8 Rules For Running Online Display Ads

by Eloqua on July 26, 2011 in Digital Marketing

In olden days, when you wanted to drum up interest for your product or business, you could take an ad out in the paper, write a jingle for the radio or buy commercials on TV. The Internet changed the value proposition of mass media marketing.

With the advent of email marketing, video marketing, blogging and social media marketing, businesses have a myriad of affordable options to build audience and engagement. But online displays ads still play a vital role in building a wider audience. Yet, running online ads can be confusing, so we solicited the advice of two experts in the field: Ben Kunz, Director of Strategic Planning at Mediassociates, and Soren Ryherd, President of Working Planet. Together they deliver 8 Rules for Running Online Display Ads.

Buy audience, not advertising.
“You’re not buying advertising, you’re buying an audience,” says Kunz. In other words, think of it less like slapping a sign on a bus and more like selecting the right venue for an event.

The key here is mapping out your goals ahead of time. Do you want to reach a broad base of marketers across several industries? Or are you aiming to sell your product to a niche of Chief Information Officers? The answers to these basic questions will determine what kind of placement you seek for your ads.

Understand the context.
“The more you are interrupting something else that someone is doing, the less likely they are to interact with it by clicking on it,” Ryherd states. Remember: your audience isn’t browsing the web in hopes that they’ll run across your advertising. You need to understand the context in which your desired audience will see your ads, and how the imagery will appear in relation to the content they are consuming.

Lead them to water.
One way to avoid being disruptive is to ask, “Where will my ads lead?” You have to imagine life after the click-thru. When someone clicks on the ad will they land on a website that relates to the content they were viewing? Is there dissonance between your copy and where you lead the audience?

People should remember,” Ryherd says, “that in advertising you don’t want to have this huge disconnect when people do what you want them to do.” In other words, ignore the landing page at your peril.

Mix up your metrics.
As a practice, online display ads don’t boast an especially impressive track record. The average industry click-through rate for display ads is about 0.08%, Kunz notes. But that statistic doesn’t show the whole picture. To understand the effectiveness of your ads, you need a richer set of campaign analytics.

“You want to measure lift not in click-thrus, but in corresponding lift in search terms and direct visits to the website,” Ryherd says. It’s not that click-thrus don’t matter, but it’s not the primary way to measure engagement. Think of display ads as the first sentence in a conversation, rather than the last word.

Ben-Kunz

Ben Kunz

Learn the tricks of the trade.
You should definitely do some research to target your audience on the sites they most frequently visit. But with the help of re-targeting, you’re ads can reappear across a huge spectrum of sites.

That’s because when you buy into an ad network, you’re buying into a collection of as many as 100,000 sites, says Kunz. So, let’s say you’re selling small jet planes. You might place an ad on an online aviation magazine. “Two hours later you go to ESPN.com and ad comes up, and then a day later you go to Oprah.com and see another ad,” he adds. With a proper understanding of cookies, you can turn one impression into many.

Be ready to bargain.
“When you look at Boston.com,” Kunz points out, “you never see a hole where the ad should be.” That’s because ad networks are constantly trying to fill in the empty slots.

The ad network may start selling 100 slots at a CPM rate of $16. Maybe they sell 30 at that rate. They still need to sell the remaining 70.  While they admit their obviously natural bias, both Ryherd and Kunz say it’s hard to do this bargaining solo. Just about anyone can buy into an ad network if they have a budget over $10,000, Kunz says. But it’s hard to get the best bargain without a media buyer on your side.

Test out different ads.
“Often companies treat (display ads) like a billboard,” says Kunz. “They make one ad and run it for a month.” If this is your strategy, your strategy is all wrong.

Take advantage of the flexibility digital ads afford you. Create a testing schedule that tries out different copy and images. Sometimes simple plays better than sexy. The only way to gain insight is “old fashioned testing,” adds Kunz.

Take time – but not too much time.
The price tag on ad networks tends to lower the longer you lock-in. But Ryherd argues against making massive, long-term commitments. For one, you need to move on, if you find your current campaign isn’t getting traction.

But at the same time, you don’t want to change things up too fast. “Just because you can make changes quickly doesn’t mean you can learn quickly,” Ryherd says. For instance, a B2B marketing campaign may require more time to amass the needed data points than a strict B2C campaign. “It’s much more important to know how quickly you can know something versus how quickly you can change something,” Ryherd adds.

Have you launched an online display advertising campaign? What tricks have you picked up? Share your rules below.

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