Online advertising overview

Multiple advertising formats are available, with access to a range of audiences and serving different purposes. Watch this video to find out about display and pay per click (PPC) formats, and how remarketing and shopping ads work.

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If you’ve decided you need to look at advertising to give your brand a push, there are a number of digital advertising options open to you. This video takes a look at how each might be used in your online advertising strategy.

When looking at online advertising there are two types of campaign - search ads and display ads. We’ll also look at remarketing ads - whilst these are shown as display ads their use is very different.

Search ads are generated from a search query. Most people’s experience of search advertising starts with Google, however search ads can be placed on other sites and networks such as Amazon, Bing, Yahoo or AOL. The site compares the word or phrase to a list of keywords set by the advertiser. If there is a match, the advertiser’s ad may be shown. If a number of advertisers bid for the same phrases, the ad spot goes to the advertiser who bid the highest cost per click.

We’ll just take a quick look at the different ways search ads appear. If we type “bose headphones” into Google, we see two lots of ads - the shopping results, and the text ads beneath them.

Shopping ads feed from data uploaded to Google’s Merchant Centre, combined with an ad campaign created in AdWords. They can appear at the top of the page, beneath your organic results, or to the side.

You’ll notice there’s this ‘Sponsored’ text here to flag them up as ads. So on this desktop view we have some data on the product such as the image, product name, price, the advertiser, and you might also see review ratings or ad extensions such as this Click and collect call out. These campaigns are run from Google AdWords, where you can set your budget, duration, and bids as with any other campaign. If I click to scroll through the ad display so I can see all of them, there are over 20 which appear - far more to a page than the 7 text ad spots which sit on a page. If you’re bidding on shopping ads, and you’re retailing at a fixed price point, which everyone else is offering, then unless you have something else to differentiate you, you really need to be within the first few results.

You might also occasionally see a view where all the images, product specs and reviews are shown only once, and then just the price, advertiser and any ad extensions are shown beneath. This is on mobile - I have previously seen this happen on desktop but it isn’t consistent enough to replicate. Google hasn’t published any data on this, but it seems that Google is now sophisticated enough to use its image recognition software to identify the same, manufacturer-supplied image being used, along with identical product specs, and understand that this is all the same product, so to streamline the experience for the user, it’s compiling all the duplicate values into one view, and just listing the differences. If you’re bidding on a popular product like this, it’s essential to make best use of ad extensions, to stand out from the competition.

Shopping ads are replicated on Bing, but when searching using Google on mobile for fairly generic terms, you may also see showcase shopping ads. If we put in “fencing”, you’ll see that we get a carousel similar to the shopping ads, but instead of a single product with information about that product, we get a hero view of one product and three smaller thumbnails beneath it, which sit over the top of the hero shot. And in addition to the brand name, a logo can be shown. For these ads, you’re not charged when someone clicks on your brand listing here, but only when they click a product on the next page. The next page shows pricing and campaign and product level ad extensions, such as reviews. It’s interesting to look at how the different brands are using this showcase as well - as you can see, Tesco includes some campaign callouts but nothing else. If we look at Screwfix, they’ve opted to use a hero image for all their shopping showcase ads, along with a repeat of the name and logo, a statement about the brand and a link to their site. Whilst this is good in terms of brand awareness, using the hero image means that they only get to show the three thumbnails of the product I’m actually interested in. Whilst this might not be too much of an issue for something like fencing, if you’re promoting fashion or products where the look of the product is key, this can be a disadvantage. As it is, the fact that their hero image doesn’t show a related product may mean people skip over their listing in favour of more obviously relevant ones. I would recommend not using a hero image in favour of showing what the searcher is looking for at a decent size. Brands such as Tesco and Amazon don’t even link to their main site. The thinking behind this could be that someone who’s looking for a specific product is only going to be casually browsing for anything else, and to take them to a homepage is unlikely to result in a conversion, however as it does get traffic to your site I would test this - include a link at first but carefully monitor the quality of the traffic generated, and drop it if this doesn’t prove worthwhile.

If we now look at the text ads, these appear above and below the organic search results, with a maximum of seven spots per page. You’ll see a headline - which is in two parts, separated by a pipe symbol (the vertical line) or a dash, the web address, a description and any ad extensions such as callouts - these short phrases here, sitelinks - these links here and you may also see information drawn from structured snippets - this includes things like Types and Services and allows advertisers to promote the range they offer.

