Whether you're an online publisher or advertiser, the world of digital marketing can seem like a daunting Byzantine system of visitor paths, banner ads, and keyword-optimization jujitsu.
Advertising has come a long way since the days when half-page newspaper ads dominated the industry. Now, every tiny movement of a customer's search for products or their navigation through a site can be tracked and ties into an ad's efficiency. Lucky for even the most luddite entrepreneur, a new wave of ad management and placement software and systems have emerged that can make handling ad flow almost as simple as updating a Facebook page.
"I think too often with folks, they're not aware that these ad systems out there have the ability of actually drilling down that far," says John McCarthy, director of search engine optimization for WebMetro, an internet marketing company based in San Dimas, California.
The trick, according to online advertising specialists, is to know how to best finesse your system so you're getting the most bang for your buck. Experts offer these tips:
Managing Your Online Advertising: Assess Your Inventory
Inventory in this case means the amount of available ad space on your site. It also mean your fitness as an advertising venue. Ad placement companies look for three standard sizes for digital advertising, says Sean Keaveny, senior vice president of adConductor, a company that helps build and manage online ad networks, and is based in Burlington, Massachusetts; New York City; and Los Angeles. For the leaderboard or top ad space, the standard is 728 x 90 pixels; an in-article box ad should be sized 300 x 250 pixels; and a left or right panel ad should be 160 x 600 pixels.
But before adConductor or similar firms will even start providing you with ads, they submit your site to an audit process to make sure it fits their needs. That means no offensive material, no inappropriate links, and enough content to warrant advertisers' investment.
"We want to attract a really high quality brand advertisers to our network," Keaveny says. You can also set up your standards for what ads you want to run: if you're a family site, for instance, you can filter out alcohol or gambling messages in favor of ones that target your audience more directly.
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Managing Your Online Advertising: Integrate Your Ad Management System Into Your Business
The early days of web advertising were rather low-tech — and subsequently rather inefficient. Companies used to keep track of ads on paper spreadsheets and Microsoft Word documents. Reports on ad performance and traffic were faxed or e-mailed to the office once a week.
"Now it's much more complicated between the volume of advertising and ads being run in different formats," says Tom Pace, CEO of Solbright, a global company that specializes in advertising workflow technology. "It's gone way beyond text and rich media."
The difference now is real-time data, instant transparency and detailed analytics. That means your entire ad management team should have access to the system to see traffic reports, updated ad sales information, and planned run dates. With that info shared through a common system with the sales department, the general manager and the web team, you eliminate the possibility of double-booking an ad space or disappointing clients with less prominent advertising, Pace says. Systems also send out reminders: if you haven't received an ad a week before it's due, a reminder alert will let the sales and creative teams know the deadline is approaching.
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Managing Your Online Advertising: Track All of Your Traffic, All of the Time
The real-time information available through digital advertising systems allows you to monitor minute-by-minute effectiveness of your ads. For advertisers, that means seeing who's purchasing your product, what search terms they used and what sites they visited to get there. For publishers, it means tracking who's coming to your home page, what they seem to be looking for and how much interest the ads on your site create.
"In the future, a media manager is going to need to be much analytical than they are today," says Xuhui Shao, chief technology officer at Turn, a digital advertising firm based in Silicon Valley that specializes in providing a platform for managing data-driven digital advertising.
McCarthy of WebMetro recommends that, in addition to using a statistics counter like Google Analytics, advertisers should even have a separate phone number attached to their online advertising. One phone number doesn't make it easy to sort out traffic sources, he says.
"From a campaign tracking perspective, it's really devastating," he says. "One can't really understand the effectiveness of one particular campaign over another."
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Managing Your Online Advertising: Tweak Your System Frequently.
Digital ad management allows for almost constant fine-tuning of ad schemes for both publishers and advertisers.
For advertisers, some systems will let you set up criteria for desired ad space. This specification is needed for the instant trading nature of ad space that makes the ad market seem more like the New York Stock Exchange.
"It's all done automatically. In real-time bidding, you have only milliseconds to make those decision," Shao says. "You really make those adjustments every second."
A system's dashboard also allows advertisers to adjust the frequency of their ads. In the old days, advertisers couldn't control how many times a message appeared before Web users.
"It's not only annoying but also it's a waste of money," McCarthy says.
Now they can stagger ads, adjust the frequency or rotate campaigns with the click of a button.
It also allows for better budgeting. For publishers, that means being able to see how much advertising revenue is coming in on a daily basis. For advertisers, that means seeing how effective your ads are at reaching goals and whether your campaign needs to be modified.
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Managing Your Online Advertising: Know Your Audience – and Your Limits
Web advertising has its benefits, but you've got to make sure your site or product is in the right category first. Keaveny of adConductor says it's important for publishers to categorize their site correctly and make sure they have a clear idea of what kinds of advertisers they're trying to attract. Branding it with overly general terms won't attract the best ads, but being too specific will leave out revenue opportunities.
"We have to make sure your site ends up in the right channels to get the best highest paid advertising," he says.
For advertisers, McCarthy says a system lets you make sure you have an appropriate mix of advertising. You should keep track of how much money you're putting into buying an audience. He cites an example of a client who was selling diet pills and wanted to try to monetize a certain set of keyword phrases. The market is saturated with too may other diet pill ads, so trying to buy a keyword search for the product would be grossly inefficient, he says.
"You can't monetize that better than the next guy," he says. "Once in a while I'll tell people: 'You shouldn't do this right now.'"
Instead, he advises a client in that situation to track other search term buys, such as for a specific ingredient, or to focus on social media marketing.
"A lot of the entrepreneurs that I talk to, they tend to forget this is a mix," he says. "It's not just one campaign that saves the day."
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