Five Rules of Banner Success

Prepare yourself for a shocking statement: Banner advertising is one of the most powerful promotional tools available. At Crucial Technology, banner advertising is essential to our promotional strategy — and, no, we are not a banner sales company.

I’m the advertising manager at Crucial, a division of Micron and one of the world’s three largest computer-memory-upgrade providers. We work with a marketing-services company to deliver more than 1 million banner impressions each week. We see a click-through rate ranging from 3 to 5 percent and have seen it climb as high as 18 percent. The conversion (based on the total number of online ad impressions) usually runs around 1 percent and has hit 26 percent.

We’ve learned a lot since purchasing our first banner in 1997. Trial and error has taught us that consistent success requires a few rules. Sometimes we stray from these rules and occasionally find success (which leads to new rules), but most of the time straying leads to inefficiency and a lower return on investment.

  1. Choose your target audience carefully. This sounds obvious, but many people miss the point that broad targeting won’t do the job for products with narrow markets. You must be precise. For example, Crucial sells computer memory, so a lot of people try to sell us banners on technology sites. But most general technology sites are not targeted enough to produce the results we want. Taking it to the next level, even most specifically computer-related sites do not produce enough results for us.

    It gets better when we advertise with sites focusing on computer hardware (surprisingly, software-related sites tend to be an abysmal failure), and we’ve found excellent results with sites that specifically address computer memory. Our goal is to find people who are thinking about buying computer memory at the time they see our ad. It can be difficult but is absolutely worth the effort.

  2. Tailor your message to the site’s audience. Our core message revolves around cost, performance, and service. We use that message as the foundation for banners that address the specific needs of the buyers visiting each site. For example, when advertising on sites that target government technology buyers, we find the most success when we tailor our ads accordingly.

  3. Constantly evaluate everything you do. The fact is that the Web has accelerated the pace of advertising. Quarterly or monthly changes are insufficient — even weekly evaluation can be too little. If you want to get real value from your Web advertising, you must constantly re-evaluate, paying special attention to data that falls outside the expected pattern. The best thing about Web advertising may be that evaluation is relatively quick and easy.

    We collect a huge amount of data on who sees our banners and what they do after they have seen them. This kind of data collection and the resulting evaluation are not possible with any other medium.

  4. Remember that bigger is not necessarily better. It seems counterintuitive that a smaller ad might be better than a bigger ad. After all, who could possibly miss those great big banners staring them in the face? But our experience has contradicted this at times, such as the poor return we have seen with tower ads — you know, those long, tall ads that start at the top of the page and run alongside the page as you scroll down? They turned out to be nearly worthless for us. Others may get different results, but this is just one more reason to refer to the third rule and constantly evaluate banner decisions.

  5. Cultivate relationships with the sites you regularly use. Probably the most important lesson we have learned is that Webmasters and banner-ad reps are just plain folks. Like anyone else, they like to help those they know. So we take the time and build relationships with the sites where we do the most business. This often leads to situations of great mutual benefit — we have even persuaded Webmasters to create new sections on their sites dedicated solely to computer memory. In just about every case, relationship building helps both parties and makes working together much more fun.

Following these basic rules has helped Crucial excel. Give them a try, and you may be a lot happier with the way you spend your advertising dollars.

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