Do Display Ads Work? [Case Study]

do-display-ads-work“A man rode into town on Friday, stayed at a hotel for three days, and rode out on Friday.”

A little bit of lateral thinking goes a long way in the online game.

If you’ve been reading my contributions you’d probably think of me as some sort of data mining enthusiast – glasses and a beard, tapping away at a keyboard in a dark room, hunkered over reams of graphs and numbers like some sort of swotting nerd.

And you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong…

However, part of my job is to ‘think outside the box’, to be creative in my approach to gathering data, because sometimes there’s no data to mine if I stick to the one formula.

Every company and account is different and the same strategy might not work, even if it’s the same industry in the same area running the same keywords!

Google “admits” display ads are flawed

At the end of last year, Google admitted that about half of its display ads aren’t even seen. I read a few articles and viewed a comedy video about how it is apparently pointless to use display advertising because of this revelation. There was a certain smugness to the delivery of the message, like employing a display network strategy was a ridiculous notion and that everyone should abandon it as an option for their business. This doesn’t take into account the efficacy of the display network if applied correctly, or creatively.

A real life example of display ads playing a vital role

An example I’d like to share is of a client that was getting next to no enquiry on the Search network for one of their products that dealt with the agricultural sector. It was a revolutionary piece of machinery that combined several features required in the agricultural sector in the one product that used to be powered by horses prior to technological advancements.

We had targeted the keywords of each of the names of the devices that were used prior to their machine’s invention, but it still struggled to gain traction. It was possible that someone searching for one of the features of the machine already had devices that did the rest, so didn’t require them and, while impressed, didn’t want to fork out the money for something that they already had.

We decided on testing an entirely new strategy, using the Display network on only one site that farmers would most likely visit. I’m not going to give away my secret here, but this strategy immediately paid off. People were viewing this site and becoming interested in the myriad of features this machine displayed, in part due to it being visual, but mostly because we were always there, our budget on the Display network, on that particular site, meant we could show often and for a very low Cost Per Click.

Horses for courses

Now, I’m definitely not going to employ this exact strategy on any of my other client’s accounts because it wouldn’t work, for a variety of reasons. But I apply this kind of thinking to every facet of a campaign, from Sitelink Extensions, to Location Targeting, to positioning of the ads in relation to their Google Plus and Organic listings and everything in between.

Learn the rules so you can break them

Pablo Picasso once said:

“Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.”

Obviously you have to know the fundamentals of online marketing in order to become creative with your application of strategy. I don’t want to sound like I’m having a go, however, sometimes when I gain access to an account, it reminds me of a preschool art class, as in broad strokes with vibrant colours, that looks like it was a lot of fun to paint, but without discipline or technique. The idea is there, but the execution is lacking. It’s almost cute, except a preschooler’s painting is going to be lauded as artistic and celebrated on the fridge, while an online marketing strategy that doesn’t work can mean the loss of revenue and business.

I went to Brisbane Art Gallery over the weekend and was reminded how art is subjective, while also noting that some of these artists reflected the unfettered mind of the preschooler in art class, they just knew better techniques for execution. This might also be my way of saying that I don’t quite get some ‘art’, but I respect that they probably understand the concept much better than I.

The beauty of learning the fundamentals of the Online Marketing world is it opens up possibilities to be creative and test out something new. It might be something as simple as a keyword that is loosely related to your product, or it could be sharing budgets between campaigns with special targeting. Being creative in online marketing will never win you a Gulbenkian, but it may win you a raft of new customers, a successful business, and a horse named Friday.