Choosing the best advertising solution for your company involves many factors, not the least of which are a) your level of experience with configuring and managing an advertising campaign, and b) your spending preferences. These five steps should help you choose the best solution for your organization.
Step 1 – Define Your Customer
Defining your customer (demographics, geographies, interests, related activities, and so on) is necessary if you want to be efficient with advertising dollars and ensure they are targeted to generate results.
Step 2 – Define Your Offer and Goals
Be clear on what action you want the customer to take in terms of value measurement (goals). For example: visited my store, completed a survey, became a “friend” and so on.
Step 3 – Set Your Budget Range
Budget will dictate the type of service you choose. Small budgets often have simple solutions since spreading a small advertising budget over too many suppliers may not provide the volume of impressions to make an impact in the marketplace. Larger budgets allow you the flexibility to try more options, which may require more complex solution reviews and supplier contracts.
Step 4 – Understand Where You Are in the “Advertising Cycle”
Twenty percent of solutions work for eighty percent of organizations.
Industry reports (Advertising Age, 2011) and activity tracking counters (gs.statcounter.com) tend to mirror this “rule of thumb.” Examples of solutions that may work for your organization include:
- The “Testing the Water” Method — You’re new to advertising and most likely have a “smallish” budget. Many companies in this category consider search advertising with the most popular search suppliers given search popularity, self-management tools and pricing.
- The “Surround Sound” Method — Your budget is usually larger and your goal is to ensure your ads are in as many customer “doorways” as possible. You are most likely running a branding campaign or a campaign where CPA is difficult to measure. Search, ad network, publisher, daily deals and social ads often will comprise your advertising mix. Usually the most popular and topically relevant publisher/ad networks are chosen as suppliers; however, supplier longevity depends on the CPA they provide.
- The “Only Want to Pay for Completions” Method — You may have a large budget and can negotiate a deal with most suppliers of any network type. If your business model is to only pay for leads and your budget is small, affiliate networks may be your only choice, since daily deals programs may be too expensive. Services such as affiliatedirectory.com are good sources to review when looking for the right affiliate network for you.
- The “Hyper Community” or “Local” Method — You need to connect to a specific community and most likely have tried out — or are already using search advertising, media Websites, social sites, and daily deals, which often provide the opportunity to connect to specific communities. Local dominant media sites can be found through a simple Web search. For many businesses, social sites for advertising usually include only the Big 4.
- “Less Travelled and Complex” Method — You have the time to consider researching and reviewing a number of niche networks to add to your current advertising strategy. You usually have a larger budget and are constantly looking for alternatives. You have someone on staff whose job it is to manage advertising, or you’ve hired an agency to perform this work.
Step 5 – Choose Your Preferred Network
Understanding your supplier options is very important. Suppliers generally fall into the following categories:
- Search ad networks such as Google, YouTube, Baidu and Bing. These networks are known for “selling/renting space” for text format ads. However, they also support other formats, including display ads and video ads. Some also offer features such as re-marketing, which is a tactic that allows networks to display ads to Internet visitors who have already shown an interest in them through their browsing or searching history. Advertising is almost always sold on a CPC basis. Advertising can be targeted toward many of your customer attributes, including their keyword search patterns, age, geographic location, language and content consumption type. These networks provide a number of tools to allow you to self-manage and report on your campaign (ad creation, tracking, modifying a campaign, bill payment), if desired. Search networks are the place to start for new advertisers, and are a necessary part of the mix for the majority of advertisers. Consider social search networks as equivalent options and refer to comments in the Social Search Network section.
- Website ad networks such as Casale, ValueClick and 24/7 Real Media often amalgamate a number of private Websites into a network and sell the ad inventory — usually in a display format. CPC and CPM rates are often available and a minimum budget commitment may be required. Re-marketing options may also be available. In some cases, you can manage and report on your campaign and options, though this varies by network. In most cases, you should have covered the basics with search and social pay-per-click advertising networks prior to using these advertising networks, unless one of the networks provides access to the perfect demographic you can’t reach in any other way.
- Publisher Websites such as local newspapers, radio stations and subject matter portals (example: cars, cooking, Chinese language, weather). In some cases, publishers own more than one Website. Ads are usually in a display format. CPC and CPM rates are often available and a minimum budget commitment can be required. In most cases, tools to self-manage and report on your campaign are not available; instead, reports/status updates are provided by the publisher. These networks can be great after you’ve covered search and/or social pay-per-click advertising, or if you need to reach a target language/culture demographic you can’t effectively reach with search mode .
- Social ad networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace now sell ads in multiple formats, mostly on a CPC basis. For example, Facebook ads include an image and text. Such sites provide a number of tools to allow you to self-manage and report on your campaign (ad creation, tracking, modifying a campaign, bill payment) if desired. Don’t forget StumbleUpon, which has a completely different and intriguing CPC model on the way to execute a campaign on their network. Paid social network advertising often delivers a tremendous number of clicks at a low price per click. However, check the bounce rate in your analytics to ensure the clicks are delivering real value (see the Measurement section). If your traffic is not “bouncy” then social ad networks are a good option to consider in conjunction with paid search networks .
- Affiliate ad networks operate differently. They usually charge only for a completed action. Ads are placed on a target network of online products (Websites, browser bars, and such), often in a display format. How you manage and report on your campaign and options can vary by network. Affiliate networks have earned a bad reputation due to the amount of spam-related advertising people associate with them. If you can profitably set up a network where there is no spam included in your advertising, the audience matches your target market, and you can maintain your brand integrity by vetting the sites that run your ads, then consider this solution.
- For the right retailers, daily deal networks such as Groupon, Living Social, and Dealfind — which promote discounts (often in coupon form) to their subscribers — provide a good option. Industry studies show that using an existing social media infrastructure, particularly Facebook, improves participation and success.
- Link ad networks sell link opportunities.
Choosing a paid advertising solution based on the above five-step process is sometimes an easy decision:
“We’re a small company with a limited budget and limited time. We chose two large search engine suppliers as our solution. Pay based on demand and the fact that so many prospective clients use search were part of our considerations.”
— Mark Lyle, owner of a local auto dealership.
In other cases, choosing an advertising solution can be a more complex decision:
“Search is great and we have it covered. We’ve had time to experiment with our messaging, ads that get a response and how we measure success. We now need to surround all spaces where our target customers are active when they shop, research or need to know about products like ours. We know our customers also visit dominant subject-matter sites like the Weather Network and Yahoo Weather, and we are looking for opportunities to communicate to them through these sites and others. Some sites are not part of a search supplier content network, so we have to deal directly through an ad network.”
— George Savice of Umbrellas to Go.
Joe Wozny, author of The Digital Dollar: Sustainable Strategies for Online Success, is a digital and online media thought leader, strategist, author, blogger and international presenter on strategies to improve the reach and success of Internet, social and digital media initiatives. Through his company, Concentric, he helps leaders leverage their businesses using smart, well planned digital strategies. More blogs from Joe about online strategy topics can be found here. For more information please visit http://TheDigitalDollar.com, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter