I love real time PPC platforms like Google AdWords. They’re instant, controllable and thanks to accurate targeting deliver conversion rates that can bring tears to the eye of organic search specialists. I have one problem with them though: The “pay” part.
Thankfully there is a way to remove that small irritation in an otherwise perfect advertising platform and run PPC campaigns with literally no PPC budget. No scams, no tricks and nothing that even comes close to infringing policy.
The plan: Get non-customers to pay for us to find customers
What is your website conversion rate? 1%? 2%? 5%? Even if you managed to match the legendary 9.6% conversion rate of Amazon.com the fact remains that most people who come to your website aren’t buying.
If there was a way to get each “non-customer” to contribute a little you could use those funds to generate better targeted traffic that was more likely to convert. If that sounds too good to be true, you’ll be pleased to hear the answer is staring us all in the face: Display Advertising.
The idea is simple: Serve ads to non-customers and use the money to find more customers – genius right?
Wait… this can’t possibly work can it?
Running advertising on a conversion orientated website will feel counter-intuitive to many. The most common fear is that potential customers will leave via an advert and never return. If I was proposing serving adverts to all website visitors, this would likely happen. However targeting those that are least likely to convert dramatically reduces the chance of this happening. The art comes in accurately identifying those groups, so let’s look at some easy examples:
- Support and knowledgebase pages for existing customers
- Blog pages that don’t lead to conversions
- Not found pages
- At the foot of list or result pages for users who didn’t find what they wanted
- Serving to foreign visitors of an online store that only ships domestically
These are just a few simple examples. Any segment of traffic that you can create that converts badly could be considered for ad display.
Whoaa! You’d run ads on an online store?
Yes… and why not? These are commercially engaged users reading content in a profitable niche. If they’re not going to be a customer of my store then they might as well help me pay to find someone who is.
Display ads on online stores are still seen by many as taboo, but they shouldn’t be. Many of the brightest players in e-commerce run display ads on their site, including the following:
Even Amazon do it and their reported 9.6% conversation rate doesn’t seem to have been harmed. In fact Lisa Utschneider, Global VP of Advertising Sales at Amazon says that display ads are one factor driving their conversion rate:
“If we think about Amazon in two worlds, one world is an Amazon with ads and lower prices. Another world is an Amazon with no ads and higher prices. Which one would we choose?”
When done correctly, there should be nothing to fear.
Won’t competitors just target my customers?
The easiest entry point for display advertising is Google AdSense. It’s easy to set up and will buy almost any impression that you can offer. The biggest fear for many using AdSense is that competitors will target their site and poach customers. AdSense, like most sophisticated networks, has systems in place to prevent that; allowing you to block both individual advertisers and whole categories of ads from appearing on your website.
If your site is selling property then block the real-estate categories to prevent direct competitors reaching your customers.
Wow – no more AdWords bills!
Unfortunately that probably won’t be the case. Unless you have significant levels of poor converting traffic it is unlikely you’ll cover the cost of all of your advertising needs, but it’s a useful strategy to have up your sleeve.
For site owners this can provide a means to generating budget to dip your toe into PPC, or to broaden your campaigns without risk. Yes, you are still paying, but it can be easier to stomach that when you get a cheque from Google (or another ad network) to cover costs.
For agencies this can be a great way to secure an exploratory PPC budget for a client who still needs some persuasion. It can be easier to sell them on AdWords when you aren’t asking them to find budget. Once you’ve proven performance, larger budgets become easier to secure.
A few tips
I’d encourage everyone to try this, but there are a few things to be aware of:
- If you are using both AdSense and AdWords be sure to block ads from appearing on your own site. Not only would this mean you are paying Google a commission to advertise your own website, but rumour has it that such recursive set-ups can open black holes on web pages.
- Measure everything. This method relies on changing variables. Watch everything like a hawk and don’t be afraid to change the set-up if something isn’t working.
- If an area of the website is working well at generating display ad revenue you can always build this out to increase earnings
Any website with traffic can potentially benefit from this sort of set-up. If you would like to further explore whether it could work for you or your clients please get in touch through the website.
Mat has been supporting content creators on the web since 1996. As Co-founder of OKO Digital, Mat became the first person in the UK qualified to AdSense partner status and repeated this first with Google Certified Publishing Partner programme.