3 Ways We Failed at Digital Advertising

In many ways, advertising makes the world go round. We help businesses sell products. We make users aware of new things that they may need or want. And we try to keep it fun and relevant while we’re doing it.

The digital age has brought a revolution of sorts to the advertising world. With digital advertising, the high costs, long lead times, and lack of results that were common in traditional media became a thing of the past. Instead of local businesses cutting expensive TV spots or buying newspaper ads, they’re now using search and display to promote their products and services.

Digital is less expensive than traditional media. It offers a nimbleness and immediacy that’s unmatched in the advertising world. It’s measurable down to minute details.

And yet, we’ve found ways to fail at digital advertising.

Like anything else, there is a right way and a wrong way to advertise. Here are 3 ways we’ve failed at digital advertising.

Poor landing pages.

Landing pages aren’t advertising per se. You can have the best landing page in the world, but like the tree falling in the woods, a great landing page makes no sound if no one is there to hear (or see) it. Advertising is needed to drive visitors to your landing pages. And poor landing pages, sadly, are still common, even in 2016.

Sure, it takes more effort up front to create great landing pages. But it’s worth it in the end. You wouldn’t spend a bunch of money creating and buying TV ads, only to have people show up at your dirty, cluttered store – and you shouldn’t spend money on digital advertising until your “virtual” store is in shape.

Use landing page best practices to avoid this common digital advertising failure.

Failing to understand the mobile mindset.

There’s no doubt that mobile devices have changed our lives. What was once the stuff of Star Trek writers’ imaginations is now in the palm of each and every one of our hands. I’m sure few of us can imagine life without our mobile devices now.

Each of the past 5 years has been declared “the year of mobile,” and yet it’s taken digital advertisers far too long to catch up. I still see websites that aren’t mobile optimized, forcing PPC advertisers to shut off mobile altogether – thereby missing out on a huge chunk of potential traffic and conversions.

And the ads we’re showing on mobile are terrible. The user experience is beyond painful.

Case in point: an eConsultancy article this week that asks, Has CNN created the worst ever mobile ad experience?

It may not be the worst ever, but CNN has definitely failed at mobile digital advertising – as have a lot of other advertisers. In our greed to capture as many leads, subscriptions, and dollars as possible, we’ve forgotten that there is an actual user on the other side of the mobile phone who just wants to read your content without having to tap a tiny “X” in the top of the screen to get your crappy ads to go away.

Stop the madness.

Bombarding users with untargeted remarketing.

I still remember when I first heard about remarketing, at an SES conference about 10 years ago. I was blown away by the fact that we could actually target previous visitors of our website with specific ads that were different for each user. What a game-changer!

Remarketing has definitely changed the game for digital advertising. It’s enabled us to have the frequency advertisers enjoyed with the repetition found in traditional media like TV and radio – and the added bonus of targeting that the traditional media lack.

And yet, so many advertisers fail at remarketing by doing it wrong.

Remarketing isn’t stalking. If you’re aware that ads are following you around the web, the advertiser has failed at digital advertising.

If you’re using remarketing – and you should be – I implore you to put some effort into targeting your audiences and ads. I’m going to be speaking about remarketing at SMX Advanced in a few weeks, so if you’re coming to that great conference, I hope you’ll attend my session. Come introduce yourself!

Digital advertising is great. It’s provided me with a wonderful and fulfilling career. I hope we can stop failing at it.

What are some ways you’ve seen advertisers fail at digital advertising? Share in the comments!

Editor’s Note: eConsultancy posted a follow-up article to the CNN post on June 15, 2016. It’s an interesting read.

Related Posts:

Ad Blockers and PPC

Ad blockers. A 2-word phrase that can strike fear into the hearts of PPC professionals. After all, we make our living from online advertising. The advent of technology that blocks our lifeblood is concerning to say the least.

