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8 ways to improve your click-through rate

Andrew Stern
8 ways to improve your click-through rate Andrew Stern

Although there are a lot of different metrics surrounding online display advertising, it seems that click-through rates (CTRs) have become the one metric that defines an advertising campaign. Every advertiser has a different end goal, but the true test of whether a campaign ends up as a success or a failure oftentimes depends on the percentage of people who actually click on a banner creative. It goes without saying that the higher number of visitors that you can get to your site, the greater the chance of them converting.

In general, web users have become numb to the way that advertising reaches them online. When banner ads first appeared on the scene, it was considered common to have CTRs above 5 percent, while 2-3 percent was thought to be average.

With all the banners that have flooded the web in recent years, most display advertising campaigns now generally fall into a CTR average of just 0.2 to 0.3 percent. That means only two to three consumers out of every 1,000 who see your banner ad click through to your website.

There is good news, however. With the following eight strategies, you can easily and intelligently increase the CTRs for your display advertising campaigns.

1. Set goals and expectations with your advertiser prior to launching a campaign
The most important things to keep in mind are the advertiser and the specific goals of the campaign. Remember the old adage: The customer is always right. By being honest up front you can save yourself a lot of trouble, and most likely keep the advertiser around for a longer period of time if the campaign does not perform initially. 

Many advertisers do not know what a good click-through rate is, and some do not have realistic goals for a campaign. By clearing up uncertainties from the start and setting realistic and attainable goals, you are setting yourself up for success. You also need to identify clear CPA goals, ensure that top quality graphics and copy are used, and that the landing pages have a direct call to action.  

2. Know your target audience and be specific in your web placements
Targeting is half the battle for a quality CTR.  After you've established clear goals for the campaign, figuring out the proper audience for the campaign is vital to achieving an above-average CTR. It's not that web users hate advertisements -- they just hate advertisements that are not relevant to them. For too many years, useless ads have been put in front of them, and they are tired of it. Does a man shopping for a new car really want beauty skin care products? Or does a woman shopping for new clothes need a pill to increase her libido? 

With targeting, not only can you reach the type of customer your advertiser is after, but you can also design creative that is specific to a certain demographic, which will thereby improve results. Targeted ads outperform run-of-network campaigns two to one.

A few additional points to note: When targeting an ad campaign, run small tests on multiple sites and networks to get a clear view of what works and what doesn't. Some ad content works well with certain sites, and some works better across an entire network.

3. Create an interesting banner
Basic, static banners that only change when you refresh a page do not work anymore. We have to be more creative now and give web users something that is visually stimulating. Animated banners stimulate the eyes and can provide a needed escape from that dreaded research paper or old TPS report. Expandable and rich media graphical banners can perform up to 400 percent better than a standard static banner. The more interactive it is, the better. 

I do not mean the old whack-a-mole or "shoot the president" interactivity, but a way for the user to really see the service and product you are offering within the framework of that particular ad size. The first action does not necessarily need to be a click. It could be rotating a product, pulling a lever, or pushing a button -- all of which provide a second step into the product advertised.

Video banners also work very well and can outperform a typical television spot at a fraction of the cost. It is essential, however, not to overinflate the actual value of the product or mislead the user in any way with super-creative banners. If you get a 5 percent click-through rate but fail to sell a product, the advertiser is still going to be displeased. 

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4. Ad units and site placement
In many ways, the old saying that "everything I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten" rings true with this tip. Colors, size, and shape can all drastically affect your CTR. Colors are a good way to create a buzz, but also a good way to drive away a customer.

Many think that bright and vibrant colors are an easy way to get clicks, but this isn't necessarily the case. It is now fairly common on insertion orders to see "no shaking or flashing creative," as this drives away customers and associates a publisher's website with cheap and low brow content. By selecting colors, styles, and fonts that blend in to the website but still stand out, you assist in the overall aesthetic of the web page and also increase CTRs. These are generally referred to as "chameleon ads."

There are many different ad units available now, but most still stick with the five standard IAB sizes (468x60, 120x600, 160x600, 728x90, and 300x250). While using any of these five sizes might get you more coverage across more websites, this might not always translate to greater results. Mix it up, and try something different. Unique-looking sizes and shapes get attention because most users have learned to ignore the shapes and sizes on a page that they have, over the years, associated with "advertisements."

