Online Advertising | Stephan Spencer

Online Advertising Archives - Stephan Spencer

VIDEO: Teen AdSense Entrepreneur

By | Blogging, Online Advertising, Shameless Self-Promotion | 8 Comments

Yes, teenagers can make passive income from Internet marketing. Here’s living proof:

Isn’t she amazing?!? :) Yes I’m a little biased, since she is my offspring. But still, you have to admit it’s impressive when a kid can start an online business and make it onto the speaking circuit by the age of 16, and have such composure in front of the camera.

I remember when I was a teenager trying out Junior Achievement, going to a couple of meetings, and thinking how incredibly lame it was. The meetings were more like Arts & Crafts class than anything resembling real entrepreneurship and business. I wish I had had the opportunities that Chloe had when I was her age.

Our school systems still don’t adequately prepare kids to be entrepreneurs and business people, as Chloe notes in one of her Huffington Post articles. But for those kids who are motivated, they can find the opportunities elsewhere.

My advice for those doting parents of a budding entrepreneur is to first read the book Rich Dad Poor Dad. It’s not all that well-written, but it has some really important concepts, ones that I instilled in my kids. Such as:

  • Don’t work for a living, have money work for you
  • Build assets that make money for you while you sleep
  • Assets put money in your pocket month after month, liabilities take money out of your pocket month after month (thus a house you own and live in is a liability and NOT an asset)

And for those teens wondering where to start, first step is to pick something you’re passionate about. If it’s only about the money, it won’t be fun and you’ll lose your motivation when the going gets tough. For Chloe it was Neopets, but now she’s an “adult” (as she reminds me all the time) and not that into it anymore, so she’s delegating posting to a ghostwriter she found on oDesk. With her attention turning to film and to becoming a documentary director, my advice to her is to start a site or blog on that topic, perhaps more specifically on homegrown documentary videos by amateur filmmakers.

Crass Marketing Campaigns: Do They Work?

By | Email, Online Advertising, Web Marketing | 4 Comments

This isn’t a rhetorical question. i truly want to know!

Do crass, “low brow” marketing campaigns like this real piece of… umm… work 😉 from Domainz (the official -and at one time, only – domain registry for New Zealand and their .nz domain space) actually bring in respectable response rates despite unrespectable theme, copy, or visuals?

The following is a screenshot of the email campaign piece that landed in my inbox last month (it was an animated image; the screenshot shows what was the final frame):

Giving tough times the Finger with Pay-Per-Click

There was matching messaging on their website too. Thankfuly this brain-dead campaign appears to have been put to rest.

I was surprised the email even made it into my inbox. With a Subject line of “Give Tough Times the Finger” you’d think it would have gotten reported by recipients to SpamCop as spam more than a few times.

In my opinion, marketers CAN go too far. Some even get into the realm of truly warped and downright offensive, like this disturbing example, also from New Zealand. When marketers offend our sensibilities we (the targeted recipients) shut down. It can even alienate us from their brand. I know I (a customer) lost a little bit of respect for Domainz because of this campaign. Not enough to move my business from them (i.e. transfer my .nz domains to another registrar). But It’s like they made a withdrawal from their brand equity “bank account”, with me. (I’m borrowing from Stephen Covey’s metaphor of the “emotional bank account”).

So what do you think? Should marketers who practice “crass marketing” deserve an “Attaboy!” or a smack? Or a demotion?

Whiz Kid Entrepreneur: Harrison Gevirtz

By | Affiliate Marketing, Online Advertising | 15 Comments

Harrison GevirtzEarlier this year at SMX West, I met (then) 15-year-old entrepreneur Harrison Gevirtz. He was on a panel with my (then) 16-year-old daughter Chloe Spencer the owner of the Ultimate Neopets Cheats Site. Harrison blew my mind. Here’s a kid who travels the world, often times makes six figures a MONTH, and lives the high life and he isn’t even old enough to vote let alone drink. I got a chance to chat with him and get a bit of an inside view on his rock star lifestyle. Read on and perhaps you can glean a few secrets to his success and perhaps repeat that for yourself…

For many self-made Internet marketers, Harrison Gevirtz is already a legend. He’s a whiz-kid 16-year-old globe-trotting Internet advertising genius who pulls in six figures a month. How does he do it? Is it legal? What about school? What are his secrets? The rules of online marketing have changed and it’s kids like Harrison who are driving this new future. If you are smart enough, and creative enough – with the tenacity to make your own rules – perhaps you too can drive this new future. So much for needing a college degree or to graduate high school to really get somewhere in this world!

