Are Display Ads Worth It? Only if You Buy Smart And Measure Carefully

Categories Online Marketing

Considering online display ad networks or exchanges? They might not be worth your time.

Recent research from comScore shows that overall, only 54% of display ads are even seen by website visitors in the first place.

Keep in mind this is from the unfortunately very loose standard of having even half of the pixel area of an ad displayed to a visitor for half a second – not much! The actual situation for online ads in the “real world” is likely to be even more dire.

As you might expect, there are big differences between types of display ads – this isn’t a one size fits all blanket statement. As comScore explains:

“While the definition of an ad network or exchange is well understood, there is no industry definition for premium sites. For the purposes of this analysis, we defined a premium site as any site having an average CPM of USD $5.00 and monthly ad revenue of $100,000”

In other words, there’s a degree of “you get what you pay for” involved in buying online display ads. Purchasing from generic networks and exchanges (Google anyone?) will be cheaper, but don’t expect the results to be great.

In my experience, this bears out. I no longer invest in any of the lower-tier types of exchanges – or keyword text ads for that matter, since almost all of the positive results I have seen come from careful investments in targeted industry sites, hand-picked and designed to function far differently from the ad blocks that some are used to buying. Who knows, they must still work for some products, but I can count the number of people I personally know who have bought from an ad network display ad on one hand.

From comScore’s breakdown of the ranges in viewable ads, the best placements were seen upwards of 90% of the time, while the worst close to never, only a few percent at best.

Of course, when your ads aren’t viewable, visitors aren’t taking action on them. Surprisingly, increases in viewability do not seem to create a linear improvement in results, but even better than that, as Jack Neff writes in AdAge :

Experience at Kellogg shows viewability matters a lot: a 40% improvement in ad viewability produced a 75% increase in sales life from digital advertising, said Aaron Fetters, director of Kellogg’s Insights and Analytics Solutions Center.

Of course, we aren’t all huge consumer brands, so results will vary. And by the end of 2013, we may be able to buy online ads based on their viewability metric – at least if the Interactive Advertising Bureau (iab) has their way.

For now, the bottom line here is that if you are going to invest in online display, make careful, conservative buys and measure the results closely, dropping those that underperform. It’s better to purchase ads at one or a few sites that your target audience really reads and you know the ads will be seen than to simply buy up tons of placements that won’t have any effect.

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