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Thoughts on the Project Wonderful ad system

I first stumbled across Project Wonderful in December 2006. Project Wonderful is a system that allows ads to be bought and sold as an auction, highest bidder gets the ad, and it changes in real time, so you can have an ad on a site in minutes. It started out as a way for publishers of web comics to be able to easily add advertising to their web sites, but any site can take advantage of the system.

I’ve been running some advertising on a couple of my sites (an “adbox”) the past few months, and have also run some advertising (“bids” or “campaigns”) on other sites. I allowed ads to run both here on PlanetMike, and on my Christmas site. Here are my thoughts about the Project Wonderful (PW) ad system.

For all users:

  • I wish I could stay logged into the system. The current logout time is something like 30 minutes, which is annoying. Yes, it can be dangerous, but if you aren’t on a trusted computer, you shouldn’t check a preference box to stay logged in. If someone steals my home computer, I have other problems anyways.
  • The Project Wonderful web site itself is sluggish at times. Logging in takes 15 to 30 seconds occasionally.

For publishers (sites letting others advertise on them):

  • Bids shouldn’t be able to be removed or cancelled by the bidder quickly. What happens is they bid some amount and then figure out that someone else has a much higher limit. So the bid rate goes up to $.40 but two hours later drops back to 2 cents because the incentive for the higher bid has gone away. A bid should have to remain in place for at least 24 hours.
  • The web publisher may set a minimum bid. But the ad says “your ad here,” which is a waste. Let the publisher put their own ad there, linking to wherever, at no cost. But still let someone bid more than my minimum to get the ad themselves. Right now I feel that space is wasted while I’m waiting for minimum bids. The example is the banner ad at my Christmas music site. Update (2007-10-31 11am): Ryan from ProjectWonderful pointed out to me that this capability is already in the system. I was simply misreading a certain set of options in the control panel area of the adbox definitions.
  • Pages with PW ads load slowly. On my table-based site (ugh, I know, I need to redesign) there is usually a visible delay when the page gets to the PW cell.

For advertisers (putting your ad on other sites):

  • The campaign system is wonderful. I ran three campaigns in early October to advertise The first was for only ads of any size that could be bought for a price of zero to two cents. After a week, I changed to two campaigns, one only for button ads (117×30 pixel images), the other for large ads (468×60 or 728×90 images) only. The results were amazing.
    Campaign Bid limit Total Page Views Total Click Total Expense Cost per 1000
    Page Views (CPM)
    Cost per Click (CPC)
    2 Cent Campaign
    October 1 to October 4
    $0.02 97,091
    (54,703 unique)
    (343 unique)
    $4.05 $0.04
    ($0.07 unique)
    ($0.01 unique)
    Button Campaign
    October 10 to October 19
    $0.01 1,173,830
    (586,150 unique)
    (2,167 unique)
    $36.18 $0.03
    ($0.06 unique)
    ($0.02 unique)
    Large Ad Campaign
    October 10 to October 19
    $0.06 570,720
    (254,377 unique)
    (1,515 unique)
    $52.45 $0.09
    ($0.21 unique)
    ($0.03 unique)

    In those three weeks, I received nearly 4,500 clicks, for a cost of just over $100. If I had tried to run a Google Adword campaign, the cost would have been much higher for the keywords I would have had to choose in order to get high placement on pages. I just created a campaign using Adwords, and the Traffic Estimator said my keywords would need to be 20 cents (Christmas music) to 50 cents (Christmas carols), so an equivalent number of clicks would have cost me $900 to $2,250!

  • Keep in mind I was competing with other advertizers, so the sites that my ad was on changed daily (hourly!). But if I felt it was very important to be on a specifc site, I could set up a separate bid for that site, with a higher bid limit.
  • So as PW gets more popular, and daily bid rates increase, the CPM and CPC will increase. But right now, PW is an incredible bargain.

Overall, the Project Wonderful system works very well. I encourage you to check it out for your next web project. PW is very economical, easy to use, and supports small web-based businesses, but could easily be used on larger sites as well.


  1. Caveman Joe says:

    I’ve added your link to this story to Project Wonderful Talk’s home page. Thanks for an informative article.

    (BTW, in response to your previous article about moving your site’s content into WordPress – if you’ve got a bit of technical experience, which I’m guessing you do, you might want to have a look at Geeklog as an alternative. It’s like WordPress for people who know what they’re doing.)

  2. Doug says:

    I’ve been debating about using this system. Your article was very informative; I think I’ll go for it.