3 Steps to Foolish Online Advertising

Image of court jester cap

Let’s face it… most online advertising is foolish, especially your typical banner ad. The general approach to banner ads is ineffective, easily blocked, and regular site surfers literally become blind to them.

Even pay per click – perhaps the greatest ROI advertising ever devised – is used foolishly. High dollar clicks sent to poorly written, undifferentiated landing pages, or worse, that stellar home page with the “We’re the greatest!” message that immediately prompts people to hit the back button.

There is, however, a way to do online advertising without wasting your money and annoying people. As it turns out, this approach is also quite Foolish.

I say Foolish in this instance because I’m going to give you a step-by-step example using methods from The Motley Fool. The Motley Fool is a financial services company that understands the Internet as a direct marketing environment driven by content, and they get online advertising right.

Let’s take a look.

1. A Content-Driven Advertisement

image of Motley Fool Ad

As you can see, the advertisement not only looks like content, it’s promoting content (rather that the ultimate product). This is important, because it’s the key to why it works as a first step.

Although clearly labeled as an advertisement at the top, the first thing you notice is the provocative headline. You’re drawn into the copy, which is immediately supported by an authoritative statistical reference from Business Week.

You’re then led into a compelling curiosity-driven tease and a strong linked call to action. And finally, you’re assured by the brand recognition The Motley Fool has spent 17 years building.

2. An Opt-In Landing Page

image of Motley Fool Landing PageClick image for larger view

It’s crucial to stay in contact with a potential customer or client, and most online advertising ignores this in favor of a one-shot attempt at… whatever. Here The Motley Fool employs such a powerful headline and subhead that they don’t bother with additional copy or bullets – and it works.

Keep in mind that the Fools have that 17 years of brand trust on their side. You might pull this off with your landing page with just headings and an image, but your best bet is to provide at least several fascinating bullets points that further tease at the promised content.

Also note the assurances made to the prospect about privacy and the way the opt-in email address will be used. This is important for a trusted brand like The Motley Fool, and it’s even more important for you.

3. An Educational Approach to Selling

image of Motley Fool AdClick image for larger view

After the opt-in, the Fools deliver exactly what they promise. The report arrives via email, and contains meaty content and smart analysis about trends in cloud computing.

Remember this first and foremost – educate first and foremost. Give people something they can use, and they’re primed for more value. And that’s exactly what the Motley Fool report does.

While delivering on its promise and providing value, it becomes clear that this information is just the tip of the iceberg, and clearer that deeper analysis is valuable and worth paying for. That’s the natural point to make an offer – when people have been educated enough to do business with you.

Do You Have to Pay for Advertising?

Absolutely not. We’ve been preaching for almost five years that compelling content is the new advertising, thanks to the fact that compelling content spreads for free via social media.

People actually want content.

So, the three steps are the same, with one key difference. Your day-to-day content replaces the advertisement on a third-party site. People find you via social media, subscribe, and pay attention over time. Then you move to Steps 2 and 3.

In fact, the Motley Fool employs that very strategy with its own free content. When you’re big enough and need to grow bigger, perhaps then you’ll consider spending money on third-party advertising.

As long as it’s Foolish, and not stupid, right?

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Twitter.

P.S.

If you want more advice about smart content marketing strategies, check out our free newsletter, Internet Marketing for Smart People. It starts with a 20-part tutorial on online marketing that works.

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Twitter or LinkedIn to join the conversation right now!

Comments

  1. I think that large corporations and small businesses are just starting to realize that they need product or service specific landing pages to send their prospects to in order to achieve higher sales volumes and conversion rates.

    • It’s not as prevalent as you think. Even super affiliates—you know, the ones who makes decent money online—fail to gather a lead first and then make a sale later. Instead, they send their ad traffic direct to merchant.

      Sure, they have a positive ROI, but I’m pretty sure it was Perry Marshall, the adwords guy, who said that gathering a lead first converts much better than pushing traffic directly to a merchant.

      • You’re typical affiliate lacks patience, I think. It’s so much easier to go for the gold behind door #1 directly in front of them than to take the time to notice door #2 10 feet away with triple the stockpile behind it.

        Patience and observation wins.

      • I support Perry Marshall. One of my site got google slapped and no where to be seen, worst I had never use a opt in page for that because writing reviews were working for me.
        Capturing leads gives you the power of printing money anytime you want and guys who still don’t have a good brand name, got to be depended on good graphics and interface to get leads.

    • For the most part yes but isn’t dropping millions on TV commercials just as much fun as writing something as good as what The Fool’s put out?

      Am I the only one excited about a bunch of people dancing in ugly holiday sweaters on TV just to say.