Lastly, where the ad is being placed on the site is a very important step to gaining clicks. Many people glance over a site without scrolling all the way down or to the sides. These ads that appear within the initial frame of the website are called "above the fold" advertising. The poorest performing ads are on the footers and corners of the page, while ads toward the top, middle, and near sides do much better. 

5. Advertising lingo is more important than ever
While online advertising has shifted many an ad budget away from billboards, print, and television due to lower costs and a more attentive user base, it is important to retain some of the basic elements these advertising media have had in place for years. 

Human beings react instinctually and emotionally. Having engaging ad copy that appeals to a user's gut rather than that person's mind is as important as anything else. Call-to-action words such as "free trial," "click here now," "limited time only," or "bonus gift" really assist in grabbing a person's attention and closing the sale.

While you don't want to appear as a guy on a soapbox selling snake oil, you do want to impress upon your potential client that your offer is a good one, that the user will benefit from it, and, most importantly, that it won't be around forever. You can try a variety of ad copy to see what works best for each particular campaign. There are lists of call-to-action words available online. 

6. Use a variety of different creative
It is important to come up with more than one set of banners for each specific campaign. This is referred to as an "A/B split." By using a variety of designs, you can get a feeling for what is causing people to click on the ads.

You will be amazed at the dramatic differences in CTR that one color over another or one word instead of another can have. By having some options, you can try out different colors, designs, ad units, animations, and so on across a large number of websites. After two to three days, you can determine what is generating the highest CTR. Experiment often, but only test a few elements at a time so that you know what is causing the different results and always have a baseline "control" ad to compare against.

7. Outsource creative work
Depending on the size of the campaign, and also the size of your company, it might be a good idea to outsource some of the creative work. Professional graphic designers can offer specialized elements or even new technologies that your internal team may have overlooked or not even known about to begin with.

With all the latest gadgetry, programs, and special effects, it is essential to keep banners simple, yet enticing. When all else fails, always follow the KISS protocol (keep it simple stupid). If banner ads are too large (over 30KB), you will lose coverage on slower PCs because the ads take too long to load. Additionally, many publishers will compress your vibrantly rich (yet very large sized) creative to fit their ad serving specs, in effect washing out your ad so that it no longer stands apart.

8. Analyze reports daily
It is important to analyze the campaign on a daily basis for three reasons. For starters, advertisers like to know that their money is going to a good cause (generally their pockets). Even if the CTR isn't what it should be, you can let them know that you are optimizing their creative, targeting, and site list to improve performance. A day-by-day increase in CTR can give you the breathing room to show your client that you will meet campaign goals quickly.

Secondly, you need the data to determine which of your experiments are working and which need to be discarded. After a few days you will have enough information to identify what is working and allocate budget in the appropriate areas. If not, more experimentation is needed.

Finally, you need to ensure that your client's minimum daily click requirements are being met. Nothing will get your phone to ring faster than an advertiser who isn't getting traffic to its site.

If you follow these eight steps to optimize your banner campaigns, you will see a significant boost in CTRs and hopefully an increase in client renewals and referrals.

Andrew Stern is president, Seed Corn Advertising, where co-author Zachary Dyler is director of business development.

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to leave comments.

Commenter: PSMDigital 2010

2011, February 17

Thanks for sharing your views.I think customizing the campaign based on regions can help to get a better CTR.

Commenter: sandra bullock

2010, December 16

Well found your site very interesting, and the info given here is also very useful for people like me who are new in this business. well still i have question how to determine the ctr for finance and investments topics. i have a site on finance http://www.financeninvestments.com can you tell me how can i find the ctr for this.

With regards,

Commenter: sanjan regmi

2010, December 03

i am searching this types of doman from long time but didn't foung , at last i get it.
i will waiting for the response.

Commenter: Jason Spievak

2010, February 02

Great post. Another thought to consider: research shows that providing a phone number in an ad improves clicks and conversion whether people call the number or not. The reason? Phone numbers lend instant credibility to the ad, and to the advertiser.
--Jason Spievak, CEO, RingRevenue