#1 How does modern display advertising actually work?

Online Advertising has evolved a lot during these past 10 years, new technologies, new 3rd party players, intermediaries, and many more, appeared to changed radically the way digital advertising works nowadays.

What is display advertising ?

Display advertising refers to the banner ads appearing in designated areas on websites, social media, or any type of online platform monetizing their traffic through advertising.

banner sizes

Display ads come in a variety of different forms and formats but they still revolve around the same core principles. They try to catch the attention of customers by displaying a creative piece of design and transform this attention into an engagement for brands promoting their product.

Basic advertising glossary

You probably came across numerous times on several terms such as IAB, CPC, CPM, ROAS, and many others... below are quick explanations for some of them:

  • Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB): is an organization that develops the advertising industry standards (formats such as 300x250 / 728x90 / ...). They represent a large number of the biggest advertising companies worldwide.
  • Cost Per Click (CPC): is the price you pay for each click in your pay-per-click (PPC) marketing campaigns. You can read more details about CPC on this article
  • Cost Per Thounsands (CPM): is the price you pay for each 1,000 ad impressions, it is sometimes referred to as Cost Per Thousand or CPT
  • Return On Advertising Spend (ROAS): is a marketing metric used to calculate the efficiency and performance of digital advertising spend.
  • Through Rate (CTR): The percentage of people visiting a web page after clicking on a particular advertisement.

The oldschool online advertising lifecycle

In order to generate revenue, many websites and services have a business model revolving around advertising, to do so they optimize their website layout and create ad spaces in order for advertisers to promote their product or service, using display ads.

Msn news - iab 300x250 insertion
Msn news - iab 300x250 insertion

Before the advent of modern digital advertising, ad spaces buying and selling was done manually by ad buyers (Ad agencies) or sales (Advertisers in house marketing team), this method of work was time-consuming and unreliable for both advertisers and publishers.

The ad serving process was pretty straightforward:

  1. An advertiser wants to promote a product/services
  2. They set up their campaign on an Ad Server
  3. The publisher displayed an ad each time a user loaded a page
old school advertising lifecycle
Most of the time it was a flat rate based on CPC or CPM negotiated beforehand with the media buyer.

There was a massive flaw with this system, the ads were displayed to anyone with very limited targeting options, as an advertiser, it meant that a big part of your budgets was spent on useless impressions because only a small percentage of the people you reached was your target customers.

With the ever-expanding numbers of internet consumers, publishers had growing leftover ad spaces, which resulted in a loss of revenue on their side.

In order to resolve all these issues, the advertising industry began to shift into a cheaper and more efficient way to manage ad buying and selling, programmatic advertising was born.

The rise of programmatic advertising

Removing humans from the process wherever possible is the motto of programmatic, by adding automation the industry was able to sell more efficiently as ever the remaining ad spaces inventory for publishers, this also enabled advertisers to have more granularity and be more cost effective on their online advertising strategy.

Over the years programmatic has vastly evolved and improved, but it also added a layer of complexity for newcomers as it became more sophisticated. The introduction of RTB, DSP's, SSP's, Ad-Exchange, and many other new stacks of technologies (these will be explained in this article) set the industry standards for the future of advertising.

There is, however, a frequent misunderstanding that all programmatic is real-time advertising. RTB (Real-time bidding) is a subset of programmatic, a way for publishers and advertisers to instantly buy and sell ad spaces through an auction-based model.

What is RTB and why you should care

The advertising platform you will most probably use at first will in most case be Google ads or Facebook ads, both of them are principally based on Real-time bidding (RTB) technologies.

Brands or agencies (the media buyers) very often use a demand-side platform (DSP), in order to set up which impression to buy, how much to pay for them, and others parameters.

Meanwhile publishers (the media sellers) use a supply-side platform (SSP) where they sell their available ad space to media buyers. SSP's and DSP's platforms are then matched up in real time on an Ad Exchange which is basically a real-time marketplace.

The simplest visualization of the RTB lifecycle look like this:

  1. An advertiser wants to promote a product/services
  2. They set up their ad campaign usually on a DSP
  3. DSP's are connected to an Ad-Exchange where the bidding takes place
  4. The Ad-Exchange are connected to the SSP
  5. SSP's are connected to Publishers
  6. The publisher display the ad each time a user loads a page
rtb advertising lifecycle

A publisher is connected to one or more SSP's where he has full control of his ad-spaces inventory, he can set up his minimum impression price and provide his collected audience information using cookies.

On the other hand, an advertiser is connected to one or more DSP's which enables them to set up every single detail of their campaigns: target segmentation, budget limits, timeframe, content, visual assets ...

How does this actually work?

Whenever a user loads a page with ad space for sale, this is what happens:

how rtb actually works
  1. The publisher SSP collect all the data (User cookies, geolocation, ....) needed and send a bid request to an Ad Exchange.
  2. The Ad Exchange (basically a digital marketplace) creates an auction containing all the previously collected data.
  3. In response to this auction the DSP's compile these data and look for an advertiser that has matching campaign criteria.
  4. All the advertisers (through their respective DSP) whose targets align with this specific impression enter the auction and place their bid. Since the whole process needs to happen in less than 100ms, the advertisers can only bid one single time, which means that the first highest bid always wins.(depending on the Ad Exchange bid rules, ie: Google Doubleclick has a first bid strategy).
  5. The Ad Exchange sends the bid winners data to the publisher Ad server.
  6. This Ad server will then pull the ad from the winning bidder's Ad server and displays it (we call this ad served) on the user browser.
  7. Finally, the advertiser ad server collects the user ad interaction (clicks and other data).

Keep in mind this is a simple representation, big actors can be SSP and DSP at the same time (ie: Google Doubleclick) and there are many other actors established in the advertising industry, all providing a stack of technology and services such as:

  • Dynamic creative optimization (DCO): DCO is a display ad technology mostly used in retargeting strategies, it uses the data from the website visitors and matches it with an advertiser catalog in order to generate "personalized" ads that are then ad-served in real time.
  • Data management platform (DMP): A DMP is to put it more simply big data for advertising, it consolidates customers data for companies such as in-store purchases, geolocation, customer rating, and many more... all these data are gathered in order to better segment and target users based on these past interactions.
  • Fingerprinting: Is a mean to identify and track a specific user throughout his browsing experience and ad interactions, the most known are "cookies"
  • Anti-fraud solution: Ad fraud is defined as any deliberate activity that prevents ads from being served to human users (hidden ads, impression laundering, click hijacking, bots, ...). The companies providing anti-fraud solutions, ensure every ads are served to legit users.

