Buying Display Advertising On A Flexible Budget

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As an agency owner, I’m contacted all the time by small businesses who want my help in planning and buying them online advertising campaigns. Most of the time, their budgets are too small to support the work that goes into professional planning and campaign management, but there is a solution for smaller advertisers with limited budgets: do it yourself (also known as self-serve) advertising platforms.

The largest DIY platform by far is Google’s Display Network (http://www.google.com/adwords/displaynetwork), but it’s definitely not the only game in town. Self-serve ad networks are perfect for small or first-time advertisers. Many have have ridiculously low-cost minimums (like $10!), are pretty intuitive to use, and some even offer to help you create and generate display or display-like ads. With these kinds of features, almost any business can be an online advertiser overnight.

Let The Buyer Beware

Despite the low barrier of entry into the world of display and online advertising, there are a few things you’ll want to know as a buyer:

1.      Most self-service ad networks don’t offer a lot of control or transparency – they may have some targeting and exclusion abilities, but often you won’t know and can’t control where your ads will appear. This means you’ll also have to trust the network that your ads did in fact appear, and that whatever you’re being charged for actually happened.

2.      Campaign optimization can be a challenge – at best you may know that a particular network is “working” (generating you desired conversions or actions) or “not working.” Generally, you cannot alter the campaign to the same degree you can with buys made through media representatives.

3.      Start small, compare and build up – when starting with a new DIY network, your approach should be experimental in nature. Better to go in with the expectation that it’s not going to work and be proven wrong than to have high expectations that it will only to be disappointed. For that reason, you may also want to only buy in at the minimum level and onto several similar networks at the same time. This way you can compare performance and make more informed decisions about where to spend your future ad dollars.

4.      Don’t forget the basics – if you’re advertising to drive conversions, come up with compelling ad copy and creative, present a strong offer and call-to-action, and ideally send your traffic to a landing page that corresponds to your ad.

You’re chomping at the bit to get started right now, aren’t you? Where to begin? Here’s a short list of networks you can consider.

1.  Self-Serve Display Ads – these 3 make things pretty easy with their ad building tools

AdReady – http://www.adready.com
BlogAds – http://www.blogads.com/advertiser_html
AdRoll – http://www.adroll.com/help/campaigncreator

2.  Self-Serve Text & Contextually Targeted Display Ads

AdBrite – http://www.adbrite.com
Marchex Adhere – http://www.industrybrains.com
ContextWeb – http://www.contextweb.com

3.  Self-Serve Networks Offering Multiple Ad Types

AOL Advertising.com’s recently launched Ad Desk – https://addesk.advertising.com/ – AOL is the industry stalwart
Pheedo – http://www.pheedo.com/site/adv_overview.php – in-stream RSS ad platform — try this one for something different

4.  Self-Serve Social Media Ads

While Twitter’s rumored to be soon launching a self-serve platform, Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/advertising) and StumbleUpon (https://www.stumbleupon.com/ads) already have such solutions in place.

5.  Self-Serve Mobile Ads

AdMob – http://www.admob.com/home/help/helpfiles/Advertisers/CreateAd
InMobi – http://www.inmobi.com/advertiser
JumpTap – http://www.jumptap.com

B2B-Focused Self-Serve Ads

Bizo – http://www.bizo.com/marketer/selfserve)
Forbes.com – http://www.forbes.com/selfserve
LinkedIn DirectAds – https://www.linkedin.com/ads/start

Want a more comprehensive list? Visit my latest definitive list of self-serve ad platforms.

Hollis will be featured in the upcoming Spring 2011 issue of Search Marketing Standard magazine with an article on “How To Get Started With Display Advertising.” Subscribe before February 21 and you will be included on the mailing list for this Spring issue. Sorry — print subscriptions received after February 21 will begin with the Summer 2011 issue.

About the Author

In 1998, Hollis Thomases, a graduate of Cornell University, founded Web Ad.vantage, Inc. (www.webadvantage.net), a specialized agency providing strategic online marketing and advertising solutions. Her wide-ranging experience, practical insights, and pragmatic approach has earned Hollis a reputation as online marketing’s “Voice of Reason.”

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2 Comments

  1. Great article and thanks for helping small business with their ad campaigns.

  2. Great article! Its always tough trying to advertise on a budget, unfortunately its a make or break deal for most people, thanks for breaking it down to help us out!