Are banner ads still worth doing?

I was quite surprised when talking to a client last week that she seemed almost embarrassed about running a banner advertising campaign on a well-known industry website. I asked why, and discovered that it was because she thought I considered them to be a waste of time. Not true! No advertising medium should be dismissed out of hand, especially these days with everything so measurable. It’s true that I rarely see significant traffic from banner advertisement campaigns in clients’ website analytics reports, but that doesn’t mean that banner ads don’t work any more, if they ever did. I’m sure the right ads, in the right place, could easily prove themselves to be great value. But you must measure the response.

If the website on which you’re advertising is set up properly, you should see any visits in your website visitor analytics report. However, the site might have other links to you, and the people who clicked on the banner advertisement will just be mixed up with these, so it’s far from ideal. Never, ever rely on the numbers the website owner gives you, or the downright lie which is: “we set them up in such a way that you can’t see the clickthroughs in your analytics report”.

The best approach is to “tag” the visitors from the banner ads so they appear clearly in your visitor reports. When the website which is running your ads asks for the web page address to send people to, make sure you give them one which has been coded for subsequent identification.

If you use Google Analytics, for example, the tag to use is “?utm_source=XXX”. That might look a bit geeky already, but it’s not. So, if your website is bluewidgetcompany.co.uk and you want to send people who click on the banner to the “about us” page, you would normally tell the other website that the banner clickthrough URL is:
http://www.bluewidgetcompany.co.uk/about-us/

To add a tag which will highlight any traffic from that ad in your Google Analytics report, just add the “utm_source” bit and the label you want (in this example, “WidgetWorld”):
http://www.bluewidgetcompany.co.uk/about-us/?utm_source=WidgetWorld

You can’t include spaces in a URL, but if you want them, use “%20”, which is code for a space, e.g:
http://www.bluewidgetcompany.co.uk/about-us/?utm_source=WidgetWorld%20Ads

The result is that you’ll see the specific advertising campaign listed clearly in your website traffic sources analytics report, just as we do for clients when setting up their Google Analytics campaigns (below). You might find that your expensive banner advertising campaign is sending you no visitors at all, or you might find it’s sending you hundreds of really great quality ones. Just please don’t throw money at this sort of thing without measuring the results.

Google Analytics Sources

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