The advertising Ecosystem is very wide and keep expanding as new player enters the industry.

display advertising ecoystem

What's next ?

In this first part we have gone over the basics of how modern digital advertising works, and explained the many terms and processes of advertising and how everything is tied up to the concepts of offer and demand, auctions and bidding.

These various moving parts of the advertising world are rather important to understand, it is pretty complicated but hopefully the illustrations have made the whole experience digestible.

In the next part, we will cover the various marketplaces and platforms that allow you to distribute your banner ads and their peculiarities. We’re going to do a deep dive into why you should choose a certain platform over another and the advantages that come with it.

#2 Available advertising networks and their key differences

Focus your efforts

The most common mistake in the advertising world is to scatter your efforts into several ad strategies, spending budgets on multiple ad-networks will make you lose track of what is actually going on: You want to be surgical on where your conversions come from or you will end up burning cash way too fast.

Recognizing which acquisition channels should have the highest priority in terms of budget & time is one of the most important skills you’ll have to learn in order to master web advertising

In this article we will cover some topics that will teach you how to select the most relevant ad-networks for your business:

  1. Search Engine advertising
  2. Display advertising
  3. Relevant display ad-networks for startups
    a. Social media ad-networks
    b. Platform-based ad-networks
    c. Generalist ad-networks

Search engine advertising (SEA)

When we talk about marketing most people like to start thinking in terms of banner advertising. That’s wrong.

You should in most cases start with Search Engine Advertising (SEA = pay per click text ads in Google, Bing, and other search engines). This paid acquisition channel is by far the most efficient way to reach your customers (prospects or prospective customers).

search ads

The main benefits of SEA are:

  • In depths measurability & analysis
  • High optimization & targeting possibilities
  • Ease of reach for your ideal audience
  • Natively displayed on every type of device (desktop, mobile, …)
  • Fast to set up & budget-friendly and scalable

In the last decade Google has been dominating the search advertising market. Your audience however, might not exclusively use Google for searching. Depending on where you are geo-located you could consider investing in Bing search ads.

  • Google Ads
    One of the biggest advantages of Google Ads is the platform’s enormous reach. A monopoly within the market, Google holds over 75% of the search market and processes over 5.6 billion searches a day. That alone, should suffice to prove that it is the go-to platform for every marketer.
  • Bing Ads
    In January 2019 a partnership agreement stated that Microsoft’s Bing Ads will be the exclusive search advertising platform for Verizon Media properties, including Yahoo and AOL. These 3 search engines combine over 10% of the search market. The Bing Ad-network is not to be forgotten. It is less crowded than Google when it comes to ad-buyers and therefore there is less competition on keyword bidding.

Be careful with your money!

It’s easy to invest a lot of money on the wrong search keywords. Most small businesses’ marketing budget is limited, nevertheless everyone should invest their money and time into paid search.

To get the most out of your marketing budget you should pay attention to not overbid on keywords and avoid high competition keywords. You will learn from your mistakes and use them to your advantage in the future.

Display advertising

When looking at display advertising and their numbers it’s easy to understand why some marketers might not want to invest in them.

Display ads have across all ad formats and placements one of the lowest CTR (≈0,46%) of all digital marketing strategies. When compared to the average CTR for SEAs (≈3.17%) and the fact that you have to create display advertising banners you might think it’s not worth the effort investing in such marketing strategies.

average display ads ctr
Source: Wordstream - Google ads by industry benchmarks

What are the benefits of display advertising?

  • Highly customizable tools: segmentation, A/B testing and targeting possibilities
  • Enables you to set-up cost-efficient retargeting campaigns
  • Gathering valuable data
  • Reach a broader audience
  • Increases brand awareness & visibility

When doing banner advertising the right way, you enable your company to reach your customers at every stage of the marketing funnel, from awareness to interest to conversion, efficiently. More on this in a later article.

Online marketing is not a sprint, you should view it as a marathon, and display ads are part of a good customer acquisition strategy.

While you can promote your banners directly on some websites by contacting them (highly inefficient and time-consuming), most display ads are published through programmatic ad-networks.

Most of these networks will give you access to a range of tools enabling you to narrow down your audience targeting.

Available networks for display ads are mainly divided into 3 big categories:

  • Social media ad-networks (Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, ...): Currently social media ad-networks are one of the fastest-growing acquisition sources in display advertising, Facebook is by far leading the pack and is currently part of the digital ad spend duopoly with Google.
display ads revenues 2019
Source - eMarketer
  • Platform-based ad-networks (Amazon, Pinterest, ...):
    These ad-networks are publishing ads on their own platform, by extension every social-media platform also fits this type of ad-network.
  • Generalist ad-networks (Google, Microsoft, ...):
    These are the most common type of networks, they are able to ad-serve on a variety of external websites giving you the ability to target everyone, everywhere.

Relevant display ad-networks for startups

You should be careful about which display ad-networks you select, some of them perform mostly for specific types of businesses, whereas others are more forgiving.

Keep in mind that display ads strategies are one of the trickiest, and I would not advise you to run these types of campaigns without already running other types of marketing strategies (SEA, growth hacking, ...). When poorly executed, these could cost you money and time.

Finding the right ad-networks that fits your business and audience will be a big part of your ad-strategy. Finding secondary niche ad-networks to complete your reach is part of that strategy too.

Example: Let’s say you are a startup selling a developer productivity tool, a large part of your audience are browsing a specific range of websites, some ad-networks are specialized in selling advertising for your audience, and these networks signed deals and partnerships with these publishers. The lead generation & brand positioning will generally have a bigger impact on these ad-networks than more generalist ones.

You should pay close attention to the metrics obtained, measure your ROI and ROAS then adjust accordingly your budget between the networks you’ve identified.  

