If you own a dating site and want to run an ad campaign that will get you actual, immediate results (i.e. people signing up to your site) as opposed to branding, you’re far better off running an ad campaign online rather than offline. Online, the people you are trying to sell your services to are only a few clicks away from your site and everything is trackable, allowing you to see exactly how your campaign is performing. Online banners are interactive, giving you more options to play with compared to , say, a newspaper ad. This is not always good, though, as it seems to make some advertisers and designers lose their heads and forget the whole purpose of this exercise (i.e. getting people to sign up to the site). Manyof the world’s biggest dating sites got big not because of branding but because of direct marketing campaigns designed to bring in as many customers as possible. Direct marketing is everything branding isn’t and people who come from one discipline often find it very hard to get into the mindset. I sometimes look at other people’s campaigns and think to myself “there is no way that site is making any money from this campaign”. My campaigns, on the other hand, generally worked 🙂
Here are a few things I learned while marketing 5 of the UK’s busiest dating sites in this particular way:
- Never give your designer a free reign
Designers are artistic, creative people who generally want to show off their design skills and make pretty things. Sadly, art and marketing don’t generally mix. The same goes for writing. As a writer, the hardest thing for me when writing ad copy is realising quite how simple it needs to be compared to what I’d like it to be. Good ad copy sometimes makes very bad English – every writer’s nightmare. The same goes for design – pretty designs won’t necessarily sell your product. Good ads sometimes break every aesthetic rule; you don’t care. Your ads need to conform to marketing and advertising rules above all else – design, art, writing are never as important. It may break your designer’s heart, so make sure you pay him or her well. 🙂
- Keep it simple
An ad doesn’t need too many bells and whistles to be effective. In my experience, I found that flash ads with interactive animations never worked as well as the simpler stuff. Attracting people’s attention and giving them cute things to click on and make things happen is nice, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into them coming to your site. Sometimes people won’t even understand that they’re meant to click through at all. There is such a thing as being too original.
Don’t overload your ad with copy and too many images. One liners , a simple question and answer format (“Looking for love? Find it here!”) is all it takes sometimes to get people clicking. In a very visual, animated ad landscape, a simple banner could stand out by virtue of being understated.
- Know your context
Depending on your advertising deal, it’s not always possible to know where your ads are showing, but if at all possible, do it. This will give you a better understanding of the advertising landscape you’re dealing with. Check the positioning so you can tell which ads stand out and which blend into the background. Also, check out the site’s colours and see if your ad gets camouflaged by them. I’ve had banners sent to me by the designer that would have completely disappeared into the background of certain sites we were advertising on. Luckily I remembered to check (at some point, la la la) and realised the colour scheme needed to be changed.
Some sites are very busy with adverts or features and would require a whole different set of creatives if you want to get noticed. Unless you look, you may be throwing your money away without realising it.
- Make life easier for your potential customers
The more work you make someone do between the time when s/he sees your ad and the Promised Land (i.e seeing the potential love of his/her life in your site’s search results) the more you stand to lose that person’s attention. If possible, link straight to the search page on your site. HTML creatives where users can run a search directly from the ad are good, though the fact that the Web is overloaded with fake animated gif versions means some people won’t know it’s the real deal.
Encourage people to click on your ad by putting call-to-action buttons and phrases like “Click here to search for free now!” Not everyone online is net-savvy enough to know they should be clicking.
- Rigid branding is not always the best option
If you have a big dating site or one that is designed to appeal to a wide audience, you may well find that some creatives perform well on some networks/sites but not so well on others. If you’re looking to bring in registrations, rather than create a strong brand-association, your best best is to tailor the creatives to the places you are advertising in and their audience. Die-hard direct marketers would go as far as saying you should even drop your logo if necessary and concentrate on selling the service rather than the brand. Personally, I prefer to use the logo in every creative, even if the general design differs from campaign to campaign. Obviously, the larger and more popular your site becomes, the easier ( and, possibly, more important) it is to start leveraging brand power and use things like common colour schemes, themes, etc. for your ad. While you are still building a database from scratch, there’s really no need to do that.
- ABT – Always Be Tracking
Tracking a campaign as a whole is not enough. You want to track each banner and even, if possible, how each banner performs across different sites. The more tracking you can put in, the better. This way, you can immediately tell which banners work and which don’t and you can avoid wasting a lot of money by making changes, pausing underperforming banners and upweighting those that work.
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