of what I wrote was rocket science but it was presented in an easy to understand manner.

Get a big site to link to your article. This part is a little harder but is a key factor. I’m pretty sure I have Roger Johansson from 456 Berea Street, a fellow 9ruler, to thank for the success of my article. He made a small post about it that opened up the floodgates. He obviously has a massive audience on his site alone (his site is a PageRank 7 and has been successful online for a few years now) and his attention brought in many more links from other bloggers and helped to get the article into the Del.icio.us popular list.

The point here is that network effects are absolutely vital and one of the best ways to get a network effect happening is to have a popular site link to one of your articles. You have probably heard of Slashdot, the most popular site for news on IT related matters. The site is massive. The traffic the site gets is even massive-er. The site has so much traffic pulling power that there is a term used whenever a site receives a link from Slashdot – “You have been Slashdotted“. Darren from Problogger was recently Slashdotted for a second time, bringing in over 40,000 visitors in under 48 hours. That’s some traffic power!

Network Effects

So how can you benefit from network effects after writing an article that you think deserves some attention? There are no guarantees however there are things you can to do encourage network effects.

  1. You can be blunt about it and directly email the large sites mentioning your article and hope they will read it, find it interesting and then post about it. This is a risky practice because you don’t want to become annoying, pestering other sites about your work to the point where they ignore you. You also better be damn confident that what you have written is good because you are not going to be selling your article to a warm prospect if you are some random stranger with a blog no one knows about that just emailed out of the blue.

    You need to keep it casual and in fact it’s probably better to not start off talking about your article and instead foster a long term relationship with other bloggers so when the time comes and you do write a fantastic article you only need to contact your mates for some extra exposure. Of course as with most relationships it should be give and take so be prepared to return the favour now and then as well.

  2. Comment and link to a lot of other bloggers. What is the golden rule to get a person’s attention? Pay some attention to them! The same rule applies online. If you comment on a lot of other blogs and websites, and when I say comment I mean intelligent, conversation participation comments (express your opinion folks, it’s not hard), not spammer “look at my website, it’s ace!” comments, then you open up the doors for other people to get to know you and your site. Write some content on your blog that mentions some of the big blogs and you may just get the attention of the author. The more bloggers that know you, that track you through RSS, the more likely you will get a link back when your brand new article goes up.
  3. Consistently write good original content articles. This requires a lot of work and I can vouch for it because this is what I aim to do with my blog writing. Many bloggers write news-bite sized articles, with daily updates made up of links and a little commentary. There is nothing wrong with this practice and many very successful blogs use this strategy. However if you want to encourage incoming links nothing works better then a new and original article. If you can keep writing these on a regular basis your blog will build up a great database of solid content and slowly your blog will build a loyal audience. People will know as a thought provoking author writing original ideas and interesting commentary.

As your audience expands each new article you write will be exposed to more people and this is when exponential effects can occur, and it’s a beautiful thing. For example my first significant successful article was probably Making Money From Your Website Using Advertising published in May of this year. Now back then I probably had about 50 daily readers and that article might have brought in another 25-50 over the next month as readers linked to it, forwarded it, etc., increasing my traffic. This continued happening as I wrote each new original article, however since each time my base traffic figures were increased the amount of exposure each new article brought in was greater as well, increasing proportionately to the amount of current readers I had. Just last week my current 500 or so daily readers helped to bring another 500 readers for my latest article.

This is not a science and the numbers will never be consistent but I think you can see my point. The bigger you get the better each new article will perform for you, provided you keep writing good stuff – that’s the hard part and deservedly the best writers get the most attention if they stick to it over time.

Successful Online Marketing

The clear answer to successful online marketing is that content is king. We know this. Looking at the big picture content maybe the most important ingredient but without consistency content is not a long term strategy. If you do not continue to produce fresh content then you won’t build on your efforts in the past. You must commit to building an audience using each new piece of content as a building block placed on the previous piece of content. Only by doing this as a long term strategy can you hope to build and retain an audience that will keep coming back.