Below you will find a list of ad-networks; Some of them are very relevant for early-stage businesses, whereas others are more suited for expanding your audience reach when your revenue and company grows.

Social media ad-networks:

Platform-based ad-networks:

  • Pinterest ads
    With 291 million monthly active users and 79,5% of them are female. Pinterest is a great niche ad-network, the majority of the users are actively looking for information and purchase inspiration. If you are an e-commerce or B2C type of business targeting a female demographic, advertising on Pinterest could become a great lead magnet.
  • Amazon ads
    Amazon ads is now the 3rd biggest digital ad platform in the US with more than 50% of all web shoppers searching for a product on amazon marketplace. It becomes one of the priority ad-networks to publish on if you are an e-commerce type of business.

Generalist ad-networks:

  • Google Display
    With over 2 million sites on the network and over 90% of people on the Internet reached, Google ad-network SHOULD be part of your advertising strategy. This self-served platform gives you one of the most complete set of tools to reach almost everyone but it can also be narrowed down to a specific audience demographic. No matter what type of business you are operating (B2B, B2C, E-commerce, …) you should advertise on Google ad-network.
  • AdLib
    A programmatic platform allowing you to reach your audience on the world's most popular sites & apps. AdLib built a solution that removes “traditional” Ad-agencies high entry fees and setup complexities, giving you access to premium platforms with no budget requirement & tied contracts.
  • BuySellAds
    With over 502 websites BuySellAds is specialized in niche audience websites, the marketplace categorizes every website available in their network,  the average monthly impressions and related CPM price per ad-formats. It could be an interesting ad-network if your target audience visits regularly these websites.
  • Carbon Ads
    Part of the BuySellAds group, Carbon Ads is specialized in developer and designer audience targeting, there are some big niche players in their network such as dribbble, Codepen, Jsfiddle, …

What's next ?

Hopefully this article helped you in your ad-networks selection, you should be now ready for our upcoming article!Modern online advertising requires you to have a battle plan this is why in the next part, we’re going to do a deep dive into the necessary steps on how to plan & define your advertising strategy.

#3 How to Plan and Define your Advertising Strategy

In this part, we will cover the steps and the reasons why planning your advertising strategy will help you save time and money.

Why planning ahead make sense?

Taking time to plan ahead will reduce the risk to make strategic mistakes. Walking into a room in the dark without a torch can be painful, just like when you step on a LEGO brick with your barefoot. that could cost you an entire advertising budget with no returns and possibly hurt your brand reputation

==We don't want that!!!==

Instead we're going to use a three step process:

  • Understanding and setting goals
  • Defining target audience
  • Picking your winning lottery tickets

These 3 steps will allow you to avoid making mistakes that could cost you a lot of time and money.

Understanding and setting goals are important.

You don't want to choose the wrong advertising goal: What would happen if you chose the wrong goal and drove traffic to your homepage to then realize you have no way capture traffic into a potential customer?

We have seen way too many ads that point to a landing page that is too generic, not optimized for their target audience. That's another huge mistake that will cost advertisers a huge amount of money and a very diminished return on investment but also a low conversion rate!

These mistakes are real, they happen when you just started working in the online advertising world!

Let's jump into the first step of the process straight away.

How to define your advertising goals

To help you create successful ad campaigns, we listed for you the 5 most important steps necessary for you to plan & define accordingly your ad strategy and budget segmentation.

Start with the campaign goal

What are the outcomes you are looking for in this campaign?

  • Are you trying to attract new customers?
  • Are you looking to re-target visitors?
The best goals are specific: What are you trying to achieve with this campaign, and in how much time  are you planning to attain these goals?

On many open self-serve ad-networks, one of the first things you will have to define are campaign goals.

Google ads knowledge base has one of the most understandable explanations available. We strongly suggest you read their article.

Goals can be divided into 5 categories:

  • Sales - Ads reach customers close to making a purchase decision.
  • Leads - Ads delivered to relevant customers that have an interest in your products.
  • Website traffic - Ads to drive potential customers to visit your website.
  • Product & brand consideration - Ads to encourage leads to explore your offer.
  • Brand awareness & reach - Ads to increase awareness of your products or services.

Understanding these goals will help you define where display ads could fit into your current acquisition strategy (a strategy which will evolve over time).

Define your audience

The second step of your process is defining a target audience.

Targeting an audience is important: for example if you're a company delivering healthy cat food to your customer's door on a monthly basis, you shouldn't target owners of dogs, horses or birds. They're a totally different audience.

Do you think such a mismatched audience would to purchase recurring cat food? I doubt it.

Defining an audience can be done in multiple ways, the best is to use tools provided by your advertising platform and create small tight groups of people who match the characteristics of a "perfect customer" (also called a persona).

Most platforms have audience targeting options such as interest segmentation,  A/B testing, audience re-marketing and many other tools that give you the opportunity to precisely target your market audience.

Each platform has its own strengths in enabling you to match your ads with the best possible audience. This means that your audience, the one you have defined as your target, will see your ads when in the right context.

Context here means that the ad platform will show specific product-focused ads to a subset of customers that are ready to make a purchase.

On the other hand, with a different context, the ad platform could show ads to raise awareness of your product/brand to another audience, particularly those who haven't heard of your product or brand yet. These customers might be the ones who have just started researching products in a certain space or are just doing general research of what's out there available for them to purchase or consider purchasing.

Context basically allows ad-platforms to tailor ad-experiences to predefined customer journeys.

audience segmentation
Audience segmentation

The more information you gather on your target audience the more it will help you define your segmentation & targeting parameters:

  • Websites your target audience visit: websites regularly visited like ProductHunt, TechCrunch & Reddit
  • Facebook/LinkedIn groups your audience are part of
  • Common keywords and phrases your target audience might be searching for in Google. Another powerful tool to achieve this is called Search Engine Advertising.

What is your budget?

How much are you willing to spend on promoting your business? If you have some ideas already, how much will these ideas cost to implement? Planning ahead is critical to understand how much money, and for how long you will be running ads - but also what goals you're setting yourself given the time and money specified.

Let's face it, you are looking to bootstrap your business  as much as possible, by definition your budget is tight.

