Are you wasting money on display advertising?

Frequency, critical mass, and ad viewability can make or break a display ad campaign. Know the right questions to ask.

Due to aggressive sales tactics at some agencies and publishers, I see many businesses getting themselves into bad advertising situations where they are completely wasting their money.

The problem is usually two-fold. A bad strategy and lack of share-of-voice or critical mass.

Quick disclaimer: For purposes of this article, I’m concentrating on Display advertising, which are the digital ads that typically appear on a website either off to the side, within the content, or even sometimes blocking some of the content. These ads can be “static” (still images/graphics) or “rich” (moving images/graphics), or even have video within them.

I’ll start by concentrating on the latter and giving you a scenario. A sales representative from an agency proposes a display advertising campaign. From speaking to you previously they have gotten an idea of what you can afford and that your budget is $1,000 per month. So they propose that for $1,000 you buy 125,000 impressions per month at an $8 CPM (Cost per thousand impressions). They will serve those impressions in your local service area, which is the County in which your business is located. Finally, they will target your impressions to an audience they claim to have segmented (behavioral target), which is parents with children under 18. The accuracy of that targeting is for another blog post.

It all sounds great – your ad is going to show 125,000 times to people that are not only in your geographical service area, but are also going to be shown to the type of people that are usually your customers. Sign me up!

The devil, as usual, is in the details.

The First question to ask: What are the total number of impressions that are available in that geography and behavior? And how many users are in that segment?

Let's go back to our example. Turns out there are 12,500,000 impressions available per month and there are 350,000 users that consume those 10 million impressions. Your ads are going to show approximately 1% of the time. The reality is that you will probably only touch 1-3% of the users with your ads. Your well targeted campaign that looked like a home run is nothing more than throwing a pebble into the ocean.

And one more important thing you need to know. There is a really good chance that only 45-65% of your ads will ever be seen by a human being. This is called "ad viewability". When you are buying a certain number of impressions, you are probably buying impressions that load, not necessarily impressions that are seen. Many ads load off of the viewable screen and users will either click to an additional page or abandon the content on that website before they ever scroll down to where your ad physically loaded on the page.

You can get around this last point by buying only “viewable” impressions (also known as a vCPM cost structure), but bear in mind your agency or the publisher is probably going to charge you a much higher rate, because they will have to optimize your campaign for more prime space and also account for the fact that they are going to have to “eat” the impressions that don’t end up being viewable.

So now those 125,000 impressions just dropped to 80,000 impressions on a best case scenario. Is that really going to be enough to do anything to change your business? In my experience, probably not.

The Strategy of display ads (or lack thereof)

The reality is that 125,000 impressions as a standalone investment in display advertising is likely going to do absolutely nothing to impact that sales of your business. It likely won’t have an impact even as part of a diversified strategy with other forms of advertising with a similar investment.

But I only buy display ads when I pay based on the click!

Still probably wasted. Sorry.

First, there is a chance that some of your clicks are bots. Most of the ad platforms attempt to correct for and limit that from happening, including trying to not include those clicks as ones that count towards your expense. But the technology isn’t fool proof.

Second, many people in this space don’t want to talk about accidental clicks. It is a reality and one of the reasons the typical bounce rate on display ads is around 90%!!!
Perfect case in point to illustrate accidental clicks is the Click Through Rate (CTR) of desktop vs. mobile. A common CTR on a display advertising campaign on a desktop device (also includes laptops) is around .10%. Meaning out of 100,000 ad loads, there will be about 100 clicks. Those same ads shown exclusively on mobile devices likely produces a .30% CTR or 300 clicks.

Are you suddenly three times more likely as a human being to start clicking on display ads when you are using your phone as you are your laptop? OF COURSE NOT. I big chunk of that .20% difference is accidental clicks (or taps). Which also makes you wonder how many of the desktop clicks are accidental as well.

The inherent value was never in the user clicking through on your ad anyway – it was in it being seen and considered. But we’ve already seen that a lot of your ads are never being seen, and 100,000 ads isn’t as much as you think when you think about how many ads are on a typical page load for a publisher.

Is all Display advertising a waste?

No. Definitely not. I just think you need to know some things about your campaign first.

Frequency – How often will users see my ads? If you are serving less ads than users, then I wouldn’t do it. In that case, while some people will see your ads more than once, many will never see them, even when accounting for viewability. I would suggest a frequency of at least 4x per month.

Share of voice – Know the total number of impressions so you can attempt to have a high share of voice in your market. I would try to have at least a 25% share of voice. That can be virtually impossible to achieve affordably.

Viewability – Ensure your campaigns are being optimized so they are more likely to be in-view, or only pay for viewable impressions. Be wary of the vCPM going through the roof, though.

Consider Sponsorship – Some publishers offer sponsorship of certain types of coverage or an entity within their website. If the association is a good fit for your business and the publisher can prove good viewership of what you are sponsoring, then it might make sense for you. Try to have ad positions on the pages you are sponsoring be “fixed” meaning everyone who goes to that page sees the ads. Plus your business should be associated with all of that content, so your “Share of voice” will be 100%. Additionally, the sponsorship might include other goodies like a mention on video content.

The Bottom Line

You want to make sure your advertising is going to have an impact. People seeing your ad many times is what produces the memory recall that causes your ad to influence someone’s future decision making.

At Digiarks, we think the best campaigns have an investment that will touch your target market enough to have an impact on your sales.  You should also diversify your delivery by utilizing multiple platforms. This is because different ad types offer different ways for a consumer to see your message and get to know your business. Different platforms are good for engaging with consumers who are at different stages of the consideration funnel. Display ads are decent for general awareness, while Social ads are good for engaging those who are closer in the path to purchase.

Also consider using the data you own to your advantage. Target past customers or prospects, or even current customers if it makes sense for your business. That prior knowledge of your business will help your message resonate. And targeting a more defined list can make a smaller investment go further.

We’d love to chat about your needs, reach out to us today!

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