Why You Should Not Advertise on Home Pages

It all stems from offline thinking. Many people think that the home page is just like the cover of a magazine, and therefore it gets the most "exposure", and therefore you achieve "reach".

One of the worst places to place your ads on is the home page, especially if it's a portal.

Here's why:

  1. Targeting: Since the home page is usually the most general page on a website, you have no idea what kind of user is visiting it. Let's take an example of one big portal, MSN. Currently the navigation bar includes the following links: news, entertainment, sports, money, lifestyle, locals, autos. The purpose of that page is to route users to other pages. Even if they don't know it, there is nothing to do or read on the home page but links and very short teasers of articles, so the user will quickly end up going to another page to continue whatever task they came to do.
    A full discussion of the categorization of the different types of pages can be found on Semphonic's Functionalism, and in a more specific white paper.
  2. Mental State: Since this is a spring board kind of page, and the user in a browsing mode, their hand is still on the mouse, and their eyes are moving quickly, scanning, and evaluating the different options. They are trying to find something interesting, and as mentioned in point 1, you cannot know what that content is, because it varies from cars to sports, and from entertainment to money. If you take a look at the submenus, you will easily realize that this page can be interesting to anyone on Earth!

Since the user is not identified to be interested in anything in particular, and since they are in a scanning state of mind, the home page is not where they would be most receptive.

The best place to be on is what some people call "deep pages", which are pages of articles, videos, or any content where the user sits back, releases their mouse and start reading. A quick correction, there is no such thing as a deep page. The web is a flat place, and since most traffic starts from a search engine or social media, you are usually sent directly to that article page or video page to immediately view and many times you continue on a journey in the website without even seeing the home page.

I previously wrote about the power of contextual targeting to inform us about the user reading the content, and following that logic, the home page is not effective at all.

Going back to our offline magazine advertising friend, I would argue that even in magazines, advertising on the cover would not be as effective as advertising a product next to articles related to that industry. The cover will definitely give you more reach, but at a much higher cost. Most of that reach is irrelevant audience, because everyone reading the magazine will have to start at the cover. The reduction in price, appearing next to your article, and using the remaining budget to advertise on more publications with a more focused reach would get you much better results, because you are reaching people who are in the market for your product vs. reaching the masses. Of course there is no way to prove it offline, but when done online and the cost-per-acquisition is calculated it is clear that the targeted option performs much better.

When might being on the home page work? Very rare cases where your brand is highly known, used by almost everyone, and depends on impulse. Carbonated drinks for example want to just remind you how thirsty you are, how hot it is, and how much you need that extra coke. Most brands are not like that, and you usually have a limited budget and you are much better off spending it based on performance.

Why You Should Target Websites With Bad Content


Yes, you read it right. I'm recommending that when you have a campaign running on other sites, it's a good idea to be on sites that have bad content. That is not to say that being on sites with good content is bad. Of course not.

Many advertisers, planners, and brand managers do their planning and buying before they test their ads, just like they do with traditional media. Therefore, the easiest and safest option for them is to go with known and trusted sites.

Ideally, the decision of where you should place your ads should be made after a good assessment of sites, but most importantly you can best decide on ad placement when you have data on how your ads performed for that specific placement (site) and for that specific campaign. This means that "good sites to advertise on" are only good relative to the other available options, and based on the results you are getting. 

If you agree with my previous post on the power of contextual targeting then we know that you are getting to the relevant audience simply by being present on pages that discuss content similar to and related to your offering.

Many people end up on content pages through search engines anyway. So many people are already searching.

If they land on a page that talks about your content and contains your ads, and that page has bad content, then the user will probably click on your ad to get the better content. You just provided a solution to your audience.

The fear stopping people from doing this is mainly because they don't appreciate how powerful content targeting is, and because they don't want bad 'brand association' or something of that sort.

It's just like saying that you don't want to open a branch of your shop in a certain street because it's not very clean or not trendy.

If your customers walk on that street, you should be there. Very simple. Moreover, since you have full control on how clean and nice you want to make your store, it means that if you do, your will stand out much more, and can become the attraction on that street.

At the end of the day, each campaign, brand, website, and landing page are different, and you can't make the best decision until you have tested some options first.

This is a reason to go ahead and try advertising on sites that don't have the premium content, where you can actually deliver better results for your campaign. You also have a better bargaining power with these sites, and it can be much more cost-effective.


Understanding Users: The Power of Content in Campaign Targeting

Targeting the right audience is clearly one of the most important things to do in your campaigns. This can be achieved in several different forms; demographics, search keywords, behavior, and others. Contextual targeting, mainly brought to mainstream by Google's AdSense program provides one of the most powerful targeting tools out there. I would say it is the second most powerful targeting tool after targeting by keyword.

What does it mean that a user is reading a certain page? How is this page related to their interests and what does it have to do with my campaigns? How do I target my contextual campaigns?

The short answer: people don't just 'end up' on a page, they generally know where they are going, and therefore are interested in the content of the page they are at.

Let's take a look at the different ways in which a user can end up on a certain web page:

  1. Directly: The most straightforward way to go to a page is typing in the URL in the address bar, If you know the URL by heart you know what that page's content is about, and you are interested in it (or interested enough to find out what it's like). The user knows where she is going.
  2. Clicking on a Link: A user might click on a link while they are browsing to go to a new page. Naturally, there is a description of that link and an expectation of what kind of content the user might expect to see if they click. Of course some sites create redirects, or have misleading copy, but we are assuming you want to advertise on a legitimate website that doesn't do these things. Therefore, the user knows where she is going.
  3. Search Result: The search result snippet is a description of what users can expect and again, the user knows where she is going.
  4. Advertisement: Clicking on an ad is another way someone can end up on a page. Again, the ad is promising something, and therefore the user is interested in that thing and goes in the hope of finding that thing. She knows where she is going.


Even if the site is legitimate and the content is created with the best of intentions, several things might go against the above reasoning. Misunderstanding of text, clicking by mistake, are two examples, but we can still say that in most cases people are on a page because they are expecting something. And since the four ways of ending up on a site are all voluntary, then we can safely say that the user is interested in that content.

From an advertising perspective, placing ads on pages (not websites) that have content about a certain topic is highly relevant to the audience on these particular pages. Higher relevancy of course means better placement, and a higher probability of a relevant audience that will be interested in whatever offering you have.

This is completely different from the practice of placing ads on websites, or sections of websites. In the contextual targeting case, you are targeting by page. You are placing ads on any page that has the keywords you want. Although the site might be completely irrelevant some pages might be talking about your specific topics, and therefore, it will make sense to advertise on these pages.

It would be inefficient to go to 2,000 websites, and make 2,000 deals for specific URLs. That would be madness. But AdWords' contextual targeting capability solves this in a great way, and is able to connect advertisers with a very specific audience.