Quick Thoughts on RSS Advertising Effectiveness

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Chris Coyier on (Updated on )

I’ve recently been trying RSS advertising here on CSS-Tricks through BuySellAds. Three or four advertisers have tried it and none have stuck around. Not a total loss from my perspective, but certainly not great.

One such advertiser was ShopHTML, which was one of those services which converts your graphic designs into working web pages. Here’s the main ad they ran:

It received 37 clicks from 70,189 impressions, which is a 0.05% CTR (click through rate). Those clicks generated zero sales for them. That’s pretty much the bottom of the barrel for advertising effectiveness for ads on CSS-Tricks. Especially with some ads performing as well as 1.25% CTR (25 times better).

I thought I’d spout out some totally unscientific opinionated points about what I think is going on here.

Is this the right audience?

Web design service… Web design blog… Seems like a perfect fit on the surface. But who are they people that read the articles on this site? I don’t have to guess, they are web designers. I’d say most of them are the kind of people that don’t need a design converting service, because that’s already their specialty. It’s a bit like selling “Birdwatching for Dummies” at a Birdwatching convention. The majority of people there don’t have any need for it. I’d guess the best target for web design conversion services would be people that have a need for a website but not the skills to build it. So perhaps targeting graphic (not web) design blogs, business sites, and maybe that genre of blogs-about-blogs where aspiring bloggers are constantly being given advice that design matters.

It’s (almost) a commodity market.

It’s like gasoline. There is lots of demand, but people just pick the one that’s right in front of them. That’s not entirely true as it seems in this market there is differentiation in price, promises, exact services, etc., but the core service is essentially the same and the price across all of them is “way cheap.” This means in order to compete and succeed you need to be everywhere (i.e. put a gas station at every exit / advertise on everything known to man) or change something to get yourself out of the commodity market (i.e. offer actual design services / change core business).

Long-time CSS-Tricks advertiser PSD 2 HTML has taken the “everywhere” approach as they seem to have an ad everywhere you look. Another CSS-Tricks advertiser WP Coder has taken the opposite approach and changed into more of an design/development agency.

Design matters

Design matters all the time, but when you advertise to designers, doubly so. The banners that ShopHTML ran, at the risk of sounding like a jerk, just aren’t very well designed. Here’s a variety of them that they tested (I like the testing part, that’s smart):

They feel unbalanced. The text isn’t kerned. The font looks like a low quality knockoff of a real slab serif. There are some weird color and size choices some of which leading to hard to read text. While I know that these folks don’t do design, they do design conversion, it still doesn’t instill confidence that they are all about high quality work. These guys might be the best in the business: high quality, nice people, hard working… but unfortunately you gotta convince me of that with just a little ad. These ads aren’t doing it.

Why click?

An ad in an RSS feed is the most fleeting of all ads. If the person doesn’t click your ad right then and there while reading that article, the chance is lost forever. Time to get creative. When we did a little display advertising at Wufoo for an API contest where we were giving away a battle axe, one ad we tested was just an image of the axe and that’s it. It was the best performing ad, no doubt due to people’s curiosity.

My fault

I’m part of the problem too. People told me ads would do better if they were bigger and at the top of the feed instead of the bottom. I’m sure they are right but I think both of those options are annoying so I didn’t do them. I have the job of balancing respect for the reader with respect for the advertisers and sometimes I don’t get that right.

I could provide advice like this before the ad runs instead of after as well. I’ll try. I think RSS advertising has untapped potential worth exploring.