Mobile ad campaigns 101

We’ve been hearing about the enormous potential of mobile advertising for quite some time now. The main reason for all this fuss is that the number of data plan subscribers is forecasted to grow from 5.5 to 14 million by 2015 in Canada (close to half of the Canadian population)[1].

With so many people browsing and playing on their phones, most advertisers are forced to develop a mobile strategy to ensure some kind of online presence and answer the needs of consumers on the go.

The following tips should help you avoid the most common mistakes of rookie mobile marketers and will maximize your chances of building a successful mobile campaign.

Picking the right network

As with desktop and laptop users, Google is the favourite search engine of mobile users. This, along with contextual and in-app targeting options (on Android) makes AdWords a platform you can’t ignore when planning for mobile campaigns.

However, do not underestimate the potential of Yahoo, which manages to maintain a good market share on mobiles thanks to a partnership with Bell and Rogers making it the default search engine on mobiles sold by both operators (a similar agreement exists with Verizon and AT&T in the United-States).

The offering is a lot more fragmented for pure display networks, with plenty of providers to choose from such as AdMob (Google’s premium mobile network), Apple iAds or Millenial Media to name just a few.

Depending on your needs, do not hesitate to contact publishers directly: some applications are so popular that you may want to consider dedicating part of your advertising budget to them, if they are relevant to your audience. TheWeatherNetwork (MétéoMedia in French) would be a good example of one of those apps.

The available advertising networks can usually be classified into one of the following categories, so make sure you know who you’re dealing with:

Blind networks: they are the cheapest option but won’t let you know exactly which placements your ads will be displayed on. They will usually give you a couple of well known apps or websites on which your ads “may” be displayed, but won’t give you detailed reports of where they have actually been displayed.

Premium networks: they have partnerships in place with publishers and therefore have priority over their inventory of impressions. This means that you will usually be able to negotiate a certain amount of impressions on the placement of your choice at a fixed cost.

Remnant networks: these only have access to publishers’ unsold inventory, and usually operate using real-time-bidding (RTB), self-serve platforms.

Build a functional and relevant mobile website

If you are thinking about having a stripped-down version of your regular website for mobile devices, then you are probably on the wrong track! The best mobile websites are those which replicate the “app” look and feel, with large buttons and clear choices. You should try to think about what information a mobile user may be looking for about your company (location, contact info) or your products (prices, in-store availability) and put this information top of your mobile site, readily accessible with minimum navigation required.

Don’t launch without testing!

With the growing fragmentation of mobile platforms, testing how your mobile site renders in various formats and resolutions is crucial. Sending users to a non-optimized website is not only a waste of your advertising money, but may also impact the perception those users have of your company.

Most advertising networks will let you filter users by operating system (iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, WebOS…). Take advantage of this option to target only those devices on which the experience will be the optimal.

Opera mobile emulatorBe careful: Google AdWords will display your campaigns on all platforms by default, so don’t forget to check the appropriate options in the campaign settings tab.

There are several ways to test your website’s compatibility with various smartphones and tablets:

The Opera Mobile Emulator is an easy way to check compatibility with various aspect ratios of Android and Symbian devices)

BlackBerry Simulator is the software you’ll need to test compatibility with devices of the same brand.

If more advanced testing is needed on Android or iOS, you will need to download their respective Software Development Kits (SDK).

Adapt your conversion events

For your mobile campaigns, you will obviously not be able to successfully use the same long conversion forms you are already using on your regular website. Our tests revealed that a task as simple as typing an e-mail address can become very tedious on a mobile device and may generate a significant number of mistakes, making your leads worthless.

Adapt your conversion events

Adapt your conversion events

Forget about long and multi-step conversion forms. As for online sales, no easy payment solution has yet emerged for mobile devices and most mobile users are simply not ready to take the leap. In a study from 2010, only 16% of users declared having purchased anything through their mobile device[2].

Play safe and go for “microconversions” instead. Those should be easy to perform from a mobile device and will establish a solid first contact with your audience. You may consider the following tasks as conversion events:

  • Subscription to a newsletter
  • Mobile app download
  • Locate a retail store nearby
  • Contact a sales rep (click-to-call)

Be aggressive!

This advice applies mainly to real-time bidding platforms such as Google AdWords.

Real estate is at a premium on a tiny smartphone screen, and you will need to literally fight with dollars to get the impressions you want.

Unlike the 8 to 10 ads one can sometimes see on the first page of search results on the classic version of Google, only one or two ads will be displayed at the top of the mobile version of the same search engine. The same applies to most mobile placements: a smaller screen means less room for ads. This also means that if your bids are too low, you may not get a single impression on most competitive placements or keywords.

Analyse your stats

As for any campaign, analysing performance is essential in order to optimize during the campaign and to draw conclusions and learnings that can be used to improve performance on the next campaign.

Here are a couple of points you should keep in mind when analysing the performance of your mobile campaign:

Placement/website performance: if available, this data will make it possible to identify the best performing websites and placements. It is recommended to pick several key metrics as performance and traffic quality may vary a lot between websites or placements.

Click through rate on Google: this metric is always to be put into context in the case of mobile campaigns. On Google, it’s often all or nothing: your ads will either appear at the top (in first or second position), or below the fold at lower positions, in which case most users will be completely oblivious to your ads. This explains why the click through rate drops dramatically from the third position, no matter how relevant your ad copy may be.

Click through rate on other placements: is it really worth mentioning that a high click through rate on Angry Birds may not necessarily be a good thing? Lots of applications, and games in particular, generate a large share of their revenue with unintentional clicks, which are unlikely to turn into good traffic for your mobile site.

But all things considered, the most important key takeway from all this is that the mobile advertising market is still far from being mature. Try to stay aware of new opportunities enabled by new technologies and tools as some may become very relevant to your business, and don’t hesitate to innovate.

[1] CRTC