Right now, the internet accounts for one third of the typical media day for all U.S. adults. Consumers spend nearly four hours online daily according to a report from The Media Audit--that's 32.5 percent of their media time compared to daily exposure to newspapers, radio, TV and outdoor advertising.

Can you afford not to advertise online this holiday season?

The online advertising world isn't all that different from the traditional media you're used to. Paid ads on search engines are similar to print classifieds and serve the same purpose. But if you're like many business owners, the newest piece of the puzzle is display advertising on third-party websites. While designing these ads should be done by experienced professionals, buying the advertising space can be a do-it-yourself job. And it's not as complicated as you may think.

  • Relevant Content Is King

An advertising campaign on well-targeted websites can help you reach more customers. The key is to buy space on sites that will put your advertising in the appropriate context, since prospects who are in the right frame of mind when they see your ad are more likely to act on and remember your message.

You can advertise on specialized websites where visitors get information about the type of product or service you market, and on more general websites that offer channels with relevant content. For example, if you're marketing to parents of small children you might advertise on parenting websites and on more generalized sites that have sections with information of interest to parents.

There are specialized websites on virtually every topic imaginable, from snowboarding to finding the right mortgage. To identify the best-targeted sites for your advertising, put yourself in your prospects' shoes and conduct a search for websites that feature editorial on your product or service area. Look for high-quality sites with significant traffic and then review their online media kits for rates.

  • Maximize Local Sales

Are you targeting local prospects? The website for your major daily newspaper is a great way to reach local visitors who get their news and information online, including younger, educated readers who don't see the printed newspaper. It's not uncommon for major dailies to be the top web portals in their respective markets, and they offer online sections, called channels, just as the print newspapers have sections dedicated to certain types of editorial.

For the most affordable buy, pass over the main pages and place your ads on more internal, editorial pages. These pages will have fewer readers overall, but those readers will be highly engaged with the content. Then cap the frequency of ads served--this is the number of visitors who will see your ads--to keep your campaign costs under control. If you currently advertise in the print version of your local newspaper, ask about combo rates that may lower your costs to advertise both online and off-line.

Follow these important tips for an effective campaign:

  1. Buy ad space surrounded by editorial. Research by Dynamic Logic indicates that ads integrated into the content of the website are the most effective at increasing awareness and purchase intent. Half banners and rectangles are a better choice than ads that frame the page, such as leaderboards and skyscrapers.
  2. Don't fixate on the number of clicks. The vast majority of internet users don't click through on display advertising. Just 8 percent of internet users account for about 84 percent of click-through, according to comScore. What matters most is page-views, which accounts for ad effectiveness over time, including visits to a website, seeking more information, product purchases, becoming a lead or keeping a brand top of mind. This regardless of whether a prospect clicks through on the initial ad or not.
  3. Invest in great creative. A terrific ad in the right place will produce superior results this holiday season. So go beyond the ordinary and create special ads that intrigue, inform and motivate.