What is Programmatic Advertising?

Programmatic Advertising

Marketing has often struggled to convince CEOs of its worth over the years. When we were all spending money on print ads in newspapers, we were certainly able to tell where the money was being spent but not so confident about what we were getting back. In the age of digital marketing and CRM, we are able to close that gap – and determine what our return on investment is.

It’s not only outputs which have become clearer: we are able to target our audiences in a much more accurate way. The smaller you can get your audience, the more likely that you will be able to create a specific message that will engage them. Digital marketing has made big steps here, but programmatic advertising can take it further forward still.

Programmatic advertising is not a new concept – it has been around for a few years now, but with more and more people advertising on digital, programmatic is starting to arrive onto people’s ‘should find out what the hell this is all about’ list.

Programmatic advertising is where software is used to buy space on digital, e.g. websites, instead of booking a block of digital space for a particular block of time. It essentially allows advertisers to identify the demographics of the viewer rather than the identifying the website which we think they are viewing. And it is not limited to digital display advertising – it is theoretically possible for other digital advertising (e.g. social media), but also traditional media such as TV. It’s just a case of organising the data (which already exists) into a usable format.

The way that programmatic advertising works is that in the time that it takes for a web page to load, information about the user is gathered, such as age, gender, location, etc. as well as the context of the website itself. This information is then sent to an advert exchange where a number of organisations will have bid to show their message to that profile of person – and the highest bidder is the advert that is shown. A lot in the time is takes to load a page!

From a marketer’s perspective, this is really exciting. We are starting to get to the stage where we are truly defining the audience by a set of accurate demographics, rather than choosing the website that we think they will see. This promises to minimise the amount of wasted adverts shown to the wrong people. It even opens the possibility of truly personalised marketing.

But what about the consumer? Are they ready to be advertised to at such a personal level? Is technology developing at a rate which is faster than our changing attitudes to privacy? Time will tell.

So does this mean the end of block buying advertising space? Not necessarily: if your objective is brand awareness (or you just want to keep a competitor off a site), you may still want to go old school and block some advertising.

And let’s not assume that programmatic advertising is the silver bullet. It doesn’t always work as planned. The adverts which have caused YouTube so many problems recently were placed by programmatic methods. The user might be exactly who you want to talk to, but you might not want to be associated with some of the content that they are consuming.

Image via graphicalliance.co.uk

YouTube’s Advertising Problems

YouTube controversy

Google-owned YouTube has had a pretty busy couple of weeks. And it’s all about advertising and just how tricky it can be.

The first issue that they faced was over a newspaper investigation which found that UK government paid advertising was being run alongside extremist content. Very embarrassing at best and at worst a very expensive mistake: some big hitters (Verizon, AT&T) have suspended their YouTube advertising spend at least for the time being. And these budgets are in the hundreds of millions of dollars – enough to impact the Google share price by $25bn in less than a week.

The second issue that YouTube faced was some controversy around its relatively new ‘restricted mode’. Restricted mode is a filter which can be turned on within YouTube to filter out potentially mature content that you may not wish someone in your family to see. Sounds like a reasonable idea – but how does it work? How can YouTube tell what content is offensive and what isn’t? It is very difficult, even for the big brains over at Google. When the panic was reaching its peak over the first issue mentioned in this blog, restricted mode seemed like a great idea. But it soon started adding a lot of LGBTQ into restricted content, for which it rightly attracted a lot of criticism.

How can YouTube / Google start to get control of the situation and move forward in light of this very difficult period? I think there are four areas to consider:

  • More control over the type of content on YouTube: This is a really difficult one, but one that YouTube needs to step up to. It needs to either define what content is inappropriate (where is the line between freedom of speech and hate speech?) or flag content very clearly that should be restricted – for users as well as advertisers
  • Balance between meeting the needs of content creators and advertisers: YouTube is stuck in the middle but needs to listen to the needs of both – without either, the website will face even more troubles ahead
  • The Google Display Network needs to be tightened up: Advertisers need to be able to clearly define who they are looking to engage with and YouTube needs to be able to deliver against that brief. There will always be a bit of a leap of faith for an advertiser, but running the risk of having your advert appear before an extremist video is a leap to far
  • YouTube needs to clarify what Restricted Mode is all about. It came to prominence as a knee-jerk reaction to the advertising controversy and what they saved in time, they paid for in good-will from viewers and content creators. Clearly explaining what is being hidden and why would go a long way to resolving this.

What do you think that YouTube and Google should do to resolve these pressing issues?