Best of all this type of audience doesn’t cost anything but time and energy, which, if you are working on something you enjoy, will be a pleasurable activity that you undertake with enthusiasm. Your readers pay you with attention in exchange for entertainment. Unlike Pay-Per-Click or paid advertising, the audience doesn’t stop coming when you run out of cash for clicks.

About Yaro Starak

Yaro Starak is the author of the Blog Profits Blueprint, a report you can download instantly to learn how to make $10,000 a month, from only blogging 2 hours per day. You can find Yaro on Facebook, Twitter and .

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36 Comments

  • Nathan Waters

    Too bad about the pixel ad Yaro. Perhaps you could try emailing the guy and asking him to move it to one of the bottom corners?

    Another very popular social bookmarking site (like /. and delicious) you may like to add into this article is http://www.digg.com … “The Slashdot Effect” and “The Digg Effect” are also common phrases when huge influxes of traffic are directed from popular submitted stories, in some cases causing the servers of these websites to crash under the load.

    Nice article, thanks.

  • I’m coming from a rather different content area, won’t crassly divulge it here, but more on the fiction/literary end, as opposed to non-fiction, informational type articles.

    I haven’t yet found a GREAT literary blog (mine included unfortunately), seems that these writers in general are stuck in the old media idea… (use the blog as a PR machine instead of an idea-spreader). Most of the posts I read are regarding upcoming events or “I was written up in the Times today” type of thing.

    However, my great experiment is hinged on your idea here… “content is king”. I’m thinking it has to be a universal principle, no matter the “type” of content you’re pushing.

    Thanks for the good words.

  • Hi R.B. – Yes that’s a very good point. Online marketers understand that giving away content is a good way to build an audience but for many other industries they still have no idea how to use a blog. A blog can be so much more than a channel for PR. Sure your reasons for writing good content might be similar (PR) but it’s a much more passive sale and one that creates loyalty, interest and community. It’s not pure promotion like you mentioned.

    It would be interesting to hear how your content driven literary blog goes – maybe you could report back with an update when you get some good results?

  • Great article Yaro. The test was a good little experiment. I actually updated a post on my site in response to it. What I feel is that for advertising efforts such as these to be successful, you really need to stand out from the crowd, and be first in first served (…or clicked in our case). The fascinating thing is that perhaps for the first few customers, the advertising was successful because they were the most visible. But clutter entailed that the sites became less and less visible. So that those who came late in the game, did not get the results they were expecting.

  • I’ll send you an update in a few months (good or bad)…

    Strange thing, a dude in Australia being partly responsible for an American Poet to start blogging.

    Which reminds me, if you don’t quit writing these interesting articles soon, I’ll be out of a job due to “non-business internet usage” at the day job…

    Ah well, guess I’ll have to become a “Poetry Entrepreneur” at that point.

    Talk to you soon.

  • I did a similar experiment with MDH. I bought a 20×10 ad in late September.

    The traffic started out at about 50 new visitors per day, and then slowly tapered off.

    Hindsight: why would I want to buy an advertisement on a site that’s sole content is advertisements. The traffic is worse than untargeted.

  • C Erichsen

    The MDW is a bite size model of internet marketing (from open playing field to matured, and crowded marketplace). When the pixels were lightly populated, the market was prime for a few to make a killing (high margins), and now, being more populated with big, medium, and lots of small fries, the market is becoming saturated, maybe exponentially so. I think MDW’s owner might see the income now spread out over time, therefore reaching the $1 million goal further than expected. (He’s apparently at the $250k mark).

    I assume the MDW is tracking the clicks on each client and their ad size (# pixels). All this would be a great dataset from which to study – lots a fascinating hypotheses to explore.

    Thanks for running the experiment! Chris

  • Honestly, why would anyone buy any advertisement space on a website where they don’t know what type of audience it has? Even if they did know, I’m sure it wasn’t targeted enough for them to get a better quality of user for the site they were advertising..

    People should market to prospects and repeat visitors/customers, not passer-bys. Yes, it’s nice to help someone out, but it should not be a realistic source of targeted users.

  • Good blog. I’ll add it to the other Aussie bloggers that I read, such as Darren Rowses’s Problogger.

