Display ROI: Mass v. Niche

This one goes to 11.

When we started diving into the dirty world of display (aren’t banners from ’98?) we thought we’d build toward large campaigns on TechCrunch, CrackBerry, and BusinessWeek.  We quickly reached this goal… and another learning.  In reality, these big mass-media sources have a much lower ROI for us than small, niche sites do.  Our original hypothesis was that we’d expect to pay a premium for the targeted sites (traditional supply & demand curve) but this has been completely wrong – at least for measurable results such as cost per click, cost per lead, etc.  (We are not measuring any impacts to brand awareness.)

Search (Google/Bing) and social media (LinkedIn/Facebook) still provide the best ROI but with a brand with limited awareness (we’re only 3 years old) in an industry that’s just as young (crowdsourced software testing) we can’t expect people to search for us if they don’t know about us.  Typical example of, “you don’t know what you don’t know”.

Looking ahead, I suspect one challenge we’ll face in 2011 is how to manage advertising across many niche sites.  Here’s a list of tools we’re currently using and have had success with;

  • Google AdWords – AdWords offers display marketing and is by far the leader.  There is generally more variability with CPM’s, CPC’s and general budgets than there are through other sources, but it’s certainly a must-use tool.
  • BuySellAds.com – BSA is a small startup out of Boston and they’re still flushing out some bugs and working on product development, but there are certainly some gems (with very low CPMs) to be found here.  Todd Garland, the CEO and founder, is very receptive to feedback and I’ve directed numerous publishers to the site for its simplicity in allowing me, as an advertiser, to manage multiple sites.
  • Federated Media – Owned by the notorious John Battelle (the author whose book, The Search, got me interested in online marketing in the first place).  Like BSA, the product still has room for improvement (i.e. some campaign edits must go through customer support) but they do have a nice interface for buying various percentages of Run of Site on such properties like Mashable and ReadWriteWeb.
  • AdBrite & AdReady – I’ve only started playing around with these but my initial response is promising and I expect I’ll spend December experimenting with them for most spend in 2011.

As always, I love the discussions – are there any sites I’ve missed?  How does mass vs. niche work for your advertising campaigns?

For those unfamiliar with our advertising or company, here’s a quick word of intro about uTest:  we’re based in Boston and have built the world’s largest community of professional testers for web, desktop & mobile apps.  We have 30,000+ testers from 170 countries around the world and our area of greatest growth is testing iPhone, Android and Blackberry apps.  We test for companies that range from 5-person shops in NYC and the Valley to superpowers like Google and Microsoft.

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