Image via the fantastic howstuffworks.com

Boosting Email Open Rates

Boosting Email Open Rate

Email is a great tool to use to engage with your audience. Assuming that you don’t have to buy a database to find out who they are (this can open up a world of pain, it’s a subject for another day!), it is a great opportunity to get your message in front of people. You can send them to a very specific link on your website, useful if your website structure is complex, and you can engage them with interesting content.

But all of that assumes that your audience actually see your email. What if your biggest problem is getting people to open your email? Here are some things to look out for when running an email marketing campaign:

Make sure they can open it: Avoiding the spam filter is the first hurdle that you need to overcome. Doing this is a blog in itself (shameless self-promotion), so let’s just say that this should be a consideration.

Timing is everything: When thinking about email marketing, you need to get into the mind-set of the recipient. If you are on your way out of the office on Friday afternoon after a hard week and you receive a marketing email, are you going to stop and read it or just delete it and start the week with a clean inbox? Timing is really important. Consider when your recipient will be in the right mood for your product, e.g. emails for holidays or financial services products may be more effective at different times of the day or days of the week.

You don’t call, you don’t email: The frequency with which you email your audience is important. If you don’t do it enough then the user will have a good enough reason to open your email, but if you email them too often, they will become tired of your communication and it becomes wallpaper. There are no hard and fast rules, but doing some research into your industry’s email frequency should offer some guidance.

Who is it from? You should have a think about who your email is from. On most email marketing packages, you can determine what the recipient sees in the ‘sender’ column. Should it be from ‘sales’ or ‘admin’ or should it be from a person – i.e. their name. In my experience, using a name tends to have a better open rate, but it does depend on the market that you operate in.

Subject line: The one element which has the most impact on the open rate of your emails will be the subject line. This needs to be enticing enough for the user to open the email, so it is a good place to personalise (with either their name or if it is time for the recipient to renew / upgrade your product), summarise your offer and grab the recipient’s attention.

What actions have you taken to drive up your email open rate? Leave a comment and share your experience.

The Digital Marketing Guide to Lead Generation


In the word of digital marketing, there are not very many activities that are done by all marketers regardless of the industry or market you operate in (i.e. Business to Consumer or Business to Business; product or service), how mature your business is, or what your organisation’s level of sophistication is.

But one of those activities is lead generation.   If your conversations with your boss include the phrases ‘conversion rate, revenue, traffic’ then it is likely that you are spending a lot of time working on lead generation, even if you don’t realise you are doing so!

Just because lead generation is common doesn’t mean that it is easy.  Consider the below questions:

  • Where do your prospects hang out online?
  • How can you attract more traffic to the website?
  • Are you selling to existing customers or finding new ones?
  • What tool should you use to talk to this particular person, at this specific time and about this specific subject?

Not easy to answer, right?  That is why you need a lead generation strategy.  It helps to organise your marketing activity so that you are focusing on the right message at the right time.

There are lots of lead generation strategy models, but the one that we will explore is a 4 point model based around RACE, as used by the excellent digital marketing website Smart Insights: Reach; Attract; Convert; Engage.

But before we get into the model, there is something you need to do – develop a plan.  This is going to be specific to your business, and should set out clear and measurable goals, budgets, resource, etc.  It can be fairly top-line as there will be some unknowns, but time spent here is time well invested as it sets the direction for the rest of the lead generation strategy.


This is the first stage of actual marketing activity.  You will be looking to raise awareness of your product or service and trying to make links between your potential customers and your business.  At this stage, the content is likely to be informative and there to help your audience rather than selling to them (remember, they don’t know who you are yet!).
There are a number of tools to enable you to drive your awareness:

Search Engine Optimisation: If you look at your analytics package, you will be able to see how much traffic organic search engine traffic delivers to your site: it is likely to be a lot!  So, you should have identified the most important keywords for your site and be in the process of writing some great content to reflect your objectives.  If you have got your SEO right, it can help to build trust and credibility in your potential customers, as they can (rightly) assume that you are a player in the market.

Pay per Click Advertising:  SEO does take time to get right, and even though the rewards are enormous, you may want to consider PPC advertising.  If you are looking for a relatively quick way to get onto page one of your search engine, PPC may be for you: but remember, if your chosen search terms are highly competitive, what you save in time, you pay for in budget.

Social Media: A great way of generating awareness of your business is through social media.  You should first spend some time working out where your audience hang out line, when they are doing so and what is their mind-set – for example, you may be a sales director, but your mind-set on Facebook will be very different from your mind-set on LinkedIn.

