10 Bargaining Chips for Negotiating a Direct Media Buy

Direct media buying is an excellent strategy to purchase ad impressions for your targeted audience. You have the luxury of buying impressions in bulk with the satisfaction of saving money, given that the impressions offered at a discounted rate. Surprisingly, more often than not, the listed rates are not always “discounted” per se. Ad impressions are priced at what the publisher wants for their inventory, not necessarily how much the inventory is worth to you. So, how do you get the publisher to give you exactly what you want, without letting on that you want to pay a lot less than their listed prices?

Here are 10 bargaining chips for negotiating direct media buys:

  1. State the “facts”: When reaching out to a publisher, it is likely that they will respond to you if you’re interested in offering them money for their ad inventory, but to guarantee a response, state your budget is $10,000 more than it actually is.
  2. Evaluate the metrics: What is the publisher’s CTR? How many impressions will they guarantee with a monthly rate? What is the page view ratio? These metrics should be considered before trying to negotiate a lower rate. If you notice something as a red flag in their metrics like an unusually low CTR or an extremely high amount of page views per visitor, you can use this data as when stating that the listed price is too high.
  3. Have a number in mind: Before you lay out all your concerns or start asking for discounts, have a plan of what you’re willing to pay for this ad inventory. If you’ve advertised on this site before through an ad network, you know what an ideal CPM is for you. If you haven’t, you can figure out how much you’d want to pay per acquisition based on their CTR and your conversion rate. When negotiating the price down, tell the publisher the price you’re willing to pay and why this is your target goal. Make sure to bring up the metrics you evaluated to prove your reasoning.
  4. Conduct a test: You’ll probably receive some resistance from the publisher with the above bargaining chip, so now is a good time to request a test with a small amount of remnant inventory or instead of a month commitment, just a week of impressions. A trial like this will help you better evaluate the performance of the publisher, and provide the publisher a chance to prove its value to you. Since the publisher thinks you have a huge budget, they’ll try to work with you on this.
  5. Measure the test and re-evaluate: How did the test perform for you? Are you impressed with the results? If not, move on to another publisher. However, if there was potential with the outcome, re-evaluate the amount you’re willing to pay for the impressions and see if you can get any discounts with the following strategies.
  6. Ask for a discount for a long term commitment: Many publishers have monthly rates. If you offer to commit to 3 months, 6 months or even 1 year up front, see if you can get a 5-20% discount. This helps the publisher out because they won’t have to worry about selling the inventory.
  7. Ask for a discount for paying in advance: Rather than getting invoiced monthly for your long-term commitment, see if you can get a discount for paying in advance. If you have the money now, and are seeing profitable returns from the media buy, why not save a little cash by paying for the impressions now? This helps you out, because you’ll get a bigger discount, and this helps the publisher out, because they don’t have to worry about invoicing you every month and collecting the funds. 
  8. Ask for specific ad units: Although this won’t result in monetary savings, it really does matter what ad units you’re purchasing with your media buy. Don’t you want your ad above the fold for every impression? Make sure you’re paying for only the best ad impressions available and ask for specific ad units.
  9. Get some add-ons: If you haven’t received the monetary savings you were hoping for yet, try asking for some other value. Ask if they could feature your ad in an email newsletter as a test. Be sure to let them know you’d be willing to pay for more promotions if it performs well.
  10. Measure everything and re-negotiate: After you’ve negotiated your ideal media buy, measure the performance with an ad server. You’ll want all of this data so you can use these metrics when re-negotiating your next media buy or negotiating another media buy with a similar publisher.  When negotiating, don’t give up all of your data at once. Turn your poker face on and stand strong in what you believe is fair.

This is a starter list of just some of the tactics you can use when negotiating a media buy.  Have you used any of these strategies in the past? How did they work out for you? As always, share with us in the comments section below what strategies you’ve tried when negotiating media buys.


3 Last Minute Holiday Campaign Tips to Reach Those Last Minute Shoppers

With the biggest holiday shopping season almost nearing to an end, we’ve compiled some last minute campaign strategies for you to reach those last minute shoppers.  Before the year ends, secure a spike in revenue over the next several days with these quick and simple last minute tips for your holiday campaigns:

 

1.  Increase sales with the last minute shoppers

Tweak your ad copy to make it more relevant to the holiday shopper. Update your ad copy to have a holiday spin on it and attract the last minute shoppers. “Arrives by 12/24” or “Last Minute Stocking Stuffers” are great examples of how you can spice up your ad copy to entice those last minute shoppers to click and purchase.

 

2.  Increase clicks and engaged viewers from your ads

Your ad design and copy is what compels a user to click or not. Since you’ve already tweaked your ad copy with the above strategy, try varying up the design a little.  Because we’re on the homestretch of the holidays, no need to re-invent the wheel here.  A simple A/B test with the color of the background or the color of the call-to-action button on your banner ads could be the difference between profit and breaking even this holiday season.

