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Australia’s premier marine PR/media specialist Sandman Public Relations offers some tips to ensure your online advertising is delivering maximum results…
By Ben Sandman and Jamie Millar

With more and more marine news/information websites coming online daily, never has there been a time when deciding where to place your advertising dollars has been so confusing.

Despite the recent media coverage about Fairfax’s plans to move primarily towards the digital space, consumer behaviour in the current marine market dictates a mix of both print and online advertising remains essential to the success of most businesses in this industry.

Deciding where to place print advertising is straightforward... determine which publications are most relevant to your target audiences; review the current ABC audit figures and Roy Morgan Readership Survey results; then commit to a decent advertising period in those publications you’re most confident will deliver results for your business.

In contrast, online advertising – with all the smoke and mirrors created by some website publishers – has many people’s heads spinning…

Open for interpretation

Just as you should be wary of publishers’ claims regarding their magazine’s circulation without credible supporting evidence, so too is the case with website visitation and e-newsletter readership.

Getting back to basics, Unique Visitors / Unique Browsers (not “hits”) are the important numbers to consider when looking at website visitation. Most website publishers will be forthcoming with this information and happy to explain it to you.

But should you believe them?

Throwing around seemingly inflated figures appears to be common practice among advertising representatives of questionable ethics – and should rightly be taken with a grain of salt.

Similarly, purported newsletter distribution should also be carefully considered. How many recipients read every e-newsletter that arrives in their inboxes?

Transparency is key

Credible website publishers will provide genuine reports of their site’s visitation, along with click-through rates of e-newsletters, most-read stories, geographic origin of visitors and other valuable information.

Some websites will put forward their own internal data, whereas others will provide data that has been audited by a third party, such as Nielsen Online SiteCenus. Audited data is 100 per cent accurate, which instils confidence and will allow you to make informed decisions on where to advertise.

Once your advertising campaign is running, credible website publishers will also supply “campaign reports” – both during and on completion of your advertising period. These reports should include such information as the number of impressions (number of times the ad is exposed to visitors), click-through rates/percentages, as well as audited figures supplied via a third party (such as Google).

This is not a difficult process. This sort of information is available literally at the click of a button. So, if the websites you’ve been advertising with are not providing these reports on a regular basis – or at your request – it could suggest they’ve something to hide.

Freely-available data

Google Analytics is among the most commonly-used tools for tracking website traffic and other information about website visitation. It’s a “freemium” service offered by Google. If you don’t already have it running on your website, you should immediately ask your webmaster to get it coded in and learn the ropes.

With Google Analytics you’ll be able to find out a whole range of facts and figures including the number of unique visitors; sources of traffic (including search engines, referring sites, ad click-throughs, QR code responses and other sources); demographics (locations and language); behaviour (new versus returning visitors); frequency and recency; engagement; technology (type of browser and operating system); and mobile information (devices used).

You can also link a Google Adwords account to your analytics account and track the response to a specific campaign alongside your website traffic.

With this kind of information it’s easy to find out which content on your website works and which doesn’t. Importantly, Google Analytics will reveal which sources of traffic deliver real results and which don’t.

You can literally see how many visitors you received from a specific ad on a particular website, which pages they viewed and how long they stayed on your website.

This, in turn, means you can confidently review and adjust your advertising on websites that deliver no traffic – you don’t have to be there just because your competitors are there. If you’re getting no traffic, chances are your competitors aren’t getting any either! Spend your money with websites that deliver visitors to your own website, as you’ll at least have a chance at converting them.

Take control

Google Analytics allows you (as the advertiser) to take control of the situation and accurately assess the results of your online advertising efforts.

Something we encourage our clients to do in all their online advertising, is attach a unique URL to each ad on each website. ie. a banner ad on fishingworld.com.au will have a different URL from an ad running on seabreeze.com.au, as will the ads running on other websites.

The purpose of this is to track each individual ad so we can accurately measure the click-through rate from each website – and make decisions accordingly.

Ads and accompanying URLs are supplied direct to website publishers for upload to their websites, then it’s a matter of sitting back and allowing Google Analytics to monitor and collate the results.

To briefly reference one such advertising campaign conducted by one of our clients last year, the same-styled ad (each with its unique URL), was run across seven different marine news/information websites for the same one-month period.

The results were very interesting! Focusing on the actual number of click-throughs, the highest result came from a website which provides audited reports showing modest, ever-increasing visitation – and one of the lowest results came from a website which claims to have massive visitation, yet the publisher refuses to provide any reports!

In dollar terms, the cost-per-click across these seven websites ranged from $2 to nearly $42 per click!

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

CALL-TO-ACTION

Some website publishers will offer to help design the “perfect” ad to show you how effective online advertising can be. If they’re putting their money where their mouth is, take them up on this offer!

Regardless, it’s vital your digital ad is professionally designed and has a clear call-to-action.

Sandman PR’s view on digital advertising is that it works best in clearly defined campaign bursts. This means creating a defined ad, choosing a period of time – say, three months in the lead-up to or during the boat show season – and create a call-to-action that asks website visitors to click your ad for a reason. Include an incentive such as a chance to win a prize or some other kind of added value, or perhaps simply an invitation of a “sneak preview” of a new product.

Experience shows this kind of campaign delivers better results than a generic branding exercise. It’s too easy to set and forget with online advertising.

It’s also vital to ensure each online ad links to a useful page. Having a fantastic call-to-action and then simply landing on your website’s home page will often result in a lost opportunity. The link should go to a page where the call-to-action can actually be “actioned”.

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