Search ads are great for products or services which are easily categorised and generate a high volume of searches. They capture people at the point they’re researching or even have an intent to buy. If you have an ecommerce site with a wide range of products, creating shopping ads is a great way to increase your visibility, particularly if you’re operating in a less saturated market.

Display ads can be targeted by the context or the audience. With contextual targeting, you may select particular websites which have high relevancy for your brand - for example news sites relating to your industry, sites for related (but not competing) products or review sites, You can work directly with the site owners to place your ads on key pages within their site, those likely to attract people who are interested in your products or services.

If you’re advertising through a network, such as Google’s Display Network, you can set keywords or topics, which the network then compares to site content. Where there is a match between your keywords or topics and those of a site, the network can then place your ad on relevant pages. For example, if you were advertising a new kitchen gadget you might choose the related topic cooking, or keywords relating to the process your gadget improved such as juicing your ads might then show on recipe sites and cooking blogs.

If you have sites in mind that you know have contextual relevance to yours, you can target them via managed placements on the Display Network, which allows you to specify particular sites. Alternatively you may be able to advertise with them directly if they offer this, which can sometimes be beneficial. If, for example, location is key to your service you might advertise on local news sites and prefer to build up a relationship with their media sales division in order to strengthen your overall relationship, or if you operate in an industry with a market leading publication you could select key sections, pages or content, and build an advertising package to reach their audience. In approaching the site directly, you will also guarantee the ad space, rather than needing to win the spot as the highest bidder. Direct advertising will significantly increase the time needed to resource your ads, so it should only be considered if the benefits outweigh this.

Choosing a particular display channel can also help with aligning your brand - each of the social channels has a slightly different demographic so if your brand is more appealing to a younger audience, a native ad on Instagram or Snapchat might work best for you. If you’re selling a complex product, a YouTube preroll ad might be the best place to demonstrate how its used.

If you prefer to target by audience, you can specify age and gender and, depending on the network or sites you’re using, you may also be able to narrow your audience down to a very detailed level - Facebook for example allows you to target by job role, interest, and much more, in addition to location, age and gender.

Because display ads can be shown across a site, they come in lots of different formats. We won’t look at all of them, but we’ll take a quick look at some of the most common. Historically you would buy a particular ad space, and what you did within that space was almost entirely up to you. However, because networks like Google now place your ads wherever they think they’ll work, you’re encouraged to upload your image, text, logo and other assets separately, so that these can then be used to build a responsive ad, where all the elements can be independently sized to fit the ad no matter what size of screen it’s viewed on. Whilst this increases the time investment, it means your ads will convey your message whatever device people use.

If we go to Tech Radar, a popular tech review site, you can see there’s a banner across the top here. This is a common format, and you’ll sometimes see it floating at the bottom of the page too.

If we go a page deeper, into an article relating to mobile phones, we can see there’s another ad at the top here for a mobile phone company, and if we scroll down, we can see two more ads, this small rectangle which follows us down the page, and a long portrait, static one. These ads are all standard sizes which you’ll see across the web. They’re also all for one company - this is a page takeover, and you’ll sometimes also see an ad placed as a background frame to the whole article too so that the advertiser really dominates the page. This takeover has almost certainly been booked directly with Tech Radar for greater control over where these ads appear. The content on the page relates to mobile phones, so the phone company has stipulated that they want to be the only advertiser to block out their rivals from this relevant content.

The mid-page ads are all labelled as advertisements so the reader can’t confuse them with content. If we go to another page, you can see that some ads have this little triangle with an i in it. Any ad which has been placed by the Google Display Network will have this. If you click on it, you’ll be taken to an information page which tells you about advertising with Google, controlling ad personalisation, and how to report an ad. This provides some accountability and transparency.

Social media channels are another popular display advertising platform. They offer native advertising which appears in the feed of their users. Each channel will have its own variant and some channels offer several ad formats, including simply promoting an existing post to a wider audience. If we take a look at Facebook, you can create single image ads which appear in the news feed, as this example here, or a variant of this ad using a carousel of images, or a video. You can also place ads in the right hand column as here. Which ad formats are available and how much text is displayed also varies depending on the viewing device - when news feed ads are seen on a mobile there is much less text, so you need to be aware of these kind of restrictions when planning your ad copy.

