Location, location, location… context!

Two things that can impact the performance of your ad and decide if it it will be a hit or a flop when advertising on web pages are the relative position of the ad on the web page and the context in which the ad will be displayed. Let’s take a look at each to see how it can influence your views and clicks rate.

Ad position

Positioning your ad on a web page is crucial to good ad performance. The placement of your ad largely depends on the behaviour of the users on the web page you’re advertising on. One of your guidelines when deciding on the advertising position can be the web page price list – they tend to price better performing ad positions higher than those with lower click rates (exceptions being pop ups and large ad formats). General rules on ad performance depending on the location are:

  • ads on top have more views than those on the bottom,
  • ads integrated in the content have more clicks,
  • ads on the left perform better than those on the right.

Your best advertising position is therefore a content integrated high left positioned ad space.

According to an eyetracking research by Nielsen, people tend to read web pages in an F shaped pattern, which gives a good explanation why the top left ads perform well. Even thought web page design has changed slightly, we still read from left to right and focus more on top content.

When reading articles, users end to click on links within and on the bottom of the article, and the same goes for ads. According to Google, users tend to click more on bottom ads when they have finished reading the article.

In my experience, ads placed on the bottom of the web page do not perform as well as those on the top when they are on the homepage or one of the main pages, but their click rates do get higher when they’re at the bottom of articles.

Ad context

Even if you’ve placed the ad perfectly on the optimal position on the web page, you will not get that may clicks if you are out of context. That’s the reason targeting is important. You can have lots of exposure advertising with a newspaper, magazine or web portal, but your ad needs to be in the right place to have best performance. Having your ad next to a relevant article can be more beneficial than paying larger sums to have it on the main page – and the clicks you get will be of higher quality, from those people interested in your product or service.

Check with the web page you’re advertising with what kind of targeting they can offer you. Can they tie your ad in with specific themes or tags? Can they offer you fixed positions in relevant sections? Can they guarantee that ads will be shown with appropriate content only?

Appropriate content is important. There was a very big cruise ship accident a few weeks ago; for a few days it seemed like the only topic on the Internet was the cruise ship, with images, videos and articles describing the accident. If you are a cruise ship company, advertising right next to articles describing the accident is not the best move you can make. Even if your ad emphasizes security (Trust us! This could never happen to us!), it will be tied in with negative emotions and fear – and that’s not something you want. On the other hand, advertising travel insurance here would be an excellent move.

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When choosing ad placement and content, you might think about having two parallel campaigns to see which performs better. Make two ad formats, place one in the top, integrated position, another on the bottom after relevant articles and watch the statistics. After about a week your should have a clear picture which ad performed betted and continue the campaign with the ad that yielded better results (or both if the results were similar).

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Three popular banner sizes and their usage

The advertising formats on the internet have been more or less standardized in the last few years. Standardisation is done by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), whose members are leading media and technology companies. There are many standard formats for you to choose from – the full descriptions of all standardised formats can be found on IAB web pages.

The advantage of having standardised online advertising formats is twofold – the advertiser can have one banner made for all web pages they plan to advertise on, so the design expenses will be lower. The users know which are the most frequently used ad formats and will not confuse them with web page content (And that is a good thing. You want the users to click on your ad because your product or service is relevant to them, especially if you are paying per click.)

Here is a short summary of three formats you will most likely find on any web page and best ways to use them:

1. Rectangle (medium) banner

This 300x250px banner is the most frequently used banner size. Newspapers love this format for its ease of integration into text, so you can often see it next to articles.

As you can see from the image on the right, the banner is large enough to carry a lot of information. Since the banner is rectangle shaped, it is excellent for any type of message – it gives you enough space to play with displaying images and text. This banner is ideal if you don’t want to use flash but use jpg or gif to reach a wider audience.

Its placement is usually near the top of the web pages or in articles, which will give you good visibility and a good click rate.

2. Leaderboard banner

This 728x90px banner is largely placed on top of the web pages so the visibility is excellent. Sometimes it will be placed on the bottom, which will result in lower CTR. If the web page you are advertising on places its leaderborad banner on the bottom, consider using other banner sizes which are closer to the top of the web page for advertising.

As you can see on the above image (wordpress squished it a bit, but the ratio is still good :), leaderboard banners are short and long, making them ideal for longer text messages. The banner format is not so ideal for tall images, although it can be used very creatively, such as this band promotion banner shows.

It’s better to use gif or flash banner for this size since you have more options to play around with design than when using static jpg image. You may need to think more about how to place the text and images in this banner, but its location will guarantee you great visibility and good click rate.