Website: When people are starting to explore, is your website answering their questions; for example is terminology explained; is your returns policy very clear?  But in order to get people to your website first of all, you will need to attract them with some content (which will help SEO and can be shared on social media) – a blog is a great way of doing this.
The measurement of the Reach phase of your strategy is particularly important.  Raising awareness is difficult to measure if you are not measuring the awareness of a huge brand: research into brand recall, brand recognition and brand association are pointless with 99.9% of brands, so you need to think more laterally.  If you are promoting your website (and you should be!), what are the visitor numbers looking like?  Where is the referral traffic coming from for these new visitors?  Is our social media audience growing?


This is the stage where you are really starting to focus on driving traffic to your website.  Your audience are aware of you, and it’s time to start helping them take action!  As this stage is all about your website or blog, there are a lot of metrics to be measured, most of which will be covered by your analytics package.

Visitors – this is obvious, but you should have an overall view of whether your web traffic is increasing or not

Traffic source – You should be able to link the traffic from your activities in the ‘Reach’ stage to your traffic sources.  Here you can see how effective each activity has been.  You may also start to employ some affiliate marketing: if you are talking to a specialist audience who are difficult to reach, try advertising with a more specialist website and drive traffic from there.  You might also want to keep an eye on the geography of your audience if relevant from your ‘Reach’ stage activities.

On-site engagement: To judge how engaged people are when they are on your website, keep an eye on the ‘time on site’ and ‘pages per visit’ metrics, although their importance can vary – for example, you may only want the user to see the page they land on.


This is the point at which the purchase is made (ideally!).  If your product is being sold online through an ecommerce platform, then the emphasis here is all about your website performance.

Conversion rate optimisation is all about making the journey that you want the user to complete as simple as possible.  So it is all about making processes simple: if we look at the world’s most popular ecommerce site, Amazon, we can see their navigation is very clear, as well as their check-out process which can be as simple as just one click to purchase.  You may not be able to match that, but think of all of the information that you would like to see before purchasing – e.g. return policy, delivery options, product dimensions, product reviews, etc.

Also consider multi-variant testing – with facts to back up which parts of the website work best, you will never have to get into the conversation about whether red, green or blue ‘buy now’ buttons work better again!

The ultimate measure of whether the ‘Convert’ stage is working is cold hard profit.  But you should also spend time thinking about the factors which lead to profit – what is your product / service mix, could your basket spend increase, referrals from which source have the highest conversion rate, what was the redemption on the Facebook promotion code?
In theory a simple stage, but in reality it is here where a lead generation strategy is successful or not.


While the ‘Engage’ stage may seem like the end of the journey, it is actually the start of the next journey!  Engage is all about customer retention: it is well publicised that the cost of recruiting a new customer is 7 times more expensive than retaining an existing customer (https://blog.kissmetrics.com/retaining-customers/).

The challenge at this stage is to give the customer enough reasons to come back.  Now that you have the customer’s details, you are able to engage with them on a regular basis, for example through email, offline direct mail or loyalty schemes.  Social media is also a great way of keeping in touch with existing customers to encourage them to come back.

In terms of metrics, you should be looking at customer satisfaction (you should have an automated process to track how happy a customer was with their experience), lifetime value of the customer, and whether they are an advocate of your business on social media.
And once you have done all of this, it is time to start the process again.  And just think how good you will be second time around!

What are your tips for a successful lead generation strategy?  What is your tried and tested method of attracting the best quality leads?

Common Social Media Mistakes


Social media is a big opportunity for most organisations, whether they are B2B or B2C, or whether they operate online or from a physical location. And while the theory of social media is simple (i.e. if I write great content, people will be able to engage with it), the execution is not quite as straight forward. Here are some common mistakes that are made on social media that you should do your best to avoid:

No Plan: If you don’t know what you want to achieve with your social media account, how can you possibly hope to achieve it? Do you want your account to drive traffic, entertain, be a customer service channel, be a PR platform or something else?

Always Selling: Social media is all about engaging the end user – and nothing disengages people more than selling all the time. That’s not to say that you can never sell, you just need to earn the right by posting other non-sales content. And make sure you pick your moment carefully, unlike these guys.

Buy Followers: It never works. Ever. And it completely defeats the whole point of social media. You should be focused on your reach rather than your audience size. Just because they are following you, doesn’t mean they are listening. And if you buy followers, they are not listening and most likely  not real people.

Inconsistency: You should consider your audience when you are posting. Would they be interested in what you are saying? If you are using one platform to talk about your business, your sports team, your family and your politics, you are getting it wrong. You should focus on posting about one topic and doing it brilliantly.

