Advertising on Reddit

New York Times Square at Night by Werner Kunz from FlickrReddit calls itself “The Front Page of the Internet.” After months of screwing around with it I can safely say that this is an accurate statement.

Months. Literally. I’m old. It took me awhile.

When I first hopped onto the page I had no idea what it was or why I would want to go there. It was just a bunch of stuff being thrown at me.

Again. I’m old.

But since I was checking it out for possible marketing purposes I stuck around and eventually created an account and began to filter what, exactly, the stuff was that it was throwing at me. Now I love it.

Here’s a quick walk-through. Then we’ll get to the advertising.

Basically it looks like this:

Front Page of Reddit

It’s just a list of headlines that you can click through to see more. Hence, the front page of the internet. If you look under the headline you can see who submitted it, when, and to which subreddit (i.e. category).

This link, of some iphone drawings, was submitted by icheban to the subreddit: “pics.”

Submitted to pics

It’s a popular link as its positive votes outweigh its negative votes by 2591.

Votes

When you create your account on reddit, you can choose which subreddit’s (category’s) links will appear on your personalized front page. My front page gets headlines from the Bacon subreddit, the Funny subreddit, and a bunch of other stuff that entertains me while I finish my morning coffee.

To the right is the button you can use to submit your own links.

Submit a link

You can write a headline and link to a picture or article or whatever and submit it to the proper subreddit and then hope for lots of upvotes, making your link appear to more and more people. The whole thing is generated by users.

At the very top of the page is a “sponsered link.”

Sponsered link

This link is for a new show on Cinemax. Clicking that link will, I have to imagine, take you to the show’s main website.

These sponsored links are how advertising works on reddit.

You probably already guessed that.

If you scroll down to the bottom of the screen, and click the tiny little “Advertise” button under the “About” column, you can begin your advertising experience.

advertise button

First, very simply, they ask you to write your headline and pick what page you are linking to. Obviously you are directing traffic to…well to wherever you want people’s eyeballs to go. For me I chose Probability Angel’s page.

The link is simple enough. The headline requires more thought. This is what appears in larger font in dark blue. This is your advertising copy. This is what will compel people to click through or not.

This post isn’t about writing great advertising copy. Frankly I’m still experimenting plenty with that. Just keep in mind that this is the first contact you’ll be making with people and you need to hook them and give them some idea of where your link will be taking them.

That is the shortest description of advertising you will ever read.

Right. So then you click “Save” at the bottom and things get a little weird as we move on to this screen.

Campaign Dashboard

Some of this is easy. You can see, in the middle, my headline (called a “title” here) which is “I love cheese.” Then comes the url that people will be sent to when they click on my link, “http://josephdevon.com/.” Then comes the “look and feel” section, which lets you upload a 70 x 70 picture to appear to the left of your headline. Why they don’t label that section “upload a picture” is beyond me.

Then comes an option to allow or disable comments on your ad.

We’ll come back to the comments in a second, but that lower chunk feels self-explanatory to me.

The upper part with the bidding is a little tricky, at least compared to other Internet advertising. Over at the reddit site they have a comic by The Oatmeal that explains everything. Only, after reading the comic I didn’t understand anything. I had chuckled a lot, and I knew that the example-person in the comic was selling pork chop milkshakes, but nothing else sunk in.

It seems simple.

You pick the number of days that your campaign will run and you pick the total amount of money you are going to pay. Then you pick if you want your ad to appear before all of reddit, or just one subreddit.

Thus far we have some simple math and a single choice between advertising to the entire page or advertising to one sub-category.

So where does it get tricky?

With most other advertising I’ve tried, you have a total bid per day and your campaign can never exceed that. Same here, your budget will never exceed your bid per day, which is the total bid you are entering in divided by the number of days your campaign will run (there’s that simple math).

However, with most other advertising you bid per click and then, every time your ad can appear, the advertising program runs an auction between you and other interested advertisers to see if your ad will be displayed. You win some of these auctions and you lose some but they happen thousands of times a second so you have plenty of chances to let your bid rise to the top. So if you bid $0.15 for a click, and your daily budget is $10, and you manage to spend that entire $10, then you will received $10 / $0.15 = 66.6r clicks. You may be outbid a lot and your ad will not appear as often and you will not spend all of your money and as a result you will get less clicks. Or you may be able to pay less per click, if your ad performs well or other higher bidders run through their budget before the day is out, and receive more clicks for your money.

