Honest Talk About Online Advertising

October 10th, 2017

First, let’s distinguish between Online Advertising and Search Engine Marketing...

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) includes Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and paid ads on search engines like Google Adwords. SEM focuses on user intent. The idea is to show up organically in search results and/or display an ad that specifically corresponds to a user’s search query.

Online Advertising (Display Ads, Banner Ads, Re-marketing, Re-targeting, etc.) are either un-targeted, broadly targeted (demographics), or follow users and display on other websites users visit after they have visited your website. So What Actually Works?

We have never been sold on ‘Online Advertising’. Here's why...

1. People have always hated ‘banner ads’.When banner ads started appearing the outcry against them was deafening. We know because we have done this over 20 years and we were there. Now online advertising has proliferated, and though we have to tolerate them today and as far as we can see into the future, it remains true that no one likes to be bombarded with ads – which leads to the next point

2. Almost no one clicks on display ads. In 2011 an organization conducted, and ‘Business Insider’ published the results of a scientific test to see if people really click on those ads. They used several comparisons given to illustrate their findings, like “You are 280 times more likely to climb Mount Everest and reach the summit as you are to click on a banner ad.” “But that’s from 2011 they will say.” Yes, and that means it is likely worse now because 

3. Ubiquity leads to immunity. When is the last time you landed on a web page and saw an ad that you just had to click, or even paid attention to the ads at all ? Ads are everywhere which basically means it’s as if they are nowhere. We just don’t pay much attention to them. If We notice them at all is is usually because...

4. Display ads interfere with web browsing, especially on mobile devices. In fact, a study published by HubSpot said that over 50% of 'ad-clicks' on mobile devices is accidental. That is, people simply trying to browse a webpage or click that tiny X to close an ad accidentally click an ad. All that aggravation for us for what? ...

5. When an advertising company says. "Our click-through rate is blah blah," What does that really mean? As noted above, 50% of mobile clicks are accidental. Since most web browsing is mobile now, that means at least 25% of visitors that click a link didn't intend to do it. Take away ads that auto-launch, accidental clicks, curious clicks, malicious clicks, clicks from competitors, and fraudulent clicks - all which happen - and what is left?

6. A good number of us are suspicious and even feel like our privacy has been invaded by ads that follow us around. "Why are they following me? What else do they know about me?" Those are things we hear from the suspicious. And the truth is, online media is so unregulated that there might be a basis for such suspicion no matter what an advertiser’s privacy policy says. After all, who is watching them?

What we have heard from clients who have used online advertising firms is almost unison – they say it was a waster of monry. Some have shown us the reports and we just shake our heads. The bottom line is, for the most part, the people making the most money from online advertising are the publishers and the advertising service providers – but usually not the advertisers.

But we do believe in SEM...

Why we believe in SEM is very simple to explain –  Search Engine Marketing is driven by what users want. All search engine results, whether organic or paid ads, are a response to user searches. So a website optimized to answer anticipated user queries will likely rank well organically in search engine results. Likewise, search engine ads (e.g. Google Adwords) that are sensibly and economically targeted to anticipated user queries will perform well and produce your desired results. 

Where Users Land Matters!

No optimization or advertising program will produce results if users are not engaged where they land. If a page title or ad catches their attention in a search, but the landing page doesn’t continue that engagement they are more likely than not to move on. That is wasted optimization and advertising.

I am always amazed at organizations that allocate significant resources to SEM while neglecting the website where searchers land. If you're doing that, please send us the money. You will have about the same results – and we get a free vacation. That’s sarcasm of course, but you get the point. Do not neglect to optimize where searchers land.

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