      “GAP.com”?

      P.S The Fools rock.

  2. I wonder if they’d get more opt ins if they also ask for a name. Or not.

    Split testing and this testing and that testing is where most of ‘us’ fail, because that is what gets equated as ‘work’. Plotting your path, especially for bloggers, is not even on the agenda. Thanks for trying to treat blogging as a means to an end, a medium, and essentially, nothing more.

    I wonder how you, Mr Clark, would do this for a blog you’d start. I mean, how you would lay out these three steps, follow them through etc, what questions would you ask, what tools would you use, you know a step-by-step of the step-by-step. Do tell, o mighty teacher. :)

  3. Marketing isn’t rocket science my friend, once you learn what to do and how to do it..then life takes on an whole new approach..just be smart an bout your time and money..

    “TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

  4. Hi Brian,
    Nice timing with this post. I was just sitting here thinking about running some pay per click ads when this dropped into my inbox. I’ve been fairly naive in the past and directed traffic to my home page rather than a landing page. The home page is good enough (I think) but obviously just introduces customers to a company selling a service rather than giving them a free education and building that trust. For my next attempt at advertising I’ll be sure to follow in your foolish footsteps.

  5. I like your thoughts today. As the Copyblogger founder said in his radio show last week, he likes direct response approaches – as do I.

    The first point you made reminds me of the advertorial. It’s a combination of editorial with advertising.

    The second point covering landing pages is good. I have heard that a good percentage of time should be devoted to crafting headings. Renown direct response copywriter and marketer, Brian Keith Voiles, believes in creating 100 potential headlines for each promotion.

    The third point is to educate. That means giving away some good, free content. Get the reader hooked.

    Good points.

    Randy

    • Randy, you seem to be referring to the Copyblogger founder as someone other than the author of this post. ;)

      • That’s how I understood Randy’s comment.

        Thank you for the reminder. May you keep on writing.

      • I know he is the writer. I’m just painting another perspective this way, I can tell who listened to the radio show last week, or who read today’s author bio. After all, we can refer to things in the first person, third person, omniscient narrator, etc. In other words, “having a bit of fun.” Glad you caught it.
        Randy

        • Here’s another example of perspective. During the cold war, the US held a race with their Russian counterparts. They were the only two countries participating. The US won the race. A Russian commentator say, “the Russians came in second, and the U.S. came in next-to-last.”

          • Brian:
            I did make a couple of grammar typos – too quick on the types. It’s interesting that you first made the observation. I know you won’t need to read the author bio before replying. LOL.
            Randy

  6. I was wondering how this could be incorporated if you are the website for which the advertising appears. You are a hyper-local website trying create revenue with your traffic. That would be of interest to me.

  7. Thanks for the article. One additional element I’d like to mention is segmentation. We ran our initial campaign a few weeks ago and got lots of responses — but from the wrong crowd. We’re adjusting it now (and working with a marketing firm) so hopefully we’ll get better results.

    • Flavio – great point! As I was reading the article, I kept wondering who was seeing the original ad. Getting the right message and offer in front of the right people at the right time is critical – and sometimes we forget about the people part and focus a little much on the technology! :)

  8. Advertising is still valuable to small businesses, specially if they can guarantee that for each $1 they spend, they get at least $1 back.

    That said, PPC networks like Adwords have become so complex to use that only companies with a dedicated expert should dip their toes into that ocean.

    – Tyrus

  9. Aren’t the two words Bill Gates doesn’t want you to hear:

    Apple Iphone?

    Back to headlines, as Mr. Ogilvy said, “Five times as many people read the headline as the body copy. If you don’t sell the product in your headline, you’ve wasted 80% of your money.”

    • To digress, I think Jody’s right. In fact, these days Microsoft has an ad running where the lead character references “the cloud.” (woman fixing the family photo via some nebulous software tool in the cloud)

      Cloud computing may be a wave of the future (concept has been talked about for years), and if so, Microsoft will certainly embrace it.

      However, I think there’s a lesson here.

      I personally clicked and followed this ad several weeks ago when it appeared on the Yahoo!News page, and received and read the free report. This was an extremely effective ad due to an extremely provocative headline, never mind that the premise was ultimately (in my opinion) wrong.

  10. The educational approach is, in my opinion, the most effective. People want to know the WHY’s and HOW’s, and when we take the time to explain it through statistical evidence, it just cements the fact that we’re not out there attempting to make another quick buck, but that we know our stuff.
    Thanks for this post.

  11. This is good now I need to implement it into my business advertising.

  12. A DR marketer understands what to expect from each step in the sales communication process, regardless of the media being used to deliver the advertising, and designs each piece with this in mind.

