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Sep 25, 2002
Case Study

High Tech Firm Tests 3 Banners to Reach CEOs Online

SUMMARY: When Louisa Williams started her new job as the Global Marketing Director for Melbourne-based RedSheriff in late May, her boss gave her one big primary goal: Feed the new US sales team lots of hot C-level sales leads.

She decided to test just one site,, but to test lots of various placements within Forbes and its email newsletters to learn which would get the most clicks. She also tested three different Flash ad creatives.

Like some pop groups we could name, Web analytics firm RedSheriff is really famous in Europe and Australasia, but in the US hardly anyone has heard of them.

Louisa Williams beat out all other applicants for the job of RedSheriff's new Global Marketing Director this year because she had spent several years working in California for several ecommerce companies and understood the importance of Web analytics.

Williams' first day on the job was late this May. Her primary initial goal: To crack the American market by generating solid sales leads for US reps within 90 days. Nothing like a short deadline to get the blood racing.


Williams decided to start with a test campaign to run July 15-Aug. 15 on the site and its email newsletters. "We were targeting C-level executives, who could make a decision based on seeing the ad, who had some knowledge of tech and maybe of the importance of Web analytics."

Before starting creative work, Williams did something very simple that shockingly few marketers ever bother to do. She called up the site and asked what sorts of ads work best with them. "Forbes said windows seemed to do better than other banner sizes."

Next Williams fed her US-based agency Tractor Studios every bit of information she possibly could.

"We gave them a lot of background data on our company, our branding, our target audience. We worked on a lot of content - some of the copywriting was delivered by us especially for the landing page."

Tractor's job was to produce six window-sized ad mock-ups that would be then narrowed down to three for actual production. (Flash banners may be sexier and more "clickable" than traditional banners, but the creative is also more expensive and Williams was on a strict budget.)

After much internal debate and consideration (yes RedSheriff's US sales reps were asked for their opinions as well as "regular" executives), Williams decided to test the following three (links to samples below):

Test #1. A predominantly black banner with red and white that read with revolving copy:
Capture the right information with the right tools.
Analyze site traffic.
Increase customer retention.
Decrease acquisition costs.
Improve marketing effectiveness.
RedSheriff Intelligence -- Knowledge is Power
Sign up now free one month site audit

Landing page design looked very much like a page from RedSheriff's site with all the regular site navigation links, with a lead gen form at the bottom of the page.

Test #2. A predominantly white banner with red and black that read with revolving copy:
There are 1,000 different ways to improve your business
But only 1 way to improve your site
Eliminate the guesswork and get the numbers on your side
RedSheriff Intelligence -- Knowledge is Power
Sign up now free one month site audit

Landing page design did not include any other outside links. Lead gen form was at the top left, with copy on the right.

Test #3. A predominantly black banner with red and white that read with revolving copy, initially showing a pile of "information:"
Buried somewhere within this information lies
informative actionable information
Analyze site traffic.
Increase customer retention.
Decrease acquisition costs.
Improve marketing effectiveness.
RedSheriff Intelligence -- Knowledge is Power
Sign up now free one month site audit

Landing page included no outside links. Sign up form was top center with copy underneath.

Although to make her budget stretch further, Williams was only testing one particular site, she did negotiate to test a variety of placements within it including testing several of Forbes' email newsletters as well as placing banners on very particular channels of site versus run-of-site where a banner could appear anywhere.

Her expectations were that the test creatives #1 and #3 would do the best, and the newsletters would garner far more clicks than site ads.


Williams was absolutely correct about the creative, but dead wrong about the newsletters. The best site banner placements outpulled the newsletter placements.


Williams blames the fact that so many people tend to read their email using their Outlook preview box, never opening a newsletter for full-screen view. Which meant they never even saw the ad. She also says, "When I read newsletters, I'm not looking for anything but headlines, and then you want to get out of your in-box."

We vigorously agree with her first point, but feel the second is content dependent. If it is the right story, people will read on or save to read later.

However we add our own theory. RedSheriff did not provide Forbes with a text-only version of their ad for the newsletters (nor did Forbes ask for one) although the site does allow opt-ins to select a non-HTML version. Based on past MarketingSherpa Case Studies, we estimate 20-35% of Forbes readers turn that option to text-only. These readers certainly were not seeing an optimal version of RedSheriff's ad. (In fact Williams is not sure what they saw.)

(Note: RedSheriff did provide a static version for folks unable to see Flash in the HTML version.)

More details:

-> RedSheriff was able to track the amount of time that page viewers' mice actually "hovered" over their ads. While the vast majority of viewers did not hover at all or for less than a second, on average 17-18% hovered for one-two seconds and then either clicked through or moved on. A tiny percent continued to hover any longer.

Williams says this demonstrates "the significance of capturing a browser's attention rapidly."

-> Days-of-week that banners consistently performed best varied widely between channels. For example in the business channel, Thursday and Friday did best at 1.58% CTR (click through rate). In the markets channel Friday through Sunday were the worst. For run-of-site placements, Saturday and Sunday were outstanding. And the tech business channel on Thursday through Sunday pulled up to 3.2% CTRs.

All of which goes to show you should measure day of week along with physical placement when testing media buys.

- Although Forbes' average CTR is .55% (which is highly
respectable), RedSheriff's worst performing site buys still did 0.79%. The extra work and budget for Flash creative was worth it.

- Landing page results mimicked the ad results. The ads with the strongest clicks (tests #1 and #3) also got at an average of 40% each, double the conversion rate from viewer to lead form completion than test #2 did at 20%. However, since this was not a pure test, wherein all elements but the landing page would remain the same, we counsel you against drawing too many conclusions from this.

- Not all leads generated were hot, although the sales team
pounced on them quickly. Some people claimed to have not filled out the form (either they were very forgetful, or someone claiming to be them filled it out). Others were job seekers (this is a normal result these days), and still others were looking for partnerships.

Although RedSheriff did get a few clients from the campaign, they also learned it is probably best to pull back from straight lead generation goals and focus on branding for a bit to become better known in the States first.

Accordingly, Williams is planning a branding campaign, using much of what she has learnt about online media placement, for this fall.

Useful links related to this article

Tractor Studios:
See Also:

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