An Internet Marketing Success Story: ‘The Million Dollar Homepage’

Million Dollar Homepage Screenshot resized 600The ‘Million Dollar Homepage’ was an online page set up in 2005 by Alex Tew, a young entrepreneur from Wiltshire who was about to start his studies at the University of Nottingham. He sat down with a pen and a notepad a few weeks before his course began, and brainstormed some ideas of how he could pay for the university fees and living costs without getting into the kind of debt he saw his brother get into during his time at university.

He titled the page ‘How I Can Make a Million’...

An ambitious title to say the least, however he had the creativity and entrepreneurial mind-set to figure out that if he aimed high and came up short, he would still have enough to accomplish his original target of paying for his three years at university and perhaps a little bit left over for the ‘social’ aspect of university life. 

His idea was to create a page online that consisted of a million pixels arranged in a 1000 × 1000 pixel grid and sell the pixels in 10 x 10 blocks to companies so they could use the blocks as advertising space. Each block cost $1, and the minimum spend was $100 (otherwise the space would have been too small for the advertisement).The purchasers of these pixel blocks provided tiny images to be displayed on them, a URL to which the images were linked, and a slogan to be displayed when hovering a cursor over the link. The aim of the website was to sell all of the pixels in the image, thus generating a million dollars of income for Alex.

“From the outset I knew the idea had potential, but it was one of those things that could have gone either way. My thinking was I had nothing to lose (apart from the 50 Euros or so it cost to register the domain and set up the hosting). I knew that the idea was quirky enough to create interest ... The Internet is a very powerful medium.”

Alex Tew, 22 February 2006.

At first the page was advertised through word of mouth but once he hit the $1000 mark the BBC released a press release and by the end of the month the site had made $250,000…

Alex found that he had created a viral phenomenon and the more people that found out about his page and were searching for it, the more companies and advertisers began to take notice and thus buy pixels and on 1 January 2006, the final 1,000 pixels were put up for auction on eBay. The auction closed on 11 January with a winning bid of $38,100 that brought the final tally to $1,037,100 in gross income.

What we can learn from Alex Tew and ‘The Million Dollar Homepage?’

There are a number of things business owners and marketers can learn from the site and from Alex himself.

Alex wasn’t a qualified marketer, he had no experience of running businesses or even working in one, he simply had an idea that he was willing to pursue. Some may say he got lucky but the fact remains that the internet’s power to reach people globally made the £1m target a reality. He achieved this because his USP was innovation. There were hundreds of sites which were using advertising as a revenue source but none of them had previously created a set system which led to a high enquiry rate and numerous companies fighting for the space.

“The crucial thing in creating the media interest was the idea itself; it was unique and quirky enough to stand out. I only had to push the idea a bit in the first few days by sending out a press release which essentially acted as a catalyst. This interest coupled with social media and traditional word-of-mouth created a real buzz about the homepage, which in turn created more interest.”

Alex Tew, 22 February 2006.

The trick Alex had found was using simplicity and the fun factor - advertisers and traffic were attracted by the site’s novelty and from there the power of the internet took it to the next level.

The bottom line of the site’s success was its traffic rate, this in turn lead to advertisers becoming more and more interested and that led to the massive profit Alex achieved.

Small businesses everywhere can achieve fantastic results online - by employing online marketers in-house, spending 30 or more hours a week doing it themselves or (most effectively and efficiently) investing in a professional online marketing agency.

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