Marketing: The Price of a Free Internet?

The Price of a Free Internet WordPress

The last month has seen a lot of controversy with regard to a free internet.  This is not referring to freedom of information, a whole other minefield, but the cost of visiting the vast majority of websites.

The recently released iOS 9 allowed advert blocking software to be integrated with Safari for the first time, a significant development.  With around 500 million iPhones having been sold, quite apart from the millions of iPads, being able to block ads on Safari is a marketer’s nightmare – it is another reason why marketers may move away from display advertising.

Like them or not, display adverts are often the difference between a website being a paid for subscription-style service or a free to visit website – certainly the case with YouTube.  And ad blocking software is a threat to marketers spending their budget in this way.

So, is the issue that people just need to accept advertising and (dare I say) be grateful that the marketing community is keeping the internet (relatively) free of charge?


One of the issues that has not been addressed is why ad blocking software exists in the first place. Users of the web feel that the majority of online adverts are:

  • Intrusive – you are quite happily browsing before an advert APPEARS AND STARTS SHOUTING AT YOU
  • Irritating – visiting one website does not give that website the right to chase you round the internet for a month still talking about the same page that you visited
  • Poorly targeted – products are at best irrelevant or at worst inappropriate to the target audience

So it’s no surprise that people are trying to block this content, is it?

We in the marketing community needs to accept responsibility for ad blocking software – to a large degree it is a tool of our own making because of the terrible adverts that are run.  And I see it as our issue to sort out.

Marketers need to focus on using display advertising as an inbound marketing tool: well designed, well targeted, complimentary to the environment where the advert is being placed and relevant – is advertising the right tool to use for this objective?  Not all of these are easy to do, but this is the challenge facing marketers.

Unless this issue is rectified primarily by those working in marketing, the internet will become more and more hidden behind paywalls, a threat to the very freedom of information on the web.

Display Advertising: The Basics

Display Advertising 101

Display Advertising 101

I think in the world of digital marketing, it is easy to assume that everyone knows everything about everything! But very often you just want to ask the simple questions – if you feel like this about display advertising, this one is for you. It doesn’t include the complexities, just the basics: hope you enjoy!

What is Display Advertising?

Display advertising is a way to get some representation for your campaign onto a targeted website. There are a number of options in terms of the advert size, location and format. There is also a wide variety of websites where your advert can be displayed. Different types of adverts include MPU (300 pixels x 250 pixels), Leaderboard (728 x 90) and Skyscraper (160 x 600)

There are two ways to place a display advert:

  • Google Display Network – this is a network of millions of websites who sell their space via Google. The Google Display Network is accessed via Google Adwords and you are able to use keywords to target the websites where your advert will appear. You can also target specific websites which are part of the network.
  • Direct with website – many websites sell space on their website directly. You can contact these websites and negotiate directly with them.

You can use a non-moving image which will normally be in a ‘png’ or ‘jpeg’ format, or a moving image such as a ‘gif’ format. This will depend on your budget, designer and website (not all websites can accommodate gif images).

Display advertising is good for:

  • Raising awareness
  • Using eye-catching imagery for your campaign
  • Using well targeted websites to promote your campaign

Display advertising is bad for:

  • Driving a response from an audience – display adverts have a low click through rate
  • Displaying complex information – fewer words means a more effective advert

How to Measure Display Advertising:

  • Clicks – the number of times that someone clicks on your advert
  • Impressions – the number of times that your advert is displayed
  • Click Through Rate – the number of clicks divided by the number of impressions
  • Cost per Click – the amount that you have paid per click

Display Advertising Tips

  • It is likely that you will be charged not by the click, but a cost per 1,000 views, known as Cost per Mille or CPM – consider this when planning your budget
  • Spend time researching which website is best to advertise on – where do the audience who you want to speak to spend their time online?
  • Add a tracking code to your URL via Google Custom URL Builder to track traffic from your advert
  • Display advertising should be used to raise awareness, not necessarily to drive enquiries or action from the user

Are Display Ads Dead?



I saw a HubSpot article earlier this week which showed some pretty alarming statistics about on-line display ads:

  • 8% of internet users account for 85% of display ad clicks (and not all of them are human)
  • You are more likely to summit Mount Everest than click on a banner ad
  • You are more likely to survive a plane crash than click a banner ad

So, on this evidence, display ads are a thing of the past, right?  Well, no.  Firstly, the context of these stats is not clear, so we should only take them at face value.  But is the point that they are making fair?

Imagine this scenario – you run a company who sells widgets to other businesses and has been doing so for 10 years.  When you are advertising to your current customer base, you need to drive direct responses.  So, your strategy is to drive enquiries, and your objective is to drive the target audience to your website to find out more. In this case, display ads are not the tool for you – an average click through rate is 0.1%, so you will need 1000 impressions of your ad before you receive just one click. 

However, if you have decided to start selling your widgets to a brand new audience, then your strategy will be to raise awareness of your product to this new audience – you want to get your name out to this new audience, so on-line display ads could be the answer.  Your objective is brand awareness with this new audience, not necessarily clicks.

So, as with every marketing campaign, the objective should help to tell you what tool you should use to get the maximum return – if its clicks and visits to the site, maybe look at PPC; if its awareness, then on-line display ads could be right. 

If you have an on-line display ad campaign with well-targeted keywords, a website which your audience frequently visits, a memorable ad creative, and you want to get this message in front of thousands of your target audience at relatively low cost, then on-line display ads are not dead – in fact, they might just be the tool you are looking for. 

(image from