You might guess that Harrison doesn’t think too much of school and may be a dropout. He tells me he goes to “Continuation School” and is in a special program called “Independent Studies”. This means he goes to school 1 day per week for about 45 minutes! He collects his assignments and then is done until the next week when he repeats the process. This program will allow him to graduate school normally in four years. Kids – don’t try this at home! Harrison has an unusual gift and this type of school arrangement is not beneficial for everyone. Most kids (mine for sure) need more structure to prepare them for college life and their career. Harrison’s lifestyle is the exception.

With this loose of a school schedule, what does a typical day looks like for Harrison and how many hours a day do he work? Keep in mind he is still a teenager, regardless of his genius – so yes – he does sleep late and starts his day around noon. The luxury of this income obvious allows him the ability to set his own schedule. He chooses to travel a lot too — whether it’s Taipei or Monte Carlo or the Bahamas, he looks for any excuse to hop on a plane. When he’s not on the road he works most of the time, ordering lunch, which he says, allows him to keep working at his computer. Yes, this is the picture of a young workaholic, potentially addicted to his computer and the Internet at the tender age of 16. He tells me though that he doesn’t live his entire life in front of the computer. “I do like to go out with friends, go eat out and have fun like a normal teenager does. But I’m still really motivated. I do most of my work during the night (which neither of my parents approve up), but usually end up going to bed around 2-4am.”

Harrison is a dealer-maker. He relies on old-fashioned networking to establish direct relationships with advertisers. He brokers out many deals with various advertisers ranging from small web stores having the privilege to market products exclusively, onto larger various lead-generation advertisers. His secret? You bet he’s not telling. He won’t deny though that he often pulls in six figures a month. He admits that affiliate marketing can be very fast-paced and not very consistent. He’s more focused on his work than the bottom line and admits that not every month is a whopper, “when I don’t make six figures in a month it’s OK; there’s always next month!” Ah – the role of youthful optimism comes into play for this Internet advertising hero. Harrison is known to be a Super Affiliate, yet claims he is not. Which networks does he prefer to work with? He thinks very highly of CX Digital and Neverblueads, but he’s reticent to go into a larger list or provide many details (and of course I don’t blame him!). Harrison emphasizes that he is focusing more on making deals directly through advertisers now instead of going the affiliate route.

In addition to having an unconventional school and work life, Harrison’s lifestyle allows for him to travel extensively. He tells me that about 90% of his travel is for business. At the time of our interview he was in Boston for a meeting. In 2008 alone he said he has been to Denver/Boulder, San Francisco, New York City, the Bahamas, India, France, Amsterdam, Tokyo, and London, to name a few! Of the more exotic locales, the Bahamas was for pleasure, India and Amsterdam were for business, and France was a mix of both (mostly for pleasure, but Harrison’s wise to the value of tax deductions so he worked in a bit of business there too). Considering the circles Harrison networks in, the super-exclusive Elite Retreat conference run by superstar online marketer Jeremy Schoemaker (“Shoemoney”) was — despite the $5000 price tag — a no-brainer for him. He found it to be well worth it: “Elite Retreat was great… the conference was very unique because all the attendees were willing to share information about what they do and not be secretive. I learned quite a bit, not only from the speakers but also just as much from my fellow attendees.” Clearly conferences are important for Harrison, to network and to strike deals. For him, ad:tech NYC so far has been the best conference for this. He is also very complementary of “boutique conferences” like the Elite Retreat which “provide knowledge on a whole different level.”