    Lets talk about the much maligned, including here, banner ad. They can be an effective part of the process if you understand their role. A banner ad has the same purpose as the outer envelope in direct mail: get opened/clicked. Don’t expect it to do anything else and create it accordingly. The landing page is analogous to the letter, it’s the argument.

    The good folks at the Motley Fool understand this, they understand that direct marketing principles aren’t changed by the medium being used to deliver the message. Only the execution is changed.

  13. Great Post Brian. The old saying that knowledge is power has never been truer. The make money online world is all about knowledge; those who have the most knowledge will succeed online.

  14. I advertise using the ads website famous here in the Philippines. A link from a famous website also increases the number of readers.

    Good content will never be enough. There must be some way to attract people to visit the website.

  15. You caveat your comments a few times saying The Motley Fool has 17 years of brand behind them. Can you share similar examples of companies that are much younger?

    Rob

    • Rob, typically if you don’t have brand trust, you need more copy in order to provide proof of your expertise and to overcome objections because people don’t know you. That’s the only real difference, which is why I warn in the article of thinking that a headline, a subhead, and a picture would be enough to achieve a high opt-in rate for everyone.

  16. Is the only downside to this kind of “advertising” the amount of work it takes to come up with content?

    I’m down with creating this kind of content, but I don’t know if other people are.

    This is a solid article. Thanks for the great content.

    • Joseph, content is what works online. Those who don’t want to do the work (or pay someone to do the work) simply won’t meet with that much success with online marketing, unless the run a very tight pay per click campaign (and even those work better with content than with straight product promotion).

      • I agree. Someone I know recently started an ad campaign, had 80 clicks with zero conversions. Without content as an intermediary step, I don’t see how that kind of advertising can work very well. It puts too much emphasis and making a hole in one with your advertising.

        With content marketing, even if you don’t convert on the first swing, there’s a chance that people will hang around and you can convert with a chip shot.

        Even though it makes sense, it definitely requires some work to put the content together. Is there a very big market for content producers? And do you think this market will grow over the next 5 or so years?

  17. Brian I am still a bit reserved when it comes to content as an alternative to strategy. I mean internet users are so fickle. They just dont pay attention and read an article in details. People dont want books they want videos, even videos are successful to a certain extent. May be I am wrong but can you provide your views on the q Do people still prefer reading more than videos, or flipping between websites rather than being dedicated to a single source ?

  18. Bob Bly once said, ‘If you requested it, it’s Direct Mail. If you get it, it’s Junk mail.’

    Sometimes it’s real simple.

    Connect, then convert!

  19. Himanshu, video and audio are content as well, not just text. It comes down to knowing your audience. Many consumer markets will find better success with video if the audience is used to television consumption. In the financial services industry, text and audio are preferred.

    So, as always, knowing who you’re trying to reach and how they prefer to be reached is rule number one. It’s not what medium your prefer, it’s what they prefer.

    • Completely Agree Brian. Yes by ‘content not working’ I was referring more to text not working for the netizens. For scripts from financial domain people want more analysis and detailed “reports” so to say hence it works out well for them. But was thinking if today some one starts blogging in a well-known niche (like blogging, im, business, self-help, relations etc) can that blogger still get the same mass on the basis of corner stone content that bloggers who were first movers in this territory have.

      • These days it tends to be more about the “niche of the niche.”

        The topics you’re talking about are so broad that it would be quite difficult to get enough traction to compete with the well-established blogs that exist today. But there’s still tons of room for subniches within those topics, and the audiences are so large that a fraction of the total traffic is still a great number.

        I wrote about that in more detail here: The #1 Secret of Confident Bloggers.

        • Thanks Sonia, that was indeed remarkable. Liked the phrase “Marketing blogs are as common as houseflies” :) in the post, And yes as you have highlighted it is better to be as different as possible and as laser focused on a sub niche so that you cater to those who still don’t have a destination where they visit daily. That helped, thanks.

  20. Very nice examples of how the Fool does things right. Free content really is the way to go online.

  21. I spend my whole work day coming up with online content that will hold the attention of teenagers so they will watch a daily 2 hour TV show.

    So, yes I’m a big believer that content is the best form of advertising, even when it comes to selling entertainment.

  22. Ultimately what you’re saying is, wash, rinse, repeat.

  23. I have done incredibly well in the stock market even during the recent downturn and it’s all due to the Motley Fools. Definitely the most important thing about their product is that they actually offer amazing value.

    I discovered their product via a very interesting ad and I immediately signed up for a free report. The free report lead right into their flagship service, and within only a few hours of discovering them I was paying them $150 a year.

