optimising online revenue

Smargeting - smarter targeting for more effective marketing

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Turn up the heat - where are your visitors clicking?

Some ad providers make it easy for you to refine smargeting techniques. Google's AdSense, for example, provides a 'channels' feature that can give you vital information about where on a page your ads perform best (if you're unfamiliar with channels, I've included a short explanation at the end of the article).

Surprisingly few other affiliate programs give you such an option, however. And if you're mixing ads from another scheme with AdSense, channels are only going to provide a partial picture of what's really happening on the page.

Which is where the heatmap comes in - an incredibly useful smargeting tool.

In case you've not come across the term or technique before, a heatmap quite simply uses color to visually depict levels of activity: the 'hotter' the color, the greater the activity.

Its use in web optimization shows exactly which areas of your page are getting the most clicks - an invaluable insight, and until recently, one that was only available to specialists.

Now, however, there are a couple of great new online tools that offer heatmap info for your site, and best of all, several are free (with some limitations).

I'm sure the technique will become very popular indeed and that soon you'll have a lot more options to choose from. But for the time being, you'll find the links on our tools page.


If you're working with a variety of ad programs on one site, or even using just one that doesn't allow you to chart the effects positioning has on ad performance, heat maps are clearly one of the best optimization tools around and a perfect smargeting weapon.

What's more, if you're investigating the perfect combination of ad formats, a heat map will help you determine what mix of ads is popular far faster than trawling through separate sources of data.


The wider context

Most would agree that contextual advertising is the backbone of perfect smargeting techniques. In the best possible scenario, you've managed to establish your very own context by promoting a specific niche that visitors actually come to your pages for.

But since that's an exception rather than a rule, contextual advertising within your site should - in theory at least - target visitors with advertising that's geared to their interests.

What's more, if you're savvy, and really want to optimize your earning opportunities, you'll carry out keyword research before creating site content.

Let's say, for example, that you're running a food and wine site and want to write an article on white wine. You happen to know a lot about German whites, but by taking a look at a keyword tool before starting - Google's free one works just fine - if you type in 'white wine' as a search term you'll notice that 'California white wine' is a much higher paying keyword phrase than 'German white wine'.

Which means that you've now found your topic, knowing that any contextual ads generated by the content are likely to be the highest payers. And while you're at it, you may as well check out a few other high payers, too. A pretty good smargeting move, right?

Maybe not. Consider the following scenario.

Your visitor - a regular - hasn't yet turned up at your site. They're intending to stop by, but right now they're viewing a blog. It's also about food and wine because after all, that's their main interest.

There's an ad at the top of the page for Californian white wines, which happens to tie in nicely with the article they're reading. Elsewhere in the blog, they notice an ad for Belgian chocolates.

They decide to switch to your site, keen to check out some of your recipes.

They immediately notice an ad on the homepage. It's the one they've just seen for the Californian wine producer. And oddly enough, there's an article that's similar to the one they've just read.

No worries - your visitor clicks through to the recipe page and starts scanning the latest content. Then they notice an ad for Belgian chocolate. It's in a slightly different format, but otherwise exactly the same one they saw just a few minutes ago. This is almost starting to get a little irritating, and your visitor can't help wondering why they're seeing the same ads over again.

Of course, the answer in this case is because you and your rival publisher were being smart - or so you thought - with keyword optimized content.

But the fact is that even if you're not expressly manipulating keywords, a scenario in which users surf from site to site seeing the same ads is growing increasingly common.

After all, that's exactly what contextual advertising is about. And even the largest advertising networks only have a limited amount of ads to share across an ever-increasing number of affiliated sites. All of which means that, sooner or later, visitors with specific interests will encounter ads on your site they've seen many times before. Which isn't something even the very best blending or positioning techniques can do much about.

So how can we tackle this growing problem? Clearly you're not going to abandon contextual ads, because they do work - just less efficiently as time goes by.

The smargeting answer is to review the idea of context and prise it open. To take another look at what you're offering and work out if you can push it that little bit further. It's time to start thinking laterally about your average user profile. What else is likely to make them tick?


In fact, coming up with ideas may be a lot less difficult than you think. Take, for example, our food and drink site. If our users are interested in food, perhaps they'd also be keen on tableware. Products such as dinner services, glasses or cutlery, perhaps?

Maybe they like to hold dinner parties, too. What about flowers arrangements for the table? Or speciality cleaning products? - those red wine stains can be tricky to remove. And then there's the area of food preparation itself. Kitchen and cookery utensils could extend to high-end goods such as fridges, dishwashers, or kitchen design and fittings.

Get the idea? Not only have you found yourself several potentially valuable niches within your food and wine sector, you've also discovered a way to vary the potential monotony of your regular campaign with a completely new and unexpected message.

It's the smargeting way to fight increasing ad blindness - and to emphasize the difference I'd certainly consider a contrasting ad format, too. So investigate some of the options here in clickspiration; a highly visual mini-mall would be just the thing for kitchenware, for example.

And finally, don't forget to check those heat map results to see how far your smargeting can take you.


Note: Google channels

Admittedly, channels can seem a little perplexing, but they're actually very simple to use.

For example, if you're planning to position a group of ads top left in your page, create a channel named 'top left' (any name will do, but you may as well be specific!) and add the group to this channel at set-up by following the on-screen instructions.

You'll now be able to access individual stats for your 'top-left' group by selecting it in the advanced reports section of the AdSense publisher area.

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