Digital display advertising: (Still) looking like the weakest online promo tactic.

untitledI’ve blogged before about the lack of engagement with online banner advertising, and as time goes on … the picture doesn’t change much at all.

When you break it down, online banner advertising is a bust on several levels:

 

  • As of the most recent stats, clickthrough rates on online banner advertising are running about 0.08%. That translates to fewer than one click for every 1,000 times the ad is served.

 

  • Based on current pricing for online banner ads, that one click might be costing anywhere from $5 to $10 (and it might have even been an accidental click).

 

Despite these “inconvenient truths,” nearly two-thirds of digital ad spending continues to go to online banner advertising based on a “cost per impression” pricing model. Why?

One answer is that it’s an easy way to advertise a product or service. Simply supply ad creative to the publisher and let it be served online.

Another may be that advertisers consider banner advertising to be a basic component of any promotional campaign: prepare a mix of direct marketing, some search engine marketing, some print advertising and some digital display advertising, and you’re off to the races.

A third reason — related to the one above and I suspect one big reason why so much digital display advertising persists in the B-to-B realm in particular — is that publishers who offer a suite of promo tactics as part of a specially priced integrated program always throw in digital display advertising as part of the mix. It becomes the default option for advertisers as they approve bundled programs and the discount rates that come along with them.

Here’s a suggestion for advertisers going forward: Push back a bit and ask publishers to come up with alternative program options that don’t include digital display advertising.  The revised program might not look as promising at first blush, but then remember the stats above and you may well see the attributes of the alternative program in a more positive light.

Google Comes Clean on Ad Viewability (or Non-Viewability?)

clear view or no clear viewThere have been quite a few reports in recent times pointing to the lack of viewability of online display advertising, and I’ve blogged about this topic before.

And now, we have the $55-billion “advertising vacuum-cleaner company” Google itself admitting as much.

It comes in a study that Google has just released.  The report presents findings from its analysis of display ad programs using its “active view” technology (like DoubleClick) to determine which factors are affecting the viewability of ads.

The results aren’t pretty; more on that below.

But first … why is Google doing this?

I suspect it’s because more advertisers are now insisting on paying only for their ads that have been actually viewed, as compared to those simply served.

Now, to what Google is reporting.  It turns out that fewer than half of all ad impressions served on Google’s display platforms are ever seen, because they’re served outside of the viewer’s browser window.

That is correct:  A huge chunk of Google’s billions in ad revenues that it collects come from ads that no one ever saw.

What digital advertising platforms love to remind us is that their programs are superior to “bad old television and radio advertising” because of their sophisticated targeting capabilities and their superior measurement metrics.

That may be.  But how is it all that different for TV viewers to miss an ad because they took a kitchen or bathroom break, compared to people who never even had the opportunity to see an ad that was “served” in a dead zone?

The next question is, “What can advertisers do to help minimize the incidence of phantom online advertising?”

Helpfully, Google provides some clues in its report.  For instance, the highest viewability for ads is immediately above the “fold” – in other words, at the point where the viewer must begin to scroll down to see the rest of the page.

Surprisingly, viewability right above the fold is slightly higher than at the very top of the page.  But it’s massively less so just below that magic spot.  Google pressented five charts in its report to illustrate this drop-off phenomenon; the one reproduced below shows viewability of vertical position ads sized 728 x 90 pixels:

Average viewability by vertical position on online ads

 

Less surprising, perhaps, is the fact that vertical ads have higher viewability than horizontal or block ads, for the simple reason that they stay on the page longer:

Most viewable online display ad sizes

 

By publishing this data, Google purports to want to help their advertisers understand high- and low-value inventory better so they can target their campaigns more appropriately and effectively.

Google is also encouraging publishers to strive for delivering viewability rates in excess of 50% by offering ad inventory that will perform more effectively in its respective positions.

My only question is … why has it taken Google so long to set these standards and to publicize them in the first instance?

Sure, Google’s only the middleman between publishers and their viewers.  But it’s a pivotally important one.