  • C Erichsen

    Novelty attracts a lot of attention, and this is a great place to be for some businesses who customers are defined as ‘everyone, everywhere’. Yes, it is not the place to advertise for those with defined demographics, but if you have a little advertising play money, it doesn’t hurt to experiment once in a while as we don’t know everything about how internet adverting really works, which is what the MDH is illustrating.

    Chris

  • True, however I was talking with respect to entrepreneurs who don’t have ‘play money.’

    Yes, once any and all of us get some money we can binge with, then we can experiment with the unknown and see what works – with hope(s) to make it big!

  • Jon

    Hi Yaro,

    I think if you had to buy clicks from AdWords then ~10 clicks a day, every day for 5 years would be a very good deal for $100 dollars. Also it’s the conversion rate of the visitors that really determines the value of the advertising. In my experience, search engine traffic is the best for clicking on Adsense, and the type of traffic that comes in 1000s from a big name referral is not that great for clicking ads, but may be good for subscribing to feeds or newsletters.

    So, to me, success or failure of an ad campaign depends on more on conversion than just volume of traffic.

  • Million Dollar Homepage – there are better ways to spend your ad money

    You probably heard of the Million Dollar Homepage  – set you by a guy trying to pay for college.  The idea is simple – he has 1,000,000 pixels in an image to sell and you buy a small block (minimum purchase 10 x 10 pixels = …

  • Charlie

    I think the problem with your ad on the MDH maybe your alt text, it makes your site seem a bit like a ‘Get rich quick scam’ which people tend to avoid like the plague. Allthough I’m sure your also right about the timing, if you were on it early it would have been worthwhile.

  • Hi Charlie – you could be right, although it fits right in with all the casinos and other get rich quick schemes on the site.

    What alt text would you suggest? I have so much trouble *not* sounding like a get rich scheme working in the Internet business education arena.

  • C Erichsen

    Maybe an ancillary question…

    What’s the going rate for charging a client for each person you send to their website? (If I had a banner but only charged for each time someone clicks on the banner)

    Chris

  • Jon – I totally agree. The MDH experiment was just a test to see how much and how badly targeted the traffic that came through was (I wonder if anyone still reading this blog came from the MDH originally – that would be a conversion!).

    Continuing the smarter marketing theme – if you are intending on purchasing traffic PPC is definitely a lot smarter way to do things. Better off getting 100 targeted visitors rather than 1000 randoms.

  • Chris – There really isn’t a “going rate”, it’s purely a supply and demand thing. You can charge as high as someone is willing to pay. You can’t really find this data out until you try and get advertisers. Google’s AdWords works precisely in this manner, charging advertisers based on a combination of variables including how much advertisers are willing to pay or “bid” for keywords. The more people wanting to buy a certain keyword or phrase the higher they pay.

    Prices are anywhere from $0.01 – $40.00 per click. If you flip it around and get into an advertisers shoes they are only willing to pay based on how much value you provide. If a $5 click brings in 100 visitors in a month for $500 and you can convert 5 of those visitors into paying clients AND a client is worth $100 to you in profits, do you keep advertising?

  • I also bought one square on the MDH – mine is the white question mark (?) in the middle of the lower third of the page. I picked that spot because it was way out in the open. I’ve seen somewhat better results than Yaro’s, probably as a result of my position.

    The first day the ad was up (late September) I got about 400 clicks from it…. since then its slowed down a bit – but I have had over 1000 clicks from it so far in October. Right now its probably averaging a little less than 100 clicks per day.

    My strategy is to hope that enough visitors from that site will click on my adsense – or buy pixels on my own site – so I can recoup my investment. Perhaps by the end of the year it will have paid for itself; perhaps not. Additionally, by raising awareness of my site, it has picked up a few more links around the net, which ought to be good for my search engine ranking in the long run.

    Would I do it again? No. But it has been a fun experiment….