Display ads are great for visual products and services or for when you have a very defined audience or demographic you want to reach. Because they’re often (although not always) shown with images, display ads can also help to boost brand awareness - not only can you show your logo and product or service, but unlike a 4th spot search ad, which may never be read, a display ad positioned on a page of content being read is still likely to register on some level, even if the reader doesn’t click your ad - and as long as you’re paying per click rather than per thousand impressions, this will cost you nothing. Multiple opportunities for your ad to be seen are also more likely on display. Someone may run a search more than once, but this is only likely if they’re still researching their options. However, if your display ads are shown based on their fit to an audience definition, they’re likely to see your ads more often and on different sites. Display ads can also reach potential customers very early on in the buying process - perhaps even before they’re looking for a product or service like yours, which gives you a head start on the competition.

Lastly, let’s review remarketing ads. These ads are shown to people who have landed on your site and viewed your products, but not gone on to buy anything. These are the ads that follow you around the internet, showing you products you viewed. You can build a remarketing list by specifying the page people visit to join your list, such as a page with details on a single product or service, along with any exclusions, such as your transaction or sign up completion page. So long as they don’t clear their cookies, visitors to the product or service page will be added to your list and start to see your remarketing ads when visiting other sites.

In terms of the look of a remarketing ad, it’s identical to a display ad, only the targeting differs.

Because these ads are only shown to someone who has visited your site, and shown interest in the particular product the ads feature, they’re showing to warm prospects. These ads help to capture people who still have an intention of purchasing, but weren’t ready at the time they viewed the page - they may have still have been researching their options, been interrupted, or not been in a position to make a purchase. By keeping your brand in mind, you ensure that at the point they are ready to commit to buy, your brand is top of mind, and may even be directly in front of them.

In an ideal world, you would have the resources to make each of these ad types part of your strategy, but if your budget is limited, which one is best? As ever, there’s no single solution and which is the best option for you will depend on your objectives, and the nature of your brand.

In terms of conversion rates, search is more likely to deliver a higher figure, because people searching have much more intent to buy. However, cost per click rates are also likely to be higher on search than display, and the overall return on investment could be as strong or higher for a remarketing campaign. If your customer lifetime value is high, or your customers make repeat purchases, especially at typically small intervals, or the average number of basket items on your site is high, the higher conversion rates and costs of search will be cancelled out, as you lead people to your site who will not only buy the advertised product but browse for others to buy at the same time, or return for future purchases.

If your product or service has lots of relevant keywords, which generate a high volume of searches, and you can qualify your ads through means such as location targeting, or use of brand or technical terms, you have the best opportunity for succeeding with search ads.

Whilst display ads without retargeting offer the lowest conversion rate, they will bring your brand to the attention of new audiences and increase brand awareness. If your brand is quite young, display should be part of your strategy. This is especially true if your product or service offers something new, as if people aren’t aware of your product or service type, you’re reliant on search terms which relate to the problem it solves, and this may lead mean a low search volume. If you’re a challenger brand in a competitive market, you may look for the lower click through rates that display typically has, to keep your costs down rather than bidding on search terms whose cost has been driven up by a high number of bidders.

If you want to reposition your brand, display can also be helpful - if you’re trying to realign with a different demographic you can advertise on sites which reflect that, or if you’re trying to enter a new market, you can advertise on sites which are already operating in that market.

Is your product really visual or aspirational? If it has a ‘want it now’ factor, Facebook display ads are likely to be shared with friends and result in an organic reach far beyond the reach you paid for.

If you have an ecommerce site, you should definitely be using remarketing. If your site isn’t ecommerce but has a clear end goal, such as a form to express interest, or you can track calls made from website users, you can also employ remarketing. However for either of these scenarios, before you use this type of advertising I would advise looking at the bigger picture of why people looking at your product or service aren’t converting - it’s pointless spending money trying to bring people back to your site if the reason they didn’t purchase is because your checkout process isn’t clear, or some other element of the user journey isn’t smooth.

Whichever type of ads you choose, you should expect to allocate some of your budget for testing ads and experimenting - particularly when you first start advertising. Your ads will need to run for some time before they can be optimised and before they’re given a quality or relevance score - this score has an impact on the cost of your ads.

I hope this overview has given you an insight into online advertising. Thanks for watching.


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