This article is the third in The Anthill Guide to Online Marketing for Small Business (and Startups) series. Last time, we talked about how to make an offer compelling by making it retweetable. Today, we delve into the language of the most common type of online marketing (paid advertising) and help you avoid getting ripped off!
The language and tools of online advertising: tactics and terminology
The range of digital marketing options available to marketers is about as static as an iPhone enabled teenager on Foursquare.
Yet, small business owners are still expected to know every answer to almost every (largely ill-informed) suggestion and do this while simultaneously warding off the advances of Australia’s rapidly growing army of social media gurus.
In short, everyone has an opinion (including… moi).
However, as I have tried to explain in my first two articles in this series, there are common elements to all types of online marketing, whatever channel you decide to pursue. So far, we have considered the need to set clear measurable goals and the need to have a compelling offer at the heart of your campaign.
But a commercial goal can take many forms and the channels available to prompt an action are almost endless!
This creates a dilemma for many business builders. Where should you start?
Online advertising: How to get ripped off
Despite the fact that many online marketing campaigns don’t involve any paid advertising at all, paid advertising is nonetheless what most people are familiar with.
So, paid advertising seemed like as safe a place as any to begin. Unfortunately, this statement is misleading.
For the uninitiated, online advertising is not safe at all.
To begin with, the definitions and metrics keep changing.
Even the most sophisticated of Australia’s media buyers (the industry relied upon by large companies to make their advertising bookings) struggle to find uniform terminology and standards for their clients wanting to advertise on the web.
Like you, they are expected to communicate their advertising purchasing decisions in ways that will not confuse their clients or overwhelm their already time-poor ‘creatives’ (i.e. their colleagues responsible for assembling their campaigns once booked).
In your world, this translates to communicating your plans with employees, shareholders and other stakeholders, while also making sure that your graphic designer (or someone responsible for design) can understand exactly what it is you require of their services.
At Anthill, we work at the ‘coal-face’ of digital advertising, working with approximately 20 different marketing agencies or direct clients every month. We’re involved in more advertising campaigns per month than most marketing consultants will take part in over the course of a year. And this doesn’t even include the business owners, marketing professionals and web-developers that we work with at our online marketing workshops.
In short, we’ve seen enough confused business owners and frustrated marketers to know that no standard set of options or terms exists.
That’s why we have attempted to assemble some of the more common terms, tools and tactics that relate to paid online advertising. And this topic alone was too large to address in one article. That’s why we’re tackling it in two posts. (Yup, a series within a series.)
- Part One: How to broadcast your ignorance, then get ripped off (today)
- Part Two: How to analyse the options, then get ROI (next week)
The definitions and descriptions below are by no means definitive and may well have changed by the time you read this. However, we will try to post updates as comments. (And I’m hopeful that readers will do the same!)
Secondly, this post also includes detailed information on some of the strategies that some media organisations don’t want you to know – the tactics they use to inflate their figures (yes, it’s real and happens every day), in addition to the types of reporting data you should expect from the media channels you purchase space and services from.
I’ve already emphasised the importance of setting measurable goals, yet many media channels still work hard to avoid accountability.
Three ways to broadcast your ignorance when purchasing online advertising
Another benefit of starting with this topic is that an exploration of the paid advertising landscape will also allow us to look at important terms and founding principles that can be applied to less familiar territory (such as social media) in future instalments.
Online advertising, today, usually takes one of three forms:
1. Display advertising (banners)
2. Classified advertising (directories)
3. Text Promotions (Text Links)
Before we look at these in detail (in part two of this article), there are a few things worth knowing to avoid looking like an ignorant newbie when approaching media sellers.
Here are some of the questions that instantly inform our sales staff that an aspiring advertiser is swimming beyond his/her depth.
How many hits do you get?
What’s the difference between a page impression and a unique browser?
How many page impressions do you get?
To find out why the questions could embarrass you, read on.
Before starting the campaign…
There are several important metrics worth getting your head around. There are also several ways to avoid being hoodwinked. They largely relate to websites and banner advertising. However, the principles can also be extended to social media platforms.
What is a ‘Hit’ for the purpose of measuring traffic?
A ‘Hit’ refers to each file, such as an image, sent to a browser by a web server. It is a largely obsolete term because most web browsers will today request tens of items from a single page, now that most websites are rich in visual content.
For example, look at this page. It is covered in images. When you visit this page, your web-browser will download all these images and each will qualify as a ‘Hit’. If I were to quote Anthill’s ‘Hits’ to qualify our traffic, the number would make your eyes pop. But it does not offer an accurate reflection of traffic.
So, let’s get this clear, once and for all. A ‘Hit’ is an out of date term and anyone who starts talking about their own ‘Hits’ is likely to hold views that are also out of date. Asking a media seller how many ‘Hits’ they get is a sure sign that you are new at the game (or an old hat who’s been on a very long sabbatical).