Ad blockers work by detecting advertising code on a website, leaving blank space. They can also speed up page load times, especially on mobile devices, where content is often painfully slow to load. This is one of the reasons ad blockers have been adopted at a high rate – Smashing Magazine claims that 75% of their readers use them, and the iOS ad blocker app has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times.

From a user standpoint, it’s pretty easy to see the appeal of ad blockers. I’m so tired of interstitials and pop-overs interrupting me when I’m trying to read an article online. On mobile, it’s often impossible to close or move the interstitials – which leads me to abandon the site entirely. It’s frustrating as a user.

And the web has indeed slowed to a crawl with all the tracking scripts running on many sites. Ad blockers can strip many of these tracking codes, speeding up the user experience – and killing the advertiser’s ability to track user behavior.

As I was researching for this post, I started to think about the definition of an ad. It’s clear that ad blockers define ads as third parties running ads on a website using javascript for Adsense or other ad syndicators. But what about ads for your own content? Aren’t those ads just the same?

Earlier this week, Ad Age ran an article called Three Reasons Why Ad Blockers Are Good for Advertising. They talk about over-saturation of the market, poor targeting, and the need for a better experience – all valid points.

But they contradicted themselves with the experience on their own website! When I first landed on the article, I was served a huge interstitial:

ad age interstitial

Sorry Ad Age – I don’t want to sign up for your “free” full access that you’re going to start charging me for after my “free” 14 day trial. I just want to read one article.

Once I got rid of the interstitial, I was treated to one of the most unappealing visual presentations of a web article that I’ve seen in a long time:

ad age ads

Look at that awful page. I had to scroll every sentence or two just to keep reading. Why? Because it was full of ads FOR THEIR OWN STUFF. Small Agency Guide! Look Book! Sign me up for the email that I just rejected on your stupid popup!

Is this what we’ve replaced “ads” with? Ads for our own crap? Is this the answer to the ad blocker problem? Is this a better experience??

Clearly, both the advertisers and the publishers need to do better. As PPC advertisers, we need to use better targeting. Use frequency caps. Resist the temptation to keep people on remarketing lists forever. Insist that clients use tag managers and limit the number of scripts running on landing pages. Maybe consider reducing your investment in display and remarketing and beef up search and RLSA – but only if display and remarketing aren’t performing. Base decisions on data, not a few outliers.

And publishers, don’t substitute ads for ads. Don’t frustrate and annoy your readers with silly popovers and ads filling the margins of your content. A bad on-site experience is just as responsible for the increase in ad blocker adoption as bad ads are. We’re all in this together. And it’s all about the user.

What say you? Are ad blockers impacting your PPC performance? Do publishers need to do better? Are ad blockers a “sky is falling” non-issue? Share in the comments!

Related Posts:


I was going to write a post today about ad extensions and their importance, especially now that right hand side ads are gone from Google. But I just wasn’t feeling it. Ad extensions are important, now more than ever. Here’s Google’s take on the issue. Read that. Activate ad extensions if you haven’t already.


Instead, I’d like to talk about teachers. Later today, I’m having dinner with one of my former clarinet teachers. I took lessons from him briefly while he was a grad student at the University of Michigan. Now he’s an internationally renowned performer. I’m super excited to catch up with him.

As I thought about all the great teachers I’ve had over the years, I got to thinking about PPC teachers. Who has taught me PPC skills over the years?

As with many of us who started in the early days of PPC (I started in 2002), I was mostly self-taught in the beginning. SES was a fledgling conference, and SMX wouldn’t exist for another 5 years. Blogs were a new thing, and there weren’t many out there. Twitter didn’t exist either. I got most of my info from either trial and error, or from reading forums: I Help You, Jill Whelan’s High Rankings forum, and later, the forums at Search Engine Watch. Of the three, only High Rankings remains – and Jill’s been out of the search business for a few years now.

There are several individuals to whom I’m indebted for imparting their search knowledge to me in the early days. Andrew Goodman was infinitely patient with the zillions of questions I asked him during a brief consulting engagement in 2002 or 2003, and his e-book on Adwords was dog-eared on my desk as a reference.

