ROI: Paid Search vs. Banner Ads?

Posted: April 1, 2009

Diane Kuehn Founder & Chairman


Often times an information session is a pivotal opportunity for a university to provide more information about a program and the details of the application process while creating an open forum for interested applicants to speak directly with faculty, current students and alum. Driving interested candidates to register for this type of information session can often be a struggle for universities, but marketing these information sessions online have proven to be quite successful.

Here is an example of how VisionPoint Marketing worked with a university program to effectively drive traffic towards registering online for an information session, while simultaneously marketing the program’s brand to potential applicants through paid search and banner ad campaigns.

Setting up the campaigns
As part of an overall integrated marketing campaign, VisionPoint initially launched an online banner ad campaign to present the newly rebranded program to a very targeted and specific audience. The banner ads clearly identified the program’s goals and key messaging points and led to unique landing pages with calls-to-action to register for an upcoming information session. The media plan included a multitude of key online properties (websites) during peak times to a narrow and selective audience based on both demographic and geographic criteria.

Next, VisionPoint introduced a paid search campaign to supplement organic search results and strategically position the program against its competition. Through in-depth keyword research, VisionPoint was able to identify the best keywords to drive traffic to the program’s unique landing pages with more information about the program and clear calls-to-action to register for an information session. The specific keywords allowed the campaign to generate narrowly targeted, qualified leads and applicants that were interested in finding out more information about the program.

Measuring the results
The banner ad campaigns impressively delivered a click through rate 20-30% higher than the industry average. Meanwhile, the locally targeted paid search campaign delivered a conversion rate 29% higher than the industry standard, while the nationally targeted campaigns delivered a conversion rate 60% higher than the industry standard.

While both campaigns were extremely successful, the paid search campaign delivered a much higher return on investment (ROI) to the university program. The media costs for the banner ad campaigns amounted to four times the cost of the paid search advertisements yet the paid search ads generated a higher number of conversions than the banner ads did.

Should you even bother with banner ads?
However, a recent article by eMarketer sheds additional light into the effectiveness of banner ads. Though the program’s banner ad campaigns generated a lower number of conversions than the paid search ads, this new study from iProspect shows that some results of banner ad effectiveness that are actually beyond measure. The study found that on average when a user viewed a banner ad on a website, approximately 1/3 of the viewers that took action clicked on the ad, but an additional 27% of those surveyed reported that they searched for the product or company in a search engine and 21% of users typed the product or company’s name directly into their browser’s address bar.


What does this online marketing example mean?
So what does all of this mean? First of all, banner ads are delivering a higher ROI than the statistics are really showing. Additionally, banner ads are generating unintended but positive results by leading users to search for a brand or product through a search engine or type the address of the company directly into the browser address bar. Most of all, these results show how well banner ad campaigns and paid search advertisements truly work together. Banner ads will create brand awareness for a university or program while also generating both the traditional click throughs and a sizable number of searches. In the end, developing a paid search campaign alongside a banner ad campaign will generate the best possible number of conversions overall.