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How to optimise your online ads to target today’s busy and easily distracted digital consumers

8 minute read

Polly Kay
Polly Kay

Online ad targeting or targeted advertising is designed to market to specific audience segments that share certain traits, allowing them to be grouped together into segments based on things that the members of each audience have in common. These shared traits and interests can then be used for personalised ad targeting.

The alternative approach of designing a broadly targeted campaign for a wide and diverse viewing audience might be able to help you to reach a larger number of potential prospects, but with a lower degree of personalisation and accuracy than can be achieved with demographic ad targeting.

Targeted ads reliably achieve a better ROI across marketing verticals than more generalised campaigns, but they can also be something of a gamble. If your approach, the channels that you place your content on or something else isn’t quite right, or if you’ve taken shortcuts at the research stage when establishing your demographic groups, ad targeting is highly unlikely to be effective or profitable.

However, knowing where and how to put your advertising budget to work in order to maximise your yield can be complex and challenging, particularly given the amount of competing stimulus and background noise that your prospects face when browsing the internet or shopping online.

Today’s online consumers are not just ad-savvy, but also easily distracted, which means that targeted ads need to be optimised to make an immediate impact and deliver their core message quickly and effectively before the prospect moves on.

In this article, I will examine the challenges of online ad targeting for modern consumers and share some tips on optimising your content to achieve the best possible yield for your ad spend.

Are today’s consumers really that easily distracted, and if so, why?

First of all, it is worth offering up some background information in support of my claim that today’s consumers are easily distracted and so, harder to target and sell to than was the case earlier on in the evolution of online marketing.

Research conducted by the Microsoft Corporation found that between the year 2000 and 2015, the average attention span of online viewers fell from twelve seconds to eight, a gradual but progressive trend that is certainly hard to ignore.

If you yourself feel as if you’re being constantly bombarded by online ads, you’re not alone; 64% of internet users surveyed by HubSpot Research stated that they find online ads annoying, and many people tune them out entirely as background noise.

This makes effective ad targeting harder to achieve because your content not only needs to catch your prospects’ attention in the first place, but also deliver the information they need to make a decision to find out more within the space of just a few seconds, lest your target gets bored and moves on to something else.

The sheer amount of competing stimulus on the average browser page makes it hard to get any one advert noticed by its target audience, even when that ad is finely tuned to appeal specifically to them.

However, the right type of ads and ad content can still drive traffic and boost sales, even given the amount of competing stimulus on the average page.

How can you optimise your own online ads to target busy, distracted modern consumers?

There is no one trick or tool that works across the board for every industry or consumer group when it comes to optimising your ad content to catch attention and drive sales. Rather, finding the right balance for any individual business relies upon bringing together a number of different elements and allowing for a little trial and error along the way, with room for improvement and adaptation built in.

If your online ad targeting isn’t returning the type of yield you hoped for or if you want to ensure that your next campaign performs to the best of its ability, there are a range of different areas to examine and bring together when setting up and managing your campaigns.

Next, I will outline some of the main points to consider when designing targeted ads to appeal to those easily distracted modern consumers.

Identifying and reaching your target demographics

It all starts here. Before you even begin to formulate the content for your campaign itself, you first need to identify your demographic targets, check and double-check their viability, and establish how and where to reach them.

Even a small error at this stage of things can herald the downfall of what could otherwise have been a highly effective advert had it been targeted to a different demographic, or framed in a different way more suited to the prospective buyer pool in question.

Finding out who your future prospects are begins with finding out who buys from you already or who is receptive to doing so, which means diving into your business’s data sets and collating information on what your buyers have in common with each other, divided into sub-sets of types that share common traits such as interests, age, location, and other metrics that offer value for your business niche and offerings.

Look at where and how your competitors advertise too, and vitally, be prepared to adapt and review your data regularly to fine-tune your ad content to ensure that it remains relevant and impactful.

How to optimise ads to make a fast, impactful impression to digital consumers

Ad optimisation to increase each ad’s reach and effectiveness relies upon being able to get your message across quickly and succinctly, laying down the groundwork for the desired action that you want your prospects to take next.

Unless you are only targeting one narrow marketing vertical, this will likely mean that you will need to produce several ad sets for use with different core demographics that you have identified at the research stage. However, there are a few key things that hold true across all of your ad sets, regardless of their audience targeting, and which you should ensure are on point in order to support your content delivery.

Ad loading times should be instant or near-instant, which is rarely an issue today given the speedy delivery of programmatic ads and other automated algorithm-based targeting methods.

The location on any given page (or within any other type of content, such as YouTube video-based ad trailers) that your ad appears on can also influence its reach and impact too, and prime ad real estate is priced accordingly. Because we read from left to right and top to bottom, ads placed in the top, centre, and left of the screen draw the eye and capture the attention more than ads placed in other areas, and when it comes to programmatic ads, these locations tend to command the highest prices due to their increased potential ROI.

The visual impact of your ad itself needs to be fine-tuned for the audience you are targeting at every stage too, from the choice of fonts, colours, video stills and main message right through to the presentation of the message itself, and its format and style.