 

3.  Outperform your competitors on price for your most popular items

You already know what products account for 80% of your revenue.  Find these same or similar products from competing advertisers on MixRank.com to see their pricing model.  Based on what you discover, consider pricing your products similarly or offering free shipping or another perk with a purchase. 

 

With MixRank’s easy-to-use search bar, you can instantly research the competitive market for your products, without spending hours mining through your competitors’ landing pages for the same data. To get started, gain access to MixRank Professional with your risk-free trial here.

The Largest Driver of Revenue that the Most Successful Advertisers Implement Over the Least Successful

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Yin, CEO & Co-Founder of LaunchBit.

 

I was curious to know what the difference was between the most successful and the least successful advertisers.  So, I analyzed the data in our ad network, LaunchBit.  LaunchBit serves up millions of ad impressions every week in hundreds of email newsletters for startups through Fortune1000 clients.  The most common trend we noticed was that most of our successful advertisers did not generate revenue from their campaigns right away.  Instead, they directed potential customers to sign up on a landing page to monetize and upsell those leads later.  Here are just a few examples of how our most successful advertisers created successful lead generation programs: 

 

Offer white papers & webinars 

If you run a B2B company, teaching your customer information or tips that can help them become better at their job is often an effective lead generation tactic.  Hubspot does this very well.  Their target demographic is online marketers.  And, they are a machine in cranking out new ebooks and webinars teaching their customers about new online marketing tactics.  

Hubspot-leadgen

 

Although you might think that asking for a lot of information in your sign up process would lead to a low conversion rate, Hubspot has publicly stated that they are able to get users to convert at a “good percentage” despite these extra fields.  If you need this extra information to vet your leads, then you should not be afraid to include these fields.  Their layout is clean.  The form is on the right; the copy is on the left.  They have a great title format that they use repeatedly: x # of tips to make you successful at some type of marketing.  They tell you exactly what you will learn in the ebook.  All of their landing pages have the same format.  

 

Discount Notifications and Daily deals

Ecomom focuses on capturing contact information by prompting new site visitors to sign up for their discount notifications before they start browsing the site.  So, even if someone doesn’t buy right away, Ecomom is able to reach potential customers and earn their trust until they are ready to buy.  

Ecomom-leadgen

They run different newsletters to disseminate different information to their two lists: the daily deals list for bargain hunters and a traditional newsletter with tips and occasional offers.  

 

Giveaways and contests 

A number of advertisers in our network like to do freebies, giveaways, and run contests.  This can definitely increase the conversion rate on a landing page.  AppSumo, for example, has held a series of contests to get more subscribers to their daily deals list.  

Appsumo-leadgen

We’ve had a number of advertisers host contests, and conversions for them generally range between 25-70%.  However, we’ve learned from our advertisers that you should be careful when selecting your contest giveaways.  If a giveaway is too far removed from your product/service, people who convert do not necessarily turn into relevant paying customers later.  

 

Most advertisers in our network have not built sophisticated lead generation programs and expect customers to buy right away.  But, unless you have a product that is conducive to quick transactions, conversions typically trend below 3%.  It may take some effort, but good lead generation that educates and offers freebies and discounts is a good opportunity to nurture leads into paying customers.   

 

About the Author

Elizabeth Yin is a the CEO and a co-founder of LaunchBit, an ad network for email.  With LaunchBit, advertisers can reach their target demographics through relevant email newsletters.  Prior to LaunchBit, Elizabeth was a product marketing manager at Google.  

 

Getting The Most Out of Display Advertising

This is a guest post by Caroline Watts, Marketing Manager at ReTargeter.


Display advertising is an established digital marketing tactic, but lately it’s gotten a bit of a bad rap. But display doesn’t have to be ineffective. Like with most marketing channels, display campaigns are only as effective as they are well-run. Ignore best practices and you aren’t likely to be successful, but run a well-managed campaign and you can see impressive results.

 

Though there are many factors that go into a making display work, the following aspects of your campaigns are likely to have the most significant effect on your success: who you’re reaching, what your ads look like, and how well display is integrated with your other marketing channels.

 

Reaching the Right People


With display, as with most forms of advertising, it’s all about audience. If your ads aren’t getting in front of the right people, nothing else matters. Fortunately, this part is easy to get right. One of the primary benefits of display advertising is the robust and precise targeting available to advertisers. Here are a few different types of targeting you can employ to make sure your campaigns don’t miss their marks:

 

  • Site Retargeting: Retargeting, the practice of serving ads to people who have previously visited your website, is one of the most effective forms of display advertising because it focuses on the people who are most likely to be interested in your product or service right now. Retargeting can work well for virtually any business, as there isn’t a marketer out there for whom conversion rates are 100%.
  • Advanced Retargeting: There are many more complex forms of retargeting, which allow you to target ads based on other activities like opening an email or searching for relevant keywords. Depending on your business, it probably makes sense to start with site retargeting and incorporate more advanced targeting techniques as you become more experienced.
  • Demographic and Geographic Targeting: If you have a good idea of what your ideal customer looks like, demographic information like age, gender, income, or occupation can help focus a campaign on the people most likely to be interested in your messages. Targeting your ads by geography is also a particularly effective way to keep costs low and relevancy high.

