Online advertising myths debunked!

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You've heard the corporate legends of marketers achieving superhuman feats with their online advertising campaigns, getting faster, smarter and more powerful results than ever before. But if you’ve failed to execute—or even attempt—such a campaign, it’s time to face your nemesis: the online advertising myth. Here are five of the most common misconceptions that can foil even the bravest marketers.

• It only works for customer acquisition.

Most banner and pop-up advertising has a purpose—getting someone to your Web site. But what if that potential customer isn’t in the market right now for what you’re selling? Was that impression a wasted opportunity?

Not necessarily, said Maria Mandel, VP-director of interactive marketing for DraftDigital, New York. "Having your impression out there holds a lot of weight," Mandel said. "Everyone is so worried about converting that impression into a customer, they forget that conversion can take awhile."

That’s especially true in the b-to-b world, said David Hallerman, senior analyst with research firm eMarketer. "Sales cycles for a b-to-b company are longer, and developing relationships is part of how you create a customer," he said. "Business customers consider a brand, not just a product."

That said, it’s often worth putting your message out there—even if your target audience isn’t clicking through and buying right away.

• Only one metric matters: click-through.

You might be tempted to pull an ad campaign that’s not generating click-throughs. After all, how can you be sure it’s working unless people are clicking through to your site?

Not so fast. The click-through number might be one of the oldest online advertising metrics out there, but it’s definitely not the best anymore. Focusing on it exclusively could cause you to kill a successful ad or to keep one that’s not working.

For example, if your ad is a pop-up, you’re going to count a click-through every time it loads. That doesn’t mean anyone is looking at this ad; people might be closing the window as soon as it pops up. Likewise, if your ad has multiple elements, every time one piece loads, you’re recording a hit.

"If you’re just looking at clicks, you won’t be able to optimize your campaign properly," said Jason Heller, CEO of Mass Transit Interactive, New York.

More important than the number of clicks is where the clicks you’re getting are coming from. Are you getting click-throughs from a sponsored Webcast? Are they coming from a pay-per-click advertisement? Are people sticking around or requesting more information once they arrive at your site? Do those clicks come from decision-makers?

"These are all questions that you should be carefully tracking the answers to," Heller said.

• If you don't own the No. 1 pay-per-click spot or search term, you're sunk.

The No. 1 mistake a marketer can make when placing a pay-per-click advertisement is pairing a product with the wrong keyword. If owning the top sponsored link on Google is a goal, you can be sure you’re going to pay for the privilege. But unless you’re targeting the right people with the right keywords, you may just be throwing your money away.

"Consumer companies might want their paid search term to be seen by everyone, but a b-to-b company should be very careful that the search terms they’re using fit very well with the product. They should be narrow, targeted and specific," analyst Hallerman said. "They should also be on sites that draw a b-to-b audience."

Hallerman said b-to-b advertisers shouldn’t worry so much about securing that top spot. "B-to-b companies are going to drill down much further into search results than a consumer [would]," he said. "Their search is going to be more exhaustive."

• The price isn't right.

When online advertising first took off, advertisers saw it as a cheap way to get plenty of eyeballs to see marketing messages. Over time, as click-throughs waned and cost per thousand impressions stayed fairly level, many marketers decided online advertising was too expensive and not worth the money.

But industry experts say that thinking is wrong, especially for b-to-b marketers. Here’s why: When you purchase a TV spot, you’re paying for one ad that will go out to millions of people one time. With online advertising, that one ad could hit the same 10,000 eyes 10 times. Repetition helps build brand. And, unlike television, online advertising has an immediate payoff should the potential customer take the time to go to the next level.

"Our industry has done an amazing job of defining an impression," Heller said. "The dynamics behind that makes the value and the cost line up."

But another executive points out that online advertising also carries a stigma for being cheap, a concept that is just as far-fetched.

"People tend to look at just the cost of the ad medium itself and forget about the constant monitoring, the mechanics, the linking and the measurement, which are just as time consuming as dealing with a print campaign," said Tim Adams, senior marketing specialist for Dow Corning. "You really have to think past the initial buy."

That’s why G.M. O’Connell, founder and chairman of Modem Media, said it’s important to consider more than just traditional banner ads.

"Think about sponsorships. Think about e-mail campaigns," he said. "Think about your entire campaign and how it relates to online."

• It has to be intrusive to be effective.

Online advertising has become more intrusive—consider pop-ups, pop-unders and ads that take over your entire screen—but that doesn’t mean your ads have to be obnoxious to reach your audience.

"A lot of the industry did things that only served to annoy people into liking a brand—which just doesn’t happen—rather than creating ads that create a relationship with the brand," said O’Connell. "They think they can break through the clutter by spamming or popping up. It’s not going to happen."

A better bet, said DraftDigital’s Mandel, is to use technology in a way that augments your message. "You should never notice the technology before you notice the ad," Mandel said.

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