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It gets a bad rap for low click-throughs and abysmal conversion rates. But is the skepticism of the Google Display Network fair?

The Search Network vs. the Display Network

The Search Network is comprised of Google.com (and google.uk, .jp, .ca, etc), and other search properties such as Google Maps, Google Shopping, AOL, and eBay. The Display Network (formerly the Content Network), on the other hand, is comprised of any site on the web that uses Google AdSense to power ads. Publishers of these sites reserve space on their sites for banner ads, and get paid by AdSense based on the number of eyeballs or the number of clicks their site brings to each ad. The Display Network includes huge properties like nytimes.com, gizmodo.com, and foodnetwork.com, but it can also include any fly-by-night blog or website that enables Google’s ads.

Let’s Get Real

When you advertise on the Display Network, keep realistic expectations. People aren’t searching for what you’re offering, unlike when they search on your keywords. They’re visiting their favorite sites like nytimes, gizmodo, and foodnetwork. They’re there to read content, get news, watch videos, etc… Only once in a while will your ad (that hopefully has some relationship to the content or its audience) appeal enough to readers for them to leave the site they navigated to and check out what you have to say. Therefore, a low, low, LOW click-through rate is not unusual. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth the effort; however. With enough repetition and exposure, your brand may stick in the reader’s mind when whatever you’re selling does become a more pressing need. The unfortunate thing, of course, is that this intangible ‘maybe’ is completely untrackable.

But there is an upside. With Google, you don’t have to pay per impression. Unless you choose the CPM model (which probably doesn’t make sense if you’re reading this post), those impressions where maybe you’re sticking in someone’s mind are totally free to you. So there’s little risk in terms of cost.

“I’m not sold.”

I don’t blame you. At least not yet. Internet marketers want to see clicks, traffic, and most of all, conversions. But there is a case to be made for certain kinds of products to advertise heavily on the Display Network.

Here’s an example. My friends (and clients) run a site called The Wedding Lens. They started it when Justin, one of the co-founders, was getting married, and couldn’t figure out a way to manage all his guests’ photos of the wedding. He couldn’t find a centralized place to house all the various photos, download them, share comments, etc. Facebook and most picture-sharing sites will downgrade the file size and require signups and logins. So while your cousin is on Picasa, your sister is on Flickr, your aunt is on Snapfish, your mother-in-law is on Shutterfly, and your grandma still has a *gasp* film camera, there’s no easy way to manage all those albums.

Why would a site like The Wedding Lens work well on the Display Network?

Well, the answer is simple. If you’re a bride- or a groom-to-be, you don’t actually know you need this website. You wouldn’t search for a site like this because, well… you don’t even know this service exists. But as a bride- or a groom-to-be, what are you doing? Probably visiting a ton of wedding-related sites and shopping for ideas on items like invitations, decorations, cakes, venues, dresses, and the list goes on and on.

Now, not every website is going to fit the example of the Wedding Lens. But there are other good applications for the Display Network. One main use that I recommend for almost every advertiser is Remarketing, which I will address in a post all its own. Remarketing is a great brand reminder that target people who have visited your site at least once already. This will help convert visitors who have abandoned your site or their cart, and nudge them to return and transact. I have seen great conversion success through remarketing channels, and I highly recommend it.

The Display Network also works well (or, at least, relatively better) for niche markets. I mentioned the Wedding Lens, and the wedding market is pretty huge, so that’s probably not the best example. It’s easy to get lost in the noise. But if your product or service is more obscure, you might do well targeting the few websites that cover your market. One nice thing about the Display Network is you don’t have to advertise on a whole domain; if there is only one or a few specific pages on a domain that cater to your audience, you can request your ad only be shown on those pages.

8 Tips to Improve Your Success with the Google Display Network

    1. Do not house your search ads and display ads in the same campaign. It will skew your stats and in general will confuse the issue. You’ll also want to bid differently on search clicks and display clicks, so separate out Display and Search campaigns.

    2. If you advertise on Mobile, separate those campaigns out from your Display campaigns, too. They’re managed the same way, but you want to think about mobile a little bit differently… for instance, you’ll want to be sure the landing page is mobile-optimized. So keep mobile ads separate as well.

    3. Text ads aren’t usually worth the effort or the price on the Display Network. Test it for a while if you’d like, but I’ve never seen a case where text ads worked effectively across the Display Network. (if you do, feel free to comment below). Display Network… display ads. Make sense?

    4. Include a call to action that’s more compelling than “click here.” But do include a call to action, such as “register now,” “start your free trial” or include a special discount or offer.

    5. If you are animating your ad, make sure the ending frame can stand alone and still make sense once the animation cycles are done. Make sure this frame tells the whole story, in case the website visitor didn’t catch it all.