 

Creative Matters


One of the biggest mistakes digital marketers make with display is under-investing in creative. Banner ads are not all ineffective—but bad banner ads are. Make sure your in-house designer or contracted design service has experience with banners and is well-versed in the best practices of banner design. Regardless of campaign type, banner ads should always be memorable, aesthetically pleasing, representative of your brand, and should stand out from the page. 

 

It’s definitely possible to run effective display campaigns with well-designed static ads, but it’s also a good idea to test rich media like Flash and video to see if you can get even more out of your campaigns.

 

If you’re designing banners in-house, make sure you have a good sense of how others in your space are using display. Using MixRank, you can actually check out all your competitors’ display ads and use their design choices to inform how your campaigns.

 

No Campaign Exists in a Vacuum


Display is an incredibly powerful marketing channel, but it’s most effective when it’s one campaign of many. Display can complement paid search, social media, and email marketing (just to name a few), but it’s important that all your campaigns are well-integrated. Make sure that your various campaigns are truly supporting each other. Though each campaign should be tailored to its respective medium, the messaging you use to reach the same audiences across different forms of media should always be consistent.

 

About the Author

Caroline Watts is a Marketing Manager at ReTargeter, a full-service display provider specializing in retargeting and audience targeting. You can find her on Twitter and Google+.

 

Live Webinar: Scaling Campaigns Fast

Mixrank-sitescout-webinar

 

We recently partnered with SIteScout, one of the most popular self-service ad servers, for a free webinar next week.  As online advertising is becoming fiercely competitive, now’s the perfect time to get a head start on your display campaigns.

 

We’ll be walking through the elaborate process of how to run a profitable display campaign.  Starting with the research for the most successful ad creative to the campaign creation process with several optimization strategies, this webinar will show you the best practices that’ll jumpstart your display campaigns towards profitability.

 

Join this live webinar, as MixRank’s Ilya Lichtenstein and SiteScout’s Steve Monti teach you the strategies that can more than double your return on investment with display advertising. 

 

The live event takes place next Wednesday, December 5, at 12pm PST / 3pm EST.

 

In this webinar, you’ll learn:

 

  • How to save weeks of research time and instantly find the top performing placements for your target audience
  • Your competitor’s most profitable ad creative secrets that you can replicate to boost conversions
  • How to double your return on investment with strategic ad segmentation
  • Tricks to continuously optimize campaigns for a signficant boost in conversions

 

After the presentation, there will be a live Q&A session where our presenters will answer the attendees’ questions.

 

Space is limited, so make sure to register now!

 

Which Super Hero Would Your Online Marketing Strategy Be? The Display Advertising Edition

Successful online advertising professionals possess extreme optimization knowledge and strategies that we can easily associate with super heroic powers. In this new blog series, we’ll take a look at various online marketing strategies, and how they emulate the extraordinary powers of your favorite super heroes.

 

The Display Advertising Edition

The display advertising strategies edition are just a few to kick off the series.  Let me know in the comments which character’s powers you’ve had the most success with for your display campaigns and how you were able to own them.

 

Professor X: Audience Targeting

professorx-jpeg-scaled500

Photo Credit

 

The Super Power: Professor X is an incredibly powerful telepath capable of astral projection, mind control, illusion casting, memory manipulation, and psychic blasts.  If you’re participating in audience targeting, your strategy is comparable to the world’s most powerful telepath.  As Professor X listens to people’s thoughts and impacts their decisions with his powers, audience targeting similarly allows you to serve ad impressions to specific individuals from your target audience, giving your messaging the power of astral projection, psychic blasts and mind control.

 

How To Own It:  If you’re not currently honing Professor X’s powers of audience targeting, you can look into audience measurement tools like Quantcast or Core Audience that can help you understand what type of audience segments you can divide your visitors into.  Once you have full knowledge of these segments, create custom messaging for the various audiences that will be sure to persuade decisions and viewpoints.  This will help your campaigns and give you the optimal edge that salutes you into the same super hero class as Professor X.

 

Cyclops: Retargeting

Cyclops

Photo Credit

 

The Super Power:  Cyclops projects a concentrated beam of ruby-colored concussive force from his eyes and can project his power onto those he sees.  As it turns out, Cyclops and retargeting are two peas in a pod.  Just like Cyclops can project his forces onto those he can see, retargeting allows you to serve ad impressions to people who have visited your site.  These ad impressions are very pinpointed and focused towards individuals who you “see” on your site.