Brad Geddes was a regular on the forums back in the day. He answered lots of questions, and I made sure to attend his sessions at SES when I started going in 2003. I also learned a ton from Frank Watson aka AussieWebmaster on the forums.

Matt Van Wagner is one of the nicest guys in search, and he has always encouraged me. I still remember when he came up to me at an early conference in probably 2005 or 2006 and complimented me for asking a good question in a session.

I’m still learning about PPC, even as an old-timer. I learn from the great folks in PPCChat every day. I learn from clients, bosses, and coworkers. If you’re not learning, you’re stagnating and, dare I say, dying.

Who has helped you learn PPC? Give them kudos in the comments!

Related Posts:

PPC and Content Marketing: The 4-Step Content Audit

In an earlier post, I talked about content marketing and its rise to popularity. PPC can be a highly effective way to amplify your content marketing efforts. But first, you need to identify what content is available. Here are 4 steps to a successful content audit.

Step 1: Identify your content marketing goals

Long-time readers of this blog know that I always start with goals. If you don’t know what you want to do, how will you go about doing it? And “performing a content audit” isn’t a goal. Neither is “get started with content marketing.” Those are both tactics used to achieve a strategy, not the strategy itself.

The most common goals for content marketing are lead generation and awareness creation. Do you have a new product that needs awareness? Trying to establish thought leadership in your field? Need to drive your lead generation machine? Identifying your primary goal for content marketing drives the entire process, from what content you’ll use to the channels you’ll use to distribute content.

Step 2: Create a list of all available content.

It’s always easier to repurpose existing content than it is to create it from scratch. Create a list of all online assets, including white papers, press releases, online demos, articles on other platforms, and even photos and videos. Every piece of content your organization has created is fair game.

If possible, also look at how the content has performed, and the audience it has reached. This will help you determine what PPC channel to use, and how to craft ad copy and PPC audiences. Also, why not put your best foot forward and launch with the best content?

Step 3: Note whether the content is evergreen or time-sensitive.

Some content, such as overview videos, product brochures, and how-to blog posts never get old. This is content you can promote again and again. Other content is time-sensitive: promotions, licenses, and other factors can affect how long your content can stay in market. Note these limitations in your content list. Nothing is worse than paying to send traffic to your site to read an outdated brochure or view a promotion that’s expired.

Step 4: Include the format in your content list.

Content format is more important than you may think, for a couple of reasons. The first is obvious: it determines where the content can be advertised in PPC. If you want to use Google for keyword search, you won’t be able to use a video as your ad (although of course you can drive traffic from text ads to a landing page that includes your video).

Maybe more importantly, noting the content type will help you learn which types of content perform best on each channel. For instance, you may determine that videos perform best in Facebook promoted posts, but white papers perform best in Google Adwords.  Performance by content type is a key measurement for PPC and content marketing.

By following these 4 steps, your content audit is now a marketing tool that use can use to craft your content marketing campaigns.

What about you? What techniques have you used for a content audit? Share in the comments!

Related Posts:

Big Data and Big Goals

This week, in the United States, Barack Obama was reelected as President. It was a close race that really came down to key swing states.

But this post isn’t about politics. It’s not about the good, bad, or ugly of the recent election season and its outcome.  It’s not about who won or lost and why we should love them or hate them.  Rather, it’s a reaction to Time Magazine’s article on the role that big data played in the President’s win. The story was featured on Anderson Cooper’s CNN news magazine last night.

The Time Magazine piece details the various tactics that the reelection team used to target key voters. That’s not the point of this post either, although I find it utterly fascinating.

This post is the product of a conversation I had about the article.  The individual with whom I was conversing expressed dismay that rather than focusing on the issues, the Obama team focused on using and manipulating data (and the voters) to their advantage.  It’s true – there wasn’t much focus on the issues this year (good, bad, or indifferent – remember, this isn’t about politics).