3. Skyscraper banner

This 160x600px banner is frequently used to fill in any space left on the left side of web pages. It is usually a bit lower on the web page so it will not be seen right away by the user. This will affect its CTR so you might get lower numbers than on both rectangle or leaderboard banner sizes, but on the other hand it will probably cost less.

As you can see from the image, the banner is very tall and narrow. If you’re going to be using a jpg or gif, think carefully how your message will be placed. You don’t have much room for a flowing text message, but you do have room for few images stacked on top of each other, which can be great for sales web pages. This banner may require more creativity than rectangle, but it can bring you great results.

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Even though these ad sizes are fairly regular, you will find that web pages sometimes have their own ad sizes. For example, the UK Daily Mail has a 120x240px banner, The Guardian has 200x200px pop-up, New York Times has 336x700px fixed panel and German Bild has 200x600px wide skyscraper. Depending on their location and price you might want to consider using one of the non-standard banner sizes. If the web pages offer smaller or non-standard banner sizes, it might be easier on your budget to use them, although their impact might be weaker and the click rate lower than the three described here.

Whatever the web page you advertise on is, it will most likely have one of these three most popular banner sizes. Making your banners in one or all of these sizes is a good investment since you will be able to use them on multiple web pages.

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Which file format is best for advertising

Choosing the perfect format to carry your message is something often overlooked when advertising online.  Even though most of display advertising is made in just one format, when making your ads you have a choice of several.

1. JPG

Jpeg or jpg is an image file that uses JPEG compression. It can have good quality in a small file size which makes it ideal to use on the Internet where loading speeds are very important. Jpg is a static image, so you cannot have any animations when using this format. When using this format, all your information will need to be in one picture, so use appropriate sizes. 300x250px banners will be able to carry enough information, but 160×600 or 300×600 would be much better. I wouldn’t bother using the format for smaller ads, unless it’s an image accompanying a text ad.

The positive side of using jpg is that it will be visible to all users on the web. Some users have flash blocking browser add-ons that stop the loading of flash files. For those users, jpg, png or other image files will not be blocked so your ad can reach a wider audience. If your product is made for a technically advanced target market, this would be a good format to use.

2. GIF

Gif is a bitmap image format similar to jpg in that it will not be blocked by flash blocking add-ons, but unlike jpg this format can be animated. Another advantage of gif is that you can make the background transparent and so use them in more places on the web page. Animated gifs consist of several images displayed in turn – they don’t have all the abilities of flash but it offer more flexibility than jpg.

A disandvantage to gif is the 256 color limit – if you campaign requires nice, shiny images, this is not the format to use. Also, longer animations may make the file quite big. I would recommend using them for smaller ads, when your message will not fit in just one small jpg image.

3. Flash (swf)

Flash banners are the most popular way of display advertising. Flash gives you the greatest creative freedom and because of that it’s a favourite for display advertising. With flash you can not only make the images exchange or the text scroll, you can also insert music and movies, make games, surveys, interact with the user in many ways.

The disadvantage is that flash banners will not be visible to all internet users since a number of them use flash blockers. This is a small portion of users, but depending on your target market can prove significant. Also, badly done complicated flash banners can slow down the users computer. And while you could make a jpg banner yourself, flash is probably going to require a designer. And a good designer might not be cheap.

Flash may be the most popular type of display advertising, and it certainly has a lot of advantages for creative advertising. However, I have worked on campaigns with jpg and gif banners and some of them truly exceeded my expectations. So judge what format would be best for you based on your needs and go with it.

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Five tips to make your ads shine

Creating good online ads that captue the attention of a user means paying attention to detail. Whether it’s simple adwords or complex animations, what you put online is what you’ll be judged on – so you need to make it flawless.

Online users judge things very fast. The user will decide to click on your ad within seconds of noticing it, based on the way it looks and feels – so make the best of whatever medium you’re using.

Five details you have to consider when creating ads are:

 1. Writing

 Clear, concise, to the point – three magic words for online advertisements. Don’t use ten words if three will do. What you should use are descriptive nouns and few well chosen adjectives to create an emotional connection to your product or service – for example, if you’re a small family hotel, words like cosy and soft will invoke images of a comfortable place.

Bolding words will create an emphasis, but use it carefully – if you bold everything, how will the user know what’s important?

If you’re creating web banners, please resist the temptation to use interesting fonts. They may convey the message of your individuality, but in most cases will be very hard to read. Stick to regular, easily readable fonts like Verdana or Ariel and spice up the banner with images, colours or animation.