That’s how I thought this advertising would work, and there’s all that data on the right of the above screen-shot showing CPM (cost per thousand views) and CPC (cost per click) and the count…I didn’t know what the count meant when I started. So I thought that these familiar numbers were implying a familiar advertising system and I plowed right ahead.

The thing is, reddit doesn’t perform an auction for every click. Instead they take your total bid per day, compare it to all other bids for that day, and then grant you a percentage of traffic based on what percentage of the total your bid is. Is your bid for the day 17% of the total amount of money they were bid? Then you receive 17% of the traffic for that day.  How many clicks you get is not a part of that equation. You’re only guaranteed a percentage of views, a slice of the traffic, not of the clicks.

That data on the right of the above screen-shot is the recent, site-wide, history of advertising over the past week. And then there’s the count, which is how many other ads were running that day.

promo history

You have to combine all of these numbers together to figure out what you’re willing to pay per click, how many other ads you think might run, and what you want to bid for the day.

Plus, keep in mind, that the data they give is always for the entire site. If you’re submitting your ad just to one subreddit (category) there might only be two other ads running there so your bid can be much less to garner much more of the total pie.

Basically, when I first decided to give this a try I posted an ad to the fiction subreddit, paid my $20, and received like three clicks. The fiction subreddit is not highly targeted or trafficked, so my twenty dollars was a huge bid for a slice of a tiny pie. How tiny? I have no idea. There is no data on individual subreddits at this point.

Three clicks was not a great return.

Lesson learned. After that I took a closer look at the whole process, started using the history, worked out estimates for how many clicks I was hoping to buy, and tweaked from there.

One major tweak is that I now no longer target individual subreddits since I have zero idea what sort of traffic or competition I’m dealing with there.

Okay, so, results?

Results have been good.

Ads have most certainly led to clicks, and clicks have most certainly led to sales.

A lot of the success of your ads will depend on the headline and the photo you use, as well as your landing page. Again, I’m using my Probability Angels page, and that page has been worked on quite a bit to catch the eyes of new readers who click through from somewhere on a whim.

Whether it’s “worth it,” as a lot of people ask me, I can’t tell at this point.

All of my marketing is focused on the idea that one can hit a critical mass with readers, ideally readers who purchase via Amazon, and that once this happens your readership can produce its own growth. I’ll write a post soon discussing this notion more.

But for now?

Hmmm.

The traffic generated has been well worth the costs of advertising compared to other methods, and this traffic is resulting in people purchasing my books. The cost per sale is still high, however, and my proceeds from sales do not cover those costs. But I don’t think advertising is supposed to actually pay for itself at first. It’s supposed to seed readers. And the readers I’m gaining may or may not produce more readers. And the sales I’m getting on Amazon may or may not garner their algorithm’s attention. All of that remains to be seen and I am still futzing and tweaking my reddit ads.

But I do think it has been worth it.

I’ve said this a lot, but advertising is extremely cheap compared to the days before Ye Olde Internette. I highly recommend setting aside a few bucks to try it out. You will learn a lot about how to market yourself in general just by writing your ad copy and figuring out your landing page. You will learn a lot about how to best target an audience for your work. And you will learn a little bit about something called love.

Okay maybe not that last part, but you’ll learn plenty and you’ll get at least a few new eyeballs on you and that’s not a bad thing. Especially for a few bucks. Look at it as a cheap class on marketing.

I want to close out here by discussing reddit’s ability to allow comments on your ads.

This is a very weird concept.

But, take a look at the ad on my front page again:

Sponsered link

See? This ad has 7 comments on it.

Comments are an integral part of the internet that no sane person should ever look at ever.

Well, some comment sections are interesting, but some are horrible places where trolls dwell and ass-hats spew hate.

That being said, I think allowing comments on your ad is the right choice. It shows that you’re not aloof from the community, and I think people are more likely to treat your ad as a real part of Reddit if it has some comments on it.

Just don’t think you can respond to the comments on your ad.

Seriously. Don’t do it.

My ads have received a few comments, and most of them are people making puns about my book’s title (Probability Angles anyone?) or people ripping into my books as well as some people ripping on me simply for choosing to advertise. One commenter said that he would probably buy my book, but warned people not to click through to my website because the positive quotes I’ve included there turned him off.

I don’t even know what to make of that. For that person, effective advertising would be, what, to put up a bunch of bad quotes about my book on my own page? I mean, I often tell people to read the favorited reviews on Amazon to get an impartial opinion, but why would I put those on my page? It’s my page. That’s the one place that’s supposed to…ohfuckit just don’t read the comments.

And let me know if you learn anything about love.