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How online advertising is annoying customers and how you can improve your advertising as an SME

7 minute read

Zoe Brown

Online advertising has long been a fundamental part of brands’ marketing strategies and plans, with many businesses successfully using adverts to reach, engage, and convert new customers. However, over the past few years online advertising has become increasingly irritating to online consumers, with 91% of people reporting adverts as more intrusive than 2-3 years ago.

But why are we getting frustrated with online adverts? And can online advertising still be effective for smaller businesses? In this article, I’m going to explore what consumers are saying about online ads and share some tips that will help your business’ online ads go from annoying to engaging.  

Why are online adverts annoying?

You only have to type ‘online ads’ and ‘annoying’ into Google to see research suggesting that online consumers are becoming less susceptible to advertising across social media, websites, and other online resources. Some of the top reasons that ads can come across as annoying are: frequency of ads, placement on the webpage, lack of relevancy and bad targeting, and size of the ads.

The steady increase of online adverts appearing across our favourite websites and social networks is certainly a grievance for online consumers. Three-quarters of British internet users think there are more ads now than just three years ago.

Another cause of annoyance is when pop-ups and ads seem to overwhelm a webpage before there’s even chance to read the title of the content you clicked on. Research shows that 4 out of 5 people have left a webpage because of a pop-up or auto-playing video ad.

Bad targeting and lack of relevancy is one of the biggest reasons consumers find online advertising annoying. Online adverts are relatively easy to set up so it’s no surprise that a lack of data influence and badly thought out targeting are contributing to this frustration. Only a tiny 2.8% of participants in a survey from Infolinks thought that ads on a website were relevant. Other research also shows over 70% of marketers are failing to target consumers with behavioural data and worryingly over half of digital video advertisers lack the tools and timely data to properly measure digital video campaigns.

The placement of adverts on the web can also be a real annoyance for online consumers, with where the adverts appear on webpages and what content they’re placed next to all contributing to how relevant and interesting they are to visitors. Ads that interfere with content are a real annoyance, with any placement that makes content difficult to read having a negative effect. Approximately 30% of internet users say that they will actively avoid websites where the online ads interfere too much with the actual content.  

When you start to look into the research a bit further it gets a bit more complex, however. Take retargeting adverts for example, where businesses can serve ads across multiple online platforms to people who have visited their website or are part of their database. Think of someone shopping for a pair of shoes on Zara then going to another website to check out summer dresses, and seeing adverts for Zara shoes displayed on that website, and multiple websites for days and even weeks after the original search. This is retargeting and stirs up quite a divide with online consumers, with some people finding the personalised ads relevant and helpful, and others finding them uneasy and annoying.

It becomes clear that not all is lost when it comes to online advertising, with research suggesting that consumers don’t necessarily hate adverts, just the bad ones. For example, 83% of people agreed with the statement: “Not all ads are bad, but I want to filter out the really obnoxious ones.” And 77% agreed that they wished there was a way to filter ads rather than block them completely. Further research from the Nielsen Norman Group supported this and showed that there were some exceptions to the negative views when it comes to online advertising, the main takeaway being ads that don’t obstruct and allow consumers to feel like they have a choice to engage spark a more positive response.

Can online advertising still work for SMEs?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, online advertising still forms a fundamental part of business strategy and this research doesn’t mean that this channel is going to stop working for SMEs. There’s research that shows online advertising is still showing positive growth, with average smartphone conversion rates up by 64% and 46% of users acting after seeing a video advertisement.

Online advertising done right can help smaller businesses compete effectively against larger brands, and can still be an effective channel to help raise brand awareness, drive sales, and create visibility across a variety of targeted channels. Let’s look at Google AdWords as a quick example, these natural looking ads appear at the top of search result pages and are highly targeted via keywords allowing smaller businesses to appear at the top of Google for a reasonable cost. Most importantly for the consumer, these are mostly relevant, look natural and aren’t invasive or overwhelming.

It is not the advertising itself, but bad practise that is damaging the perception of online advertising.

How to improve your online adverts

Now we’ve looked at the situation and seen that online advertising can still be effective for smaller businesses, let’s look at how you can create online adverts that aren’t annoying but are engaging and useful.

1. Target your audience

Take some time to think about who your target audience is and brainstorm customer personas including key details like age range, gender, and location. You may already have this for your wider business strategy so don’t forget to revisit these insights and use them to really target your online audience.

