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Rate Card Importance and How to Create One

Read Time: 7 minutes

If you’ve never heard of a rate card, they’re essentially ad inventory menus in which you list the ad inventory that is available to advertisers and the prices you charge to fill that ad inventory. We’re going to explain where they came from and what to focus on when creating yours.

The term “rate card” comes from the old-fashioned cards that newspaper publishers handed to prospective advertisers that listed available ad inventory and associated prices. The term was subsequently adopted by television and radio advertisers, and has remained in use for online advertising.

Early newspaper rate card.
Example of an early newspaper rate card.

Early rate cards were relatively simple, due to limited advertising options. In contrast, modern rate cards are much more complicated because the sheer range of options available to advertisers have increased dramatically.

Because of the sheer number and variety of ad inventory options available to advertisers, creating an effective rate card is crucial. As a publisher, you’re selling a commodity to buyers who have a variety of options available to them.

Don’t underestimate rate card presentation

Your rate card needs to grab advertisers’ attention and draw them into the details. Don’t underestimate the importance of your rate card’s visual appeal.

Make sure that you display the relevant information clearly, and in a logical layout so advertisers can quickly find the information that is most important to them at a glance.

Keep your design simple and uncluttered. Use simple graphics to demonstrate the ad inventory. Remember that advertisers are interested in the information itself, so focus on that.

In addition, remember to make your rate card easy to find so advertisers don’t need to spend much time looking for it. One option is to create a page on your site dedicated to advertising options on your site. Add your rate card to that page, ideally in a responsive, web format with an optional PDF download.

Some publishers also integrate their rate cards into their media kits. AdAge’s media kit is a good example of this.

Describe your audience and the value they offer

The reason why an advertiser will advertise on your site is to reach your audience. You need to describe your audience in enough detail so advertisers can appreciate the value they’d receive by placing ads on your site.

Here is some of the information you may want to share with prospective advertisers:

  • Where is your audience?
  • How old are they?
  • What is their disposable income?
  • What is your audience interested in? Will they buy what advertisers are offering them?
  • How often does your audience visit your site, and how long do they visit for?
  • How engaged is your audience, and what boosts engagement on your site?
  • How many people does your content ultimately reach? Take into account how, where, and to what extent your content is distributed using channels such as social media.
  • Which formats can advertisers use to reach your audience most effectively (this might vary depending on audience segmentation)?

The key here is accuracy. The more accurate you can be with your audience data, the more credible your rate card will be. You should also be able to demonstrably verify your data too.

Clear ad placement descriptions

Advertisers want to know where their ads may appear so be sure to include clear descriptions of available ad inventory and, optionally, demonstrate placements in the context of your site using simple mockups.

Other important details you need to convey include:

  • Ad unit descriptions;
  • Placement details for those ad units (in other words, where the ads would be placed, and for how long); and
  • Dimensions of the ad units.

In addition, if you also have a print publication, you may want to create distinct rate cards for each format. The Economist, for example, publishes a variety of rate cards for its various print and digital formats.

Smart pricing options

When it comes to pricing your ad inventory, you should begin by stating the basis on which you are pricing your inventory. Are you charging on a CPM, CPC, or another pricing method?

If you need a starting point to calculate your rates, research how competing sites with similar audiences price their ad inventory.

From there, address factors such as these:

  • Available ad inventory on your site and anticipated demand for it.
  • Your site’s relative dominance in your particular category.
  • Average rates for your category (also a fair baseline starting point).
  • Whether your site targets your audience fairly precisely?
  • Creative options for available ad inventory (different sizes and formats may be more engaging in different contexts).
  • The current (and foreseeable) state of the economy with respect to your category.

In recent years certain specific issues have become fairly important to advertisers. One hot topic is viewability which is the measure of the extent to which a human sees an ad on your site. Stay on top of these issues and make sure you have solid data to backup your engagement metrics.

A word about discounts

Many advertisers tend to regard published rates as somewhat negotiable so be prepared for that. Publishers often state higher prices on their rate cards than they would be comfortable charging to give themselves enough margin to negotiate with advertisers.

This approach also gives you flexibility when it comes to preparing special offers for higher value ad sales.

You may find that you need to tweak your rate card until you find you have a pricing model that advertisers readily understand, and that appeals to them enough to commit to placing ads on your site.