 

How To Own It:  To spark your inner Cyclops, set up your retargeting campaign with some easy-to-use tools like AdWords remarketing, AdRoll, Bizo, ReTargeter, TellApart or Criteo.  TellApart and Criteo technologies actually create dynamic campaigns generated by the product page the visitor was last browsing (suitable for big retailers or travel sites with multiple products).  Alternatively, I’ve had positive experiences with AdWords and AdRoll, which are pay-as-you-go tools.  So, grab some dark shades like Cyclops and start projecting your own concentrated beam of retargeted ads by adding your choice platform’s tracking code to your site.  This equips you with abilities to track your visitors, conversions, and target those visitors who dropped off in the conversion funnel.

 

Rogue: Competitive Intelligence for Display Ads

 

Rogue

Photo Credit

 

The Super Power: Rogue’s competencies make her very strong as she absorbs powers, memories, and personalities through skin-to-skin contact.  Prolonged contact with others can cause her to permanently absorb their traits and potentially kill them.  Many have described her strengths as the ability to steal the enemy’s powers and use these forces against them.  This is exactly what competitive intelligence for display ads can do for your marketing campaigns.

 

How To Own It:  If you’re like Rogue, you’re already using MixRank to spy on your competitors’ display ads, placements, and landing pages.  Now all you need to do is absorb this powerful data to your advantage.  Similar to Rogue’s prolonged contact capabilities, MixRank provides powerful insights that you can use over long periods of time for display advertising, search engine marketing, search engine optimization, conversion optimization, and much more.  So whether you want to create more compelling ad copy, scale out on keywords, optimize for winning landing pages or generate new traffic through link building, MixRank’s competitive intelligence data will certainly gear you up to exert Rogue’s wondrous abilities of absorbing your competitors’ skills, powers and traits.

 

Have any online marketing strategies that are related to these super powers? Let me know in the comments which character’s powers you’ve used in the past, and how you were able to own it.

 

Thanks for reading! If you liked this post and want to read more posts from this series, follow me on Twitter or add me to your G+ circles for updates.

Cut Your Costs 90% by Scaling Laterally Across Audiences

Say you have a campaign that’s been moderately successful for some time. Your creatives and targeting are relevant to your audience, and you’re getting a steady flow of conversions profitably. But, after some time, your campaign will invariably being to saturate the market. You’ll see conversion rates begin to drop and costs slowly rise, while traffic remains flat. This happens to everyone. Online marketing wouldn’t be much fun if we could just throw up a single successful campaign and sit on our asses collecting checks for the rest of our dats.

How do you scale the campaign up to more traffic and stop the regression to lower profits?

One way might be to expand your ad groups or targeting and find more keywords that will do as well as your existing ad groups.

Finding lateral keywords(keywords that describe the same term in a different way)  has been a well documented and successful strategy, especially in the early days of search marketing, when a marketer armed with a thesaurus and a good imagination could build massive campaigns.

But adding more keywords to a campaign is merely a band-aid, a short term fix that won’t solve the core problem of an audience that has gotten tired of what you’re selling.

I’d like to describe a new strategy that I have used very successfully to grow new campaigns as well as breathe new life into stagnant old ones. I call this strategy scaling to lateral audiences.

Just as lateral keywords are closely semantically related to the original keyword (i.e “meet single women” and “online dating sites”), lateral audiences are closely related based on their core attributes- their fundamental needs, desires, and problems.

In other words, if your product solves a problem for a specific group of people, thinking in terms of laterally related audiences would help you find more people like them, that also have a need for your product.

To illustrate the power of lateral audiences, we’re going to walk through an example using a free MixRank account.

Just to take a random example I made up, let’s pretend we’re a company selling gold coins- a growing industry in this economy. This is a very competitive space with lots of advertisers, so we’re going to have to get creative if we want to take some of their traffic for ourselves.

Google’s Traffic Estimator shows that the keyword “buy gold coins” has a very high average CPC for position 1 of $10.10. To get this data, I set the average CPC in the Traffic Estimator to an absurdly high number like $1000 to make sure I get the absolute highest bid for this keyword.

Let’s find a way to get a similar audience, one who’s interested in buying gold, less expensively. All we have to do to start is initiate a search from the MixRank home page and find a relevant advertiser whose strategies we can study. Let’s just search for our keyword and click on the first suggestion:

Lateral-1

The search results will show us a few ads that are highly relevant to the keyword we searched for. I can already see one lateral audience here- several of the ads say “Buy silver coins”.