Content that contrasts with and stands out from the background draws the eye in the first instance. However, if it is incongruous with the theme of the host content or the preferences of its users, it stands a high chance of being ignored, either because it immediately triggers a type of ad-related snow blindness, or because your prospects unconsciously write it off as being irrelevant to their reason for visiting the host portal in the first place.

Don’t go overly heavy on the text either, even in text-based adverts. Less is more, so use short, impactful standalone sentences that encourage interaction and progress through your sales funnel, rather than trying to bombard your prospects with lots of information or competing/conflicting USPs within a small section of ad real estate.


Ad frequency and repetition: finding the sweet spot

Optimum ad frequency and repetition – the number of times that any given advert is served up before any one individual prospect – is something that marketers spend a lot of time determining. Getting the balance right makes the difference between losing an opportunity to sell for the want of another impression or two, and flogging the dead horse that is an uninterested prospect upon whom your paid-for impressions are being wasted.

Just one or two repetitions of an ad is rarely enough to generate the desired response from a prospect, as it can take some time for your message to filter through into the consciousness of even a receptive prospect and later, to trigger the association that may lead to a conversion.

Anywhere between five and nine impressions delivered over a period of time and across different platforms is widely considered to be the optimum impression frequency for most types of targeted ads, and the exact number for any given campaign is something that you should assess on-the-go when you start collating data on the uptake rate and uplift frequency of your published ad content.

Nielsen’s Digital Brand Effect report on ad exposure from 2017 found that ads delivered between five to nine times to each prospect results in a 51% increase in resonance amongst prospects compared to a smaller or greater number of impressions of the same ads.

Why concentrating on winning repeat custom often wins the day

Previous satisfied customers are always a good target market for repeat sales and new products or offerings, and it is easier to sell to people who have already purchased from you than it is to acquire new prospects from scratch.

Solely targeting previous buyers is relatively self-limiting in the long term, but the value of revisiting past buyers with new incentives and offers is borne out by research, and can significantly increase your ad’s ROI. 40% of the average Ecommerce store’s revenue is generated by just 8% of their customers – repeat buyers.

When you’re targeting previous buyers, you’ve already taken care of a lot of the hard work. People who have purchased from you before won’t go through the same extended decision-making process as new prospects, as they will already have a level of trust in your brand, offerings and customer service. Essentially at this stage, you just need to market your new product or offer effectively, rather than your ethos or brand itself.

Each additional purchase also increases the chances of further purchases too, with first-time buyers returning for a second purchase 27% of the time on average, rising to 45% for a third purchase and 54% for a fourth.

Choosing the right ad format for your audience demographics

The format that your ads are presented in can make all of the difference to the level of engagement that they generate with your prospects, and video content and images tend to be more effective at catching the attention and achieving a desired action than text-based ad content. They are also much more memorable to their viewers too, something else that is vital when dealing with ad-savvy consumers with short attention spans.

Research indicates that 95% of a message within video content is retained in the minds of the viewer, compared to just 10% for text-based content. Companies using video also benefit from a 41% uptick in search traffic compared to those not using video content.

However, video content might not be the most appropriate format to use for every type of niche and prospect, and unless your video ads are placed within other video content such as YouTube trailer ads, getting your prospect to play a video or properly engage with an auto play video can be challenging.

Text-based ads are far from dead, but there is less margin for error when it comes to generating engagement, catching the viewer’s attention, and keeping the enthusiasm going for the duration of your message. A line of text that can be scanned and ignored is also generally less impactful and memorable for busy audiences, as borne out by the WireBuzz research I mentioned above, but may be more appropriate for targeted, repeated ad impressions depending on their host content and audience, as well as being generally less costly to produce.

Ad content that incorporates appropriate imagery performs better than text alone, so this can provide some middle ground between targeting and appealing to easily distracted visually-oriented consumers effectively versus going down the video engagement route.

Bringing it all together

Putting all of the above information together to design and launch a targeted online ad campaign relies upon being able to parse the points that are relevant to you and your audience and use them to collate a complete picture of who your prospects are, and what they want.

Working with several different demographic groups and tailoring their ad format, content and placement to match each demographic individually can be time consuming, but will pay off in the long term. Broader targeting might seem like a safer bet, but assuming that your targeting is well formulated for each demographic and designed individually with them in mind, your ROI per campaign will almost certainly outperform campaigns designed for larger, more diverse horizontal markets.

However, if you don’t have enough information on each demographic to be able to build up a complete picture of who they are and what they want, your targeting is likely to fall short, particularly given the low attention spans of today’s consumers and the amount of competing stimulus out there vying for that attention.

Polly Kay

Polly Kay is a British copywriter and content writer with a digital marketing background. After studying Marketing (BA Hons) at university, she first honed her skills as a copywriter by working in-house for an award-winning creative agency in London before branching out on her own in 2012. Today, Polly Kay Copywriting and Content Writing serves clients ranging from small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK to well-known multinational brands. Polly specialises in SEO-friendly content writing for online use, and both brand-led and direct response copywriting for all applications.

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