When Is Display Advertising Effective?

DisplayCropLike many of the digital channels now available to marketers, display advertising has the ability to put a brand in front of millions of eyeballs. The reach of the Google Display Network alone is more than 4 billion daily page views.

But, as with all marketing, one size does not fit all. Display advertising doesn’t make sense for every business, and every successful site will use it slightly differently. Here are some of the advantages (and disadvantages) of display, and how your company can make the most of it.

Advantages of Display

The most immediate advantage of display is that it’s a visual medium. Unlike text-heavy paid search ads that don’t exactly jump off the page, display ads incorporate images, design and animation. For businesses with a visual appeal, display ads may do a better job competing for users’ attention.

Display can also be cheaper than paid search, partly as a result of less competition. This can make it an effective way to get a leg up on your competitors. Plus, display offers several unique ways to target prospective customers who can’t be reached through other channels. These targeting features are discussed in greater length below.

Display can also boost brand recognition. Because display ads appear on a wide variety of sites and pages, as long as they contain content relevant to your keywords, they can be a great way to reach customers interested in your subject matter, but who aren’t aware of your specific brand or product.

Plus Google is taking steps to integrate display ads into its search results. Already it has started running graphical ads at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) for some branded searches. If this becomes common practice, investing in display ad may become essential for branded search engine optimization (SEO) as well.

Disadvantages of Display

Display is not without its disadvantages; low click-through rates chief among them. Earlier this year, HubSpot published some ‘horrifying’ statistics: “The average banner ad has a 0.1% click-through rate (CTR), and the standard 468×60 banner has a 0.04% CTR.”

As a main proponent of inbound marketing, HubSpot has a dog in this fight. But, display’s low CTRs are undeniable. They occur because display is interruptive in nature and tends to reach people early in the buying cycle. Paid search, on the other hand, reaches people actively searching for your product much later in the buying cycle, leading to a more immediate return on investment.

Display’s return on investment is much more difficult to determine because it gets relatively fewer clicks. One of its major benefits comes is overall brand awareness, which may drive visits through other channels. In determining whether to run display ads, it’s a good idea to attempt to measure the effect that display ads have on other digital channels, if any.

What Works

If you have a limited ad budget, it makes sense to max out paid search before dipping a toe into display. Even then, it’s best approached strategically. The most successful companies use display’s targeting capabilities to drill down and address very specific groups of potential customers.

Some targeting options, such as geography and timing, will be familiar to anyone operating a paid search campaign. But, display also offers the ability to target via remarketing, topic and demographics.

One of the most useful functions of display is its ability to ‘remarket’ to users who have previously visited your site. You can even target them based on specific actions. For example, you can serve different ads to people who visited the homepage, visited a specific subpage, put an item in their shopping cart and made a purchase. These remarketing capabilities aren’t offered by many other channels and, if used intelligently, can lead to a considerable return on investment.

Display also allows you to target potential customers based on the topics they are interested in. Ads will show up only when a page contains content relevant to your keywords. This can be a great way to boost brand recognition among people interested in your market but not familiar enough with your product to search for it. As with paid search, a well-tended list of keywords will serve you better than letting Google select whatever tangentially related terms it deems relevant.

Finally, display also allows you to target customers based on demographic information, specifically age and gender. If you’re selling sundresses, you can make sure only young women see your ad. This is where Facebook is potentially interesting. With all the information it knows about its users, Facebook offers the potential for very exact targeting. As it improves its advertising functionality, look for it to become an ever more important player in the world of display.

There’s no denying display can be a valuable component of a site’s online marketing strategy, but it must be used properly. Be sure to investigate all of the available targeting options to figure out what works best for your business.

Photo via Daniel Oines on Flickr.