It’s important to be mindful of the distinction between keywords and audiences here. Lateral keywords for this theme would be phrases like “buy gold bullion” or “buy gold bars”. In other words, they describe the same product in a different way. “Buy silver coins” describes a different product but targets a lateral audience that has similar fundamental desires- in this case the desire to own precious metal. This desire could further be reduced to a core drive for security, financial stability, greed, etc.

The keyword “buy silver coins” has an average CPC of $4.92. Still high, but a significant improvement in targeting the same audience.

Let’s find out which core desire it is based on the current advertising strategies of the market’s leaders. From the search results page, I’m going to pick what looks to be the current leader in this space, “goldine.com”. I can see more data about them by clicking on that domain in the “Advertiser” column on the far right.

The Advertiser Report for goldine.com will show me their highest performing ads and traffic sources. You can also reach this report simply by typing their domain, “goldline.com” into any search box.

Looking through their text ads, I’m noticing a common phrase that’s consistent across all of their split tests: “Free Investor Kit”:

Lateral-2

They’ve probably tested many different positioning strategies and found that presenting gold as an investment is the strongest appeal. Here’s another lateral niche audience: people who are looking to buy gold as an investment (as opposed to collectors seeking gold for numismatic purposes, etc). Google Traffic Estimator shows that the keyword “invest in gold” has a max CPC of $8.87. This high number is encouraging, because it means that this is a valuable, high converting audience.

$8.87 is a bit rich for us- if we were running a campaign targeting this theme, I would probably see my margins plummet as I get squeezed out by competitors with bigger budgets.

But remember our other, related audience of silver buyers? “buy silver coins” was significantly cheaper than “buy gold coins”, so I would expect this pattern to hold across other, related keywords centered around buying silver.

Indeed, “invest in silver” has a maximum CPC of $3.71, which is a huge 58% discount from the gold keyword, yet targeting an audience that’s closely related to the original keyword, and one we can be reasonably sure will convert just as well, because they’re interested in buying precious metals as an investment.

But let’s keep going and see if we can cut our traffic costs even further using MixRank’s database of millions of ads.

MixRank’s ad search uses sophisticated matching algorithms that go beyond simply looking for the appearance of keywords in ad copy or landing pages and identifies campaigns that are thematically relevant to the query. For a great example of this, let’s search for our new keyword that we derived from the ad copy we saw goldline.com running- “investing in gold”.

Our goal with these searches is to identify keywords and audiences that don’t match our search query exactly, but are somehow related.

There’s one result that jumps out at me immediately.

Lateral-4

Of course! Some people that are interested in investing in gold are part of the small, but lucrative niche audience of people stocking up for an impending economic collapse. The Ron Paul audience, if you will. Analyzing the ads of advertisers like this one will give us great insight into this market. Let’s make the assumption that people anticipating an economic collapse are highly motivated to turn their paper dollars into gold, which we will be happy to sell to them.

The keyword “economic collapse”, which features prominently in these ads, has a suggested max CPC of $1.02, a 90% discount on our original keyword of “buy gold coins”, which cost over $10 a click.

An inexperienced marketer will suggest that “economic collapse” is a bad keyword to target, because it doesn’t show intent and is not a “buying keyword”, so it will not convert as well. But remember, we’re getting this traffic 10 times cheaper!

Let’s say you have a stagnant campaign based around the “buy gold coins” theme that’s barely breaking even. If you target the “economic collapse” keyword, all you have to do is achieve 1/10th your current conversion rate from this audience to get a huge bump in traffic and profits.

“Prepare for impending economic collapse- buy gold!”. The ads practically write themselves.

No thesaurus or keyword tool will tell us that new main keyword, “economic collapse”, is strongly correlated with the keyword we started with, “buy gold coins”. But by using MixRank to pull relevant keywords out of ad copy and searching for thematically relevant ads matching those new keywords, we can quickly identify pockets of opportunity that advertisers without the benefit of this data will miss.

In a later post, I’ll show you how to delve even deeper to identify even less expensive, high converting audiences and leveraging them for a flood of massive traffic. But following the strategy outlined above should be enough to get you started scaling your campaigns across lateral audiences very quickly.

How to keep display ad A/B testing from blowing up in your face

This guest post is by Myles Younger, co-founder of Canned Banners. Canned Banners provides a platform and tools for automating and streamlining display ad design. Follow the company on Twitter at @cannedbanners.

Online advertisers, especially search marketers, understand the power of A/B testing. In search, the most successful advertisers will constantly A/B test hundreds of different ads. With the recent growth in display advertising, it’s logical for online marketers to try and apply their A/B testing expertise to the world of display.

However, data-driven marketers should be careful before diving into display advertising. This post is going to explain some key differences between search ads and display ads, and offer some tips on how to keep your display ad design budget (and your sanity) under control when you’re doing large-scale A/B tests.