My reply was that communicating the issues wasn’t the goal. The data crunchers did exactly what they were supposed to do – they cranked out models that showed the Obama marketing team exactly who they should focus on, and what tactics they should use to reach them. All of their testing, and they did plenty, was focused on figuring out the best message for fundraising, recruiting volunteers, and getting people out to vote. They used big data to predict voter turnout – which was then used to plan the President’s final campaign visits.  The data was even utilized to decide the best media for ad placement – rather than using traditional optimization tactics, they were able to get laser-focused with ads right from the start.

The reason they did all of this? Because the goal was to get the President reelected.  And it worked.

But could the Obama team have used big data to focus on the issues, as my conversant lamented?  I believe they could have. If their marching orders were to get the word out to voters on key issues, they would undoubtedly have used the data in a different way.

For example, they could have found out who was likely to be concerned about health care, and tailored and tested email messages about the health care initiative to those individuals.  They could have communicated the President’s stance on gay marriage to gays, on women’s rights to women, on business issues to business leaders, etc.  And incentives could have been matched to those audiences – instead of dinner with Sarah Jessica Parker, maybe they would have offered a chance to attend a town hall to ask questions about economic reform.

What if the team didn’t have a clear goal? What if they were let loose to just crunch numbers and make recommendations?

Think about this for a minute.  I know plenty of PPC advertisers who say “we need to start a PPC campaign,” yet they have no idea what they want to get out of it. In fact, this is the most common reason that PPC engagements fail.

Nowhere is goal-setting more important than the application of big data. Data without goals is just worthless gibberish – not to mention a black hole of time- and money-sucking quicksand. But once goals are clearly established, the tactics become clear.

And in the end, big data is like politics. You can’t please everyone. But with clear goals in mind, you can please your boss.

Hot Off the Press! For more on the big data analytics lesson, check out this post from the Harvard Business Review.

Related Posts:

How Online Marketing Is Like Fine Dining

Online marketing has been all the rage for 15 years now, at least. From the beginning of public adoption of the internet, success measurements have varied. In the early days, it was all about “hits.” Then it was all about site visits (unique visitors). At some point, the more savvy online marketers started worrying about conversions.

And yet, in 2012, I’m often surprised to hear clients coming in saying “we need to do PPC” or “we have to get out there in social media.”

Why is this bad? Because they’ve chosen the tactic before they’ve set goals and mapped out a strategy.

Have you ever been to a really fancy dinner where each place setting has 3 forks, 2 spoons, a couple knives, and a seemingly endless number of plates? And have you sat there at the table wondering which water goblet you should drink from, and worrying about which fork or spoon you should use for the first course?

I’ve been there, too. But what I’ve noticed about these fancy meals is that 9 times out of 10, it becomes plainly obvious which utensil you should use once the first course actually arrives. If it’s soup, you use a soup spoon. If it’s a salad, you grab the outside fork. If it’s seafood in the shell, you’ll pick up the little seafood fork (I don’t eat seafood, so forgive me if I haven’t used the right analogy here!).

The point is, once you know what your goal is (eating soup vs. eating a salad), the right utensil becomes obvious.

Online marketing is the same way. Marketers spend an inordinate amount of time debating which tactic they should start with: PPC, SEO, social media, email, website optimization…. and often they can’t agree on what makes the most sense. In the meantime, their sales are struggling to get past the appetizer course.

A better approach is to think about your goals. Is increasing sales the first order of business? Are you looking for awareness for a new brand or product? Are you selling inexpensive products or services to consumers, or are you an enterprise solution provider selling to CEOs with a 12-month sales cycle? Is your website ready to capture sales or leads, or does it need work?

All of these factors will affect which tactic you choose. Many online marketing tactics work together, and it’s great to integrate as many tactics as you can within an overall strategy. But before you get to that step, it’s critical to establish your goals and determine how those goals will be measured. So even if your goal is clear from the beginning, if you don’t have tracking and analytics in place, how will you know if you’ve achieved it?

