7 crucial things you must do before spending money on digital ads



There is so much abuse, fraud, and deception in the digital ad industry, I sometimes think we are living in the Wild West. It is a lawless and confusing country indeed. There are thousands of startups and even established marketing companies out there who intentionally mislead and misinform clients in order to profit from badly designed digital ad schemes and questionable ad tech.

That's because digital advertising is a great business for agencies. They usually take 20% of your ad budget and claim that this amount is what their "expertise" in writing and targeting is worth. Really? You passed the Google Adwords exam! Good for you! Now an algorithm is doing all the work!

Anyway. No rants today. But we do keep a collection of worst examples: government ads to sign up for insurance where the website crashes; cosmetics ads leading to pages with products priced in the wrong currency; ads leading to products "currently out of stock", ads run in one language leading to a page in another, and most all of, ads that never go anywhere because the website is too slow. 

If you don't lay the groundwork, your ad score will be low. That means you are wasting time and money!


Laying the groundwork

Lots of things should be done before spending your first dollar on advertising, but here is a comprehensive list of seven absolute must-do items. It is in no way comprehensive, but if you haven't done those seven things, every penny you spend on ads is basically wasted. (And you wondered why Google and Facebook's stock is rising and rising and rising ... )


1. Make your website faster

That is if it isn't already 10 years old and needs to be rebuilt from scratch. Speed is not just the key to SEO ranking and user experience, it is also a factor in the ad score. If your page doesn't come up fast enough after someone clicks on an ad, you have wasted money on a click. Nobody waits more than 5 seconds for a page to load. 


2. Make your website mobile friendly

There is a reason why Google is putting mobile first. Mobile devices are the way we consume content today, on the go, on the road, on the move. A website has to work on mobile, fast and fluently, with the right design focus and usability. Too many dollars are wasted on ads that lead to pages you can't see on mobile. 


3. Improve UX

Even if your website is fast and mobile, that doesn't mean it offers a good user experience. Plenty of examples around with too many forms, too hard to fill in, too much or too little content, confusing choices or selections, ridiculously complicated checkout procedures, etc. And trust me, even big brands get it wrong.


Bad UX/UI design can and will interrupt the customer's willingness to proceed with whatever they were doing on your site. You have spent money to lure the customer into your store, but they are leaving long before they reach the checkout line. That's money wasted on digital advertising.


4. Content, content, content

No matter what industry you are in, content is king. Whether it's good graphics, informative posts, inspiring videos ... if your website doesn't convince, there won't be any conversions. Again, every dollar spent on ad clicks is wasted further down the line. 


The way to combat this is by really starting with content for the website first, and then appropriating it for ads. You'd be surprised how many companies silo off the ad creative so it ends up looking totally different from the website. Such a disconnect is poison and a guarantee for wasted ad dollars.


5. Improve your SEO

With new clients, I always use proprietary software tools to check their SEO score for whatever they want to advertise. If that score is below 75, meaning that they are not in the top 25% of sites for that product, I send them to the SEO department.


While not directly related, there is really no point making Google and Facebook richer if you can't even do basic SEO. It may even be that with the comparatively cheap investment in SEO you can avoid advertising altogether. And that, without a doubt, makes you a better communicator and a better brand.


In a recent example, we transformed a client's 600'000 USD ad budget into a 50'000 dollar SEO project, reducing costs while simultaneously exceeding expectations. Their unique software product is now #1 in organic search, having completely eliminated the need for ads. 


6. Build a landing page

We all know that landing pages are important, but too few companies build them. Either because the web department is siloed, every web project goes through 50 levels of approval, or because they don't understand the concept of a landing page in the first place.


If your ad just links to your company's homepage, you are probably wasting 80% of your ad spending. Consumers can't find their way around confusing menus or don't make the connection between ad text and web content ... lots of reasons again for you to have wasted your money. 


7. Research the competition and your keywords

Companies often come up with new product names and concepts and then promote them regardless of what is already out there. If you just go for ads without re-thinking for your product or service's name, you may be competing against people in completely different and unrelated industries. This raises your ad spending significantly!


One such example is the insurance industry. UBI insurance concepts may be a boon, but the same abbreviation conflicts with "universal basic income", the "Union Bank of India", and 20 more brand names and products. Clicks on your ad "Get the best UBI" might thus be wasted, because people are misunderstanding what you are selling. 


There are lots of other factors you need to consider before spending money on Google or Facebook ads, but the seven factors listed above you can't do without. So, before calling any one of the digital marketing agencies for help with Google Adwords, think what you can do yourself to save some money. And if the agency you are talking to doesn't tell you about the seven points above, then don't trust them. You deserve better service.