Notes: I’m not including Facebook ads when I say “display ads.” That could be a whole other blog post, and I’m not really qualified to write it. Nor am I considering landing page optimization, which is a critical factor in ad testing, but I needed to keep my focus limited.

Search ads are simple. Display ads are complex.

Before we go further, it’s important to appreciate just how much more complex a display ad is versus a search ad. Here’s some rough math to give you an idea of the difference in complexity:

Why is complexity important? With search ads, your creative palette is constrained to one element: text. With display ads, you could potentially test an infinite variety of elements: text, color, imagery, fonts, animation, button style, etc. So while it’s almost impossible to create an “ugly” search ad, it’s very, very easy to make poor choices and create an ugly display ad.

Tip #1 — Start with good designs

Even though you might need to test potentially hundreds of different ad variations, don’t cut corners and launch with garbage ad creative. Finding out that Crappy Display Ad A beat Crappy Display Ad B is like learning that horse manure smells slightly better than dog poop. Don’t waste your money & time.

If you think you can randomly test crappy designs and eventually iterate your way to a perfect, beautiful display ad, read the previous graphic again (and maybe study up on how exponents work); the universe won’t be around long enough to perform all the necessary design iterations to hit paydirt. Launch with thoughtful, professional ad designs that you feel good about.

This doesn’t mean you need to spend weeks & weeks designing your first round of ads, but don’t just throw some clipart and tacky text effects into a box and call it a display ad. In general, ugly ads won’t perform very well and they’ll make you and/or your client look bad.

Once you’ve got some solid starting designs, you can go nuts with rapid iteration and experimentation.

And if you don’t know why the ad below on the left is godawful, read the next tip.

Tip #2 — Hire a professional

Most people are horrible designers. If you’re not confident in your design skills, hire someone to design a few templates that you can use. To get some good design ideas, browse around online and find well-designed display ads with layouts that could work well as templates.

And if you want a self-serve solution, that’s what my company does (I’ll leave it up to you to find our competitors and figure out why we’re better).

Tip #3 — Use stock photography

At Canned Banners, we see hundreds of display ads designed by amateurs. What’s the number one thing that ruins otherwise good ads? Bad frikkin’ photography. Do not cut corners and make ads using blurry snapshots from your smartphone. Go to inexpensive stock photo websites like istockphoto.com, thinkstock.com or shutterstock.com and buy high-quality photos taken by professional photographers.

Extra Tip-within-a-Tip: Most stock photo websites sell subscriptions. They can be pricey, but if you’re doing high-volume A/B testing, a subscription or package deal is going to be much cheaper than buying images one at a time.

Stock photo websites are also a quick source of design variations that you can test. Running a campaign for a real estate company? Use one ad template and buy 50 good real estate images (the nice house, the “for sale” sign, the happy homeowner couple, the happy agent, etc), throw them in your ads, and see which photos perform best.

That’s enough tips…for now

I could keep going for several more pages, but if you’ve read this far, thanks! I hope these tips give you some food for thought. If you have any questions about display ad design, email me here or follow @cannedbanners on Twitter.

Cheers!
Myles

Traffic Triage

Chasing down profitable traffic sources can be a black hole consuming all of your time and money. The problem is that almost all paid traffic campaigns start off losing money; to build a campaign, you need to spend money collecting data on what works, and then optimize towards profitability from there.But not all campaigns end up profitable either, no matter how much you optimize them. So, one of the marketer’s biggest challenges is figuring out which traffic sources are actually worth pursuing, and which ones will never become profitable and will only consume your time and money. You have a limited budget, and you need to make sure you’re making it count and not spending it on a wild goose chase. Here’s how.

How to Allocate Marketing Spend

The trick to allocating your marketing effectively is implementing some kind of traffic source triage system. When encountering a new traffic source, you want to be able to quickly and consistently categorize it into a low, medium, or high priority group, before spending any time or money testing it. You don’t have to be 100% correct for this process. After all, you never know how something is going to work until you test it. You just have to be good enough to set priorities and build up a bankroll from stable, profitable traffic sources that you can use to offset your losses from testing riskier, lower priority ones.A lot of the skills needed to accurately identify traffic sources will only come with experience. But you can get 80% of the way there and avoid the more egregious mistakes by following a few simple rules.

Three Questions You Need to Ask Yourself About Any Traffic Source

When evaluating a potential traffic source, I always ask three questions that let me easily determine how much time and money I want to apply towards mastering it.

  1. Is there enough volume?
  2. Is the traffic cheap enough?
  3. Does the traffic convert well enough?

It’s important to remember that the answers to these questions are not binary. They fall on a continuum. They’re intentionally vague. There are no hard and fast rules until you test, just guesses. Let’s look at each one of them in more detail.

Is there enough volume?