So the next time you’re debating a dip in the waters of PPC, SEO, or social media, put down your fork and think about your goals first.

Related Posts:

Why PPC and SEO Engagements Fail

Nobody likes to talk about failure. Most times, we’d probably like to pretend there is no such thing. Truth be told, though, you haven’t learned anything in life unless you’ve failed. I’m willing to bet that every PPC and SEO manager who’s been doing this for any length of time has had one campaign or client that they’d consider a failure. While failure is part of life, there are ways to minimize it when it comes to SEM.

The #1 Reason Why SEM Engagements Fail

In my 10 years of experience doing PPC and SEM, the overwhelming #1 reason why engagements fail is due to a lack of goal-setting at the beginning. Sometimes clients (or bosses, if you’re in-house) are so anxious to “start a PPC campaign” that they don’t take the time to figure out what their goals are.

If your client website doesn’t have conversion tracking enabled, lacks a call to action, and doesn’t make it clear what you want visitors to do when they get there; your campaign has no goals, and is doomed. If your client doesn’t have a unique selling proposition (USP), then you’re almost certainly doomed as well.

While it may take a few days or even weeks to establish campaign goals, this is the one step that cannot be skipped when embarking on an SEM engagement. After all, if you have no goal or destination, how do you know when you’ve gotten there?

Other Common Reasons for SEM Failure

The next most common issue I’ve run into that dooms an SEM engagement, especially SEO, is lack of client uptake. While there are a lot of things an SEM can do on their own without any client involvement, implementation of code changes, SEO recommendations, and other technical aspects are often not on that list. SEO simply will not make any impact whatsoever if it’s not implemented.

This can be a tough challenge to overcome – in fact, if it’s not addressed during the sales process, it can be extremely difficult to get the client on board. Setting expectations up front by letting the client know that there will be some effort involved on their part during the engagement will help ensure that projects move forward without frustration on either the part of the SEO or the client.

Tracking code installation falls into the technical bucket too. Even if SEO isn’t part of your service offering, a PPC campaign needs at least one tracking system (and preferably more than one) in order to optimize the campaigns. We strongly prefer to use the free conversion tracking provided by Adwords and adCenter in addition to the client’s web analytics software. While no 2 systems will match exactly, differences of more than 5% to 10% in data usually indicate a problem with one or both systems. And it goes without saying that being able to log in to your PPC account and see conversion data down to the campaign, ad group, keyword, and placement level makes campaign management go much more quickly.

But if you have a client that cannot get conversion tracking installed, be wary of taking on the engagement. Otherwise, you’ll only be able to optimize for click-through rate – and as most of us know, CTR does not necessarily correlate with conversion rate.

Some Campaigns are Just Doomed

Sometimes, despite an SEM’s best efforts, even a well-thought-out and well-executed campaign will fail. Some businesses are just not suited to SEM – for instance, inexpensive, commodity products in a competitive industry will have a hard time making money on PPC – often, more is spent getting a click than the advertiser earns for each sale. And some websites will never rank well organically, due to crawlability issues, technical problems, or other reasons.

Some engagements, especially complicated, expensive B to B lead gen processes, will also have a hard time showing ROI. While some clients understand and accept the amount of time and expense needed to generate that one sale per month, other clients are just not going to be happy with a cost per conversion of $1,000 or more.

When faced with this type of engagement, think long and hard about whether you want to take it on. Sometimes, even the best-laid plans end up, well, failing.

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

More Great Marketers to Follow on Twitter

A couple of weeks ago, I published a list of the Top 10 PPC Experts to Follow On Twitter. Go check it out if you haven’t already!

Hot off the press today is an awesome list from my friends at aimClear of 52 Mind Blowing Marketers We’d Love to Clone and Adopt. The list runs the gamut from SEOs to PPCers to social media pros, and is basically a Who’s Who of online marketing. If you’re looking for new experts to follow on Twitter, go check out the aimClear list.