This doesn't mean that you can't advertise with a small budget of $100/month, it just means you have to double down on being careful where you spend your money. Eventually as your product scales over time, your marketing budget will also grow, and so will the channel where you can advertise as well as your monthly budget.

It is noteworthy that most self-serve ad-networks (Google, LinkedIn, Facebook) give away free additional budget when you start to use their platform.

Below are some links to these promotional giveaway programs:

Define which products or services you want to feature

The more specific you can be, the better. That's why corporations will mostly focus on advertising particular products that they know are "hot" sellers or services, instead of global advertising campaigns like it was common before the internet became popular.

Specific product or offer advertising campaigns
Specific product or offer advertising campaigns

Below are some subjects you should think of:

  • Are you launching a new product?
  • Are you looking to increase brand awareness?
  • Are you offering a discount to drive acquisition?
  • What should be highlighted?

Play your key strengths and analyze your competition

Put yourself in your target audiences' shoes: what makes you different from your competition? Are you cheaper? What makes you stand out? Use that to your advantage.

You'll want to exploit those strengths in your advertising strategy, and adjust the WHAT you promote, content-wise, accordingly.

Analyze your competitors marketing & advertising strategy:

  • What are they posting on social media?
  • Which type of content are they pushing on their blog?
  • How do they speak to their customers?
  • What types of banner creatives are they posting?

You can easily find the banners from competitors or even other types of brands who are currently promoting similar products online.

Looking at businesses outside of your own market can help you come up with great ideas that could be used in your own marketing content. Be careful, we're talking about inspiration, not copying.

How to find your competitors' ads?

What's next ?

Now it's time to take all of what you've learned and start thinking on how YOU can create your own strategy! Most people have similar initial strategies. Don't try to stand-out with some over-complicated strategy yet.

Take little steady steps first.
In the next part, We’re going to look at the necessary steps to effectively track and measure your upcoming advertising campaigns.

#4 How to Measure and Track Advertising Performance

In this part, we will cover the necessary tracking setup you'll have to do to be able to measure success, before starting any advertising campaigns.

Why the need for your own tracking

You might ask: isn't ad performance automatically tracked by advertising platforms?

Sadly the answer is "Yes"and "No".

Advertisers DO track ads performance on their side, they retrieve the data on things like clicks, impressions, purchases etc...then compile the information in your campaign's dashboard for you to analyze.

Sometimes great ads don't convert, not because of the copy of the ad itself, but rather because of other factors: landing pages, checkout experiences, images and obviously prices.

The truth is you can't really trust the data they are showing you because they don't have the full picture of what happens after an ad is clicked on.

blackbox schema

The lifecycle of an ad is quite difficult to track. With the introduction of ad-blockers, ad-fraud, services interruptions, erratic users and many other external factors. It is a real challenge to aggregate all this data and have a report with a 100% accuracy score.

That’s why you need to install additional tracking to measure the effects of your banner strategy

Tracking requirement

Tracking which ads are driving what actions on your website is critical, if not done correctly it could result in inefficient Ad spending (bad Return On Ad Spend, or ROAS for short).

We listed below some of the most important aspects you'll have to setup in place to efficiently track your ad-performance, an and user-behaviors on your website.

1. Web analytics and Event-tracking tools

Web analytics and event-tracking tools are a great way of figuring out what works and what doesn’t. They will also help you determine if your visitors are successful in achieving their goals with your product or service, by setting up conversion funnel trackers.

List of great web analytics and even-tracking tools:
  • Google Analytics (Thanks captain obvious)
    Whichever analytics tools you decide to go with, using Google analytics is a must have and is one of the basics before using anything else.
  • Fathom Analytics
    Fathom is a simple and private website analytics platform focusing on user privacy.
  • Simple Analytics
    Simple analytics is a lightweight alternative, it does not use nor collect any cookies ensuring privacy and GDPR compliance.

2. Link your Google Analytics & Google Ads accounts

If you plan to advertise on google ad-networks, it is strongly advised to link your Google Analytics and Google Ads accounts, this will help you analyze users activity on your website after an ad-click or impression.

link google analytics with google ads
You can find a tutorial made by Google to link these 2 services here.

3. UTM parameters on tracking URL’s

For every single ad you create you will need a unique and specific URL that carries UTM parameters. Having these will help track down which ad & acquisition channels are sending your best leads.
>>> What's the importance? Do we need to explain in details? Or just say, use it?

  • Google UTM builder
    Google provides a URL Builder giving you the ability to manually create them.
  • UTMBuilder.net
    An alternative to the Google UTM builder, does more or less the same thing.
  • UTM.io
    UTM.io is a great to the other tools since it enables you to share and sync your UTMs with your team, create UTM templates, and comes with a handy Google Chrome extension.

4. Heat Mapping and session recording tools

Session Recording tools enable you to track entire visitor sessions. They allow you to play-back all of the interactions your visitors took on your website.

These playback sessions are very valuable and hold a lot of information that standard tracking & analytics can't give you. These tools help you see with your own eyes where your visitors are struggling while navigating and determine how you could fix it.

List of great behavioral analysis tools:
  • Hotjar
    Hotjar is a lightweight solution combining both analysis and feedback tools, it includes heat-maps, visitor recording, conversion funnels, polls, and survey. It is one of the best solution to start sessions recording and behavioral analysis.
Our friends at Joinsecret.com have a great deal for Hotjar:
6 months free on the Plus plan (save 174€)
  • Fullstory (What we currently use at Abyssale)
    Getting a lot of love from UX designers, Fullstory is one the best behavior analysis tool out there, packed with a lot of features such as conversions tracking and analysis, data visualization,  session recording and replays, dev tools, and many more...
  • UXCam
    heavily focused on mobile app UXCam captures every micro interaction on your app, allowing you to replay, analyze and optimize the User Experience.
  • Smartlook
    Smartlook records users on websites and in mobile apps. Coming with more or less the same features as Hotjar, it could be another alternative if you have a mobile app.

There are of courses a lot more tools available out there. Based on our professional experience and what we've used, these tools picked above are the most reliable ones available.

What's next ?

Purchasing ALL the tracking tools seems like a good idea, but they can get very expensive. Start small and then scale accordingly: usually the more expensive ones give you more functionalities and easier goal/tracking set-up.

