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Are You Making These Online Advertising Mistakes?

Let’s face it – even though online advertising can sometimes be a dirty word, most web businesses can really benefit from it. Online advertising is a powerful way to get your message in front of a specific audience in a relevant and actionable way and there’s not a whole lot of knowledge or know-how you need to get started. Just a little bit of cash and some keywords and you’re off to the races.

But just because you can get an ad campaign running with little to no effort doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing it right. In fact, I would say that many advertisers are missing the boat when it comes to getting the most out their advertising dollars – and with just a few small changes here and there they could be getting a much bigger impact out of their advertising efforts.

The following list of faux pas are what I’ve found to be the most common things marketers are missing when running online advertising campaigns. None of the following best practices are super complicated or hard to figure out, but they do take some time and attention to get right. As you’ll see from the list below, online advertising is all about trying different types of ads, testing a lot and tracking everything. Once you get all of these things working together you’ll start to see your advertising efforts pay off more than ever.

1. You’re only trying one source of online advertising

There are more ways to advertise online than you can probably handle, so what’s a marketer to do? My advice would be to not throw your money around and try out everything, but to find and try the ones you feel are most worth your time and focus on those first.

I would highly suggest starting out with AdWords, Facebook and doing some direct buys on specific websites. It won’t take you long to get started with the first two since they’re both completely self-service. With AdWords you’ll target your ads based on search or content keywords while Facebook will be targeted based on audience interests and demographic information.

With the direct buys you can contact the websites via email or use to find and buy advertising directly from the websites that best fit your audience.

Once you give each of those a good run you can also add some more non-traditional advertising options into the mix like LinkedIn, Reddit and StumbleUpon Paid Discovery. If you feel like your target audience is likely to be found through one of those sites, then it’s worth testing out and it won’t take a whole lot of additional effort on your end.

LinkedIn ads are similar to Facebook’s in the fact that they’re targeted to the information that’s available on someone’s profile like age, work experience or company. Reddit ads are unique to their community and could be a great fit if you’re looking to get exposure for a product or service that’s funny, entertaining or geeky.  StumbleUpon Paid Discovery is a way to get whatever you’re pitching into the StumbleUpon community with hopes that it could go viral. Just be sure to choose the right category when submitting your paid submission because if you don’t your campaign will go nowhere fast.

How to start with big or small budgets

If you only have a little bit to spend, say $100/month, then buying ads from AdWords or Facebook will give you the best bang for your budget. You’ll need to be very stingy with how much you’re bidding, but you can get a decent amount of exposure if you stretch out the $100 as much as you can. The more unique and less competitive the people or keywords you’re trying to target, the longer your $100 will last.

If you have a larger budget, say $25,000/month, then your strategy would change completely. You should still run some campaigns on AdWords and Facebook, but you can get much more competitive with who and what you target. Use that budget to test out some different options because once you find a nice group of ads that are working you have the luxury of scaling up those campaigns without worrying about going broke.

You should also add direct advertising to the mix so that you can target specific sites and email newsletters that you know will respond well to what you’re advertising. Test out a few sites with smaller buys and then narrow down what’s working and spend more there if you can.

You can also experiment with some of the more niche advertising like Reddit, LinkedIn and StumbleUpon if you feel like they’re a fit and not feel too bad about wasting your money if some/all of them don’t work.

2. You never test and optimize your targeting, creative or pricing

Most of the self-service systems you’re using are deceptively easy to use and are made to do one thing — make you spend as much as possible on advertising. Yeah, they’re also there to help you find the audience you’re looking to reach, but they don’t want you to get off cheap. It’s in their best interests to make you spend more money, but it’s in your best interests to spend as little as you can and get the most return on your advertising as possible. You can do this by taking the time to test and optimize your campaigns.

There are three elements of a campaign you can control as an advertiser — targeting, creative and pricing. You can think of these as three levers you can manipulate to make your ad act in different ways. With targeting you’re changing who sees your ad, with creative you’re changing the message and appearance of your ad and with pricing you’re changing whether/where your ad will show and how much exposure it will get. It’s worth your time to test all three of these elements with the goal being to find the right audience with the highest performing creative at the lowest price possible.

If you’re looking for a place to start when it comes to testing and optimizing it’s always good to focus on the top ad platforms, AdWords and Facebook, and then you can use what you learn from those across the rest of your advertising campaigns.

From an AdWords perspective here is a post that helps you optimize your campaigns, some details on how to run AdWords Experiments and last but not least, a really handy For Dummies AdWords cheat sheet that goes over all the basics.

Facebook’s ad platform is a different beast than AdWords, but there is definitely some overlap when it comes to optimizing your campaigns. Here’s the official Facebook Ads optimization guide that can get you started and a great guide/overview to Facebook Ads terminology, reporting and optimization capabilities.

