Historically, paid search has had a major leg over the other online channels in terms of positive ROI performance. But why is that so? Mainly because of two reasons: high relevancy of ads to the user and a major technological efficiency in the actual media buying. Remember, ROI is not just how much you make but includes the costs involved.
However, what if display ads could become just as relevant and bought in an equally efficient manner? A three-line, paid search text ad is certainly not as impactful a full color, motion banner three or four times the size. When you include video and rich media functionality, it’s obvious that display ads could one day be superior to search ones.
But how does display reach these two goals of high relevancy and efficient buying? It’s these issues that the display community have been trying to tackle and the advances in online display advertising over the last few years towards these goals have been staggering while search has remained fairly stagnant.
Search marketers are also online marketers, and it’s important for us to know what’s happening in other digital media as everything still runs in a single ecosystem. Here are some of the ways display has been advancing that I thought SEM pros might want to hear about:
Say goodbye to static banners. Dynamic creative are banners that are customized to each user for every impression. Instead of building fully fleshed-out ads, the creative agency builds ad templates which can hold a variety of headlines, images, call to actions, buttons, etc. Think of it as Multi-Variant Testing at the ad level. Based on rules set in the system and data collected about the user, the ad units attempt to serve up the most effective creative possible on the fly.
For example, if the system has tracked a user on their site and then is able to show them an ad, it will build a customized ad with products and deals that best match their behavior. Companies such as Tumri, Teracent, and Dapper offer platforms that help in the execution of dynamic creative.
Targeting, Targeting, Targeting!
Although we may be on the verge of the government tracking regulations, the opportunities out there to reach the right user at the right time have come a long way in a few years. Behavioral targeting in the form of retargeting ads to users who have recently visited your site have shown some impressive CTR and conversion rate lifts.
As well, there are companies such as Media6Degrees that provide advanced social targeting for advertisers. Their technology can track your core users and then attempt to retarget to the social connections of those users — the sentimant is that if someone buys U2 tickets, there’s a higher chance that one of their friends may want U2 tickets versus the rest of the online community. That’s an attempt at relevance for sure.
Vertical ad networks
Specific audience segments are hard to reach online, yet these niche ad networks are getting better at delivering the target demographic to advertisers. Vertical ad networks that target tight groups such as mothers, African-Americans, tech enthusiasts, etc. can make sure that a good portion of your ads are delivered to the right audience at scale. The goal here is to make every impression count and not be wasted on irrelevant users.
Ad exchanges, such as Yahoo’s RightMedia exchange, tackle both the relevancy and the efficiency problems. These platforms are very similar to paid search auction-based models with real time bidding on display exposures. Advertisers set bids and targeting rules as exchanges sell publisher inventory on an exposure-by-exposure basis. This creates tremendous technological efficiency, and if the targeting rules are executed well, will serve to highly relevant users. These exchanges have created almost too much efficiency in the “martini and handshake marketplace” and have come under fire as “commoditizing the industry”.
With tens of millions of banners running in an average campaign, there’s a lot of intelligence that can be collected. Companies like comScore, Datran, and Quantcast can provide pixels that piggyback on banners which can report back important demographic data about the users who see and click your ads. In comScore’s case, they have registered panelists that they track and they can provide insight into your audience when their panelists are exposed to your banners. In some cases, your target audience may be much different than you think in terms of gender, age, education level, household income, etc. These insights are invaluable when it comes to media planning, creative direction, and landing page design.
Demand side platforms
With the rise of ad exchanges, the need for platform tools to manage multiple exchange arose. Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) are very similar to search management platforms that allow for centralized management and reporting of multiple engine accounts, but in this case, multiple ad exchange accounts. DSPs also serve as a data hub to bring in third party cookie data for advanced targeting and bidding insight across all exchanges. Some companies that provide DSPs are Turn and Invite Media.
Data exchangers such as Blue Kai and exelate partner with web publishers to track user behavior at very granular levels and then sell that data to advertisers and ad networks to supplement targeting data. For example, a real estate site may have vital data on a user such as what areas they’re interested in to buy a new house, what neighborhoods, what income levels, credit scores, etc. The goal is to keep everyhing anonymous — not to identify the specific person, but rather that same user who is exposed to an advertiser’s media. As explained above, this purchased data makes ad exchanges, dynamic creative, retargeting efforts much more effective channels.
3rd party verification systems
With advertisers funding media purchases, agencies buying, and publishers selling, there are many opportunites for mistakes to be made and fraud to occur. Frankly, it was just a matter of time that third party verfication systems would spring up to provide auditing and security when billions of dollars are at stake. Some companies such as Double Verify and AdSafe provide these services for a nominal fee. Other companies have taken even larger steps including The Media Trust that uses technology to generate tear sheets (screenshots of ads actually running) and RealVu, who have designed ad units which can actually tell if an ad was in the visible section of page and not below the fold.
Bigger ad sizes
As part of an initiative by the Online Publishers Association three new, larger standard ad units were developed and are now being adopted around the web. With monitors getting larger, screen resolutions getting smaller, these larger ads make sense. The same 728×90 pixel ad is, on average, smaller on the screen than it was just a few years ago. To make sure ads have the desired impact they were designed for, these larger ads were needed.
Rich media, the term for banners that go beyond the standard flash limitations, is not new to the web. However, what’s being done with them is. More video, more tabs, more social buttons, etc have literally created ads that are virtual microsites. When users are checking their stocks, reading news, etc, they may not want to click away from the site they’re on just to check out an advertiser’s offer. With these advanced rich meida units, users can stay on the page they’re on while being able to interact with an advertiser.
Certainly, with more than half of all online budgets dedicated to SEM, search marketers don’t have to worry anytime soon that they’ll be out of a job. However, with the advances in display advertising, it’s very possible that the ROI differential gap may shrink as these new tactics and technology become more widely used. As well, even though search volume is constantly on the rise, it will never reach the inventory (i.e. reach) levels that online display can offer.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.