Tools such as Google Analytics are great and free, but come with a learning curve. After setting up your minimum viable tracking and running a few ad campaigns you will have a better understanding of what else you might need in terms of tooling. At this point, you might opt to purchase more sophisticated tools than Google Analytics.

In the next part, we’re going to cover Search Engine Advertising (SEA) and why you should consider spending your ad budget on it, before diving in display advertising,  and more importantly we will cover the strategies, the “what, how and why” you should consider when setting up your first SEA campaign.

#5 Why you Should Invest in Search Engine Advertising

In this part, we will cover why you should strongly consider investing money in Search Engine Advertising, specifically using Google Adwords. We will cover why we believe this is a winning strategy and the necessary steps to begin your journey using Google Adwords.

Start with search engine advertising

When you start to advertise your product/service it is heavily recommended to focus on SEA (Search Engine Advertising) only, then split your efforts to other advertising strategy and acquisition channels.

Why? Understanding how to create and optimize paid search ads works will take time but the insights you will gain from running these types of campaigns will help you understand who is your real audience. Creating paid search ads will help you understand your customers’ interests, and what keywords/offerings work best with them.

There are a lot of other platforms that will allow you to promote your business: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest,... Depending on your product and targeted audience, some of the above networks would maybe make more sense than Google Adwords in your acquisition strategy.

However, you have to start somewhere and if you’re reading this, you’re new to the game: we suggest Google Adwords as a starting point.

Starting with Google Adwords: defining ad spending budget

Google Adwords is one of the most used advertising platforms because of its reach, segmentation granularity, and cost-effective pricing.

A simple way to determine your campaign budget is to analyze the average cost per click (CPC) in your industry and related conversion rates (CTR). Doing some research on this can lead you in the right direction, luckily a little searching will help you figure out your costs.  After defining the budget to spend on a campaign and calculating your expected return on investment (ROI), you can calculate your monthly budget for a given month.

Start with a small budget (not too small or it won't work), typically 10% of your gross revenue -  Starting with $1000/m.

Some early criteria to follow:

  • Avoid High Competition keywords at first.
  • Leverage the Keyword Planner tool to find keywords from ad groups.
  • Don't just use every Ad Group Google will suggest. Dig into each one and find the keywords that are most relevant to your offering.
  • Setup 3–4 ad variations.

Free up some time to manage your campaign

At first, managing Google Ads will take a substantial amount of time so you will need to identify how much time it will take you to actually manage all your campaigns and gather your learnings. We suggest you create your own reports extracting data and importing it in a spreadsheet. Doing so you can monitor things like CTR, cost, and conversions over time.

It will take you quite a few hours (even more if you are new to this) to understand how the Google Ads platform works, especially setting up your first campaign properly. Consider it an extremely valuable skill, we promise it’s worth spending time.

You can also expect an advertising rep to reach out to you via email to schedule a call before and during your first few weeks of using Google Ads. Take all the help you can get, schedule the call!

Evaluate keyword search weight and associated costs

The best way to know if people are looking for a product/service similar to yours is to find how many associated terms are searched on Google.

To do so, you should use the Google Keyword Planner Tool to search for keywords and phrases related to your product and service. Think about what problems your target audience has and how they would search for a solution for it on Google.

Other keyword planning and analysis tools are available:
  • Ubersuggest
    A freemium toolset mostly advertised as a platform to generate content ideas and suggestions for your own SEO & SEA strategy.
  • Semrush
    Paid alternative with an extensive list of SEO tools (keyword planning, keyword tracking, SEO & backlinks audits, and many more. Starts at 99$/mo
  • Ahrefs
    A well-known toolset for backlinks and SEO analysis. Starts at 99$/mo
  • SpyFu
    The cheapest paid alternative! It still includes an extensive list of features enabling you to plan keywords for your SEA strategy. Starts at 39$/mo

Competitors benchmarking

To maximize your bid strategy you should analyze which keywords your competitors are bidding on, by doing so you can discover some interesting keywords...and you might decide to target such keywords in a campaign too!

For example, you could perform competitor research on terms that relate to your industry. This could give you an idea of what others are targeting and how wide their reach is. Widening your reach will increase your budget; however, at some point in your marketing strategy, you might need to compete on these keywords too.

For example, mattress companies not only target every product in the bed industry, but they also target sleeping badly and typical issues related to resting unwell in your bed.

Let’s say you have found a competitor, and let’s say you want to know how much they are spending on bidding on search terms you to are interested in. You could use the tool SpyFU. This website will give you all the information you want on your competition and their ad spend.

What's next?

After reading this part you should spend a few weeks practicing and implementing search engine advertising for your own business/project.

You’ve learned HOW a platform like Google Ads is very powerful and helps you get more views and sales. and you are finally running paid search campaigns. You’re probably already pushing your marketing content on relevant social media channels and finally, you are now looking for other types of marketing strategies to leverage.

This is when you decide it’s time to add display ads to your marketing strategy.

In the next part of this article, we're going to do a deep dive into display advertising, the available banner formats and how each performs. You will learn how to plan accordingly your first display advertising campaign!

#6 Best Performing Ad Sizes in 2022

If you’re new to display advertising, you may not know that each ad-platform supports different banner sizes. This part aims to make you familiar with the most common ad dimensions of the most used ad-platform. We will show you examples of ad sizes, how to maximize their effectiveness and explain which ones you should use for the highest ROI.

Does banner format really matter?

To the end-user it may look like all Ad formats are similar, the truth is that not all of them are going to meet the same goals & expectations. Different sizes require different strategies, text, creativity, and call to action!

Let’s analyze as an example a famous tech-news website like TechCrunch. Their website supports only 3 types of IAB banner formats!

TechCrunch available Ad units
TechCrunch available Ad units
  • On desktop & tablets:
    - IAB – 300×250
    - IAB – 728×90 (desktop only)
  • On mobile:
    - IAB – 300×250
    - IAB – 320×50 (mobile only)

Choosing the wrong format could effectively limit your campaigns’ reach. Using uncommon ad formats not only could result in your ads being disapproved but could also mean they are distributed inefficiently in the ad auction phase.

