Fast and Cheap Banner Testing With Google AdWords

If you’re like most business owners just starting out with a brand-new website, you want to know the fastest and cheapest way to drive targeted traffic to it. Worried ETR readers frequently write to us with this concern. “I need traffic and sales now!” they say. “Help!”

One method I’ve recommended in the past is to launch a PPC (pay-per-click) search campaign on Google AdWords. But you can also use Google to test online media buys on other sites with banner ads and other creative formats. There are a couple of reasons why banner testing through Google is a great way to generate fast and cheap traffic and sales.

Bypassing Standard Rate Card Fees

At a recent in-house marketing meeting, ETR’s media buyer mentioned a new banner campaign she was preparing to launch on a well-known financial website.

Usually, a website will charge you a fee for the number of “impressions” your banner serves – how many times your banner will be displayed to visitors to that site. This fee is expressed as CPM (cost per thousand impressions), and is listed on the “rate card” page of the website, along with the prices of all the other advertising options the site offers. Kind of like the sticker price on a vehicle at the dealership, experienced media buyers know that the rate card price is a number to begin negotiating from.

When you’re setting up your banner on a site, they will either lock you in to X amount of impressions or will keep your banner running for Y days. Sometimes, this is a perfectly reasonable agreement. But it can be too expensive to be worthwhile for a test. (And, as you know, testing is critical when it comes to your marketing efforts.)

In this case, our media buyer lamented that the financial website’s ad representative refused to go lower than the rate card price of $18 CPM for her banner test. I recognized the website’s name and knew that they were part of Google’s Content Network – the network of sites that display Google ads. So I suggested we use Google AdWords to serve our banners on the site… for a fraction of their rate card price.

Not only can you get banner space much cheaper through Google AdWords, you can also get your campaign up and running much faster and with much more flexibility than you can when dealing directly with the publisher. Plus, you aren’t locked in to a set number of impressions or amount of time. If the campaign isn’t performing well, you can stop it whenever you want. (More on that later.)

This leads me to the next reason for launching a banner test campaign through Google AdWords…

Expanding a Small Niche

Let’s say you’re a believer in the ability of a PPC search campaign on Google AdWords to drive traffic and sales to your website. But maybe your business is in a very specialized niche that not many people know about. The keyword research you did for your product resulted in few keywords with even fewer searches. You know there are people interested in what you’re selling, but they might not know how to search for you. How do you quickly reach this niche market?

With a fast and cheap banner test on Google’s Content Network, of course. You can target your campaign by demographic, by site, or by category to find the perfect space for your banner and launch your test on your terms with your desired budget. Here are the steps to take:

• Open a Google AdWords account. Couldn’t be easier. Type “Google AdWords” into the Google search box, and follow directions.

• Create a Placement Targeted campaign. This is different from a Keyword Targeted campaign, but many of the same settings apply that let you target your banner ads in more specific ways than you might be able to do with a traditional banner buy. For example, using geo-targeting to specify what areas of the country or world will see your ad. You will also have AdGroups, like you do with a Keyword Targeted campaign, and you can use your AdGroups to organize your campaign by product, banner type, or any other way you choose.

• Research placements. This is the where the fun starts. Once you create your campaign and AdGroups, you can access Google’s easy-to-use interface to research and pick the websites on which you want to run your ad.

There are several ways to search for sites. You can browse by category. You can search by topic or keyword. If you know the particular sites where you’d like to advertise, you can simply enter their URLs – and then Google will even list several other sites similar to the ones you’ve chosen. Lastly, you can select the demographic that you’d like to target, choosing by age, gender, household income, ethnicity, and whether there are children in the home.

After you enter your criteria, Google will list all of the matching sites, along with the ad formats they accept (text ad, banner ad, video ad), and the number of impressions each site receives per day. (Very helpful if you are looking for volume.)

• Bidding and budgeting. Next, you’ll be able to bid on the CPM that you’d like to pay. And when you realize how low you can go, you’re going to start to get giddy. Keep in mind, however, that you are competing with other advertisers for that banner ad space – and the higher your CPM bid, the more impressions you’ll likely receive. It’ll take some tweaking to find a balance between the amount you want to spend and the volume of impressions you need in order to run a good test.

I’ve found that you can run a good test with anywhere between a $1-$3 CPM – which is a heck of a lot better than a rate card price of $18! After you set your bid, you’ll want to determine a daily budget, giving yourself enough wiggle room to get the number of impressions you need on a daily basis.

• Uploading your banners. Determine the banner sizes your sites accept and upload them to your campaign. Each banner should link to a landing page you’ve set up, complete with sales copy for the product you’re selling. You can assign a different landing page URL for each banner, or you can point them all to the same one if you like. There is a short review process for each new banner you upload to your campaign, but once they are approved you’ll be up and running!

The flexibility you get by running a banner campaign through Google AdWords really kicks in when your campaign is live and you can monitor your results. If you see that you’re not receiving enough impressions, you can immediately adjust your bidding. If you are getting great traffic and conversion rates, you can immediately increase your budget. If you see that a particular site isn’t performing, you can remove it from your campaign in seconds. The same goes for your banner headline, graphics, and layout. Changes can be made on the fly without waiting for an ad rep or account manager to make them for you.

[Ed. Note: Banner ads should be a part of any multi-channel marketing campaign. And, as Search Engine Marketing Specialist Alexis Siemon points out, Google’s Content Network makes setting up your own banner campaign easy and cost-effective.

And keep reading ETR for details on the new multi-channel marketing book by MaryEllen Tribby and Michael Masterson.]

After graduating from Florida State University in 1997, Alexis got started in the golden age of the Internet marketing industry working agency-side where she performed everything from search engine optimization (SEO) to web analytics to media buying for several clients. She then took her expertise client-side managing SEO and pay-per-click (PPC) efforts, as well as other print and interactive marketing initiatives for companies in the financial and software industries.