As a strategy to help businesses monetize website traffic, display ads got off to a less than auspicious start. For many marketers who deploy them, things haven't gotten much better in the last few years, with many of their target audience ignoring these ads, and many more considering them an actual annoyance. Consider these findings from HubSpot, for example:
• Just 2.8 percent of consumers say that display ads are "relevant."
• The average CTR is an abysmal 0.06 percent.
• Millennials ignore display ads more than TV, radio and newspaper ads.
• Fifty-four percent of consumers don't click on display ads because they don't trust them.
• Thirty-three percent of consumers says display ads are "intolerable."
Some Light at the End of the Tunnel
That's a pretty dismal assessment. Caryl Stec, HubSpot's marketing blog editor, agrees that the lion's share of display advertising is ineffective, but adds a decidedly hopeful note – some display ads work:
"When display advertising first surfaced in the world of marketing, many marketers were left with a bad taste in their mouth. The ads we were being presented with lacked context and value…As technology advanced, we started looking at display advertising ...in a new light. Sure, there are still a ton of horrible, spammy ads floating around, but there are also a lot of effective ones."
Time to Revisit Marketing 101: Who's Your Target Audience?
Why are so many display ads so bad? Is the messaging off or are the aesthetics off putting? Are the products they hype not sellable or the calls to action less than engaging?
The answer is much more basic than that: The bulk of display ads are simply pushed to the wrong audience. For reasons that defy analysis, the marketers who push them out don't do much, well, analysis. While they'd be loath to send other types of content to consumers who have little to no interest in it, they regularly publish their display ads to people they haven't in any meaningful way vetted, or A/B tested – and that's a recipe for failure.
Find Your Target, and You're Halfway Home
To boost click-throughs for your display ad campaigns, you need to clearly identify your target audience and create ads that speak to it. That means you'll need to drag out your best analytics data to target your audience based on topic, context and demographics.
Targeting by Topic: Check the Websites
If, like most display advertisers, you're working with Google Display Network, using topics to target your audience will put you on a lot of relevant websites. Unfortunately, it can also put you on a lot of irrelevant ones. The problem is that topics can be overly broad and relate to multiple user intents. For example, if you sell CRM, you'd probably choose "marketing" as your topic, but there are many sites that will be included whose visitors have no interest in CRM.
You can refine your targeting somewhat by diving down into appropriate subtopics and by including negative topics, but you still need to know where your ads are being displayed. To find out, go to "placements," which will show where ads are positioned. Then click on impressions and costs to see conversion rates by site. When you see a low conversion rate, go to that site. If it's not relevant to your digital marketing goals, click on "edit" to remove it.
Targeting Contextually: Leveraging Keywords
With contextual targeting, you use keywords in much the same way you would for paid search advertising. That means, of course, that like paid search, you first need to research the keywords your target audience is using in online searches. You can get help from your search terms report.
Once you've identified and implemented your target keywords, you need to find out which ones are working best for you. First, click on "keywords" and "search terms." This will bring up a list you can sort by conversions, clicks or impressions and show you which queries are resulting in the most traffic. As with topic targeting, keep the sites with high conversions and exclude those that are underperforming.
Demographic Targeting: Getting into the Weeds
When properly leveraged, targeting by demographics can be an extremely effective strategy to track conversions of your display ads, but you need to do some research. If you don't, you could find your ads showing up for all the wrong people and completely missing your target audience.
To use demographic targeting, go to Google Analytics and click on "audience." Open the submenu and click on "overview." Then go to "converters." You'll see a screen that shows conversions segmented by demographic data. For example, you might see that you're not converting among men over the age of 44 or women younger than 25.
Now, you have a better idea of the demographics of your target audience. You can then compare this to the demographics of your display ad audience, which you can do by opening AdWords, going to the campaign you want to measure, clicking on "display network," and then on the demographics tab. If the two match, you're in good shape; if they don't, you need to adjust your display ad demographics.
Given consumer distrust of most display ads and their average CTRs, marketers understandably might not want to go down this road. It's important to remember, however, that those metrics reflect average performance, and some marketers are doing markedly better than others. Those who succeed in increasing brand awareness and sales have discovered effective strategies to put their ads in front of the right audience and to measure results for continual improvement.