This question is fairly straightforward to answer. Your rep at the ad network should be able to tell you how much daily traffic you can expect from the average campaign. But you should always do your own research too.Look at the Alexa/Quantcast/Compete rank of both their homepage and their tracking URLs to get a sense how much traffic passes through the network. Do the same for any domains you see advertised on the network. Are there mostly new, low traffic advertisers(bad) or established, successful advertisers(good) on this network?If you’re evaluating an ad network, take a look at some of the publishers running with this ad network. Are this ad network’s banners the only ads on the page(good), or are you competing for attention with a cluttered field of many different ads(bad)? What’s the traffic volume of some of the publishers that seem most relevant to your product?Remember, you’re only looking to estimate volume for traffic that has at least some chance of converting for you. So if you only sell to the US, inquire about US traffic volume only.

Is the traffic cheap enough?

This question is a bit more fluid, but in general some traffic sources, keywords, and verticals are much less expensive than others.Take a look at who’s buying traffic on this network currently. What are they selling? Low margin products like commodity physical goods, or high margin financial products? How much do you think they can afford to pay for traffic? Put their domains into the Google Keyword Tool and take a look at the bids they would need to pay on search to get this kind of traffic.How competitive is this traffic source? That may mean this traffic is higher converting and more desirable, but also more expensive.

Does the traffic convert well enough?

This is the big one. If the traffic converts well enough, it really doesn’t matter how expensive it is(as long as you’re paying less per click than your CLV). Even the volume doesn’t matter as much, because you can use a very relevant, highly profitable but low volume traffic source as a laboratory to test new ideas for creatives and landing pages without fear of losing money. You can then replicate the successes to higher volume but lower margin traffic sources.You may think that it’s impossible to answer this question without actually spending money testing, but it’s actually easier than you think. You can’t answer it precisely without significant data, but you can make some pretty good guesses based on experience and past performance. Think of this a comprehensive due diligence process. To answer this question, you need to start from a broad overview and move to specific details about the competitive landscape.Have you advertised on this traffic source before? What is this ad network’s reputation on blogs and forums? Has anyone written a case study about this traffic source? Does the majority of their traffic come from wealthy countries(good) or third world countries(bad)? How do they get their traffic? Are their users incentivized to view ads(bad) or click on them(VERY bad) or do they have other quality content(good)?Then you can move to studying specifics. Who is advertising here currently, big brands(bad) or direct response advertisers(good)? Is the same advertiser buying traffic on here consistently(good) or are new advertisers constantly showing up and disappearing(bad)? Do you see the same creatives used consistently(good), or are advertisers constantly trying new creatives because they aren’t getting clicks(bad)?Check the demographics of the ad network and advertisers’ domains. Do they match the demographics of your customers? Are there any advertisers with the same business model as you(e.g. sale of physical goods, freemium, etc) running on this network? Any advertisers in the same industry? Any direct competitors?

Decide Fast

This may seem like an unnecessarily lengthy process when the key to traffic triage is making snap decisions. But spending a couple hours studying a traffic source is well worth it compared to the months of pain chasing low quality traffic will cause you. Besides, with experience, you will come to internalize this process, and it will become second nature. That’s when you can start raking in the big bucks as a marketing consultant 🙂By the way, we’re working on software to automate answering many of the questions above. Leave your email below and you’ll be the first to get an invite to our private beta.

Startup Marketing Lessons Learned Part 2: AdWords is Only the Beginning

I recently had the pleasure of assisting over 150 Hacker News members with marketing their startups. I was surprised to learn that I was giving the same advice over and over again. I’m collecting the most specific, actionable and useful marketing advice for startups in a 3 part series. This is part 2.Last time, we discussed marketing fundamentals you needed to get right before beginning to drive traffic to your project. I hope you’ve implemented some of those suggestions into your product marketing.I don’t want this blog to consist solely of vague textbook marketing advice. This week, we’re going deeper and diving right into specific methods you can use right now to generate a stream of interested customers for your startup. Let’s get started.

Test and Track Everything

…advertising is traced down to the fraction of a penny. The cost per reply and cost per dollar of sale show up with utter exactness. One ad is compared with another, one method with another. Headlines, settings, sizes, arguments and pictures are compared. To reduce the cost of results even one percent means much in some mail order advertising. So no guesswork is permitted. One must know what is best.