2. Colour

Colour is probably the most important feature of any advertisement. It is important for your message to be consistent through all media and colour is the way you can achieve this.

 If your logo and your web page are in blue and green tones, don’t make your web banners screaming red and yellow. There won’t be a smooth transition from the banner to your site. Also, many profiteering web pages tend to use extremely bold colours, and you want to show you’re a professional. It is better to use the colours in your logo and on your website as base and perhaps emphasise important words in strong colours than making the whole banner just scream on the page.

3. Image

Depending on your type of online advertising an image will either matter a lot, or not at all. Some ads have place only for such tiny images, you have to be careful what you’re using – anything complex will be lost when downsizing. Here, conveying your message through the choice of right words is vital.

When advertising with online banners, the image you use may be more important than the words. Since the internet population has a very short attention span, you need to catch their eye in a matter of seconds. The best way to do that is with and amazing image representing your product or service. From my experience, people seem to react better (ie, click more often) when a banner has an image of a human being. If your business is sales and you have a web shop, put images of your products on the banner. Make sure to limit the amount of images – the more images in the banner, the slower it will load.

4. Animation

Animation is another way to catch a users attention. You could present a few images of your various products, you could have a slightly longer message by having it scroll on the screen, you could also have complex user initiated mini games. Whatever idea you have, you can make a banner out of it. The possibilities are endless. You only need to pay attention that you don’t put too much animated content in a too large banner since that will definitely slow down some computers and possibly confuse the user. You don’t want to be using so much animation that your message gets lost.

5. Moderation

Last, but certainly not least – use all of these options in moderation.

Consider that when advertising with banners you are trying to draw the users attention away from the content they have come to see. If you use too much they might be overwhelmed with information and just ignore it. If you’re using strong colours and bold texts with animation, consider not having a picture – it may get in the way of your message. Or if you have photos of products and lots of animations, consider having only the most basic text. You want to give users a clear reason to click and that is best done when the message is uncluttered.

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What not to do when advertising online

So you decided to advertise on the Internet. You know what your goal is, you know the right place(s) where your target market hangs out, and now you have to decide on what type of advertising to use.

If you decide to go with that common advertising type, the internet banner, the creative possibilities are infinite. However, you have to carefully consider the impact your banner will have on its audience. Something that looks engaging initially, can actually be quite annoying for the user. Here are five tips on what not to do when advertising online.

1. Walls of text

You’re excited with this wonderful advertising possibility where your message can just go on and on, and people can scroll or flip through pages or read as it plays so you want to tell them everything. Well, for the most part – they don’t want to know. They don’t have the time or the attention span or just don’t care enough to read your wall of text.

Advertising messages have to be short and to the point. If you’ve got a lot to say to your customers, entice them to click on your ad and read on your web page. Don’t put too much written content in an ad.

2. Flashy banners

Just because you have all these options doesn’t mean you have to use them all. Creating flashy banners with lots of images running around is in a way similar to the wall of text – you’re giving people too many information at once and probably confusing them. I’ve seen plain JPEG images do better in terms of clicks than some banners with lots and lots of content.

Have a simple, concise message and enhance it by carefully chosen images and effects. Don’t go overboard.

3. Opening a link in the same window

Web pages tend to make ads open up in a new tab so not to lose the user when he or she clicks on an ad. Insisting on the ad opening in the same page can be disturbing to a users surfing experience. When clicking ads most users do not at that very moment wish to leave the web page they’re on, they just want to open new content in a new tab. By forcing them to press a button to go back to their previous content you’re definitely annoying them.

4. Sound banners

Sound banners are great in theory – if the flashy animation doesn’t work, the sound will definitely get their attention! Yes, it will. It will get so much attention that the user will either try to turn off the sound, or exit the web page with the sound altogether. Sometimes they’ll try turning it of, fail to find the “cleverly” hidden mute button, get frustrated and wow never to return to the page again.

Sound banners only work when the action is approved by the user, so if you want to have a sound in your banner, let the user activate it.

5.Pop-up banner with a hidden close button

Pop up ads are a necessary evil of the Internet. Sometimes they’re clicked by mistake, sometimes on purpose, but generally users tolerate the pop-up banner. The frustrations happen when they try to turn it off, but can’t find where exactly to do it. By “cleverly” hiding the close button, you’re not getting more exposure, what you’re getting is a frustrated user who wishes to see a specific content but can’t because of the banner that wont go away.

