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Opinion: An introduction to running an online ad campaign

Chancellor Alistair Darling recently predicted that the UK will likely face the worst economic conditions in 60 years. Yet despite a looming recession and slowdown in the economy, most media experts expect online advertising to continue to grow - albeit at a slower rate than in 2007, writes Mike James.

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According to media planning agency Carat (owned by the Aegis Group), online's share of total ad spend will increase to 8.6 percent this year, overtaking radio (7.4 percent) as the preferred advertising medium after television and print.

However, for marketing managers new to the space, running a successful online campaign is easier said than done. There are a number of areas to focus on - from defining your proposition and creating a sales path (often your website) to creative execution.

Of course, as with any other marketing channel, before embarking on an online campaign you need to ensure that your product or service is competitive and offers a USP that others don't.

When it comes to the creative side of things, however, online presents different challenges. Click-through and conversion rates can vary widely not only between different offers, but also creatives in the same campaign. As such, you should aim at having a good ‘pool' of creative offers from which the campaign performance can be measured.

It's all very well having great creative, but if users are unable to navigate through your site and purchase with ease, then ultimately the creative means nothing. So make sure your site takes into account sound usability rules and doesn't lead users away from the shopping cart!

Once you've done everything possible to ensure that your offer, creative and website are top notch, it's time to consider your audience and choose a supplier. Taking an 'ad network approach' will allow you to find an appropriate group of users interested in purchasing your product.

If you do go with an ad network, make sure it is IASH (Internet Advertising Sales House) accredited. This ensures that the network has passed a stringent vetting process and respects a standardised system of auditing sites. You can go to for more detail.

It's important to know how far your network reaches into the total online population. The more users you have at your disposal, the better your chances of finding suitable customers. So if you're buying on a network, make sure to use those with higher reach - unless you're targeting a small, discrete group of consumers, in which case a niche interest network may work better for you.

Remember, as with everything in life, you get what you pay for - so the cheapest option is often not the best. Some networks have their own internal bidding system, which means that unless you're paying an appropriate rate, your campaign won't get shown.

Sometimes cheaper rates will lead to your ad being placed on sites from a lower tier (these could be 'undesirable', like gambling or adult sites, or have a lower number of unique visitors), which could undermine your offer and ultimately damage your brand.

Most networks also offer a number of behavioural targeting products that you can use to hone in on the appropriate audience. These allow you to segment users according to factors such as their location (often down to town level), browser, line speed, ISP, demographic (by age and/or gender), the search terms they used or preferred creative execution (are they more receptive to top-page banners or right-side Skyscraper ads for example?).

Once your campaign has kicked off, you may notice that some users didn't reach the ‘thank you for your purchase' page. Why not make them a different offer? Alternatively, if they successfully performed the desired action, you could up-sell them into a different product or tempt them into taking a more detailed browse through your site. Retargeting will help you hit all these various groups of users and can drastically improve your conversion rates.

The beauty of online is that it eliminates waste, so make sure your supplier offers real-time optimisation. As a bare minimum, you should also ensure that you are able to track the number of clicks on your creative, as well as how many of these resulted in a conversion.

Finally, as a matter of course, your supplier should send you a campaign report once the campaign is over, which should give you data to analyse the success of your spend. Once you have your results, you have a basis on which to re-launch your online advertising campaign, making sure that you've learnt from the experience and refined everything necessary to make online advertising work for you.

Mike James is the managing director at Adconion UK.

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