  • In response to Yaro’s question above, yes you keep advertising. In essence, you are breaking even but gaining customers. Imagine, paying nothing, but getting something for it. These customers, can give you repeat business, etc. Many things should be taken into consideration, however, if you are not losing any more in advertising, then there is no reason to stop. Even if you are losing, there should be a certain threshold that a person has before completely stopping their marketing/advertising campaign. You have no spend money to make money, and if you are not willing to take risks, you will earn nothing.

    Remember, the biggest risk is not taking one. And in saying that, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

    Write that down.

  • Charlie

    Hi Yaro, Nice blog I’ll try and remember to drop by regularly, I’m certainly no expert in writing strap lines, but i would steer clear of the words free, downloads and prehaps entrepreneur. How’s about ‘Get your internet start-up started up’ or is that too cheesy?

  • It would be interesting to find out whether there is a certain list of specific keywords that people should not use if they operate in the online business education industry. Is “entrepreneur” a bad word? How about “make money” or “free”…? I realise you have to test to find out which keywords work best given your positioning, but with so many get rich quick and MLM style marketing websites out there we really are swimming in a pool of crap so it is very hard to stand out.

    I have recently been brainstorming positioning strategies and keywords to use for my work and products. I don’t want to be just another “online marketer”, there are already a lot of very good (and bad) examples of that – I’m trying to find the right niche that fits me, my style and my content that is small enough that I can get attention and clients (stand out in a crowd of crap) and large enough that I can make a living from it.

  • I think Alex Tew’s concept is a fantastic success. He may have started a new advertising trend. I was so impressed with his results that I put a site up: http://www.milliondollarhomesite.net. His will be full at the rate he is going and other companies will want a place to advertise. I know that I am copying his idea, but I give him full credit on my site.

  • [...] A real life experiment here shows how important content is then just the packaging. I too have experience the same thing. For eg for a couple of instances it took me 5 min to design base site and 2 weeks to design full site . The reason but obvious was lack of content in base site. [...]

  • Great Post Yaro. When I clicked on the million dollar homepage this morning it timed out. It made me wonder what “uptime” guarantees the site owener may have made. For a minute I thought that the whole thing may have been a scam and the owner took the money and ran. But after a few minutes the site came up. I looked for your site, but I didn’t find it in the clutter.

    You have a high quality site which is way above the fray of most “make money” business sites. This giant puzzle of MDH just looks like a giant Spam site to me. I agree with your posts that content is king and I have found many “gems” on your site.

    Keep up the great work!

    John

  • I’ve just enjoyed reading your article and subsequent comments and since I’m taking from you guys, I thought I’d give you something back. The advert for Tom Corven on the MDHP is mine. Here is my rationale for taking such a risk and my experiences so far:

    I am trying to pioneer a new way of breaking into mass-market publishing. As an unpublished writer, I’m a small voice in a big stadium. The publishing business is on the edge of a disruptive change akin to that experienced in the music industry (once a paper-like reader does for books what mp3 players did for music – 5 years?) and this is why I’m doing things my way. With no budget to play with, I have to get creative. Hence the MDHP ad.

    In a few weeks time, I’ll be touring the UK, paying particular attention to University and College campuses. Tom Corven is free as an mp3 recording and a high proportion of students own these. They are also more likely to ‘get’ what I’m on about with one sentence.

    My hope was that the large banner would stand out and bring lots of traffic but as many people correctly spell out here, this traffic is mostly untargeted. I did not have great expectations for direct ‘sales’ from this ad. I count a sale as someone listening to the fist two chapters of my (free) novel. The real idea was to get the book jacket into the back of many people’s minds and of course the name, Tom Corven, so that if they see it elsewhere, it’ll tickle their subconscious.

    So, where has it got me so far?

    My stats are down (happens a lot lately – frustrating!) but estimate that I have had around 30,000 direct click-throughs so far and that half a million people have seen the name on the MDHP. I make the latter guesstimate with lots of wild speculations. The MDHP gets between 50K and 150K visits per day. In any month, this equates 1.5M and 4.5M visits. I think over the period of six weeks so far, 500K unique sets of eyes looking at the ad is a reasonable guess.