Disclaimer: I’m on the list, and am humbled by the inclusion. Thanks to Marty and crew for including me!

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

PPC Costs Less than SEO

I know, you probably think I’ve lost it. How can PPC cost less than SEO? SEO traffic is free, but PPC costs money for every visitor! You’re right. But if your SEO isn’t informed by PPC, it can cost you a lot in terms of lost opportunity.

In order to get all that free SEO traffic, your website needs decent search engine rankings. If you’re not ranking for anything, you might be tempted to spend your time and money on SEO first, to improve rankings and thereby traffic.

You’d be right that you need to optimize your site if you really want to get the most out of search engine traffic. But how do you know what terms to optimize for?

By now you may think I’ve really lost it – you’re thinking, “Of course I know what terms to optimize for – the ones that describe what I’m selling! They’re the same terms I’d be bidding on for PPC! Just pick the keywords with the most search volume and get on with it!”

On the surface, you’re right: you definitely want to focus on keywords that describe what you’re selling, and they may well be the same terms you’ll bid on in PPC. (And I probably have lost it, but that’s another post.)

Here’s the thing, though. The number of keywords you can bid on in PPC, at least theoretically, is nearly unlimited. It’s not unheard of for large advertisers to be bidding on hundreds of thousands of keywords. SEO is different: each page on your site can only be realistically optimized for about 5 keywords. So it’s critical to make sure you pick the right 5! How do you do this?

Use PPC to test them first. A well-crafted PPC campaign will start generating traffic, and ideally conversions, on the very first day. After a week (or two or three, depending on your business), you’ll have a treasure trove of great data – not only data on what keywords are driving the most traffic, but also the most conversions. And conversions are the name of the game.

SEO is time-consuming: it takes a significant amount of time to review the website pages, meta tags, navigation elements, anchor text, alt text, and other critical SEO elements. It takes additional time to prepare optimization recommendations, and even more time to actually optimize the pages. And once you launch the optimized page, it usually takes 3 weeks just to see if your rankings changed, much less determine whether traffic & conversions improved. Furthermore, if you’ve optimized for the wrong terms – terms that don’t convert well – you’ve spent all that time and effort (and money, if you hired an SEO consultant) obtaining rankings for keywords that don’t increase your sales.

Let me illustrate. Let’s say you sell low-priced widgets. Your keyword research unearths the following keywords:

Wholesale widgets, 50,000 searches per day
Cheap widgets, 25,000 searches per day
Discount widgets, 10,000 searches per day
Clearance widgets, 500 searches per day

You could do one of two things: You could optimize your main pages for “wholesale widgets” and call it a day. Or you could set up a PPC campaign with all 4 keywords (and many more, ideally), and get real data on (1) which term drives the most traffic to your website and (2) which term gets the most conversions.

Your PPC test may reveal that after a month of testing, “wholesale widgets” was the right term after all. Or, you may find that it had 1,000 clicks and one conversion; and “discount widgets” got 900 clicks and 50 conversions. Which term would you choose now?

An oft-quoted statistic is that 70% of clicks on a search engine results page come from organic listings. If you had chosen to have your SEO expert optimize for “wholesale widgets,” all the SEO rankings in the world likely wouldn’t net you many sales (like, maybe 10 per month). But having your SEO expert optimize for “discount widgets” would, by the formula, net you 250 conversions in that month.

Tell me again which was cheaper?

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

How Not To Do Online Marketing

Last Friday was a fun day on Twitter – it was #shittyadviceday. I’m not sure who started it – when I logged in to Twitter at around 8 a.m. EST, some of my European SEM friends were already having fun with the hashtag.

The basic concept is to tweet something SEM-related that’s bad advice. In other words, if you read the tweets, you should absolutely do the opposite of the #shittyadvice that was provided. Here are a few of my favorites:

If you want to see more, just search for #shittyadviceday on Twitter Search.

What #shittyadviceday tips can you add?

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts