They say too much of a good thing is bad for you. It’s safe to say that the most popular method of online advertising is the use of the contextual pay-per-click network. True, pay-per-click advertising is growing at an unprecedented rate. True, it’s an effective per-action payment scheme that’s near impossible to match in any other medium. But if you’re an advertiser who buys into the hype and relies exclusively on pay-per-click advertising to promote your product and/or service, you’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’.
Since ancient times, military generals have known that you can increase an army’s effectiveness by combining several types of fighting units together to capitalize on their combined strengths and reinforce their individual weaknesses. This same combined-arms approach is important to consider when you plan out your advertising strategy. It depends on your target audience, but in the world of advertising it’s rarely prudent to specialize in one type.
Every form of advertising has weaknesses, even a form as grand as pay-per-click. For example, there may be a large chunk of your customer base that simply doesn’t make it a habit of clicking on ads. There are also problems with fake clicks from unscrupulous competitors or website publishers who want to either drive up your advertising costs, or squeeze a little extra cash out of the network. I know pay-per-click is a payment method, and a lot of the weaknesses I describe in the following paragraphs pertains to pay-per-impression ads too. But when most people think of “pay-per-click,” they think of network-based advertising.
According to a study released by Outsell, pay-per-click advertisers are spending an extra 14.6% of their budget on fraudulent clicks. That’s a large chunk of change. If your online ad budget is $20,000, and you’re spending 100% of it on pay-per-click advertising, this in turn means $2,920 of your money is going absolutely nowhere. But if you diversify and spend only 30% of your $20,000 budget on pay-per-click ads, then you’re only spending $876 as the cost of doing business. If Outsell is right, and click fraud really does cost a full 14.6%, then it would be wise to find the proper balance between pay-per-click and non-pay-per-click advertising so your budget is operating as efficiently as possible.
One weakness of banners and text advertising itself is ad blindness. It’s entirely possible for ads to be situated on a site in positions where visitors may not even notice them, let alone click on them. The problem is compounded with a pay-per-click network like Google’s AdWords. If you can’t afford the time to target sites you know, your ads may well end up on a site where the publisher simply doesn’t know how to optimize ad placement. Or worse, one of those spam link sites that no one ever visits.
Contextual ads can be subject to placement blunders. For example, last year the website of the San Jose Mercury News ran a story about the arrest of a group of sex-traffickers that operated out of massage parlors. In a nasty little blunder, the AdSense ads on the site displayed ads for local massage parlors. Granted, Google’s ad placement algorithm has probably been improved much since last year (a year in internet years is like 3 in the real world), but when you trust your ad placement to a machine, you loose the objectivity of plain human common sense. I doubt many of the folks who read that article were interested in getting a massage.
Pop up ads have some major weaknesses. Despite having awesome click-through rates when they were first introduced in the 90’s, the sheer annoyance of popups and their prolific use by spammers and spyware companies has not only made tech-savvy internet users wary, but now all three major browsers: Firefox, IE7, and Opera 9, have popup-blockers built-in. Even though I think it’s good to have many different tools in your ad toolbox, popups are probably not worth your money.
There’s a lot more to advertising that pay-per-click campaigns. There’s paid sponsorships, search engine marketing, cross-media campaigns, viral marketing, microsites, and corporate blogging. Each industry has different nuances. (A contextual ad-based campaign might be a smash hit for a media or entertainment business, but it might be an abysmal failure for a lumber yard.) The combined arms strategy you deploy will depend mostly on the people you’re advertising for and selling to.
Try it out. See if it clicks for you.