    That was a few years ago; now I don’t click on ads, but their promotion system is simply incredible. Thanks for the post.

  24. Product before promotion.

    What I often find is that marketers are under pressure to promote and advertise before refining their product.

    That’s how you end up with ineffective advertising (promotion) driving people to poorly targeted content (product).

    Get the content right first, then promote it.

  25. What exactly were they selling in the end?

    • They primarily sell education — paid newsletters, a stock rating service, and books. It looks like they’re also moving into an asset management service, supplemented by content.

      In other words, they sell content, mostly.

  26. Brian,

    I like the motley fool’s example, as I know what landing pages and what works with people and than we have to re-create and test it. Sometimes what worked with someone may or may not work for you site or blog. It is lot of trial and error and need lot of patience. That is what I am finding now.

  27. Great post. I guess this shows the importance of landing pages and thinking through and testing your advertising.

  28. It is very easy to dodge the ineffective odds out there, but it makes it more noticeable when an advertiser has done their job correctly and created and ad campaign that can’t be ignored.

  29. really good analysis of contextual advertising done right. Also a great point about how they follow up with the content that they promised to deliver.

  30. I’m A Fool!

  31. Hi Brian,
    People love content.
    Too many marketers expect an email for giving away junk. If I am going to part with my email I expect the content that has been offered. Too I often I don’t, which is a shame for that person because then I switch off from them.
    Bloggers have been doing content driven marketing/advertising for years now, with the advent of social media it has become easier to tell people about your content.
    If you told me you were going to give me a free report packed full of great content, I would believe you, because I know and trust you. Now if I was making the same offer, I would have to work a lot harder to get people to trust me and not let them down. ie provide what I said I would provide, if you achieve this your offer will go viral on it’s own.
    “It does exactly what it says on the tin” a useful quote to remember.
    Thanks
    Pete

  32. Great article, the advertisement you showed actually had me a little intrigued haha

  33. Brian,
    Hmm…Teaching Sells –
    You mastermind :)

    I value this post because it contains solid info on how to turn my blog into a a community aggregator for my business. Ultimately it is supposed to educate my audience and demonstrate expertise in the process. Seems simple, but it ain’t. :) Funny thing is that this perspective only makes sense if you take a Business First approach where your social marketing plays a strong supporting role.

    Much to think about and put into action.

    Thanks!

  34. There is a thin line between success and failure when it comes to online advertising and you have brought that out in a easy to grasp way. But all said and done, tact and knowledge is the best approach.

  35. I love The Motley Fool, and I love how you’ve used that business to illustrate the best in marketing. I think of it as not so much marketing as “revealing.” When you peel back the curtain and reveal some of the information a customer will receive, if the information is good, you don’t have to sell anything.

    It’s the online equivalent of those tasting stations they have in grocery stores. They’re not selling anything. They’re giving samples. And if the samples are good, people buy.

  36. G’Day Brian,
    A really interesting post. I think that those Motley Fools may be really onto something. And I note that you talk about advertising as a support technique rather than the prime source of leads.

    I’m wrestling with the issue of creating a website that is nothing more than an attempt to lead people to my blog and then market directly to blog subscribers. At least it’ll give me a reasonably tergetted list.

    Al and Laura Ries may have got it right. I believe that a blog is initially a
    major PR exercise.

    All adds to the fun!

    Regards

    Leon

  37. Interesting perspective. I especially love “the oatmeal” comics and how they manage to use their wizardry to entice you to click and “opt-in.” Valuable lesson here..

  38. Great article and right on the button. I was mesmerised reading the copy and wanted to know more. Using Bill Gates as a foil is great if you can get away with it.

    I wonder how much they pay for copy like that.

    Paul

  39. Motley Fool has got everything right. The content ad with a big catch headline, enough content and finally a click driven by curiosity plus Brand name at the bottom. Loved it.
    But I would really like to try a opt in page without a Name and how it woudl work. However using name field give us an option of personalizing the mails sent to them.

  40. In addition to the content carrot in an ad, I’m a fan of using webinars to create interactions with clients and prospective clients.
    Dan

  41. Thanks very thought provoking, I’m not sure I fully understand all you’re saying though! it might become clearer to me as I grow and learn more, still very much on a steep learning curve.
    Best regards Steve

  42. Best of The Best material here BC!

    I love that in a Foolish optin page can allow the readers mind to do all the bulleting and copy work.

    When you don’t overdo it, bullet and copy-wise, you allow their mind to expand upon what might be behind Door #2 ;-)

    The less you say, to a point, the less folks you allow to talk themselves out of ‘the sale”.

    Great work young Jedi!