He may be a genius, but he still makes mistakes and learns from them just like the rest of us. He admits that being overconfident with various projects and campaigns has been a pitfall and caused him significant losses from time to time. One example of this was when he was first starting out and earning his first profits from PPC advertising. He had a small campaign that he was spending about $30 per day from which he earned only about $75 per day. In his learning process he thought the best way to scale it would be to double the bids because even with a double cost per click he figured he would still be profitable. The result was an increase in his budget from $30 to $1,000. He was overconfident in his strategy and quickly lost $1,000 in a single day. From this experience he learned his lesson about how to efficiently scale up a campaign. Harrison’s risk-taking has paid off for him though — big time. But there is a constant risk. He can’t take his eye off the ball; he works incessantly. He also has to hold his own in a business world full of adults who don’t take teenagers seriously — not a small feat. In fact, Harrison says his greatest challenge this year has been in negotiating with various online media companies as a youth. While he finds this to be very frustrating, often there’s not much he can do about it. It’s not personal, but the policy of many affiliate networks and ad networks requiring users to be 18 years or older is a serious roadblock. He’s shared in other interviews how in the past he has been terminated, not paid, and taken advantage of by numerous networks because of their legal terms and minimum age requirement. Harrison advises other entrepreneurial kids to demand respect despite their age.

So where does Harrison see himself in ten years? He hopes to be living somewhere abroad, preferably Europe. He’s not sure if he’ll be pursuing the exact same business model that is working so well for him now, but he hopes to stay in this industry and continue to have the flexibility to work from anywhere.

How can high schools and universities inspire and prepare more students to achieve what Harrison has achieved? In his opinion he doesn’t think schools inspire students to come up with ideas or to establish a drive to accomplish something. But, he thinks that some professors can be influential and help you make future decisions that can improve your life. He thinks high schools and universities should better prepare students by offering more real-world, relevant business curriculum, instead of useless broad information.

Harrison’s latest business ventures that he was willing to share include BlitzLocal, his local-focused SEM firm, and LeaderClicks, his social advertising network. Harrison also invites readers to check out his blog.

Why Companies Should be Nice to Bloggers

By | Blogging, Branding, Online Advertising | No Comments

We all know that blogging can be a powerful tool for many reasons, and here’s another one to add to the list. Blog posts that praise a company’s excellent customer service, or denounce them for being horrid, can rank so well in the SERPs it falls right beneath a company’s website.

One story that comes to mind is Zappos, an online retailer of shoes, high heels, and handbags. One of their customers wasn’t able to return a pair of shoes due to the death of her mother. Not only did Zappos “break policy” by accepting the shoes, they arranged for pick-up and delivered a large bouquet of flowers. I Heart Zappos is a great post about this heart-warming story. There are other not-so-great examples as well, like a post entitled “Do Not Fly Spirit Airlines” currently ranked “3” beneath Spirit Airline’s brand name.

For more on this topic, you can read my full article here.

Partnering up has its advantages

By | Content, Online Advertising, Web Marketing | No Comments

Have you considered incorporating content partners and marketing partners into your online strategy? For example, partnering with content providers who could augment your own content with additional related content? Or partering with sites whose visitors match your target market?  If, for example, you wanted to reach women online, you could partner with a site like and build a microsite together, then have them promote it through their site and subscription lists.

Think about the sites you advertise on as potential partners. Join forces and create a microsite together and then promote it to a joint captive audience. Or make a deal with them and syndicate some useful content onto their site. For example, you could develop a whole library of useful tips and, rather than doing standard banner ads, you could provide these tips to your partner, who would then fold it with the rest of their content. Et voila!… “Sponsored content”!

Even better if, between the two of you, you can develop some sort of “hook” or viral component, such as a funny video, an addictive game, a downloadable ebook, worksheet, calculator, widget, etc. 

Got an example to share of a site where the whole is greater than the sum of the partners? Post a comment!

How can old-media execs be this clueless?

By | Online Advertising | No Comments

This is comical:

Yesterday, Shaw told MediaDailyNews that his network has been talking to cable operators about disabling the fast-forward button on their digital video recorders to prevent commercial skipping. Wait, wait … the kicker is that he doesn’t think this would be any big deal to the audience. “I’m not so sure that the whole issue really is one of commercial avoidance,” Shaw said. “It really is a matter of convenience — so you don’t miss your favorite show. And quite frankly, we’re just training a new generation of viewers to skip commercials because they can. I’m not sure that the driving reason to get a DVR in the first place is just to skip commercials. I don’t fundamentally believe that. People can understand in order to have convenience and on-demand (options), that you can’t skip commercials.”

(from Good Morning Silicon Valley)

We’re becoming an increasingly time-poor society, and this is ABC’s answer? Oh brother!

Juxtapose that old media philosophy with new media businesses, like the super-cool jumpcut service where you can effortlessly edit and re-mix others’ published videos. Guess which one is clued in to the future and which one is hopelessly caught in the past!