What is a ‘Page Impression’ and how is it different to a ‘Unique Browser’?
‘Hits’ have largely been replaced by ‘Page Impressions’ (also called ‘Page Views’) and ‘Unique Browsers’ (also called ‘Unique Visitors’) as more effective web traffic measurement tools.
Yes, many metrics have multiple names. And it’s frustrating! But I’ll be sticking to the former two terms to try to simplify matters.
A ‘Page Impression’ is distinct from a ‘Unique Browser’. The former measures page views. The latter measures individual visitors. A ‘Unique Browser’ should not be confused with a visit, as a visit happens when someone or something visits a website, including robots. Only humans use browsers, such as Internet Explorer, Safari or Mozilla Firefox, to navigate the internet. So, this makes ‘Unique Browsers’ a better term than ‘Unique Visitors’, in my not-so-humble opinion.
If this paragraph confused you, consider this simple scenario.
If five individuals visit a website from their five computers, using five individual web-browsers, that website will record five ‘Unique Browsers’ (i.e. Five ‘Unique Visitors’). If these five individual people view three pages each, the website will record fifteen ‘Page Impressions’ (i.e. 3 page impressions each x 5 people = 15 page impressions).
Browsers are people. Impressions are the number of pages they look at.
That’s why some sites also supply average impressions per browser (or average views per visitor). It’s imperative that you get this figure, as many sites are able to artificially augment the Page Impressions they generate. (And I intend to explain how this outcome is achieved to the detriment of advertisers below.)
What is a CPM, CPC and other metrics?
So, why is it silly to ask ‘How many Page Impressions do you get?’
Well, it’s not such a bad question if you want to get an idea about the popularity of the site. However, banner advertising and most other online products are sold on a CPM or CPC basis.
These TLAs (i.e. three letter acronyms) refer to:
CPM is industry terminology for Cost-Per-Thousand (‘M’ is the Roman numeral for 1,000). For example, Anthill banner advertising is sold on a ‘Page Impression’ basis at a CPM rate of $90. This means that advertisers on Anthill’s site pay $90 for every 1,000 times that their ads are viewed. Anthill’s site records about 3.5 Page Impressions per Unique Browser. So, an advertiser can assume that around 300 individuals will view their advertisement, if 1,000 page impressions are purchased.
This means what it says. It’s also sometimes referred to as ‘Pay-Per-Click’. It’s an arrangement where advertisers pay a set fee for every ‘click’ the advertisement generates. It’s a popular tool used in SEM campaigns (discussed later).
So, in most cases, asking ‘How many Page Impressions do you get?’ is superfluous.
Put it this way, it’s like walking into a doughnut shop and asking, ‘How many doughnuts do you sell?’ Unless you want all the doughnuts, you’re wasting everyone’s time.
Buying advertising online is not like purchasing space in a magazine that has a set circulation. Instead, set your budget (based on the considerations outlined later) and make a calculated and strategic purchase to reach as many people as you need and can afford.
You don’t need to buy the whole doughnut shop!
How is a website’s Engagement measured?
Now that you know the difference between a Page Impression and a Unique Browser, you can probably ask for both figures to determine a site’s average impressions per browser.
This is an excellent way of determining whether a site has a dedicated audience (with one important caveat, below).
Poor quality sites will have a poor impression to browser ratio. Once again, please note that these terms are sometimes referred to as ‘Page Views’ and ‘Unique Visitors’. (Yes, I know. It’s frustrating.)
Engagement, however, usually refers to time spent on site.
We’re very happy to share the news that since being added to the Audit Bureau of Australia’s online media audit we have twice topped our category for this the metric. Yes, Anthill readers spend more time on our site when they visit than the average time spent by users on ABA audited competitor sites.
I share this piece of news for two reasons. Firstly, it makes me proud. (Yay Anthill!) Secondly, a site’s engagement figures can be manipulated. I’ll show you how some sites artificially augment their site Engagement and their average Page Impressions per Unique Browser in the sections to follow.
You now know most of the terms. But how do you know if the media channel you’re considering is providing accurate traffic data?
Like in the print advertising world, some media channels are audited, while some are not.
If you are seeking to purchase advertising from a website, it pays to ask whether it is audited by an independent third party. (I offer the same advice to people wanting to advertise in print.)
There is now really no excuse for a seller of online advertising to avoid being audited by the Audit Bureau of Australia (ABA) or Google Ad Planner (at least!). The auditing cost ranges from ‘free’ (Ad Planner) to about $90 a month (ABA).
Nielsen Online Ratings is another credible, independent source of audited data but it is far more expensive to the publisher and advertiser. Nielsen’s service is also not immune to scammers.
I’m about to get controversial.
