Marketing Wars: Content Recommendations vs. GoogleAds vs. Affiliates

Online marketing has birthed a variety of options for those looking to extend their reach — banner ads, affiliate marketing, and content recommendations. But how effective are these strategies in grabbing consumers’ attention? Let’s take a look at some pros and cons of each.

Is the reign of Google AdWords ending?

Google AdWords is 15 years old. Yes, in Internet years that’s ancient. But even at 15 it remains one of the most widely used online advertising strategies today.

In 2013, Google’s top 25 U.S. search-ad buyers spent nearly $1.34 billion, while online retail giant Amazon was the biggest AdWords advertiser in 2014, according to Marin Software.

But is it still a viable option for getting the word out online? A recent study by Infolinks showed that an overwhelming percentage of online consumers now suffer from “banner ad blindness.” The study reports:

“[O]nly 14% of respondents recalled the last display ad they saw and the company or product it promoted. Even with today’s sophisticated targeting technology, relevance remains a key challenge with only 2.8% of respondents stating that they thought the ad they saw was relevant to them.”

Banner blindness can serve a purpose according to Phillip Porter, Data Analyst at MECLABS: “If you’re paying for clicks, you don’t necessarily want to draw attention to your ad.” But it’s hardly the ideal.

Harmful affiliations?

So what of affiliate marketing? Paying online publishers a commission when their share of your ad results in a sale seems like a good deal. And it is — as far as the proportionate nature of ad spend and revenue goes. The fact that affiliates have a say in the ads they share is pretty sweet too. And it beats pay-per-click advertising, where the spend is based on traffic — which COULD generate revenue. Or not.

Plus affiliate marketing isn’t without its issues. A recent Forbes piece reported that so-called “affiliate thieves” are costing businesses millions of dollars in ad revenue. “[U]sers are downloading toolbars that, unbeknownst to them, contain coding that gives online marketing affiliates the ability to commandeer searches — even when the user is attempting to go straight to your company’s website. With sly coding, toolbars on users’ browsers are forcing affiliate codes and tracking cookies onto users’ browsers.”

Add the fact that Google may penalize you for using too many affiliate marketing links, and that Pinterest has banned affiliate links altogether, and this strategy seems less like the answer to your prayers.

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So if Google AdWords and affiliate links are not all they’re cracked up to be, what’s left?

Content recommendations.

What makes content recommendations superior to banner ads and affiliate marketing? Not only is it a less intrusive approach, it could actually enhance user experience instead of detract from it. And, if you choose the right network, you can get more for your ad dollars than with other online options.

Content recommendation marketing is not new, of course. Anyone who’s been consuming content online has seen those “also from the web” or “you may also like” sections at the end of online articles. These are courtesy of content recommendation providers like Outbrain, Revcontent and Taboola — who offer a service akin to Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” prompt.

The beauty of content recommendation providers lies in the sophistication of the tools they offer.

You can run A/B tests with Taboola, or optimize by publishers with the best ROI using Outbrain. Or take advantage of “audience retargeting” technology via Revcontent. This “industry-first” tool allows publishers to “retarget” consumers that have already interacted with their sites, thereby increasing brand awareness and engagement.

And in contrast to ads — which always feel like, well, ads — content recommendation feels more like a time-saving service. As if the publisher is saying, “With all there is to read out there, here are some things we know you like, based on the fact that you’re here now.”

And anything that comes across as personal on the Internet is a good thing.

Only you can decide which type of advertising is best for your business in the end, and whatever you choose, as long as you’re getting the results you want, you’re doing okay. — But with marketing strategies so focused on content right now, a strategy that works WITH it certainly makes sense.

This post originally appeared on Social Media Today.