The execs at ABC clearly need to read The Cluetrain Manifesto.

The death of the pop-up

By | Online Advertising, Search Engines | 2 Comments

Seems like just about every toolbar out there includes a popup blocker (e.g. Google Toolbar, Yahoo Companion Toolbar). Plus, many web browsers are offering this capability built in. In addition, there’s antivirus / personal firewall security software like Norton Internet Security that blocks pop-ups (heck, Norton is so overly zealous, it strips out referrers so web marketers can’t tell where their traffic came from!).

Furthermore, don’t count on content within a pop-up getting indexed in the search engines. That’s because pop-ups rely on JavaScript — a roadblock to search engine spiders.

The short of it is, my advice is this: stop using pop-ups.

When advertisers hurt your brand

By | Branding, Online Advertising | 4 Comments

The other day when I was on I kept getting this tasteless banner ad:

Not only did I find the ad irritating and gross, I thought less of the White Pages brand after I saw it. It is an animated GIF banner, where the piece of poo actually flies across the ad from left to right and then hits the spinning fan, making the whole banner go brown. Nice.

Whoever at the White Pages approved that banner ad for publication should be fired.

I have also seen plenty of ads placed in email campaigns that hurt the brand. Here’s an ad in an newsletter that cheapened the JupiterMedia brand while simultaneously flagging the email for spam filters (the Alt tag associated with this banner ad was “Work From Home” — a terrible thing to say in an email campaign if you want your campaign delivered):

It always amazes me how email ads get approved when it’s so obvious that they are going to cause the campaign’s deliverability to tank. Like this one:

Some people think email marketing is horribly expensive. If only they knew about VerticalResponse. We give you the power to create, send, and track your email campaign, right from your web browser — for less than 1c an email! NO set-up fees, NO contracts, NO hidden charges. And it’s easy, too! See for yourself by creating your own test mailing — FREE. Get started today!

Some big no-no phrases in the above email ad, including: “no hidden charges” and “see for yourself”.

In short, your website and your email campaigns are a reflection of your brand. The advertising you accept for display on your site and in your emails is also a reflection of your brand. So think carefully before you take on an advertiser or accept a creative that isn’t “on message.” 

Microsites with “pass it on” appeal

By | Branding, Online Advertising | 2 Comments

Microsites can be really good at going “viral” if they are clever and have “pass it on” appeal. Subservient Chicken, Burger King’s microsite was such a site. It featured a person dressed up in a chicken suit wearing lingerie. You could give it commands by typing them into a box. Pretty weird. Not surprisingly, it became quite popular and went viral.

You improve the chances that your campaign will go viral if it’s a microsite because then it’s at an arm’s length from your corporate/brand site. Corporate sites rarely go viral. Subservient Chicken, for instance, surely had more “pass it on appeal” as a separate site than as a subdirectory within the site.

Emerald Nuts launched a funny microsite called, which they tied in with their very expensive Super Bowl commercial and promoted through press releases. The site was a spoof; supposedly a leprechaun was supposed to be in the television commercial and was edited out in the final cut. Consequently, the leprechaun was very angry about it so he set up his own website. Visitors can watch the ‘unedited’ video clips with him in the commercial. Cute idea.

Another funny microsite is the counterfeit Mini spoof site. Brilliant!

What are your favorite microsites? Post a comment!

Optimizing your content for more Google AdSense revenue

By | Content, Online Advertising, Search Engines | One Comment

Optimizing your site for higher search engine rankings is an obvious activity for anyone with a website. Optimizing your site for higher conversion rates is another obvious one. But how about optimizing for higher advertising revenue — specifically, a bigger check from Google for the AdSense ads that you display on your site.

Consider for example if you had a website on redecorating for Do-It-Yourselfers. You might have a page all about “housepainting.” But, as described in this article in USA Today about webmasters making money off of AdSense, “housepainting” isn’t a great money term for AdSense revenue — it’s only a 20-cent word. “Home improvement,” on the other hand, is worth $2. That’s a $1.80 difference.

So in effect you can give yourself a nice pay increase just by changing the keyword themes of your pages that display AdSense ads by creating new content pages around those keywords. And the real opportunists out there are creating pages about mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos that lawyers are bidding on. That keyword is worth an order of magnitude more than “home improvement.” But that would be sooo dirty! Thankfully I don’t know anyone THAT dirty!