Since my first article, Banner Exchanges Unmasked, was published here at SitePoint, I’ve received extensive feedback.
The most common request was for additional hints on how to use exchanges for various specific tasks that we face each day as Webmasters. Others asked how a specific task might influence the exchange evaluation process we discussed in that article.
The aim of this sequel is to provide the answers to site owners who want to use exchange networks to maximum efficiency for specific tasks. Exchanges are generally utilized for three distinct purposes:
- For branding advertising
- To gain raw traffic for your site
- To gain audience/customers for your site
Let’s look at each of these objectives in turn and explore what you can do to optimize your own campaigns.
A Branding Campaign
This it the easiest case, by far. All you need to do is choose the network, place the code, upload a banner that displays your logo and forget about it. Literally! Your logo will be there, and nothing other than the raw number of impressions made actually matters: the more impressions, the better.
The optimal network for your next branding campaign is one that provides decent reach and honest exchange ratios, and imposes strict standards on participating sites in terms of banner placement. Below-the-fold ad spaces or banners in ad “stacks” will not have a notable impact on branding. So, if the network you’re considering allows such placements, seek the capability to exclude specific sites (or groups of sites) from your campaign.
Forget about clickthrough rates altogether, and don’t worry about making sure your ads change. Brand-centric ads don’t “burn-out”; rather, they just keep hitting the brains of visitors. If you’re anxious to change ads from time to time, make each new ad as recognizable as possible — after all, you want those users to know and remember who you are. Stick to a predetermined standard for banner composition, fonts, color schemes, logo sizes, etc.
A Campagin to Generate Extra Traffic
First and foremost, decide if extra traffic is what you really need. If you want to obtain recurring visitors, or real customers, you’re looking for an audience, rather than the raw traffic we’re talking about here. But, if you’re simply looking for some extra hits right here and now, it’s also pretty easy to achieve. All you need are clicks. A decent exchange ratio is a plus. The rest is largely irrelevant.
Remember that there are still many, many people on the ‘net who click out of curiosity and out of ignorance. If you want sheer traffic volumes, target these users!
Don’t waste your impressions on sites that, for example, Web professionals frequent. Don’t try to locate any kind of target group for your particular site — you’ll never get enough clicks from them. Instead, find the ones who click and make your ads appealing to them, or make your ads look like a part of site, rather than an ad message. A perfect exchange for such a campaign is one that has maximum tolerance for ads “on the edge” and offers some category targeting options. If the exchange also provides the ability to upload numerous banners and aim each of them at a separate site (or a group of 2 or 3 sites), the exchange is simply ideal for your purposes.
Another very desirable feature for this type of campaign is availability for you to obtain banner statistics on a per site basis. This will help you single out under-performing sites quickly, and avoid wasting additional impressions on them.
A Campaign to Attract an Audience
This is where it becomes tricky! If you want to attract a particular audience, you need to ensure that the exchange you use provides you with the tools to reach your goal. These might include:
- Targeting Profiles
One site’s targeting requirements might be totally different than another’s; while one site owner might need to concentrate on surfers using particular combinations of software, another may require a precise combination of time, affinity for technology, and Web access speed in order to ensure the effective promotion of their product.
So, if your target audience consists of office users from San Diego (CA) and is most susceptible to your offer between 10 and 12 a.m. on business days (your product is pizza delivery across San Diego), make sure that you can create exactly that combination of restrictions using the banner exchange you’ve chosen. If you’re aiming at WebTV users in the European Union with an affinity for a particular technology, double-check that one combination of restrictions can be set to cut cleanly across all the others.
Don’t ever settle for less than perfect targeting. Remember that every untargeted impression is your loss, and the absence of even just a single option you need in a profile will increase the number of untargeted impressions dramatically. If you target Web surfers from San Diego and decide to settle for “California-only”, get ready for a conversion drop by something like 8 to 10 times your average. Think twice about whether you really want to take that package!
To sum up, almost any business will need to combine at least 3 or 4 different limitations in a single targeting profile in order to pinpoint a given target audience effectively.
The target audience for any site is far from uniform, so more than one ad is usually needed to catch the attention of as many audience members as possible.
If you own a site devoted to freeware, make as many banners as you have subsections to your site, pinpoint particulars cleanly in each respective ad (e.g. the categories “*nix mail clients”, “Free Mac games” and “MS Windows drivers” can belong to the same site, but attract very different audiences. Each of these visitor types is much more likely to react to a relevant ad, rather than to a generic “Best free downloads” banner).
Set a specific profile for each ad, launch each sub-campaign simultaneously, and compare the results to those you achieved for single generic ads. If there’s no dramatic improvement, rethink your targeting limitations.
Many visitors become annoyed quickly if something promised on an ad is not delivered by the very first page they hit on your site.
If you use the start of a joke to attract visitors, they should see the punchline to that very joke when they reach your site. If you advertise some “special offer”, that very offer should greet users immediately they reach your site.
And if such banners advertise the same site, they must have two different destination URLs, so make sure the exchange you use allows you to use on banners multiple links that may differ from the URL you provided upon registration.
Pay attention to the ad formats you use. The more interactive your ad is, the more effect it will have. Plain *.gif ads might still be good for branding, but to get a higher conversion, think about multi-click flash ads, working cgi-forms and useable menus and scrollbars in html banners… Don’t forget to double-check that such ads are indeed supported by the exchange you use.
Plan ahead and identify exactly how you’re going to track your campaign results. The clickthrough rate of an ad has very little in common with an actual increase in audience size, so some post-click analysis will be required to measure each campaign’s efficiency.
I’ve recently been involved with an ad campaign in which one banner had a clickthrough rate that was 5 times better than another banner, but had a conversion ratio about 20 times lower than its less clickable counterpart. Thus, the banner with low clickthrough rate was in fact 4 times more effective in terms of the campaign’s actual goal.
It’s always advisable to choose a network that has some built-in post-click analyzer (some of them do); otherwise, it’s always a pain to try to correlate clicks with subsequent visitor actions. Action-based analysis is the only available way to move from clickthrough rate- to return on investment-based monitoring.
Once you’re confident that the exchange you’ve chosen provides you with all the controls you need, there are just a very few easy, but extremely important things that will mean the difference between success and failure:
- Keep your goal in mind when you’re choosing actual ads — the ad itself is an additional targeting mechanism. An ad that clearly states your expectations (i.e. if you need subscriptions, it says “subscribe”; if you look for a purchase, it says “buy”, etc.) will generate better traffic. Granted, the clickthrough rate for such ads will be low, but, in the end, they’ll have much higher conversion rates and better results than will more “generalized” ads.
- Keep tracking your campaign. Keep evaluating ads and profiles against each other. Continue to tweak it a little now and then to ensure optimum performance. And always keep your goal in mind.
- Keep improving your site. Your campaign’s success depends as much (if not more) on your site layout, navigation, content, updates etc. than on ads or the promotion techniques you used.
Nowadays, exchanges require attention, planning and thought on your part in order to become effective — much more attention than it takes to paste two lines of code into your site and then just sit back waiting for a miracle.
In modern Web business, miracles don’t just “happen”. They may occur, but only if you make them! And a modern, thoughtfully created and well-supported exchange can aid you greatly.