Most savvy advertisers will focus their efforts on 4 to 5 banner sizes only, and will also run a lot of A/B tests to find their best banner combinations.

Did you know? Display Advertising (with IAB formats) is the most commonly used strategy for “brand awareness”, as the CTR and CPM are extremely low.

You probably will have to test most banner formats to optimize your ROAS in your business vertical. As your marketing expenses grow and you acquire a better understanding of banner formats that achieve your goals, you will start cutting off underperforming formats.

Most popular and valuable ad formats

After researching this topic we noticed that no major ad-networks gives data on banner performances.

Ads placed above the fold will almost always outperform creatives placed below, so keep that in mind when buying ad space.

However, a global trend appears after analyzing 3rd party data sources on banner advertising. Here you can find the list of popular ad formats you should strongly consider for your business.

Medium Rectangle (300×250)

Known as “Medium Rectangle” this banner format is generally the best-performing ad size, most widely-used, and the most expensive (because valuable).This banner size has over 40% of global inventory on any given Ad Network and is by far the most valuable weapon in your display advertising strategy.

One of the reasons for its popularity is its ability to perform well on both desktop and mobile.

320x250 - Banner generated on Abyssale

Leaderboard (728×90)

Also known as “Horizontal Banner”, it is amongst the best-performing ad slots (2nd most used among global ad inventory).

Likely to be amongst the most expensive ad formats available (with the 300x250), but generally worth it due to its high performance.Usually displayed at the top of websites, it can also be found between articles on news, media, and entertainment platforms. It is most of the time one of the first elements a user will see, this explains it’s higher cost.

728x90 - Banner generate on Abyssale

Wide Skyscraper (160×600)

The 160×600 ad size is mostly placed by publishers below the fold and on the side of websites.

This is why it won’t perform as well as the 300×250 or 728×90 ad formats. You can generally expect a reasonably low CPM for this ad unit on most ad networks.

160x600 - Banner generated on Abyssale

Half Page Unit (300×600)

The 300×600 Half Page Unit  (or HPU) is a highly successful banner format in terms of performance. However, it is not yet part of the standard Ad list because of the limited inventory available.

This banner format should be considered since it is one of the best performings when used well. It has, however, an expensive CPM compared to other ad units.

It can usually be viewed on entertainment and/or news websites. Widely used by luxury brands, GAFA’s, and other huge brands because of its size that allows capturing audience attention.

300x600 - Banner generated on Abyssale

Mobile Leaderboard (320×50)

Known as a ”Mobile Leaderboard”, or “Smartphone Leaderboard” this ad unit is one of the mobile-specific ad formats available.

Very effective if used right, the Mobile Leaderboard often doesn’t cost much. This ad unit also has plenty of inventory available.

Since the real estate is very small you’ll have to make sure your message is concise to convey and ensure you’re using simple & clear graphics.

320x50 - Banner generated on Abyssale

Large Mobile Banner (320×100)

Also known as the "Large Mobile Banner" it is the big brother of the 320x50 ad unit. Mobile-specific banners are rather small, but the 320x100 is the largest available mobile-specific ad format available.

It yields better performance than other mobile banner sizes. However, its popularity comes with a price! You can expect a higher CPM than a 320x50 ad unit, this is why you should test both formats if you're targeting mobile devices and see what is your ROAS to understand if you should keep both of them in rotation.

320x100 - Banner generated on Abyssale
To get the most out of any mobile-specific banner you have to make the best use of the small space available to you. This means having a very concise message and call to action, which can fit in the space.

What's next?

Hopefully, this part helped you in understanding how different banner formats work, how you should use each format to target your audience based on budget device and ROI.

  • A key takeaway from this part is that the most popular choices are not necessarily the best choices for you.
  • Another takeaway is the importance of A/B testing banner formats, and not only focusing on testing different creative content: a change in format, could show you improvements in ROAS (Return On Ad Spend) very quickly while A/B testing.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if there was an automated platform that could help you create variations of banners, format, design and call to actions - so that you could A/B test quickly what works best for you? 💚😉

In the next part we’re going to do a deep dive into banner design for you to create an efficient and measurable display ad campaign.

#7 Anatomy of a Relevant Banner Design

In this part, we will review the different components that make a banner design GREAT. How do you know when you have done a good job? Great banners are impactful and gather high CTR from your target audience.

Why design is important in advertising

Banner design is a big part of an effective display advertising campaign. Each ad is effecting when key elements of the ad are implemented. Things such as:

You will be coming up with these elements to create and optimize a great banner. In this article you will understand that great design comes after understanding all of the elements involved in banner design. Your promotional message and captures your audience’s interest.

Branding guidelines & color choices

As you are probably aware consistent branding is one of the most important elements of advertising. Brand consistency allows you to create a sense of belonging. As your brand grows more people will recognize it, consistency in branding allows your brand to be visible amongst the hundred of thousands of brands out there.

As an example, Netflix, the world-known streaming service, has excellently combined their brand in all its banner marketing efforts. Their advertising banners are on-brand and are very direct and concise. Visually they look just perfect. Netflix targets its audience on desktop, mobile, and TV with these ads by promoting their shows current and upcoming to entice trials and sign-ups to its platform.

Netflix Display banners – Moat.com
Netflix Display banners – Moat.com

As another example Starbucks have a solid branding guideline, but seasonal color schemes. Throughout the year, the green and white colors change. - while during late November and early December their ads will look Red and White and Green.

Starbucks Display banners – Moat.com
Starbucks Display banners – Moat.com
All of the elements featured in your ad should come together to support the overall brand and brand identity.

Every company is different and therefore everyone holds the key to a secret formula. It all begins with brand guidelines and consistency. To generate the perfect banner, you can rely on good design and marketing understanding to produce something that will awaken interest and elicit a click in your target audience.

Content Hierarchy & Message

Messaging is very important: using simple and powerful copy helps you convey the message best over complicated content. Promoting a new product? Running a flash sale? Or trying to raise awareness of your brand? Once you know the subject of your promotion, you can work on clear and effective messaging. Less is more.

Intercom, Slack, and Soylent Display banners
Intercom, Slack, and Soylent Display banners
You typically have under 3 seconds to make an impression on the average viewer.