The [dis]connect between content “quality” and online advertising.

Jack Marshall
Digiday’s Jack Marshall

I really appreciate the work of Jack Marshall, a reporter at marketing e-zine Digiday, who is helping to expose and explain the “brave new world” of online display advertising and how it has evolved into something that’s rife with problems.

ad exchangesConsider a recent column of Marshall’s titled “Is this the worst site on the Internet?”

In it, he notes that for “legitimate” online publishers that rely on advertising as their revenue model, that model is becoming a more daunting proposition with each passing day.

And a big reason is the emergence of other websites that are “gaming” the online system – not to mention the ad tech middlemen that are their willing accomplices.

Essentially, what’s happening is that ad dollars are being siphoned away from websites that provide professionally produced content and are going to sites that are explicitly constructed to serve up as many ad impressions as possible.

These sites contain little or no original content.

Marshall’s “Exhibit A” is Georgia Daily News, a website which purports to cover “news, traffic, sports, politics, entertainment, gossip and local events in Atlanta.”

As Marshall contends, “What it actually features is content ‘curated’ from elsewhere on the web, and some it has simply stolen from other major news sites” such as the Daily Mail.

Sizable chunks of the website’s content have nothing to do with Atlanta.

GADailyNews home pageConsidering the type of general news site it purports to be, GADailyNews.com doesn’t attract very much traffic at all.  And why would it? — since it contains precious little information of value or interest to anyone who is actually “seeking news about Atlanta.”

But it sure does generate a lot of ad impressions.  According to Marshall, each article page on the site features seven display ad units – all of which refresh every 20 seconds or so.

In the two-minute span of time it took him to read an article about Katy Perry and John Mayer (content copied from an Australian news site), Marshall was served more than 40 ad impressions.

Marshall continues:

“One page has served me nearly 500 ads in just 20 minutes – and I couldn’t stop refreshing them even if I wanted to.”

[And these ads aren’t for B-list advertisers, either.  They’re for brands like American Airlines, Hilton Hotels, Charles Schwaab and others.]

What’s happening here, of course, is that websites and ad tech middlemen have figured out that the algorithms of even the “quality” ad vendors like Google, AdRoll, and Bizo can be gamed pretty easily to serve ads on a low-quality site like Georgia Daily News, which is owned by a single-person entity called Integrated News Media Corporation.

It’s hardly the type of media vehicle that big-brand advertisers would normally wish to use for advertising.  But thanks to the vagaries and complexity of the ad exchange landscape, they are.

For every Georgia Daily News site, there are hundreds of others like it that cobble together seemingly valuable content with a passably convincing set of audience characteristics.

Put it together, and it adds up to problems on two levels.

First, advertisers are paying for impressions that are near-worthless.

Second, since there are finite ad dollars available, legitimate online publishers are losing out on those funds, which are far more important to their well-being than they are for sites that don’t engage in any true journalism at all.

As Jack Marshall concludes:

“Thanks to fraudulent traffic, dubious sites and middlemen with low quality standards, life is only getting harder for those publishers with expensive content teams to support.”

Online Display Ad Effectiveness: Skepticism Persists

Online Display AdvertisingAs the variety of options for online advertising have steadily increased over the years, the reputation of display advertising effectiveness has suffered. Part of this is in the statistics: abysmal clickthrough rates on many online display ads with percentages that trend toward the microscopic.

But another part is just plain intuition. People understand that when folks go online, they’re usually on a mission – whether it’s information-seeking, looking for products to purchase, or avocational pursuits.

Simply put, the “dynamic” is different than magazines, television or radio — although any advertiser will tell you that those media options also have their share of challenges in getting people to take notice and then to take action.

The perception that online display advertising is a “bad” investment when compared to search engine marketing is what’s given Google its stratospheric revenue growth and profits in recent years. And that makes sense; what better time to pop up on the screen than when someone has punched in a search term that relates to your product or service?