    A couple of weeks ago, Alex Tew was featured in a double page article in the Times. The journalist contacted and subsequently quoted me in the article. In a separate area, a large copy of the page highlighted the Tom Corven ad and lifted text from my site to explain where it was linked to. With a distribution of approx 3M and a readership of perhaps 6M, my guess is that this brought in another 500K reads.

    I’m extremely happy with the results so far but it’s definitely a long-term investment and one which will only work with a large enough ad. (Big secret – I also placed a small 20×30 horrible question mark near the centre – shudder).

    This thing will bloom and die quite quickly but in the meantime, the potential for small people to build brands is substantial and over time the ad will seem quite inexpensive.

    The following is an email I received yesterday (name excluded for privacy reasons):

    ———————————————

    Paul

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Will be keeping my eye out for the Dreamwords trilogy. I only found your book due to an article in The Times regarding Milliondollarhomepage. I am glad I found it, and I have recommended your story on to others.

    Thanks again

    ———————————————–

    None of this of course rubs against your own conclusions but I hope it shines a light from another angle; one that you and your readers will hopefully find interesting.

    Paul

  • Hi Paul,

    Thank you for the lengthy comment. It sounds like your MDH experiment went well. I think perhaps saying that you have no budget is not quite accurate – you did have enough of a budget to purchase a significantly sized MDH ad, which is probably beyond a lot of the readers of this blog.

    What you are pitching is reasonably generic, a book, so the untargeted market is not quite as “bad” for you. As you said the exposure is valuable to place that subconscious image and phrase (by the way, nice title – Tom Corven is strangely compelling) in the minds of a mass audience.

    I think you have started a really interesting experiment into alternative means to promote a book and utilise the web for exposure.

    Fad-piggybacking could be a specialist marketing technique!

  • Hi Yaro,

    Fair comment about the budget. Bad phrasing on my part but I would be surprised if many people here have less of a budget than me. See the following article for an explanation of why I say that:

    http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/generalfiction/story/0,,1560905,00.html

    As you say, the generic nature of the ‘product’ is a key factor in any possible success with this approach. With long tail possibilities stretching to years and decades and the publishing world in a state of flux, artists need to look to the future and learn from the entrepreneurs of the world.

    Thanks for the comments and interesting blog.

    Fad-piggybacking. I like it.

  • [...] If you need a practical example of how to get high quality backlinks using content read the second part of this article – Smarter Online Marketing. This article explains how one of my blog articles enjoyed some major exposure around the web resulting in lots of links. [...]

  • [...] It’s been interesting to experience the growth of a blog and learn which traffic generating techniques work best. I’ve shared some of them with you, for example my article – Smarter Online Marketing And The Results Of The Million Dollar Homepage Experiment gave a nice comparison of two traffic creation strategies, one that worked well for free, and one that didn’t work as well and cost $100. [...]

  • …to be honest if you have a spare $1000 in your wallet for advertising I would spend it on more targeted traffic than what the MDH would bring through for your money…

    Very True, Marketing gimmiks like MDH are timely bubbles which I am sure won’t last for long. Idea is to find repeated readers who find your content interesting.

  • I bought the big target in the centre of the MDHP for our Corporate Gifts company, the daily response has been absolutely phenomenal (up to 5000 unique visitors / day). We’re just glad that we got in there early and took the chance with spending quite a lot of money on it. With regards to copycat sites – I’m looking for something with even 10% of the initiative, to no avail.

  • The MDH was a marketing genius.

    I’m having difficulty finding your site (entrepreneurs-journey.com) on the MDH site for obvious reasons.

    Any clue what I should be looking out for?

  • There’s a little red Y somewhere…That’s us.

  • Khew

    Hi Yaro,

    Just wondering why don’t you make use of the blank space of the right side of your page for Google Adsense campaign?

    Or perhaps you think by running this campaign, it will drive away your traffic to other sites?

    How do you make money from marketing your blog, from the banner ads?

  • Hoyah, Yaro :)

    I’ve been hearing a lot about you, and you have been my inspiration to blog. Like what you said in this article, content is really very important and I hope I could eventually help other people through the content I give. Thanks again.

    Sincerely,
    Anna

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