Another good way to test the efficacy of your ads is to do the mom test. A test crafted to see if your ad is good enough or if it needs refinement. You can also do the 3-second test. Flashing your ad in front of an audience for 3 seconds and then immediately asking a few target questions about the offer and product advertised: you will be amazed how hard this gets especially when showing multiple ads at once in a page with text.

Pictures that work for your brand and content

Less is more when it comes to including imagery in your ads. Just like your content, you should remain light: that means only use ONE image per banner. Our recommendation is to pick either one great background picture (on Unsplash for example) or carefully select high-resolution products.

A great example is Nike: here we have a single product and focal point but the ad still delivers a solid message while looking neat and professional.

nike display banners

Choose a Call to Action

Choosing a call to action that resonates with your audience is the key to getting a high conversion rate. Most importantly, it needs to match the marketing lifecycle stage of your customer.

This will make the ad resonate with your audience’s intent: people don’t just hit the buy now button, it’s better to introduce them to your brand first, so a “Learn More” CTA is most times more interesting. If they hit the learn more, you can re-target the audience that visited your landing page. At this point with re-targeted ads, “Buy Now” as a CTA makes sense.

Most importantly, writing an effective copy for a CTA is an art. Hire a copywriter!

It’s not enough to say “Buy now!” and expect customers to just make a purchase off that. Your customers need to know what they are getting themselves into after clicking the button. Therefore your CTA should define the action and consequence and be visually easy to spot: using powerful contrasting colors, larger in size, and picking a good font will take you far.

We discussed the importance of using the right CTA for the right step of the funnel. Here are a few examples of CTAs used at particular stages of a standard sales funnel:

  • Awareness stage – educating the audience – “Download a free eBook”, “Read more on our blog”, “Learn more”
  • Interest/Evaluation stage – positioning the product/service as a good solution for potential customers – “Register for a webinar”, "Request a demo"
  • Action/Purchase – making sure that people buy from you and not your competition – “Register for free today”, “Get your membership.”

Solving the misconceptions

The opinions of advertisers on digital ads vary but the truth is...there is a science behind the ad-making process. Embracing a data-driven design process is the best way to increase conversions and get better results. Using a rigorous design and testing process will enable your marketing strategy to become sharper. Today, marketers use data, design systems, image editing software, copywriters and expensive graphic artists to create advertising graphics. These processes are long and expensive.

Generating 1 banner costs on average $200. Is this process worth all this money, considering viewers spend 3 seconds on your ads max?

At Abyssale our vision is to enable you to test your banners at scale and improve your ROAS by automating the design task and generating ad-banners with the ease of 1 click.

Iterate, iterate, iterate, pick a winning ad, spend your budget on your winners!

#8 The underlying challenges of an online advertising campaign

With the current landscape of startups and products being launched everyday it has never been more difficult to attract the attention of your audience, the most effective trick is to put yourself in the shoes of your user base and ask yourself if the marketing material you are producing would spark your own interest.

The thing is as an entrepreneur you will face many challenges and exploring marketing solutions to promote your product is one of your top priorities. One of these marketing solution could be display advertising campaigns, and with little to no knowledge on this subject it could result in a waste of time, resources and money.

The output that matters: The banner

Creating banners is usually a tedious task that involves many back and forths between Founders (or Managers), Marketers & Designers.

The back and forth loop of hell

As a seasoned product designer who has worked in various companies of different sizes and stages, the scenario below compiles most of the questions & challenges a company has to face when they launch an advertising campaign.

Someone in the team decides to launch a display advertising campaign, the following information is required:

  1. What is the goal of the campaign ?
  2. Who is the target of the campaign ?
  3. Which acquisition channel should the focus be on ?
  4. How to publish the campaign on the previously selected acquisition channel ?
  5. What is the budget (creation + publishing) ?
  6. Who will create the banners (design + wording + tech integration) ?
  7. How long will it take to launch the campaign (from ideation to publication) ?

We strongly believe the creation phase (number 6 in the list above) is the most time-consuming step. When a business decides to launch an advertising campaign this is a real pain-point everyone has, no matter their skills and experience. As a result we decided to build a product called Abyssale.

Common display advertising lifecycle

The inception of Abyssale and how we are leveraging technology to improve the marketing process

Yassine and myself met in high school. That’s a long time ago. We started to build web-based products as a hobby and realised early the potential of internet based businesses. We both started our career at the bottom of the ladder, as a developer and a designer within Publicis Group. Publicis is one of the biggest European advertising corporation: there we learned the ropes of the industry and gained a lot of experience.

Time has passed and nowadays, most of the companies I’ve worked with loop me in when online advertising is discussed internally.

Below I’ve highlighted some of the most common type of topics discussed by companies who are trying to build marketing ad campaigns

Different roles, different issues:

  • As an in-house designer I want to spend as little time as possible on creating ads, I am not passionate about it and I have never met anyone in my life who is. (It is usually seen as a tedious and uninspiring task.)
  • On the other hand, if I were a marketer with no — or limited — design skills I would want to spend as little time and money possible on creating high quality banners. At the same time I’d want to test as a many campaigns messages and styles as possible.
  • Finally, as a founder I would want to explore different type of acquisition channels but without having a marketing/design/technical expert on board, this task would become extremely complicated and time consuming. As you all know each channel has its own standards and rules.

By leveraging technology within our domain of expertise and adding automation virtually everywhere in the banner generation process, we can eliminate the tediousness and need for expert designers.

In the next and final part of this thorough advertising guide we'll cover the importance of AB testing in modern display advertising and how it is key to distancing your competitors.

#9 Why is A/B Testing Important For Display Advertising?

A/B testing is one of the most crucial and impactful aspects of Display advertising. Without effective A/B testing, it’s difficult to get an idea about what kind of display ads resonate most with your audience.

A/B testing your display ads can give you eye-opening insights and help optimize your future campaigns as well.

No wonder companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook swear by it and run 1000s of A/B tests each year.

But, did you know that the major challenge that businesses face for A/B testing today is the lack of time and right tools?

Display advertising survey
Source: Top A/B testing challenges

Let’s find out how you can overcome these problems and start running multiple A/B tests in a short time to maximize your display ad conversions.

What is A/B Testing? Why is it Important for Banner Ads?