Can you guess which AdWords guru wrote the words above?That quote is from the seminal work Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins, written in the 1920s. You would think that, 80 years later, people would realize the importance of tracking, especially with how easy modern analytics software makes it.And yet, startup after startup is creating ads that link to their homepage, without any tracking variables appended. They can only guess if their ads are effective, and they’re collecting exactly zero data.Any ad campaign, even if it’s set up by an expert, will probably start out losing money. When you launch an ad campaign, you’re not just paying for customers, you’re paying for data about what works and what doesn’t, tested in the marketplace.As you collect data and optimize, the campaign will eventually pull into the black. But if you’re not collecting click and conversion data, you’ll never know what you need to optimize, and you’ll continue bleeding money forever.Don’t just track based on which campaign gets the highest CTR. You need to drill down to the individual ad and keyword level, and track both CTR and conversion rate for each ad. This is done by appending a unique id to the URL of each ad variation. If you can’t tell me exactly which headline is bringing you the most loyal customers, you’re doing it wrong. If you track everything down to the ad level, you’ll be able to know exactly where your most profitable customers are coming from. This is especially critical for recurring billing/subscription services, which many startups are. Again, optimize for CLV.Setting up tracking is super easy. Google Analytics has a simple URL Builder you can use to append tracking variables to any link. You’ll want to focus on the utm_term and utm_campaign variables.If you want even better, more customizable, real-time data, my friends at MixPanel are happy to help.If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this:Track Everything Now. Every second you’re not tracking, you’re losing money.

Search Is Just The Tip of the Iceberg

Here’s an example of what the typical startup founder told me about their marketing campaign:

Out startup sells time tracking software for dog walkers. We’re already advertising online. We’re bidding on “dog walker time tracking” on Google Search and getting 3 clicks and 0 conversions a day. How do we get more traffic?

It’s not surprising that you’re not getting lots of traffic, because you’re stuck in a search-only mindset. You can thank Google’s excellent branding for that, because they would love to have you believe that the only way to get customers online is through buying search keywords.Here’s the truth about advertising online: most of your traffic and customers will not come from search. They will come from social networks(more on that soon) and other sites- and I don’t mean just the Google Content Network. Want to know a cheap, high volume traffic source your competitors aren’t using? Two words: media buys. Yes, I’m talking about banner ads and yes, they still work.You don’t have to have a big budget to start buying banner ad space. Start approaching smaller blogs in your niche, and offer to pay them a fixed amount to paste your ad code into their site for a month. Again, track everything.When you do a simple media buy, you don’t have to worry about maintaining a high CTR or relevance between ads and landing pages, you just need to get enough clicks and conversions to stay profitable.I’ll have a post exclusively about media buying coming soon, but for now, start looking around and negotiating. You’ll be amazed at the great deals and cheap traffic you can find.

Competitor Bidding Works, Take it To The Next Level

Bidding on the names of competitors on search is an effective tactic. You’re reaching customers who are at a later stage of the buying cycle. They already know they need your product or service, and now they’re just comparing the alternatives and reading reviews before committing to a purchase. Let your competitors spend money educating the market and finding qualified prospects, then snatch the customer from their grasp when he’s about to buy.[pullshow]Competitor bidding is a good start, but it’s only a start. Here’s how you can easily and inexpensively outfox your competitors on most traffic sources:[pullthis]Don’t stop at search. Follow competitors’ ads around the web.[/pullthis] Search for competitor names, features, products, etc, or get their keywords from a keyword research tool. Look at the search results for their name and main keywords. Are there any sites there that have AdSense? Any blogs that have written reviews of a competitor’s product? Those are all prime advertising opportunities.Approach them directly and offer to buy banner space, either on the whole blog or just on that specific post. Prospective customers searching for information about competitors will instead come across ads for your product, and some will inevitably convert. If you see a competitor’s ads on an AdSense block on a page, you’ve found a fantastic traffic source. Approach the webmaster and offer to buy a banner ad to replace the AdSense. You’ll be able to pay the webmaster more for the space because Google isn’t taking their 30% cut, so it should be a no brainer for them to accept your offer. Now not only have you cut off a competitor from a lucrative traffic source, but you’ve also uncovered a proven source of converting traffic. Repeat this enough, and you’ll be able to completely dominate your competitors outside of search while spending less than them.

Start Retargeting Right Away

Retargeting is the practice of showing ads to people who have already visited your site(but probably didn’t convert). Retargeting is very cost effective, and delivers incredibly high-converting traffic, because you’re only paying for impressions shown to people who have expressed an interest in your product. When building a retargeting campaign, create banners that prominently feature your name, logo, and color scheme. People who have seen that design before will notice and click. There are two easy ways you can use retargeting right away:AdWords has a retargeting option you can turn on for a campaign. Or, for greater reach, AdRoll has an easy self-serve retargeting system that ties into major ad networks. You just add their pixel to your site, they leave a cookie, and show banner ads that follow your visitors around the web, g
ently yet firmly reminding them to sign up for your site.There is so much involved in getting traffic online. I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible. If nothing else, I hope this post has inspired you to explore other traffic sources with tracked, tested, creative campaigns. Next week: I show you how to easily increase your current traffic tenfold, discuss advanced optimization tactics to squeeze more out of your current campaigns, and finish with a little-known traffic tip I’ve never told anyone before.