Ad Sense

Neil Cumins explores the ‘common-sense’ aspects of online advertising…

Advertising has always been an art rather than a science, despite the confident claims of ad execs in open-collared polo shirts and thin spectacles. The simple truth is that nobody can predict with absolute certainty where an optimal target audience will be located on any given day, or which message will do the most to pique people’s interest and encourage sales.
Things are no clearer online, where technical jargon and conflicting methods of recording statistics can be confusing even to seasoned observers. Are banner ads more arresting than pop-ups? Is pay per click advertising more cost-effective than cost per impression ads? Are website visitor stats referring to unique visitors, total page impressions or individual page views?
Fortunately there are some common-sense guidelines and obvious pitfalls that any entrepreneur or small business should be aware of. Here are ten tips for successful online advertising:

    1. Don’t break the bank. It can be tempting to throw large sums of money at advertising and see what sticks, particularly during a company’s formative months when turnover is low and overheads are high. Digital advertising companies often encourage heavy spend levels across a wide variety of websites and platforms. Instead of doing this, follow step 2 first.
    2. Do your research first. For instance, rather than establishing a costly Google AdWords campaign, do some Google Analytics research first. Find out which keywords and phrases relate to your target audience/product/service, and direct your cost-per-click expenditure towards the most relevant search results.
    3. Don’t accept an advertising company’s quoted statistics. Internet statistics can often be collated in different ways (such as page views and site visitors), so hyperbolic claims about target audiences or user numbers should be viewed with caution.
    4. Do create powerful calls to action. If someone sees your advert, why should they click on it? Do you offer something that competitors don’t, or to a higher standard? Don’t just ask people to “click here” or “buy now” – gently encourage them to do so by focusing on one or two key messages, products or services.
    5. Don’t advertise local services nationally. If you run a coffee shop in San Francisco, there’s no point advertising in New York or having your ads translated into French. An advertising agency should help with recommending local media.
    6. Do keep it simple. The internet is awash with interesting content, meaning that people aren’t going to wade through a lengthy advert. Try to sum up what you do in a few words so readers can instantly grasp why they should consider dealing with you. Adverts should also look simple and classy, rather than strident and clashing.
    7. Don’t use negative advertising. US advertising laws regulate any criticisms of competitors, making this an area best avoided. Don’t announce that rivals are worse than you – instead, say you’re improving your particular industry. It’s also worth noting that addressing customers directly (“you”, “your”, etc) has been proven to be more effective than using first person terms like “we” and “us”.
    8. Do make it easy for people to get in touch. Online advertising shouldn’t be a self-contained message – it should act as a call to arms that encourages people to seek more information. Displaying a website or email address is essential, while a phone number or postal address can also be valuable if there’s enough space in the ads.
    9. Don’t focus too heavily on price. The most important message to convey is that you exist, followed by the fact that you stand for quality and dependability. Focusing on cost above all else can infer a low-quality penny-pinching philosophy.
    10. Do review advertising performance regularly. Just because something worked six months ago doesn’t necessarily mean it will deliver the same results today. Investigate where website traffic comes from and ask customers how they found you before ditching unprofitable campaigns to free up revenue for more cost-effective channels. Tweaking the wording of existing adverts can also refresh them and attract extra attention.

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