In the B-to-B field, the knock against display advertising is even stronger than in the consumer realm. In the business world, people have even less time or inclination to be distracted by advertising that could take them away from their mission at hand.

It doesn’t take a swath of eye-tracking studies to prove that most B-to-B practitioners have their blinders on to filter out extraneous “noise” when they’re in information-seeking mode.

This isn’t to say that B-to-B online display advertising isn’t occurring. In fact, in a new study titled Making Online Display Marketing Work for B2B, marketing research and consulting firm Forrester Research, Inc. reports that about seven in ten B-to-B interactive marketers employ online display advertising to some degree in their promotional programs.

And they do so for the same reasons that compelled these comparnies to advertise in print trade magazines in the past. According to the Forrester report, the primary objectives for online display advertising include:

 Increase brand awareness: ~49% of respondents
 Lead generation: ~46%
 Reaching key target audiences: ~46%
 Driving direct sales: ~41%

But here’s a major rub: Attitudes toward B-to-B online display advertising are pretty negative — and that definitely extends to the ad exchanges and ad networks serving the ads. Moreover, most don’t foresee any increased effectiveness in the coming years.

That may explain why Forrester found that fewer than 15% of the participants in its study reported that they have increased their online display advertising budgets in 2011 compared to 2010 – even as advertising budgets have trended upward overall.

When you look closer at display, there’s actually some interesting movement. Google has committed to a ~$390 million acquisition of display ad company Admeld. And regardless of the negative perceptions that may be out there, Google’s Ad Exchange and Yahoo’s Right Media platforms have created the ability for advertisers to bid on ad inventories based on their value to them.

Moreover, new capabilities make it easier to measure and attribute the impact of various media touchpoints — online display as well as others — that ultimately lead to conversion or sales.

But the negative perceptions about online display advertising continue, proving again that attitudes are hard to change — even in the quickly evolving world of digital advertising.

It’s official: Clickthrough advertising effectiveness on mobile devices is somewhere south of atrocious.

As usage of the Internet on mobile devices like the Apple iPhone has become more prevalent, many businesses have been wondering how important it is for them to cater to these users through the creation of web sites that are optimized for mobile display.

Although creating a mobile version of a web site doesn’t have to be a major undertaking, it is “yet another task” to add to the marketer’s never-ending to-do list. So, just how important is it?

Chitika, Inc., a Massachusetts-based online advertising network, has analyzed the behaviors of “mobilists” and found some interesting results when it comes to their viewing of advertising and taking action. In tracking more than 92 million ad impressions served up by browsers, it turns out that mobile internet users clicked through at a far lower rate than those viewing ads on desktop machines.

How much lower? The overall clickthrough rate for mobilists was 0.48%, compared to a clickthrough rate of 0.84% for non-mobile users. That’s a serious difference, and gets about as far in the basement as you can go.

But why are the numbers so abysmal? More than likely, several factors are at work. First, consider the ways people use their mobile devices. It’s usually because they want to know something immediately … and it’s at times like those that folks are less inclined to get sidetracked by clicking on advertising links. By contrast, the “immediacy” factor with non-mobile devices often isn’t as acute.

Also, consider the load time on mobile devices – rather much slower. For that reason, mobile web content tends to be less informationally rich — or compelling in its appearance — thus decreasing its “stopping” power.

What this means for advertisers is that the key for succeeding in the mobile space is catching consumers at just the right time, not happening to catch them at any time. Easy enough in theory … but would anyone care to volunteer for putting this into practice? Best of luck to you.

From the perspective of the media purveyors, the Chitika findings certainly won’t make their task of attracting additional advertising revenues in the mobile sector any easier. Perhaps that’s why The Wall Street Journal announced last week that, beginning in November, it will be charging mobile users a weekly fee to access its content on mobile devices – and those fees will be charged to WSJ subscribers and non-subscribers both.

It’s further proof that relying on display advertising revenue simply isn’t cutting it as a practical business model in the mobile environment.