Display banners are dead, or are they?

If you have stayed long enough in
the media industry, the above wouldn't sound unfamiliar to you. So are
display banners really dead? Without thinking too much, it does seems
so with the falling click-through rate (CTR). And with the whole
industry still using CTR as a basis of measurement of campaign
performance, it's bad news for publishers, like us.

CTR is a function of total ad impressions and with more people
spending more time in the online media, there is an explosion of
available ad impressions. Coupled this with the fact that these days
people are generally averse to advertisement; more ad impressions, less
desire to click on advertisements, a falling CTR is almost certain.

That is one of the core reasons why in recent years, one sees the
rise of ad networks and ad exchanges and now even demand side
platforms. To be fair, these various options exist to help advertisers
maximize their marketing dollars because no one advertiser has the
budget to buy in millions or billions or even trillions of ad

Let's pause to think - is there no other way to solve this

In my opinion, there is and it's not about 'I must improve my CTR
to X%', but about 'How do I get more readers to be interested in my
marketing message?'. Going the first way is almost a sure death as that
tends to lead to the conclusion that one should just try to blur the
line between advertisement and content. To get more readers to click,
you need to provide relevant information (again this is not rocket
science) and some magics from technology.

I like to use an experiment that we had done with
hardwarezone.com (HWZ) recently to illustrate. For the longest time, we
had wanted our community to interact not only in our forums, but also
with our editorial content. We had tried a couple of ways:

  1. visually nice looking banners to run across HWZ
  2. posting threads of our editorial content within forums

Both have limited successes.

  1. who will be keen to click on the same banner beyond the first
    time (if there's a first time at all)?
  2. our forums move so fast that threads of our editorial content
    is drowned in the hundreds of threads that are created within a matter
    of few hours.

Then we decided to create a real time banner that will show the
latest reviews & features in a leaderboard format. The banner is
constructed in such a way that it draws from a RSS feed every time it's
being requested. This gives the perception that this banner dynamically
refreshes itself every other day.

Results are amazing. Not only did we get an increased number of
clicks on this banner, it also successfully allow us to market our
content to our community.

The above screenshot is extracted from our Google Analytics (GA)
profile over a period of 30 days.

Notable observations:

  1. In the Visits column, we had registered 20,000+ visits, one
    can assume it is equivalent to 20,000+ clicks on that real time
  2. Readers who clicked also contributed higher pages/visit (20.11
    in comparison to site average of 9.79).
  3. Time spent by this group of readers increased dramatically to
    26 minutes instead of site average of 12 minutes.
  4. And the most assuring metric is the bounce rate is extremely
    low - 13.22% as compared to site average of 34.73%. This low bounce
    rate is certain proof that we had successfully marketed our editorial
    content to this group of readers who clicked on the real time banner.

Now I have to admit that the above strategy may not be applicable
to all, but it definitely works very well for one who has new updates
on a regular basis.

Dynamic refresh is only but one method to ensure display banners still
play a valuable role in the digital marketing space. Another method
would be bigger-format or more interactive ad specifications, with the
most recent one being the Rising Stars Display Ad Units. Or contextual, such
as the Adsense network by Google.

So next time if someone asks you the question of whether display
banners are dead, tell them it is not the display banners that are dead
but the way of implementation. As long as we continue to innovate the
way of implementation, display banners remains a very effective weapon
of the marketing arsenal.

This article is written by Lim Chuan Jer, GM, New Media, SPH