‘Image’ or ‘display’ adverts (or even, as some folks still call them, banner adverts) on the web can play an important role in the marketing mix. They’re a complement to search advertising, fulfilling a quite different role, although a surprising number of companies still lump all web advertising into a single consideration. They’re also bought in a terribly unsophisticated fashion.
One of the great things about running image ads is that by using aggregation services, they can be placed on dozens or even thousands of websites with a single instruction. This gives advertisers the chance to use and compare familiar and unknown sites with ease, something that should be a marketer’s dream. Yet many companies waste huge amounts of money booking their ads on to one site at a time, usually after a visit from an advertising sales rep whose job should have disappeared a long time ago.
The biggest aggregation service is Google’s ‘Display Network’, and it may be the company’s least well promoted service. This allows us to put our adverts on named sites, or on pages about a specified subject, or anywhere that certain people go, or combinations of these and other options. What’s more, our adverts run on a pay-per-click basis, wherever they appear. Most trade websites selling their ads directly charge fixed amounts, even if nobody ever sees them.
Of course, it’s possible that booking directly with a site is the only way to appear there. If your data shows you need to be on that site, fair enough; but make sure it’s a decision driven by response data, not by the site’s perceived reputation. Many sites offer direct booking and slots bookable on the Google Display Network, so you’ve got a choice, and I’ve yet to hear an example of direct booking being the better option. One of our clients switched from direct booking on the website of a weekly trade publication, at a few hundred pounds a month, to booking similar slots through Google – and getting five times the clickthrough response because of the change to pay-per-click billing.
Our favourite two uses of image adverts are branding and the (closely related) promotion of case studies. Having your company’s corporate advertising popping up all over the web plays almost as important a role internally as it does for customers and prospects, and it’s surprisingly cheap to do – it just needs to be kept under control. And if you’ve gone to the effort of publishing a great case study, it seems like a very decent investment to be allocating a few hundred pounds to get dozens – or even hundreds – of people to read it, using dedicated online display advertisements.