There was a good blog post mentioned on Hacker News yesterday about the problem with Facebook ads. In short, there is a segment of Facebook users that “like” pages disproportionately more than other users, throwing off advertisers metrics. Here’s the original article.
This reminded me of an early lesson I learned in online advertising: At any given time, a significant portion of the online audience is simply bored, looking around for something interesting and will click on almost anything. You may be one of these people right now. Is it late? Are you online because you are avoiding going to sleep? Are you supposed to be working and just procrastinating? Are you poor and idle and browsing the internet is how you pass time? Yea, I’m talking about you.
So when you put up your incredibly creative and witty online ad with well designed graphics, a clear call to action, a good punchline and superb landing page designed to funnel the visitor straight to your product purchase screen – watch out. A good number of the people that click on your ad don’t really care about what you have to say or sell. Your ad just happened to be the most interesting thing in their field of vision at the time.
Google text search ads are, of course, the exception – because they require the user to type in a meaningful search query before showing up. This applies mostly to banner ads. Or Facebook ads. Or any non-search related ad. Test it: Throw up an ad on any network with a headline like “This is a test. This links to nothing” and see how many people click on it (hint: a lot).
The bright side to this is that visual marketing still works. The same way it has worked since the Mad Men era – Show people you’re logo and maybe a (short / memorable / witty) line describing your product. Maybe a visual image depicting the emotion you want people to feel when using your product. Now make sure they see your ad, repeatedly, over several weeks. This works. Seriously. It’s called Branding.
So with non-search-based online ads, I no longer care about clicks. Most are worthless. I care about how many people, in my target audience, saw my ad in full, repeatedly, over a period of time.