A/B testing or split testing of banner ads is the process of showing two variants of the same banner ad to different customers at the same time.

By comparing the conversions of these variants, you will know which banner ad works better.

nike ads

A/B testing your banners ads is super-important for your business because it can help you:

  1. Lead to a significant increase in your conversion rates - A/B testing doesn’t have to involve making substantial changes to your banner ad. Merely changing the “Shop Now” button color from grey to green can triple your ad click-through rates!
  2. Reduce ad fatigue or banner blindness - When your prospects see the same ads repeatedly, they are likely to stop noticing it and scroll right past it. So A/B testing your ads can eliminate ad fatigue.
  3. Understand the needs and likes of your audience better - Using the data accumulated from your A/B tests, you’ll get a fair understanding about what goes well with your target persona.
  4. Use the feedback for the better design of your future banner ads - Using your A/B test feedback, you’ll be able to design better banner ads in the future. For example, if stock images don’t resonate well with your audience compared to actual photos, you can consider avoiding stock photos for all your future display ads.

Deciding What to Test

A/B test should be done in a controlled manner for optimal results. This means that you must vary only one element of your banner ad at a time. If you vary two things at a time, you wouldn’t know which one worked in your favor.

Here are a few elements that you can A/B test in your banner ads:

1. Colors, Fonts, and Background Images

Visual elements in your banner ads can act as significant psychological triggers for your prospects.

If your target audience consists of varied personas, then it is highly likely that varying your banner ad visuals and images can bring up unexpected changes in your conversions.

You can try the varying the following:

  1. Colors and contrast - You can try and change the color of your backgrounds, fonts, and images. Ensure that the colors are aligned with your branding.
  2. Background - You can try photographs, stock images, graphics, or even plain backgrounds.
  3. Fonts - You can vary the fonts and font sizes of headlines, ad copy, or CTA.

Don’t be afraid to play around with different visual elements of your display ads. By doing so, you are likely to land on a perfect banner ad design that yields maximum conversions for your campaign.

A perfect example is when Sony attained a 21.3% increase in visitors by A/B testing their banner ad designs.

2. Headlines

Headlines are the first thing that catches your users’ attention. And hence they have the power to make or break your CTRs.

In fact, in 2017, Microsoft’s Bing increased their annual revenue by an astonishing 12% (more than $100 million) just by changing their display ad headline!!!

Here’s how you can A/B test your headlines:

  1. Try asking questions that evoke curiosity and drive more engagement.
  2. Focus on your USP and benefits.
  3. Vary the placement of headlines in your banner ads.
  4. Play around with different fonts, colors, and sizes.
  5. Use power words to grab quick attention.

3. Copy and Value Proposition

Your banner ad copy is another crucial element responsible for the success of your campaign.

Due to space limitations, you’ll have to stick to one strong value proposition and put it together in fewer words. But that shouldn’t stop you from efficiently A/B testing your copy. You can add different versions of the same value propositions to your banners.

For example, you can vary your copy’s tone - have a relaxed tone, an urgent tone, or an inspirational one.
Or, you can also try changing a few words in your copy. For example, a law firm increased their CTR and conversion rate by 27% and 11% respectively while reducing their CPA by 8% - all this just by replacing the word “Apply” with “PreApply” in their ad copy!

The trick is to evoke different emotions such as curiosity, urgency, or excitement with each variant. This way, you’ll get the essence of what works best for your audience.

4. Call to Actions

Call to Actions are, of course, an essential part of your banner ad. If you try different creative variations of CTA instead of just sticking to the usual “Buy Now,” you can make a massive difference to your conversion rates.

For example, simply rearranging the words in CTA from “Get $10 off the first purchase. Book online now!” to “Get an additional $10 off. Book online now” led to the doubling of CTR for Straight North, an internet marketing agency.

Here are a few things to test in your CTA:

  • Text
  • Color and contrast
  • Placement
  • Style

The Easiest Way to A/B your Display Ads

Unlike landing pages and emails, A/B testing your banner ads is quite daunting. Depending on your company’s size, A/B testing banner ads for your campaigns can take you weeks!

If you’ve tried A/B testing your banners before, you know that you’ve to redo the banner design each time and hope that this version works. And if it doesn’t work, you have to go through the whole process of resizing, rewriting the copy, and playing with the designs.

Thankfully for you, an automated banner production platform like Abyssale can save your day!

Using Abyssale, you can test multiple banner ad designs at scale in a fraction of the time that your team would usually take.

Generate multiple ad designs to optimize your campaign reach
Generate multiple ad designs to optimize your campaign reach

You can set up your branding, A/B test multiple designs, collaborate with your team, and get the ads rolling within a few hours. So you get time to focus on other important business tasks at hand.

Whether you’re a startup, an agency, or an eCommerce business, Abyssale will be the most budget-friendly and time-efficient platform for your display advertising campaigns.

It’s Your Turn Now!

Now you know that A/B testing can be game-changing for your business’ conversions. In fact, 63% of companies believe that A/B testing can significantly increase their conversion rates.

With Abyssale, display ad A/B testing gets much more manageable and cost-effective, especially if you’re working on a large scale and don’t want to waste your time on redesigning ad creatives for each set of tests.

Market your product/service.

Naturally, you searched for documentation on Google and found yourself overwhelmed by an ocean of content, blogs, and articles with the " best tips out there". Let's face it, there are infinite ways to market your solution, and most of the time what you read somewhere is so generic and most of all might not be right for your specific market audience.

Creating Abyssale was our challenge. We have thought a lot about how to help users in the Advertising world and decided to write a serie of articles explaining a wide range of concepts & topics.

Behold, our summary for this series:

Part 1 - How does Modern Display Advertising Actually Work
Part 2 - Available Advertising Networks and their Key Differences
Part 3 - How to Plan and Define your Advertising Strategy
Part 4 - How to Measure and Track Advertising Performance
Part 5 - Why you Should Invest in Search Engine Advertising
Part 6 - Best Performing Ad Sizes in 2021
Part 7 - The Anatomy of a Relevant Banner Design
Part 8 - The underlying challenges of an online advertising campaign
Part 9 - Why is A/B testing important for display advertising ?