    6. As with any PPC ad, make sure the landing page delivers on the promise of the ad. If you advertised a white paper, lead the click DIRECTLY to that white paper. Same thing with a featured product or a specific promotion. Don’t just point the ad to the home page if it can point somewhere that will save the user clicks.

    7. Use Google’s Placement Tool to find relevant sites, but visit those sites before adding whole topics or taking all Google’s suggestions. It will take some time, but you’ll save yourself worthless clicks in the end. You can also take advantage of the Exclusion Tool, though exclusions are never 100% guaranteed. I remember I was reading an article about the horrors of blood diamond trade, and right next to the article was a big display ad for diamond rings. Um, yeah. The Exclusion Tool is your friend.

    8. If you want your Display ads to get more clicks, consider only advertising “above the fold.” This article on Google’s site will show you how to exclude below-the-fold placements. Just keep in mind, depending on your bid and quality score, this may mean you get fewer impressions overall.

I’m currently drafting a blog post about whether I believe display advertising works. (In short, yes, but…) More on that to come.

Example Canned Banners template

Example Canned Banners template

But because I do believe that display advertising can work, the next question is how should you go about creating those pretty display ads? If you’re not a designer yourself or if you can’t afford to hire design resources, Canned Banners has an instant and easy solution.

Canned Banners is pretty much exactly like it sounds. They offer well-designed Flash, animated GIF, and static banner templates in standard ad sizes. You can customize your ad text, add your logo, choose fonts, and tweak color schemes. Once you’re satisfied with how your banner looks, you download it, and the art file is forever yours. There is no pay-per-click or complicated pricing scheme, you just pay once for the artwork and post your new ad wherever you see fit.

Prices are a flat $25 per banner, but using my discount code, KOHATSU, you get 25% off… so designing a banner would only cost $18.75 … much cheaper than hiring someone to create your display ad for you.

But hey, if you do want to hire someone, I can think of at least one PPC Consultant that’s available :) Once you’ve got your display ads ready, I’m happy to help you place them on websites that will convert for you. Just let me know how I can help.

Almost a year ago, I saw a headline on Twitter proclaiming there was now a Groupon of Small Business. The link led me to GroupPrice.com, a site which aimed to take the daily deal model and focus it towards small business owners.

The company I was working for at the time was largely focused on the small business market, so we decided to give it a shot. GroupPrice was clearly new then; it wasn’t all that attractive, and the deals were sparse. But the risk is minimal, as you don’t have to put any money down, and GroupPrice only takes a cut of the deals it actually sells. So we offered a deal which cost the user $50 for $100 worth of service.

GroupPriceOn first pass, the deal was featured for a week, and only two people bit. Nothing lost, really. As with any deal site, you have to be aware that this isn’t going to be a revenue generator; it’s a lead generator. The hope is to get new people to try your service, and then to hook them into repeat business. Remember, you’re going to have to cut your regular prices by at least half, and then, in addition, the site will take a percentage. So in the end, you’re offering your service for less than half of what you would normally charge.

This past fall, GroupPrice changed its deal model slightly. Deals can now live on the site for either a specified amount of time, or until a specified amount of deals are sold. This gives the vendor control over how many discounts it’s willing to give away, or for how long.

I even had the opportunity to meet with GroupPrice’s CEO and founder, Van Jepson, last August. He is a nice guy, a smart guy, and was kind enough to be a speaker at a conference I was organizing. GroupPrice had just been named in Entrepreneur Magazine’s Top 100 Brilliant Companies, which was a nice win for them. Meeting Van inspired us to run the deal again to see if we’d find more success. And on the second go-round, we did.

Each month, GroupPrice continues to grow its user base and merchant offerings, so for a vendor, it’s kind of a win-win. As long as you’re realistic about the traffic you can handle at the discounted rate, you’ll only reach more people who you may not have reached before. Services offered on GroupPrice run the gamut of printing services, IT support, stock photos, video editing, social media monitoring… anything that might benefit the small business owner. If your business fits that category, consider running a deal on GroupPrice.com.

Tips to consider before running a GroupPrice deal:

  • Offer goods or services that are easily understandable. Make sure they don’t require an assisted sales explanation or a long sales cycle.
  • Speak to a business problem that your company can solve, and that can be implemented with little time or effort on the customer’s part.
  • Choose an offering that’s under $300. GroupPrice says a good rule of thumb is to offer a price that is 10% of your Customer Lifetime Value.
  • Have a mechanism in place on your end for redemptions received through GroupPrice, whether that means creating unique referral codes or training your employees on the deal. This way the customer’s first touch point with your business is a positive experience.
  • If you have a video or a relevant image to include, your GroupPrice landing page will be all the more appealing.

To post your own deal, visit GroupPrice.com


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