Banners: Back from the Dead


medical_advice_small.jpgADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — When I founded my web design shop in 1995, and throughout the first several years of my involvement in the industry, expensive banner buys on Yahoo were essentially the definition of online marketing. Completely unaccountable and opaque, it was either spend major dollars promoting your sock puppet or sit on the sidelines and scratch your head. Direct marketing dollars kept the post office busy while a new model emerged. That model, starting with, provided direct response marketers with a platform that ultimately would bring us full circle and allow banners to once again ride high.

I remember the day very clearly. I returned to the office from seeing a client and there was a palpable energy in the office. The head of the agency I was now a part of was acting like he had discovered gold. We would find out over the next few years it was pretty close. Our office happened to be a mere block from where GoTo started; and that morning, they had paid us a visit.

The new model of advertising they were pushing seemed to provide what our clients – mainly ones with a direct marketing focus – needed. An opportunity to place small media buys on certain keyword searches, follow the click to the point of conversion or abandonment, and then do the math to determine if that media buy made sense or not. It was transparent, accountable, adjustable, and the beginning of our transformation from an Internet services consultancy to an interactive agency.

Fast forward to today, and I find myself espousing the virtues, and value, of display advertising. Sure, we call it the content networks or contextual advertising, and Google and Yahoo are the ones offering it, but it is display pure and simple. Ads, whether they’re simple text or elaborate banners with multimedia, are placed on a variety of websites where your target audience works, plays, does research and engages with the web. The goal is to funnel them to your website with the hopes of converting them to a meaningful piece of business.

So what changed? Why do we now consider it an essential growth strategy almost everyone should consider? The answer lies in the empowerment that Google has provided. Matter of fact, in the early days of the content networks, we were naysayers. Our clients mainly charge us with direct response goals, and the numbers just were not there. But Google listened. Now, through the performance placement reports, site targeting capabilities and their aggressive discounting based on quality of traffic, incremental revenues are there for the taking.

We recently co-authored a case study with Google about a skin care client that was able to pick up 15% incremental market-share at a 13% lower cost per acquisition. How’s that for direct response prowess! The answer of course is not to simply opt your regular search campaign into content. This move will most surely lead to you joining the chorus of folks who insist content can’t work. Like any new venue, it needs its own strategy.

Different creative messaging is needed because these people didn’t search for you, they stumbled upon you. Different CPC’s are warranted because these clicks will perform differently. Thorough tracking must be in place because some sites will produce clicks but no conversions and others will out-convert search. But it can be quite fun!

Finally, those of us in the highly analytical SEM space can begin to flex the muscle power of the right side of our brain. We’re testing Flash banners with video content, creating new campaigns tied to interactive elements and cultivating new landing page engagements. We’re doing it all bound by strict CPA and ROI goals. Banners are back from the dead!


  1. Well said!

    Another important thing to keep in mind is to vary your creative for your campaigns, similar to what you do for your paid search campaigns. Webusers are tending to ‘tune-out’ banner and display ads more often; so varying your message keeps your look fresh and interesting.

    The next year will propose some exciting changes, and opportunities, for online marketers.

  2. Thanks Ann!

    I agree that the creative plays a critical role. We’re actually testing various banner sizes and designs for clients that aim to make the banner seem like a part of the page they’re appearing on, rather than an ad.

    In any case, testing creative and messaging strategies should be a part of any well run campaign!

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