7 Things I Learned From 175,000 Eyes And A Failed Ad

Through an interesting turn of events, I was given an opportunity to place an ad for my Backbone Plugins eBook in a very prominent web development newsletter – one that has 175,000 subscribers. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance. Unfortunately, the chance did not reciprocate the jumping. It was more of a laughing and pointing. In fact, it kicked me in the stomach while it was laughing at me crying under my desk. I seriously wasted this opportunity… and honestly, I’m not sure I got any really valuable lessons out of it. But I did get a few things from it. Hopefully they’ll be meaningful and helpful to someone else.

The Ad

I spent several hours crafting the ad image, getting feedback, redesigning it and using my existing marketing material as the basis for the ad. After tweaking it to what I thought was perfection, this is the ad I ran with:

Backboneplugins ad

The Numbers

As I mentioned before, the email newsletter that this ad was placed in has 175,000 subscribers. That’s a lot of eye balls to put on this ad. The list in question also has a touted click rate for ads of anywhere from 0.5% to 2.5%. That’s pretty good, from what I hear. And I figured that if I could hit 1% click rate, I would get 1,750 views on my landing page. If my previous conversion rate of near 6% would hold for sales once people were on the page, I would have roughly 100 sales. At $22 per sale (after fees), that would be a nice little income of over $2K. This sounded like a no-brainer for me.

What I actually got was … basically nothing. My has had 169 unique visitors today. This is up by about 40 from the previous day, when I did not have this ad in front of 175,000 people. It’s about double my usual traffic, too. But this number did not translate well from what I hoped was going to be up to 1,750 views.

The conversion rate for this traffic was 5 sales (1 of which happened well before the ad ran) to 169 unique visitors… that’s about 2.95% conversion rate. This isn’t the 6% that I held for February but this is a good conversion rate. If I could hold steady at around 3% conversions and increase my traffic by 10 times, I would be golden. But my traffic isn’t 10x this. It’s 169 unique visitors.

So I come away from the day with next to no traffic increase, and a conversion rate that isn’t even a statistical bump – it’s within my site’s normal course of sales to have as many as 7 sales in one day. Today was only 5 sales, total.

I call this a failure. I didn’t get a bump in traffic. I didn’t get a bump in sales. I expected more. I don’t know what I did wrong, but I have some ideas. Hopefully these ideas will help others avoid the same failure I had.

Lesson: Be Careful With % Click Numbers

When a website or newsletter tells you that they get a % range of clicks for ads, you should assume that you’ll be on the low end. Do the calculations for cost vs potential payback based on the the low end. In my case, the stated low end was 0.5% click through. In reality, I think I got less than 0.05% click through. Even if I had received 0.5% click through, I would have received a significant boost in my site’s traffic. I did not receive even the low end of traffic. The click %’s were completely off for me, perhaps because of other problems.

Lesson: Target The Specific Audience

One of the failures I see in my ad is that I was still focused on my target audience: developers. The newsletter in question may have developers on it, but it most likely has a broader, more generalized collection of people interested in the web and websites. The issue that I appeared in, for example, dealt with a wide variety of topics surrounding websites – from development, to ideas and even a website about weather information. It was clearly not targeted at developers, which is what my ad was targeted toward.

Lesson: More Eyes Does Not Mean More Clicks

This goes back to the target audience, again. Just because you get your ad in front of 175,000 potential eyes, doesn’t mean you’ll get a spike in traffic. If you’re advertising squirt bottles full of ketchup to an upper class group of people that only wear pure white clothing… well, good luck. Having more eyes on your ad doesn’t always translate in to more clicks and traffic. Understanding the target audience and being able to speak to their needs is critical.

Lesson: Prominent Placement Doesn’t Mean Anything

I was the first ad in the newsletter… the first of 4. This should be the prime spot for an ad, as far as I know. It’s the first ad that people see. But once again, if your ad isn’t targeted at your specific audience, having prominent placement doesn’t mean anything.

Lesson: Without Context, Great Advice Is Just Advice

I spoke with several people who have a strong history of selling and advertising, and got feedback from them on my ad design. Everyone gave me great feedback and suggestions to improve what I had. In the end, I had at least one person that I respect a lot say it looked very professional and they expected great results from the ad. Without understanding the complete context of the target audience, even the best advice for ads can fall flat.

I don’t know if it was just the target audience problem, but the ad that everyone said was good ended up being a failure. Perhaps the call to action was wrong. Maybe I should have stuck with my original call to action. Perhaps the wording is incorrect for the target audience. Am I speaking the language of the reader and pointing out something they care about? Or am I simply spouting what I believe is important? These questions are hard to answer without doing more research on the audience and then doing A/B testing on ad variations – none of which I can do.

Lesson: Fail With Friends

I’m lucky in that I have a group of close friends in a mastermind group. Both John Sonmez and Josh Earl were extremely supportive in my effort to build the ad and in my struggle to not be depressed about the poor performance of the ad. If you’re going to experiment and face failures like this, you need to have a strong support network.

Final Lesson: Advertising Is Hard

There’s no two ways about it. It’s just plain hard. You might think you have a magic formula, or at least enough feedback to help you find the right spot to be. But when it comes down to the day of execution, all of the formula in the world might not mean a hill of beans. Advertising is a horribly difficult, frustrating experience. Be prepared for failure. Find ways to fail fast, cheap and with measurable results.

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