Don’t waste money on online advertising!

Posted on April 24, 2014

What checks do when you assess online advertising opportunities for your business?

How do you know you’re not about to waste your money when you partner with a new digital advertising platform?

Recently I have been working with small business in the Morzine area to help with their digital presence. In the process I have come across both advertising opportunities and intermediaries for offering opportunities for these businesses to promote their services. Some of these may well be great, but not all are 100% correct for the needs of the businesses I have been working with. Yet when the sales pitch is coming at you it can be tough to sort the wheat from the chaff at times.

To help clear this up, and provide some structure for small businesses to use I thought I would share my approach. This is a fairly lengthy read, but I hope it will be useful to you.

At the end you’ll find the gift of a super helpful comparison chart download as a thanks for reading!

Our aim is not just to better understand the sites from a qualitative basis, but also to provide a quantifiable way to compare them.

Don’t be blinded by the impressive sounding statistics you first get when these sites try to prove to you how popular they are and how much visibility you’re missing out on. The trick here is to cut through this and come up with a clear, consistent way to assess each option vs your stated goals to enable you to understand the following:

  1. What volume of traffic and ultimately bookings you should expect from this site?
  2. How this site compares vs others for when deciding where to prioritise your spend?
  3. How much investment should be required in each site to provide great returns.

So lets dive in, first up the 2 big ones:

Traffic volume


Immediately you will be provided with stats on their monthly visits. Sometimes you might also get some clarity on Unique Visits. You may also get Pageviews and Unique Pageviews. These are different statistics and it’s important you understand the difference between them in helping you assess what value your ad is likely to provide:

  • Visits – total number of times a website is visited within a given time frame
  • Unique Visits – total number of individuals who visit a website within a given time frame.
  • Pageviews – total number of times a specific webpage is viewed within a given time frame
  • Unique Pageviews – total number of individuals who view a specific webpage within a given time frame.

As a general rule the stats they will first shout about are aggregated for the site as whole. You should look beyond the total to gain a true insight into the opportunity.

Explore the stats for the pages where your advert will be placed. We would expect the homepage to have higher numbers than sub-pages, so unless you’re to be featured on the homepage it’s not really that relevant to your business. If possible you want to know about the actual pages where you’ll be featured. If this is not possible, for example an accommodation listing on a chalet booking site, the page won’t exist until you pay for your space, then you should request numbers for the related category pages (i.e. Morzine chalets) and make a guesstimate as to how much share of traffic you will get. This will likely be much smaller than the aggregated stats they initially provide and will give you a much greater understanding of what in reality they offer.

Click-thru rates for ads


The second big one to check is the average click thru rates (CTR) for advertisements on the site. For accommodation booking sites this might be something different like enquiry rate or similar. The CTR of a site will give you a much better yard-stick by which to forecast performance of an ad placement. It’s all very well a site having thousands of daily visitors, of course this is important, but how valuable to you is this traffic going to be?

Expressed as a %, this will help you with your modelling and forecasting (especially important if you are paying per click as this will directly effect spend), and help you when it comes to assessing performance at the end of the ad period. Are you above, on or below average for that site?

Also bear in mind that although the site itself is important, so is the attractiveness of your advert or placement. Knowing how you performed relative to other ad placements will help you assess under-performing campaigns more accurately.

With the 2 big ones out the way, here are some other bits of information I like to know.

The following help me better understand the site’s digital presence and assess whether I happy for my brand to be seen alongside them. Additionally this acts as a good check to make sure the stats mentioned above are true indicators of the site, and they aren’t artificially boosting numbers with low value traffic to get you to buy advertising space!

Bounce Rate


The bounce rate for a site is indicative of the value visitors are finding from the content on the pages. Represented as a %, in general the higher the bounce rate the less engaged an audience is. Certain page types or sections of a site may expect to have a high bounce rate (for example a blog generally has a higher bounce rate as visitors arrive for a specific post), so you need to allow for page type when assessing this stat.

In general you want to see a low bounce rate %, anything around 25% or under would be a well performing page or site. Anything up around 60%+ and alarm bells should be ringing.

Traffic sources


What are the top 10 sources of traffic for the site? What is the % breakdown of these? Are they overly reliant on one particular source and how does that sit with the demographic you are targeting? Does it compete or support other places you are advertising? Although this information won’t necessarily help you quantifiably forecast performance, it can help you understand more about the type of traffic the site gets and their motivations for visiting.

Rankings & visibility


How strong is the domain and how visible are they for key search terms? Use the MozBar to give you a quick insight into the overall strength of the site (look for the domain authority – out of 100, the higher the better). How does this compare with your site? Also do some searches around key terms and assess their visibility, does their site turn up and if so what pages or categories?

This will give you a better idea as to the true value of the site and it’s performance. Do they command an enviable position from which you can benefit by having a presence on their site? Does their actual visibility back-up their claims on traffic sources and volume. This isn’t scientific, but a useful indicator.



Additionally have a look at their social profiles and engagement levels. Are they active in these spaces and does this present another opportunity for you to access their audience?



Once you have run the checks and gained the information it’s time to pull it altogether into an excel sheet and do some simple forecasting to quickly cross compare the opportunities. I have created a table for you to download to help with this.

Here’s a quick explainer of the chart:

  • Platform – enter the name of the site for your advert
  • Monthly Traffic – their estimated monthly traffic volume for the advert (visits or pageviews most likely used here – if you can get “uniques” as well). Remember we’re only interested in traffic to the pages where your ad will be seen.
  • CTR - The average click-thru rate or enquiry rate they give you.
  • Cost – The cost for the ad placement. You will need to amend this chart a bit if you are given a CPC rate rather than a fixed cost per placement.
  • Click Forecast - This will auto-populate with an estimated number of clicks the ad will get.
  • CPC - This will auto-generate an estimated cost per click (or enquiry). This sets a benchmark for cross comparison of the sites.
  • CPM – This auto-generates a cost per thousand impressions. For ad campaigns which don’t directly generate clicks but are aimed at generating brand views (impressions), this is the most appropriate measurement.

You may wish to take this chart much further and add in more metrics to assess each opportunity, for example you might get more opportunities from one platform to be on their email as well.  In this instance build out the columns accordingly and add the costs, forecast traffic and clicks to the total for the platform to be able to properly cross compare each option.

Additionally once the campaign has run it’s course it’s useful to revisit this chart and add columns for actual performance. You can then perform simple post campaign analysis to see what actually happened vs forecast. This should all feedback into your strategy for advertising and which platforms you choose going forward.

You made it through, well done! Thanks for reading this far and I hope you found this post useful. When you get it right digital advertising can be a great option for a business to gain short term visibility or test new offers. But it’s important to be thorough in choosing where to invest you money to make sure you get the best returns.

Please do message me in the comments below or via Twitter if you have questions or thoughts?



Featured photo credit: cc