The debate has been allowed to rage for many months (perhaps years) because, firstly, it is an issue that’s hard to explain to people who are not technically inclined and, secondly, it dramatically undermines the most common metric that has evolved to measure and purchase online advertising: The Page Impression (described above).
It is so controversial that this page will self-destruct in 10 seconds!
Actually, no it won’t. And this is because we don’t use auto-refresh on our website.
What I’m about to explain might initially seem confusing. But the outcomes are shocking. So, please persevere.
What is auto-refresh?
We all understand how to refresh a webpage (just hit that button on your browser that looks like the love child of a circle and an arrow). It forces the page to reload.
An auto-refresh is initiated by the website rather than the user. Some major news-sites set their systems to auto-refresh every few minutes.
You may have noticed this before. You were reading a particularly long article and suddenly the page disappeared and loaded again. Or you may have been half-way through contributing a thoughtful comment at the foot of a post and… wham… it was gone! Then, you watch while the same page reloads.
The justification for the tactic employed by those who use it is that these sites are generating such a constant flow of news that visitors might be misled about key facts or miss breaking announcements if forced to live without it.
However, it’s no secret that ever since Page Impressions emerged as the main currency for advertising spend, competitive online publishers have embarked on an arms race of tools and tactics to maximise Page Impressions per Browser.
For example, have you noticed how some online articles, even short ones, are broken into multiple pages? Why is that?
Perhaps if the article is supported by many heavy images, such a tactic might reduce upload time by breaking up the load. But, in most cases, such a tactic suggests to me that the publisher has another agenda.
If the article is extremely long (like this one at 7,000 words), it should logically be turned into a series, that actively helps the reader, rather than making them wait while a new page unnecessarily loads (which only helps one party).
What I’m about to reveal will be extremely helpful to unscrupulous publishers. To small business owners and marketers, it offers a tale of caution that is clearly worth observing.
How Anthill increased Page Impressions by 400%… overnight.
If you’re a long term reader of Anthill, you’ll know that we love our experiments.
We simply can’t resist putting ourselves forward as the Guinea Pig when some new online strategy needs to be tested.
Naturally, the auto-refresh debate posed a set of circumstances that was far too tempting to ignore. It raised tactics we simply had to explore… and expose.
So, earlier this year, we decided to add an auto-refresh code to our website for a period of two weeks.
We advised the ABA that we would be doing so and the Bureau dutifully suspended us. Adding auto-refresh codes to a site is against the rules of the ABA. (But not Ad Planner or Nielsen!)
We excluded pages that displayed video from our test (it would be intolerably annoying to have a video reload half-way through watching) and we set our auto-refresh at 10 minutes, rather that two or three minutes, the duration set by most publishers that employ auto-refresh codes.
As these screengrabs, taken from our Google Analytics data, demonstrate…
Unique Browsers barely changed.
Can you see observe the period of the test? Probably not.
This is not surprising. When we added auto-refresh, the code did not interfere with the number of unique individuals visiting our site. Rather, the troughs above reflect dips caused by slow days and weekends. The peaks reflect the publication of engaging content.
This is the way it should be, where a media site should be rewarded for doing its job well.
Page Impressions increased 400%!
This screengrab shows Page Impression over the exact same period of time.
Can you see observe the period of the test? Hell yeah!
Of course, the first obvious and none-too-predictable change was a significant increase in Page Impressions during the two weeks of the experiment. In fact, we experienced a four-fold increase in Page Impressions.
As above, this is the currency by which most websites are measured. Advertising is generally purchased on a CPM (i.e. Cost-Per-Thousand) basis, with Page Impressions at the centre of this equation. By adding auto-refresh codes to our site, we could sell four times as many Page Impressions. Imagine if we had set the reload time at two minutes instead of 10!
But, to me, this equates to a newspaper printing 400,000 copies, publishing circulation figures of 400,000, then sneaking away to a remote place and surreptitiously dumping 300,000 into landfill.
Engagement increased by 2,600%!
However, this is the outcome that truly flawed floored me.
What you see above is the impact the addition of an auto-refresh code had on time spent on the site according to the tools that measure this indicator of a website’s user behaviour. For some reason, adding auto-refresh to the site distorted the true data by increasing ‘reported’ time spent on the site twenty-six-fold!
Let me remind you of my comments earlier. Anthill has twice in its history as audited by the ABA (since September 2009) been ranked at the top of the ABA’s business media Engagement index… without the need to employ auto-refresh codes.
I simply cannot see how this measure can be accurately relied upon if the organisation proffering engagement figures also relies on auto-refresh codes to keep its content ‘current’. Do you need to divide such a site’s Engagement figures by 26 (or more!) to get an accurate measure?
Also, it’s worth mentioning, once again, that we set our auto-refresh at 10 minutes, whereas most sites that use auto-refresh set the code to reload every two or three minutes.
