Search Mentality + Network Buying = Confused Expectations

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One of my favorite inventions of the 20th Century is the ATM: it’s simple, it’s instant, and it limits the problem of lines and pesky people to deal with. (I can be a bit anti-social so this suits me fine.) I like to think of buying search advertising as a lot like using an ATM machine. There are now well over 200,000 unique advertisers in the field who are actively using their credit cards to bid on and enjoy the immediate gratification that comes from instant targeting, traffic, and actions.

But as it becomes clear that search doesn’t really scale very large, more and more search advertisers who have only cut their teeth on search marketing have begun to seek out traffic from ad networks like 24/7 Real Media, Advertising.com and Cydoor Desktop Media. Happy as these ad networks are to have the business, this trend is also opening up a whole can of misguided expectations that need to be set straight.

As I’ve discussed in past articles, the easy admin. interfaces and instant credit card buying now available for search advertising simplify matters greatly for buyers, allowing advertisers to make decisions and adjustments on the fly-easy stuff. But working with a traditional ad network remains more like visiting the bank teller or representative than it does the trusty ATM: you may get more interactive personal attention with the teller, but the process requires more time, patience and effort.

The first unrealistic expectation that carries over from search to network is the notion of being able to run a test and then attempting to cancel it after a $500 investment. While you may be able to buy a few keyword clicks for $500 and make some statistical decisions from there, this is very unlikely to happen on an ad network. Ad networks are like combination locks that require money, time and effort to find the spots that work. And you will definitely have to spend more money on an ad network to come to those conclusions. The upside to that, however, is that there’s likely to be a greater reward when you do invest.

The second unrealistic expectation that ad networks suffer from is the idea that campaigns can be turned on and off very quickly over a very short period of time, even a day. For an ad network to achieve any results, advertisers need to understand that this is essentially impossible. Ad networks apply optimization routines and account management of the various creatives, placements, and formats in order to set up a successful campaign. Rapid opening and closing simply doesn’t allow everyone to make their best efforts at overall optimization.

The last and most challenging expectation is targeting. While many ad networks offer many levels of targeting, it’s unlikely you will be able to achieve micro keyword level targeting. Most ad network targeting is categorical and contextual by nature. These categories and placements tend to be more high level than keywords, and also will deliver more volume.

Ad Networks are extremely powerful traffic generators, and when worked with closely and properly tested, they have the ability to scale bigger and be more successful than search. But they are also their own beast to tame, and it’s unfortunate that many search advertisers are applying the same expectations and methods to them-leaving behind a lot of unhappy buyers and missed opportunities in the marketplace. I hope that ad network advertising sales executives will make a more concerted effort to appropriately set expectations and help search advertisers make the most of ad networks. It is an effort from which the entire industry will stand to gain.

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