If you’re more interested in using Facebook advertising to build more of a following for your brand, here’s how to turn clicks into Facebook fans as well as some advanced Facebook optimization strategies.

3. You’re not tracking your ROI

Knowing the return on investment (ROI) that you’re getting from online advertising is probably the most important thing that most marketers don’t spend enough (or any) time on.

Measuring ROI can be a little deceptive – while it’s as simple as what did you pay vs. what did you get in return, the “return” part can be hazy. While optimizing to get the best click-through rate is helpful, if those clicks aren’t leading to conversions or branding that create something of value for your business, you might be wasting your money.

Knowing the goals of your advertising and learning how to measure your ROI should be the first steps in your strategy. This helpful series of posts will walk you through how to do it.

Once you have your goals set you’ll need to set up some tracking so that you know who’s clicking on what and where your advertising traffic is coming from. Here’s a Google tool that helps you create tracking URLs that you can use for you campaigns, how you can track your conversions in Google Analytics vs. AdWords and what you should be tracking in AdWords based on your advertising goals (these apply to non-AdWords campaigns, too).

Once you have all of the tracking data collected from your campaigns you can use this advertising spend calculator that Noah Kagan of AppSumo & Mint created specifically for marketers.

4. Your creative looks like it was made in Microsoft Paint (it’s bad)

I don’t care if you’re a designer or not, if you’re running display campaigns your ad creative needs to look clean, clear and professional. You can’t expect to create quality leads if you’re trying to attract an audience with something that looks like it was made by your 7 year-old nephew.

If you can’t design something yourself, don’t worry, there are plenty of people who can, so you just need to know how to find them. Two of the more popular ways to get your hands on some sweet looking design is by creating a contest on 99 Designs, hiring a freelancer on Odesk or building it yourself with the help of a build-a-banner system like what BannerSnack provides.

Maybe you have the design taken care of and all you need is to come up with some designs that work? Here are some quick tips for designing effective banner ads and a longer PDF guide that really digs into the details.

Also, it never hurts to know what’s already working for your competition, which you can check out over on MixRank or AdBeat.

5. You’re not scaling your campaigns like you should be

There are two reasons why you should take the time to test, track and optimize your campaigns. The first is so that you know where to stop spending (wasting) your money and the second is so you know where to spend more!

Once you optimize a campaign to the point that it’s giving you the ROI you’re looking for (e.g. for every $1 you spend you make $2 back) you should put your foot on the gas by throwing more money at it and see if you can scale that campaign to a much higher level.

For example, if you’re spending $100/month on a campaign that’s bringing in a value of $125/month and that’s a good ROI for you, then you should start feeding that campaign more money to see if it holds its ROI at scale. Can you spend $500/month and get out $625/month? Hopefully you can, but there’s really only one way to find out. Step up your spend, keep an eye on it and see what happens.

6. You’re not using a landing page

First of all, if you’re sending all of your online advertising traffic to your homepage then you need to stop. I’m sure your homepage is great and all, but there’s a big difference when you have a visitor coming in organically and visitor coming in through advertising.

A landing page has one job to do: get a conversion. Whether your conversion is getting an email address, a sign-up or a purchase you should be using landing pages as a way to optimize all of your advertising campaigns.

If you now suddenly feel the need to create a landing page or two and want to know where to start, there’s an infographic for that.

7. You don’t have a good landing page (and you never test it)

The same amount of work you put into optimizing the targeting, creative and pricing of your ads should also be put into building and optimizing your landing pages. You could have an ad that’s running in all the right places and getting clicked by all the right people, but if you don’t close the deal with a good landing page, then none of that will matter.

Testing your landing pages will include doing some A/B tests to see which one will perform better for you in the long run. If you’re looking for some real-world examples of other marketers who have gone through this process, Campaign Monitor thoroughly tested, tracked and optimized some display ad campaigns they were running. They wrote this post to share their results. It’s also probably worth taking a look at Copyblogger’s quick and dirty guide to landing pages, too.

One other not-so-well-known benefit of having a landing page is it will increase your AdWords Quality Score, which is one of the most important factors that AdWords uses when deciding whether or not to show your ad (and how much it’s going to cost you).

8. You’re not buying advertising directly from publishers

When most marketers first start thinking about where to buy online advertising they almost always default to the major ad networks, like Google AdWords or Facebook Ads. This is mostly because they are more familiar and can give you easy access to “lots of eyeballs”.

Getting some experience using these sources of online advertising is an awesome way to learn more about your messaging (what do people respond to?) and targeting (who is responding to it and where can I find them?). But if you want to scale your advertising efforts and know that you’re guaranteed a specific number of impressions for specific units on specific sites for a specific amount of time, then doing direct deals with publishers is the only way to go.

In other words, if you want to point at a specific website and say “I want to advertise right there”, you have to work directly with the publisher.

