Question and Methodology
I started with a straightforward question: How are advertisers in the geospatial marketplace using banner ads?
I gathered data from the homepages of ten geospatial publications on February 14, 2012:
- GIS Lounge
- GIS Cafe
- GeoPlace (GeoWorld)
- GIS User
- Vector 1
- Directions Magazine
- GPS World
- Earth Imagine Journal
- Imaging Notes
- Spatial News
I documented graphic ads found on the homepage by forcing at least ten refreshes to identify ads for the study. I excluded:
- non-clickable “sponsored by” graphics
- in-house ads (ads for other products, services, events from the publishing company)
- job ads
- non-geospatial ads (for example, for SSDs, service management services, CAD websites)
- ads in “special advertising sections” of the page
I found 44 unique ads. Fourteen were found once or more on other publications’ websites.
Nearly all the ads were sourced to the publishing organization’s website. Fully 91% (40) were hosted on the publisher’s server (for example, DirectionsMag.com, GISlounge.com, etc.). Just 7% (3) came from AdClick, an advertising service, and 5% (2) were hosted by Google.
The landing page is the webpage launched by clicking on the ad. More than half of the ads, 66% (29), linked to a page deep within the advertiser’s website, for example a product page or an event page. Twenty-five percent (25%, 11) landed on the advertiser’s homepage, that is, at companyname.com. Seven percent (7%, 3) landed on a custom designed page set up for the advertisement, such as a microsite with a special offer. Just one ad (2%, 1) did not send the visitor to the advertising organization’s website; its landing page was a Survey Monkey survey.
Call to Action
An ad’s “call to action” (CTA, wikipedia definition) describes what, if anything, the ad asks the user to do. Ads without a CTA are typically aimed at “awareness” or “branding,” that is, reminding ad viewers that the company/product/brand exists.
Exactly half of the ads (50%, 22) had a call to action, the other half did not. What were the calls to action? Here are some examples:
- free trial (software/data)
- free video
- discount coupon for event
- learn more/find out how/get details
- see us at...
- register/plan for event/webinar
- share feedback
The publications used are small and rarely work with larger ad networks for graphic ads. The two exceptions seem to be the use of Google graphic ads on a few sites and the use of AdClick by GPS World, which is owned by a larger media player, Questex.
I suspect the 25% of ads that linked to the organization homepage were mostly from the “no call to action” group. However, the organization’s homepage might be an appropriate landing page for a “learn more” type call to action. That said, a good number of the “learn more” ads had a specific focus, for example, a new product release, degree program or imagery type.
The calls to action had some interesting “extra incentives” built right into the ads or landing pages. One offered a free trial and made clear that no credit card was needed. One custom landing page offered a free trial and had the option of how to proceed if the reader did not want a free trial. One “percent off” ad brought up a landing page with an embedded tweet with a code for higher percentage off! One “find out how” ad landing page did offer a variety of different ways to “find out how,” but the reader had to scroll down the page past irrelevant text to find the list of options. A “come see what we have” ad prepared me to see a catalog or gallery; sadly, neither was on the landing page.
One event ad brought up a landing page with a URL address including the year 2009, while the title of the page included the year 2010 and the text on the page referred to 2012. Another event ad cited a conference that had already occurred. The landing page was great; it listed what attendees got out of the event! In short, the landing page was updated to “work” specifically if the ads continued to run after the event shut down.
Many landing pages of both ads with CTAs and those without offered no compelling or memorable content. They simply served up the message: this company/product/service exists. Several ads and landing pages for GIS degrees did not highlight unique degrees, courses or methodologies. My sense was that each program did have a unique characteristic that would have fit the bill. The disappointing landing pages were opportunities lost.
There is some (but not much) variety in the banner ads currently running on geospatial publication websites. Hopefully, these observations can help advertisers consider what sort of ad, what call to action, what landing page will best convey the intended message to readers or prompt the appropriate action.