5 Tips to Make the Most of Your Display-Ad Budget Don't let your ad budget go down the drain. Learn how to target efficiently.

By Ted Dhanik

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Here's something that's totally predictable: Of the $23 billion that companies will spend on display advertising this year, a huge chunk will go to waste.

It doesn't need to be that way. Some approaches to display advertising will actually eliminate waste and deliver better-than-average value -- you just have to know what to look for.

Related: How to Pick the Best Online Advertising Channel for Your Business

With online display-ad spending projected to grow 90 percent, to $37.6 billion, between 2014 and 2019, there's a good chance this media channel will be in your marketing mix, if it isn't already. Yet whether you spend a few grand or a few million, you'll want results and accountability. You'll want a "hit list" of the methods, technologies and buying models you plan to use.

Ultimately, you'll need to reach the right people, with the right message, in the right places. Following these five guidelines will help you get there:

1. Cover both desktop and mobile.

Every month, a new statistic comes out about the rise of mobile, the death of desktop, the higher ROI from tablets and about the dozens of smaller trends that may well be questioned a month later.

So, don't get narrowly invested: Stay above the fray and target all devices: desktop, mobile and whatever else emerges. Through trial and error, you'll learn which platforms deserve more dollars and which devices are right for different marketing goals.

Specifically, target by user, not device. Let's say your campaign goal is to serve five ads per day to each person in your audience. If your ad service tracks mobile impressions only by device ID, you might end up serving five ads on desktop and five on mobile to the exact same person.

That would be wasteful and would likely annoy people. However, if your ad service targets by user across devices, it will know not to duplicate those impressions across each person's desktop and mobile devices.

2. Buy viewable impressions.

Not too long ago, advertisers were defenseless against "impression fraud," and fake display-ad impressions accounted for as much as 30 percent of all online traffic. Essentially, companies would create computer programs (bots) that would automatically view competitors' ads to run up their advertising bills. Although this still happens, you can cut down on fraud by buying "viewable impressions" instead of standard ad impressions.

When you buy guaranteed viewable impressions, you pay only if the ad appears on the user's screen for a minimum standard duration. For display, that minimum is 50 percent of pixels for one second; for video, it's 50 percent of pixels for two seconds. Viewability technology is designed to not measure the behavioral patterns associated with bots.

Related: The New Rules of Lead Generation Resemble the Old Rules, Somewhat

The trick is to buy viewable impressions that last longer than the minimum. For example, if you're running a dynamic banner ad that takes five seconds to cycle through its full message, you might want to buy a guaranteed five-second slot. You'll be charged only if your ad is continuously viewable for five seconds or longer.

3. Make your creatives tight.

This is industry lingo for "get to the point." As researchers with Microsoft recently reported, the average attention span is now eight seconds – shorter than that of a goldfish. You can't afford to let your ad be confusing.

JetBlue's dynamic banner ad, featured in the 2014 MediaPost OMMA awards, is an outstanding example of a tight creative. Using search and conversion history, the company served up personalized ads that displayed routes (and prices) the user was most likely to buy.

JetBlue's ad was worth every impression, but your own ad doesn't have to be that technologically sophisticated. Keeping your message relevant and easy to understand is what matters.

4. Buy low on the impression curve and above the fold.

The "impression curve" is ad lingo for the order in which ads are served. If you're low on the impression curve, your creative will appear in the first few sets of ads that load when a user visits the website. If you're high on the impression curve, your ad won't appear until a user has refreshed the website multiple times or has visited a bunch of pages on the website.

Buying low on the impression curve is more expensive, but it pays off because people will see your ad when they first arrive at the website. Viewers are impressionable at this point, but after 10 minutes of reading articles or watching videos, they are likely to become blind to ads.

Make sure too that you buy "above the fold," meaning that your ads appear in locations that are visible when the page loads. The user shouldn't need to scroll down to see your ad.

5. Use behavioral targeting.

Targeting is about more than context. Sure, cyclists read cycling blogs and cooking enthusiasts read recipe blogs, but that's a tiny fraction of their online experience. Behavioral targeting lets you advertise to a profile -- like 35-to-44-year-old men who enjoying cycling -- across a wide range of web properties where they hang out. The profile is based on tons of data that can include web searches, browsing patterns, social activity and more.

Behavioral targeting can also rely on offline data sources like census data, in-store transactions and political affiliations. If a man buys a sweater at a clothing retailer, he might need some khakis to go with it. If you sell khakis, it makes sense to target him with your ads. Offline data makes that possible.

6. Get your money's worth.

When you combine these five guidelines, you can create a display-ad strategy that delivers the best bang for the buck. If your aim is to maximize ROI on every dollar spent, be staunch about: device agnosticism, viewable impressions and the impression curve. Otherwise, some of your ad budget will go to waste.

Ad services should be transparent about where your ads appear, how much engagement they generate and what customer activity can be attributed to your display campaigns. So, demand this level of accountability. Don't let your digital budget go to waste.

Related: Old School Marketing Platforms That Still Resonate in Our Digital World

Wavy Line
Ted Dhanik

CEO of engage:BDR

A co-founder of integrated-media advertising company engage:BDR in Los Angeles, Ted Dhanik serves as president and CEO overseeing strategic marketing, sales and business development, client relationship management and content acquisition. Previously, he served as vice president of strategic marketing at MySpace. 

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