Frequency: The number of times that you post per day should differ by social network: the life span of a tweet is far smaller than the life span of a Facebook post for example. So spend some time working out what frequency you can commit to and dig into your analytics to find out when your audience are most likely to be online – this will maximise your reach.

Don’t Learn Lessons: Analytics packages for the 3 ‘old’ social networks, Facebook Twitter, LinkedIn, are pretty good. You should invest some time looking at the analytics to see where you could improve your social media offering. And if your social media account drives traffic to your website, you should check your web analytics package too.

Over Use Hashtags: Hashtags are a powerful tool. And with great power comes great responsibility (thanks Spiderman). Use hashtags in moderation and don’t over-load your post with them. It makes reading the actual message very difficult, especially if it is long #longhashtagssimplydontworksodontdoit

Typos: Typos and grammar will happen on social media, but when they do it distracts the user from the message which you are trying to communicate. So avoiding them will help your message resonate.

Spread Yourself Thin: Rather than creating accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube, you should focus your efforts on just one network to start with – the one where you are most likely to engage your audience. Also, are your audience interesting in your content across all social networks? All of them?!

Image via anitakelleyconsulting.com

Which should I choose – SEO or PPC?


We all know that search engines are important. The world’s number one search engine is even a verb and that search engine receives at least 2 trillion searches per year. You can check your analytics package to find out how important search engines are to your site, but its likely to be high.

And we all know that Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and search engine advertising (or Pay per Click [PPC] advertising) are important too, but which one should I use over the other? What are the key differences? I hope this quick guide can help.

Search Engine Optimisation:

  • Long-term investment
  • Continuous project
  • Good ranking suggests credibility
  • ‘Owning’ your front page offers PR benefits
  • At the mercy of algorithm changes
  • Can add SEO value without spending any money
  • Can be difficult to make progress against well-established competitors with large budgets

Pay Per Click Advertising:

  • Short-term spend
  • Campaign-based (normally)
  • Always needs a budget
  • Less reliant on regular algorithm changes
  • Full control of budget
  • Guaranteed presence on the front page of Google (although the right hand column should be avoided, it has an awful click through)

In most situations, certainly in the longer term, the best solution is probably to use a combination of both SEO and PPC. For the more consistent parts of your business, you should focus on SEO, but for the more short-term, tactical and promotional activities, PPC should receive more attention.


Image via swisspeaks.org

8 Ways to Avoiding the Spam Folder


If you work in digital marketing, you will spend a lot of time nurturing your email list – encouraging people to share their email address and accept your communications is not easy. So imagine the frustration at not being able to get your communication in front of these precious contacts. This is what a spam filter can do to your marketing.

The problem is that spam filters can be complicated: different email providers (e.g. Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.) have different guidelines. However, there are some principles which apply to all providers and here are eight that should help you get your message through.

Email Source: If you have purchased your email list, there is a high probability that your email communications will be classified as spam. Being able to ascertain people’s level of opt-in is so difficult that you just shouldn’t buy email addresses.

Vocabulary: There are certainly some keywords which raise red flags. Free, now, credit and profit should all be used carefully – particularly if they are in block capitals and followed by lots of explanation points.

Format: Your email should be a mixture of images and text. Emails which purely consist of one large image are a spammer’s way of avoiding the ‘vocabulary’ problem, so that’s a problem. And frankly, emails which are just text are pretty boring. Having a good mix is good for the email service provider and the recipient.

Timing: If you have a large number of emails which you want to send out, you should send them in small batches. A large number of emails coming from one address can trigger the spam filter. Most email marketing companies will automatically sort this for you, but worth checking.

Forms: Embedding forms into emails may seem like a good idea – it takes the form to the recipient rather than relying on the recipient finding the form, but it can cause all sorts of problems for spam filters and is best avoided.

Attachments: This is considered a way of communicating viruses and all email providers will frown on mass emails being sent with attachments. You should link people to your website and contain the relevant information / download from there.

Formatting: You may be tempted to use crazy fonts or colour your text to make it stand out from the crowd. You really shouldn’t – not only is there a danger that it will distract people from the message itself, this is also a tactic commonly used by spammers. Using certain symbols, e.g. $, are also a no-no.

From Address: It really matters who the email is sent from. Using a reputable email address such as support@example.com is much more likely to be seen by the recipient than a more obscure email address, e.g. 1263dasdba@example.com – so spend the time getting this right.

This doesn’t even take into account whether the content of your email, or your offering, are any good. The first step of towards email happiness should always be getting the email through to the recipient in the first place.