If you want to use pop-up banners, since they certainly guarantee lots of people can’t avoid to see your message, make sure they’re properly made and properly close.

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Three Basic Tips for a Successful Internet Advertising Campaign

We live in a rapidly changing world. New technologies emerge every year that redefine how we watch the news, browse for shopping or communicate with our friends. Advertising has to keep up with all the new and diverse ways consumers are using new technologies. In the mountain of new tech it can be hard to pick out the best one to carry your message. With so many options to chose from it is easy to get confused and discouraged with advertising online.

Online marketing makes the basics of marketing you learned early on very important. For an online marketing campaign to be successful, any business, no matter the size, has to ask three crucial questions:

1. What is my target market,

2. Where is my target market,

3. How do I best deliver my message to my target market?

Even though this is Marketing 101, you’d be surprised how many people do not ask the basic questions. This most often happens in small businesses, or businesses without a well defined strategy. If you are reading this and can’t answer question number one right away, I suggest taking a good look at what your campaign or company is all about.

1. What is my target market?

Every product or service has to have a well defined target market in order to have maximum efficiency in an online setting. (This is true for any type of marketing campaign but online the results are most easily visible and transparent. You know exactly what impact your message has on the chosen population.)

A poorly defined target (or no targeting at all) is not a complete disaster. Generic marketing will still yield some results, only poorer than ones you get with a well defined campaign. It’s like throwing flyers from an airplane and hoping that the right people will catch them. They might all end up in a field, or they might end up in the right hands – the point is, you don’t know. You’re taking a gamble, and as with any gamble, your chances to win are not very high.

So before you start thinking about the color palette or choosing images for the advertisement, ask yourself – who is my product or service for? Who am I trying to reach?

Do not be afraid to be as specific as possible. If your product or service is really only interesting to a 30 to 35 male demographic located in Austria, advertising it to 15 to 18 females is a waste of your money. You may think “bigger is better” but in case of online advertising campaigns precision is the key.

2. Where is my target market?

Once you’ve defined who you’re speaking to, you have to find where they are. The following five tips can help you locate your target market:

1. Google it

The first page of the internet is also your first step towards determining where your target market is. Do they have special web pages where they hang out? Blogs or forums with specific subjects interesting to you? The only danger here is being overwhelmed with results so try being as specific as possible. Using Google advanced search can help you filter out results only for your country, etc.

2. Look them up on social media

Social media has a very good idea who the people using their web page are. There is no better place for advertising to a specific demographic that social media. You can target your 30 to 35 male population of Austria in just a few clicks.

3. Check out the magazines or the local newspaper

Chances are that the magazines you know your target market is interested in has an online version. The same is true for any newspaper if you’re interested in a specific location. If your marketing strategy is not exclusively online, you can book printed advertising together with online advertising to reach both your off-line and online audience and most likely get a discount for booking both (if they don’t offer it, ask.).

4. Get a media agency to do this for you

One of the easiest things to do is find a media agency that will do all this research for you. Since advertising is their job, they have a pretty good idea where you can just the sort of target market you need. Even if they don’t, they usually have access to data to determine it fairly quickly. They can also do all the other details – designing the creative materials, taking care they get published correctly, collecting and presenting the results, etc..

5. Get acquainted with mobile advertising

All the greatest breakthroughs in usage of technology in the last few years have been mobile. Weather it’s smartphones or pads, the technology of the 21st century is mobile. So many people play games, read news or read books on their way to work, at lunch or at home. This is a very big market to choose form and you are certain to find a portion of your target market here.

3. How do I best deliver my message to my target market?

Once you’ve defined who you’re selling to and where they are, it’s time to define in which way you wish to present your message in order to get the best results. And that really is the keyword of step number three – results. What results are you expecting form your market? What reactions do you want?

The message delivery will be different depending on weather you’re just going for brand recognition or you’re trying to sell a specific product. You’ve got a lot of choices – from RSS feed rotational banner ads to mini award winning games for your clients. You can read more about different approaches in “Ten Ways to Advertise Products and Services”.

If you’ve got a media agency, they will probably speak from experience and offer you different types of advertising plans and creatives. If you’re doing it alone, I suggest you run test campaigns in two or three different media (for example, social media, news and forums/blogs). After a week you’ll get pretty good statistics and see which one works best. See which one works best. You can build on the best results, tweaking the ads to increase their performance.

If you know what message you’re trying to get across, to whom and with what results, you’re already half way there to a successful online marketing campaign!

Helpful links:

The Noob Guide to Online Marketing is an excellent infograph detailing all aspects of online marketing.

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