You should also take advantage of the wealth of useful insights you can get on your online audience from various analytic platforms. Take Facebook Insights, for example, an especially valuable resource if you’re going to be advertising on the social platform. You can find data on age and gender of people connected to your business page which you can compare against your audience persona as well as insights into what device they’re using to visit Facebook the most, which could affect the length of your messaging.

Google Analytics can also provide you with valuable data on who’s visiting your website, and what pages they’re engaging with. You can use this to determine what demographics are most engaged with your website and let this influence your targeting so you can reach people who are more likely to engage with your online content.

Most importantly, take your time when targeting and ensure you’re fully exploring and utilising all the targeting options available. On Facebook Ads, are there other similar interests that you could also target against your key interest? And for adverts that require keyword targeting, like Google AdWords, are you sure you’re targeting all the most relevant and popular keywords to your business?

Making your targeting detailed means there’s a higher chance that your advert will actually be relevant to the audience that’s seeing it, meaning that people are more likely to find it interesting and engaging. However, it’s really important that you keep an eye on your potential reach, while you want your ads to be targeted you don’t want to restrict your reach so much that you’re only targeting a handful of people. This can lead to higher cost-per-click (CPC) and ad blocking.

2. Spend time on your advert

When your advert is shown to your targeted audience, you need it to be eye-catching, relevant, and compelling. Here’s some top tips to help you when crafting the content of your online ads:

  • Make it visual – use high-resolution images that are relevant to your message and business but that are also appealing and eye-catching. Use pictures you have of your products, services, or business rather than stock imagery.
  • Make it relevant – you could write the most engaging copy in the world but if it doesn’t relate to where you’re encouraging customers to click through it’s going to be ineffective, and these people may even find your brand less trustworthy for it.
  • Make it interesting –think about your USP and don’t be afraid to spend some time writing. Be careful you don’t enter click bait territory though.
  • Offer something of value – could be a discount, link to a great piece of content, a free ebook, or whitepaper.
  • Keep it fresh – experiment with different messages and don’t keep the same advert running with the same copy and images for a long period of time.
  • Strong CTA – make sure it’s clear what you want the audience to do.

Here’s a good example from HubSpot which is simple and uses an engaging image. The advert is offering me something of value, a guide, and the copy clearly displays the benefit to me. The short, snappy sentence at the top is a strong statement which invokes a sense of urgency by suggesting that I may be behind in recent SEO changes.

3. Understand where your adverts are appearing

We know that one of the most annoying things about online adverts are when they are irrelevant. This means you need to know where your online adverts are being shown. This is most important with online banner advertising, where your adverts appear on other websites, so make sure you know where you can:

  • What these hosting websites are offering and how relevant this is to your target audience.
  • Where on these websites your adverts are appearing. Are they next to relevant content?
  • Are they appearing as naturally as possible, such as on the side of the webpage, or within social streams as users scroll down?

Here’s an example from the Guardian, where an advert for the RSPB is being shown. While the general demographic of Guardian readers may well be interested in this organisation, it’s appearing next to the business section which is not as relevant as other sections on their website such as ‘Environment’ or even ‘Science’.

4. Use data and testing

Once an online advert is set up and running it’s easy for you to sit back and relax. But if you let your advert just run without regularly monitoring it you’re on a straight path to ineffective advertising.

You can find out lots of useful data on these advertising platforms including:

  • Cost-per-click (CPC) – how much each click on your CTA/link is costing you.
  • Frequency and relevance – how many times the target audience is seeing your advert and how relevant it is to them.
  • Impressions – how many times your advert has been seen.
  • Engagement – particularly on social media, you can see how many likes, shares, and comments your advert is getting.

These are just a few examples and data like this is so important to your online adverts. If you know how your content is performing you can make changes to make it more effective and relevant. If your cost-per-click is particularly high you can try changing your ad copy or targeting selections before you spend all your budget. And, if your advert is being shown multiple times you can broaden your targeting before people start to block your content.

Alongside monitoring your ads which are running, testing different ads is also very valuable. Set up two or three different adverts within your campaign with different copy, images and CTAs and see which your target audience engages with the most.

In summary

Online advertising can still be very effective for smaller businesses and understanding perceptions and feelings toward online advertising is the first step. Making sure you think carefully about your target audience, advert copy, visuals, and where your ads are appearing will help you run more effective campaigns. Most importantly, take your time!  

Zoe works as a Content Marketing Executive at the UK Domain. Previously working in advertising and the sporting industry, Zoe has over four years experience in marketing.

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