What can you do to ensure that you’re not being ripped off?
So, how can you ensure that you get the greatest result from your online advertising campaign when most organisations only sell banner advertising on a CPM Page Impression basis and some employ techniques that intentionally or indirectly inflate their Page Impression figures?
Firstly, you can ask whether the site is audited by the ABA? If it is, you can safely proceed in the knowledge that the site does not use auto-refresh codes. If the site is audited by Nielsen Online Ratings, you won’t be as fortunate.
Currently, Nielsen charges its online members on a rising scale to reflect the number of Page Impressions its member sites generate. By enforcing the abandonment of auto-refresh codes among its members it would, in effect, be shooting itself in the foot. Page Impressions would fall dramatically among its membership base and, therefore, dramatically reduce the fees it currently charges on this scaled structure.
Therefore, it would require a significant overhaul of its pricing structure to outlaw the use of auto-refresh codes among its members, like the ABA has already done. It’s not hard to make the case that the organisation should charge members on a a scale according to the Unique Browsers they attract, rather than Page Impressions.
However, cynics could also observe that strong forces might have a vested interest in preventing this. Like the 80/20 rule in retail, whereby 20 percent of products usually account for 80 percent of a retailer’s revenue, the bulk of revenue that Nielsen generates from its auditing services can be sourced back to a small few. And these small few, which currently employ auto-refresh codes could not reasonably withstand a 75 percent drop (or more) in advertising revenue for Page Impression sales.
So, given the powers at play, what can you do?
How to spot auto-refresh codes
How can you tell whether a site is using auto-refresh codes?
It’s actually surprisingly simple:
1. Visit the website you want to advertise with.
This step requires no more explanation. Open a new tab or window and go there now.
You should see something like this (right).
Select ‘View Page Source’.
3. Find the ‘Find’ tool.
When you click ‘View Page Source’ a rather daunting page will appear, filled with largely indecipherable code.
Fortunately, you will also notice that this page features an ‘Edit’ drop-down menu in the top left corner. This offers, as one of its drop-down functions, a ‘Find’ option. Click this and a search box will appear at the foot of the page.
4. Search for the auto-refresh code.
This is the sort of thing you need to look for: <meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”300.00″ >. Don’t freak out!
The ‘content=300.00’ refers to three minutes. This is the only aspect of the code that changes between sites that employ auto-refresh codes. So, when searching, use copy and paste only the first part of the code:
After that, whether the site uses auto-refresh or not will be pretty clear.
I invite you to test it out and use the comments section below to name any sites that you discover using auto-refresh codes. Some sites may indeed use auto-refresh codes for valid reasons (that I can’t comprehend).
But, if a site is selling advertising and is using auto-refresh codes, it is to the collective benefit of our readership to identify these sites, so that aspiring advertisers can factor in the impact of this approach to publishing when evaluating their advertising options.
What’s the moral of this tale? Do your research, so you can talk like an expert.
If you want to be a lawyer, learn how lawyers talk. If you want to understand real-estate, equip yourself with the terminology. The same applies to online advertising and other areas of online marketing. (In part two of this article, we’ll delve even further into the options.)
If you can talk the talk, there will be no reason why you can’t walk the walk. Do your research so that you can make informed decisions.
Actions – Week Three
Isolate media channels that speak to your target audience:
If you want to promote, for example, pet products, find a targeted pet site. If you want to sell solar panels, find a targeted community built around ‘green’ news and sustainability. Even if you wanted to sell something as niche and specific as sandpaper, it’s likely that’s there exists a community for carpenters. But also make sure that you throw some mainstream channels into the mix, as a point of comparison.
Use your newly acquired knowledge to do some sleuthing:
Visit the sites that you wish to promote your products and services through and follow the steps above (Right click, View Page Source, Find code). If the site does employ auto-refresh codes, share the discovery by adding the details to this article as a comment below. (Share the knowledge.)
Collect the figures and prepare to ‘do the maths’:
This article has largely been concerned with banner advertising. But, thankfully, many of the same terms and principles apply to other options. Therefore, this is an area that we’ll cover in greater detail in the next instalment. But for now, perhaps create a spreadsheet that you can use to compare apples with apples (i.e. Collect CPM rates and Page Impressions per Unique Browser. Take note if a site uses auto-refresh codes).
Over coming weeks, this series will address…
- The language and tools of online marketing: tactics and terminology
- Part #2 – How to analyse the options, then get ROI
- Search Engine Optimisation: Why you don’t need to be a tech-geek to get it right
- Social media: How to empower your customers to do your marketing for you
- Using email to get cut-through and click-through: Web’s ugly sister
- Why small business should become the next media barons
- Masterclass: An integrated approach (inc. Leads Acquisition Strategy)
- Checklist & Tools Summary