Sales & Marketing

The dos and don'ts of online advertising

7 min read

06 February 2017

When it comes to online advertising, there's a right way and a wrong way, so David Harvey at Altair Media has highlighted the dos and don'ts when marketing your business on the web.

Programmatic has become the new norm in media buying, set to account for more than three quarters of all digital display media buys over the coming year according to eMarketer. With its promise of efficient targeting combined with minimal wastage, it is easy to understand the allure of programmatic online advertising and its meteoric rise over the past few years.

An unfortunate by-product of the programmatic revolution – other than fraud, which is a different ball game all together – is a rise in the amount of irrelevant online advertising. Spam, as it is unlovingly known.

One of the inherent risks when online advertising is powered by a complex web of machines talking to machines and ads are more precisely served than ever: it stings that much more when ads make poor assumptions about those on the receiving end.

Banners and pop-ups may be intrusive and irritating, but the expectation is that they’ll fall short in the personalisation stakes. Ads populating, say, the sidebars within email accounts have already bypassed the guest list, so to speak – people expect intimacy, familiarity and relevance.

The good news is that you can cut through the competition – so long as you’re smart about your approach.

A good rule of thumb when planning any campaign is to ask two questions: When should I serve an ad? And, crucially, when shouldn’t I serve an ad?

Both are absolutely essential to ensure online advertising effectiveness, yet very few ask the second. Some guidelines to ensure your online advertising messages make the right sort of impact follow, as I reveal the key dos and don’ts.

Do use as much data as you can get your hands on

Despite the explosion in audience data, 87 per cent, so most, of marketers still consider data their organisation’s most underused asset. Buck this trend by mining all available data to make informed judgements.

For a campaign we ran for B&Q, we took into consideration every piece of information available including the time since a user’s last visit, whether the ad was relevant to content now being read, right down to individuals’ recent mind set. This data directly informed which message/s were served, while we also controlled frequency by user, and by day.

Don’t make assumptions about your audience

Just because a user responded warmly to a certain message previously, don’t assume their behaviour will be the same this time. Strike the right balance between harnessing existing and recent data to meet your audience’s changing needs and to justify or adapt your messaging.

Continue reading for the outstanding online advertising dos and don’ts on the next page.

Do retarget previous visitors to your website

Many retailers fall into the common trap of running generic retargeting display campaigns. The result is usually customers who feel at best irritated, worst still harassed.

By creating a retargeting structure that determines when an ad will actually help a customer, and importantly when it won’t, brands can ensure they add real value rather than unhelpful spam.

Implementing a new retargeting structure for B&Q resulted in a reduction in the cost of sale by 90 per cent. The new approach also increased basket size with shoppers spending 60 per cent more than they were prior to the changes.

Another example comes from AirAsia. By retargeting recent website visitors who didn’t convert with information about flight routes rather than rates messaging, the airline improved engagement, sales and brand perception during a difficult year for the brand.

Don’t be too general – don’t try to sell toilet seats to people searching for kitchen supplies

An obvious win is to help your audience by serving them with precisely what they are searching for. For example, B&Q has a massive range of products, upwards of 40,000, and someone looking for a kitchen will have a different need to someone looking to buy some screws.  As a simple rule of thumb, prioritise what your user needs to buy over what you need to sell.

Do adapt your creative to communicate directly with the consumer

Real-time automation enables us to tweak messaging based on an audience’s behaviour, moment by moment. Embrace this opportunity to connect more meaningfully with individuals based on what you know about them: products they are viewing, whether they have shopped with you before, and so on.

To capitalise fully on dynamic advertising, our strategies need to be dynamic too. The Economist nailed this approach, assessing page context and viewer profiles in real time to serve up jarringly appropriate ads that directed people to an Economist content hub, with a call to action to subscribe.

Don’t leave your campaign to run on its own, without monitoring it and adjusting it to get the best performance

The ultimate goal of any online advertising is to minimise wastage while maximising performance. “Monitor, measure, refine” is the continuous mantra of programmatic activity, set to repeat. Don’t hesitate to shut down advertising if it has had no impact during a set period of time – do analyse and learn from it.

By revisiting programmatic strategies with a “plan – don’t spam” mentality, you can significantly boost campaign performance while also bringing down investments.

Combine insights about when not to serve an ad with a more sophisticated, more customer focused and ultimately more creative approach, and you’re already outperforming most online advertising.

David Harvey is director at Altair Media

Image: Shutterstock