When you want to get from one place to another, you often use a car. But when it comes to how to get there, you likely won’t directly ask your vehicle, “Can you drive me to the nearest Super Target?” (We’re going to ignore the existence of Siri and self-driving Teslas in this piece).
The same goes for the ad platforms we use. When we want to reach a certain business goal as a marketer, the ad platforms are typically where we go. However much like your car, you don’t want to take its advice on how to get there.
I know it sounds kind of wild. “Wait, this guy whose literal job is to use the ad platforms is saying they’re NOT my friend?” Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. But I’m not saying they aren’t the best option to get you to your destination. Even if your car isn’t your friend, it’s still better than using a unicycle to get to a destination 20 miles away.
This article will go over some examples of how the ad platforms might be the best vehicle for you as a marketer, but often not the best advisor.
“Your ads would do better with more budget”
Let’s start with the most common and most dangerous example when it comes to the platform trying to take advantage of you as a marketer. This message may be worded differently depending on what platform you’re using; however they all have the same reason for existing. Remember, your ad spend = the ad platforms’ revenue.
They technically aren’t wrong when they tell you this, because whether your cost per acquisition is $5 or $500, if you increase your ad spend by a lot you will see more conversions. But they’re also not going out of their way to tell you the reason why you’re getting this notification. For example f you see this coming from your paid search campaigns, you either A) are using too many broad match keywords or B) you’re bidding on keywords with too high of volume for your budget.
Thankfully, there are ways to get more conversions out of your current budget instead of simply handing them more revenue. A better solution here would be to switch your keyword match types or focus on lower volume/higher intent keywords to get better results out of your budget.
I have seen paid digital campaigns do incredible things for businesses. Paid search leads becoming $100,000 deals for clients, large numbers of customers saying they heard about a business from paid social, and so on. Sometimes these platforms like to make recommendations for you to “boost your results.” But what those recommendations would actually do is boost what your results on their platform look like.
When running paid social campaigns, you’ll likely run into random representatives from the platforms saying they’ve “seen some aspects of your campaign that are alarming,” then tell you the solution is using a MUCH larger audience or switching your bidding optimization.
Say you’re running an on-platform lead gen campaign on paid social. Making your audience huge would significantly increase the amount of leads you’re getting from that campaign. However they wouldn’t be the high intent leads you’re after.
So while you and your sales team are dealing with ten times the leads and 95 percent of them have absolutely zero interest in buying from you, your platform numbers are saying,“Hey look how many leads I got you, you should increase your budget and get even more!”
*Head to desk, multiple times*
You absolutely can bring in fantastic leads using paid social or search, but don’t just go by how many leads you get in the platform. Pay attention to quality, see what is causing it, and then you’re set to scale it.
Hiding some of their best tools
Pro tip: When shopping for a car, if you ask the salesperson whether that’s the best deal they can give you, there’s a high chance they can “ask their manager” and get you a better bang for your buck.
The same goes for the digital ad platforms.
Some of the ad platform’s best tools and offerings are not front and center by the cash register or on the price tag. You have to look deeper.
An example of this is paying attention to what the platforms suggest as the default option when selecting different optimizations or audience strategies.
When starting a Brand Awareness campaign on LinkedIn, you have a choice between selecting your specific Brand Awareness goal as reach or impressions. One option will have your campaign trying to hit as many people in your audience as possible, the other going for as many impressions as possible.
If you select reach as your goal, LinkedIn might be forced to focus on hitting more people (even though not that high of a percentage of your audience is on the platform) instead of “going with the flow” and getting you as many impressions (a.k.a. exposure) on their platform.
What’s the default selection LinkedIn gives you? Reach. But why?
Well, if you generate more impressions from your campaign, you will likely get a lower CPM — good right?. But that also means more ad inventory taken up by your campaign that LinkedIn could offer other advertisers, driving demand (and your CPM) up.
We recently tested this on a few campaigns and saw an 18 percent decrease in CPM, a 12 percent increase in frequency, and you guessed it: almost ZERO change in the reach our campaign was generating.
The reason the platform is set up like this is the same reason paid social platforms tell you to use other sub-platforms such as “audience network” or “audience partners” for your ad inventory. Your ads get delivered on other websites where they don’t perform well in terms of conversions, but your CPM shows as lower. But this also means less ad inventory taken up on the platform, which in turn they can then sell to other advertisers.
Just don’t do it, not even if there’s a fire.
You should try this instead!
Given that the digital ad platform landscape is hyper-competitive, each platform is constantly coming out with new tools to offer advertisers. Sometimes these new offerings are great — think of Facebook making it more user friendly to upload ads, or LinkedIn adding offline conversions. But sometimes these new offerings are only beneficial for certain advertisers, or in some cases the new offering is launched more like a “beta test” to see if it actually works.
A shining example of this? Google’s Performance Max campaigns, which launched last year and took the Google Ads landscape by storm.
No matter what campaign you were uploading, it encouraged you to select Performance Max as the campaign type. Why? They’ll never admit it, but Google likely needed as many advertisers as possible to try their shiny new toy to get data on how it can work. If you’re a B2B company running Google Ads, you should be focusing on high intent search campaigns, not top-of-funnel display campaigns. And most B2B companies don’t have an e-commerce offering, completely eliminating the Shopping Ad placement that generates a lot of results in Performance Max campaigns.
There is also very limited reporting, so you can’t tell what someone is searching when they convert from your campaigns, which is crucial for marketers to know.
Another recent example of this would be Facebook running “multi-advertiser ads”. Shiny name right? Well, essentially what this does is put your creative in carousel ads with other advertisers showcasing similar products and services. You read that right: Your ads will literally be shown in the same ad unit as your competitors!
This would be frustrating for a local burger restaurant to deal with, let alone a B2B marketer in a hyper competitive space. And Facebook has made it a default selection when uploading new campaigns, meaning you have to remember to toggle it off (until enough angry digital marketers write articles about how bad of a feature this is).
A heartfelt apology to the ad platforms….
Although this piece may have come off as a thousand word op-ed about how much I hate the platforms, that’s the last thing I want you to take from this. When it comes to reaching your business goals, there’s no better group of vehicles in the marketing world to help you efficiently get to your destination.
It’s like taking your car to a body shop. That mechanic will probably do a better job than your attempt following watching a five minute YouTube tutorial on how to fix an engine. But if you take every recommendation the mechanic makes, you’re going to walk out with a much longer receipt than you actually needed.
Much like the mechanic needs to fix your car in order to make you happy with their service, the ad platforms can most certainly help you close deals if used right, but their main goal internally is still to make them as much money as possible. Remember that.