Back in April of this year we decided to have a look at running some banner ads on a number of high profile design-related sites. Over the last couple of years, advertising in our little corner of the web has come a long way. There are loads of highly trafficked design sites with excellent content and affordable ad slots. On top of this, the rise of targeted ad networks such as The Deck and Fusion Ads has made it much easier to get in front of the right crowd.

While we’ve dabbled in some banner advertising before, I decided to take a more thoughtful approach this time. We put together a number of banners, dedicated landing pages and put conversion tracking in place to measure the results. When looking into this process initially, I didn’t come across many write-ups from advertisers on what worked, what didn’t and just how effective the ads had been for them. In the interest of helping fill that void, here’s the process we went through, and some of the surprising results that eventuated.

Coming up with the ad creative

As part of the merger between Campaign Monitor and MailBuild last year, we added a stack of new features to make it easy for designers to earn passive income off their clients through email marketing. In a nutshell, you can create a sub-account for each client, set the price they should pay and earn a profit every time they send.

We figured this was something that lots of designers might find useful and it became the focus of our banner ads and associated landing pages. Here are the 3 ads we ran with initially.

The 3 banner ads used for this campaign

For the final design of these ads we enlisted the help of the clever team at Newism, the same team that coded the current version of the Campaign Monitor site. We couldn’t have been happier with the results.

The Landing Pages

As well as testing multiple ad creative, we decided to put together a number of dedicated landing pages for the campaign. We’d randomly display a different landing page for each visitor and measure which one converted best. We bought in the amazing Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain (who designed our web site) and Brad Hayes to help with the design.

Landing Page 1: Earn money in your sleep

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This key for this page was to promote the idea of earning money in your sleep. We highlighted the 3 simple steps involved (rebrand, resell and then profit) and included an inline signup form allowing those interested to signup and start using the app on the spot.

Landing Page 2: Are you a designer?

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This was definitely the most controversial landing page of the four. We took the fact that Campaign Monitor is built for designers to the extreme by including a modal window that overlays the landing page asking the person if they are a designer or not. If they clicked “You betcha”, they’d be shown the page below that highlights how easy it is to resell Campaign Monitor.

If they clicked “Nope”, the landing page behind the modal would fade out with a message explaining that “It’s not you. It’s us.” We then linked to a number of other Email Service Providers that they might consider checking out that are built for a less targeted audience.

Unexpectedly, this approach stirred up a lot of conversation on Twitter. Some called us ballsy and classy for linking to our competition, others asked if we were breaking up with them. I personally received a number of emails from people complimenting us on being open and honest with people. The truth is, we’ve always referred potential customers to our competitors when we know they’re not the right match (see this post from 2 years ago). It’s how we’d want to be treated, so it’s only fair that we do the same to our customers.

Landing page 3: Modal-free just for designers

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In the interest of testing what sort of impact the modal window might have on conversions, we also tested it against the very same landing page modal-free. The page was exactly the same otherwise, so should provide a nice comparison.

Landing page 4: Our home page

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In the past we’ve just pointed people to our home page, which in itself is a landing page aimed at converting people to give us a try. Will it out-perform the dedicated landing pages that have a clearer connection to the ad creative?

The Results

Over April and May we booked advertising spots with The Deck and Fusion Ads along with Smashing Magazine, Six Revisions, Webdesigner Depot, Webresources Depot and CSS Elite.

We set up a redirect script on our servers that would choose one of the 4 landing pages above for each visitor and pass through any of the required parameters in the URL so we could track everything with Google Analytics. We have a number of goals set up so we can track important things like a customer signing up, sending a test campaign and becoming a paying customer. If you’re interested, our designer Dave Martin has written about our Google Analytics setup in more detail here.

We judged the performance of each banner ad and landing page on the number of visitors that signed up to Campaign Monitor, as opposed to basing it purely on revenue. Because of the nature of our pricing, it can be weeks or even months before a customers starts paying for our software. We’ll use the revenue numbers internally over the coming months to get a true idea of ROI.

The best performing banner ad

The blueprint banner ad

The blueprint banner ad outperformed the other two with a conversion rate of 3.5% resulting in 370 people signing up for Campaign Monitor. Here are the full results.

Banner Ad Conversion Rate
Blueprint 3.51%
Post-it Note 2.36%
Chalkboard 2.09%

The best performing landing page

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This one surprised everyone. Personally, I was concerned the modal window would result in a lower conversion rate because of the barrier of an additional click. I was pleasantly surprised to see this page gave us 25% more conversions than the next best performing page. Possibly the biggest surprise of all was that the “Earn money in your sleep” page with the inline signup form didn’t give us one new customer. Not one! Here are the full results.

Landing Page Conversion Rate
Landing Page 2: Are you a designer? 4.34%
Landing page 3: Modal-free just for designers 3.48%
Landing page 4: Our home page 1.52%
Landing Page 1: Earn money in your sleep 0%

The best explanation we could provide for this is that people like to check out a product more before signing up (there was no link to the product from the page, the focus was on the signup form). The other landing pages provided links back to the site where an interested customer could take a feature tour, check out the pricing, etc before signing up. On top of this, the form had a total of eight required fields. Reducing this to the bare minimum and asking for the customer data after they signed up might have helped convert more. But still, not one?

The best performing advertiser

Fusion Ads

From the day we turned these ads on, Fusion Ads has consistently been our best converter. This includes visitors who have signed up right through to total revenue to date. We’ve also seen good conversion rates from other advertisers, which you can see in the results below.

Advertiser Conversion Rate
Fusion Ads 3.17%
The Deck 2.62%
Smashing Magazine 2.46%
Six Revisions 2.05%
CSS Elite 2.03%
Webdesigner Depot 2.02%
Webresources Depot 1.9%

It’s important to keep in mind that these are conversion rates only, and don’t give any indication of the true return on investment. For example, while The Deck has been our second best converter, it’s also more expensive than any of the other ad slots. Because of the rates we’ve managed to negotiate with some providers, I’m afraid I can’t share the costs associated with each ad spot, but most are easily found on each respective advertiser’s site.

Was it worth it?

Right now it’s too early to tell just how long it will take for this campaign to pay for itself and then turn a profit (don’t forget the cost of designing the banners and landing pages as well as the ongoing advertising fees). To date we’ve only recovered around 25% of all expenses in revenue from new customers. Having said that, a large percentage of our customers continue to use our software for an extended period of time. Looking at how revenue has been growing from these customers in the last few weeks, it certainly seems that in the longer-term this exercise will be well worth it. The nature of our business model means that it will be a few more months before we’ll really know.

To me, the most important element was actually testing everything as we went. By putting in a little extra work, we could quickly gauge which ad creative, landing page and advertiser was giving us the best results and react accordingly.

Our next steps will be to continue to refine the winning landing page using Google Website Optimizer to improve conversions further. On top of this we’ll be trying some new ad creative and throwing a few new advertisers into the mix. I’ll try and put together a follow up in a few months time with anything else we might have learned in the mean time.

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