One of the main reasons why some marketers don’t choose to buy directly from publishers is because it’s a manual process that can take a lot of time and hassle to manage. But, with more and more publishers using self-service systems like isocket and more advertisers buying ads through online ad marketplaces like,, Federated Media and, it’s now easier than ever to buy and sell direct.

No matter how you buy and manage it, making a direct advertising deal with a publisher is a great way to know what ad you’re buying and when it’s going to run. For some marketers this might not be important and if that’s you then it might be better to stick with running campaigns though ad networks. But, if you or your customers value these types of things then it’s definitely worth your time to add it into your advertising mix.

Buying direct can be an awesome way test out lots of different properties, see what works, then double down on the best ones. An interesting example from our experiences at BuyAds – we had some “mommy” oriented advertisers come in and buy ads on normal mommy blogs, and experiment with a few casual gaming websites. The gaming websites performed just as well, and the theory is that the moms were playing Facebook and iOS games during the day.

9. You’re only advertising on websites (when you should also try newsletters)

If you’re only running online advertising on websites and haven’t given newsletters a shot you could be missing out on a powerful way to get in front of an audience in a very intimate way. When it comes to getting the attention of a potential customer through advertising there’s really no better way to do that, than by showing up in their inbox alongside a newsletter they trust and read on a regular basis.

Just like with direct sales, there’s really no easy way to buy email newsletter advertising. You’ll have to reach out to someone directly and negotiate a deal that way. Yeah, it might take you some time, but in the end it will give you yet another powerful way to get in touch with the people you want to reach.

If you feel like this is something that could work for you, here are some tips to keep in mind when building your first email advertising campaign.

One final tip about email newsletter advertising — don’t only buy one send. Just like with traditional online advertising on a website you need to create a good presence in the newsletter and show that you’re more of a partner and not just a one-time thing that’s in and out of their inbox.

10. You haven’t tried retargeting

Something that’s quickly become a large part of many marketer’s online advertising budgets is retargeting. It’s fairly cheap, it’s easy to get setup and it’s only a little bit creepy to those who are being targeted by it.

Retargeting works like this:

  1. Someone visits your website and checks out a specific page or section that you have setup for retargeting.
  2. A cookie gets saved on that visitor’s computer so that they’re now known as someone who has visited that page or section of your website.
  3. You can then target that visitor as they move around the web.
  4. Hopefully the visitor clicks on one of your ads and comes back to your site (this is what you usually pay for).

To be honest, if you’re marketing something then there’s really no reason not to give retargeting a try. It’s safe to say that no matter what type of conversion you’re looking for on your website it’s always going to be valuable to bring visitors back more than once and that’s exactly what retargeting can offer. Just be sure to frequency cap the ads, so you don’t annoy your users too much!

There are several companies that focus on providing retargeting (ReTargeter, AdRoll, FetchBack, TellApart, Chango and even through AdWords) and here’s a quick breakdown of a few of the more popular choices.

The Conclusion

Now that you know some of the more common mistakes that marketers make with their online advertising you should now be prepared to go out there and advertise like you never have before. As I’m sure you already know, there’s a lot of opportunity available through the different ways you can advertise online, but first you need to make sure you’re doing it the right way.

If you want three easy things to remember the next time you’re ready to throw down some money on online advertising, here they are:

  1. Test, test, test and then test some more. You should always be testing to find out what’s working and what’s not.
  2. Be sure to try out different advertising sources. Ad platforms like Facebook Ads and AdWords are a given, but you should also try out others sources like buying direct, email newsletters and social sites like Reddit or StumbleUpon.
  3. Know your ROI goals (especially identifying the right “R”) and always have a way to know if and how much  value advertising is creating for your business.

About the Author: Ryan Hupfer is the Customer BFF at isocket and and is oddly passionate about supercharging direct ad sales for both advertisers and publishers. Be sure to say hey to me on Twitter at @hup.

  1. Elizabeth Yin Feb 17, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    Nice article, Ryan! One quick bit though — newsletter advertising can be easy, actually. My company LaunchBit enables advertisers to buy newsletter ads on a CPC basis, and the campaigns get placed in multiple newsletters relevant to the selected demographic, allowing one to test multiple newsletters in a targeted, efficient manner.

  2. Damn, there sure a lot of work involve. I think I might need to hire an advertising agency. Currently i wear ALL the hats in my business, from programmer, to marketer, to DBA, etc, and i work full time to booth. In any event, thank you for this list, I will sure to begin doing what you suggest. Currently, i just use Adwords. I used facebook in the past, but the ROI was not as good.

  3. Spot on in every regard. I could go on and on about how many clients I see making these very mistakes. GREAT advice!

  4. You enumerate every phase of internet marketing as problematic for many company. You are correct. Most businesses are terrible with their online marketing, so it its no wonder that their newsletter ads don’t measure up either.


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