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The Pitfalls of Wanting ‘More’ and ‘Cheap’ with Online Advertising

When sitting down with clients who are looking to explore online advertising, there are often two main assumptions clients carry with them into the room: it will be cheaper than traditional forms of advertising and they’ll get more of what they want. While both assumptions tend to be true in their simplest forms, the results from cheap and more often tend to be wasteful and irrelevant. That is why it is very important to enter the meeting knowing what more is and what cheap means.

Stepping back

During the past decade, the discussion has been how digital advertising can be tracked and measured, and this makes it more valuable than traditional forms of advertising. In traditional forms, you have a sales representative with a deck showing the demographics and interests of their readers and the reach of their publication. This is knowledge that you don’t pay for directly, but is baked into the price to advertise, increasing the overall cost to place ads in a print publication, radio, or even TV broadcast. You hope their market insight is accurate, but you never really know.

By contrast, digital doesn’t immediately offer that playbook of who will see your ads. Instead, defining the who-what-where of your target audience is your responsibility, and that doesn’t come free. We’ll never argue that attaining better knowledge of your audience is a bad thing. However, digital advertising has its own share of pitfalls and you must be careful where and how you are spending money online.

The payoff comes when you are able to take that new knowledge and target the defined audience online, nurture them through the funnel, and gain a loyal customer or make a sale (conversion). It’s even better when you can complete the cycle and know the cost-per-acquisition. Bottom line, you will get more for your budget, but you’re going to spend the same amount when you factor in time to find your audience.

Let’s start with more.

The most common and broadest expectation is wanting more visits to the website. In terms of the difficulty, it’s one of the easiest and cheapest things you can do with online advertising. But what do those more visits mean to a bottom line? This doesn’t mean getting more website visits during a campaign is a bad thing. In fact, it could help improve your SEO as people discover expertise on your site. However, be cautious about making this your primary goal, as it is just too broad a goal to be effective or to accurately track the results of.

Instead, a valuable more goal could be to generate leads toward a certain product or service, increase subscriptions to a newsletter/blog, or generate more inquiry phone calls. These examples are all trackable and allow campaigns to be optimized as they progress. We call these smart goals, and while you may not get more overall visits, you’ll get more quality traffic.

Talk is cheap. Time isn’t.

This is always a bit harder of a discussion to have, largely in part because there has been a preconceived notion that it’s cheaper to advertise online than through traditional channels. The truth is, it’s only cheaper for brands when they have an established website with strong visitation and a cornered market with a gigantic marketing budget - highly unlikely for a majority of businesses. In reality, budgets are tight, resources are limited, and cheap doesn’t always mean effective. Is paying for nothing ever really cheaper?

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot with the idea that advertising online is cheap. Because of the shift brands have made over the years away from traditional channels of advertising toward more digital, increased costs have followed. Online advertising is no different from any other channel and is at the mercy of market forces. Simply put, the supply isn’t meeting the demand and as a result, the costs for the same quality click has increased over time. I have yet to see a sector that isn’t paying more for online campaigns than they were five or ten years ago.

Google and Facebook, which combined captured 77 percent of gross spending in 2016, don’t seem to mind the trend.

Don’t be afraid of advertising online, just don’t wear rosy glasses – it’s competitive out there. A diverse marketing plan is essential. Understand there’s a real cost to running successful campaigns beyond just the expense of running the ads themselves. And, ultimately, take a moment to define a smart goal that can be used to track your success.

Otherwise, you’ll be spending more money for cheap clicks.

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