Big Honkin’ Ads … Do They Work?

Big Honkin’ Ads … Do They Work?

A few weeks ago I began what I called my “Big Honkin’ Ad” experiment. I decided to give this approach a try after Colin King, who writes A Geeks Journey, made a good point in a comment on this post, Can Behavioral Targeting Improve Income for Smaller Web Sites?. He had observed that not only were visitors blind to Adsense ads but were becoming increasingly blind to the ubiquitous 125×125 button ads. That got me to thinking, maybe the conventional wisdom doesn’t work as well as we might think.

Conventional Wisdom

Conventional Wisdom or Herd MentalityThe conventional wisdom when it comes to ads on blogs is to use either text links, usually meaning Adsense ads, or nice, neat, 125×125 button ads in your sidebar. You should make your ads where they blend in with the theme of the site so that they look like your other content. You shouldn’t use large top and side banner ads because they’re ugly and nobody clicks them. Overall, much of advice you’ll read and the examples you see in theme after theme encourages you to make your advertising nondescript and blended with, or perhaps even camouflaged by, content.

Well, it does make for a nice looking blog but do 125×125 button ads generate clicks and make money?

125×125 Blindness

125×125 button ad blindness125×125 fever started catching on a few months ago when John Chow and other big name bloggers switched to themes that prominently featured them. They look good, fit well within most current looking themes and can maximize advertising space and revenue. The downside is that they typically have a lousy click-thru rate because they don’t attract attention because everyone and their cousin are showing the same exact ads in almost the exact same positions on their sites.

The result is that visitors are becoming increasingly blind to 125×125 button ads just like they have to Adsense ads.

Taking a Closer Look

Taking a closer lookSo, I started doing some research, taking a look at the schemes used by various, high profile, bloggers as well as news sites.

One thing I noticed was that in spite of having the 125×125 button ads John Chow also kept the big 336×280 block ads that’s right in his content. Other monitization methods were also right up front in his header. Likewise, John Cow also has a big ad block right in the content. Shoemoney, some 125’s but also big ads sprouting out like weeds. Working my way down the 45n5 Top 100 I noticed that the lower the got, the more 125×125’s I saw but there were fewer and fewer large ad blocks. Hmmm…..

Then I looked at several big news sites. ESPN, large ad blocks. MSNBC, large ad blocks, usually mixed in content. CNN, ads of various sizes integrated into content. Most of the news and entertainment sites I visited had larger ads integrated with content but still very obvious. 

My conclusion, big, eye catching, ads work while nondescript, perfectly blended, ads aren’t seen by most visitors.

The Experiment’s Results

The Experiment ResultsBack on December 8th, I kicked off my test as described in this article, Bye-Bye 125’s. Previously I had a block of six 125×125 button ads that had a click-thru rate, or CTR, of 0%. Nobody clicked them. What kind of results have my Big Honkin’ Ads achieved over the past few weeks? Several people have asked me this in private emails so I thought I’d go public with it in this evil stats post (Sorry Vic and Court).

The aggregate CTR of the large ads has been 18%. This means the for every 100 ad impressions the ad was clicked 18 times. While this would be low for a site geared toward converting affiliate offers this is quite decent as compared to what I’ve seen on a lot of blogs and certainly a lot better than 0%.

Yeah, OK, so people are clicking them, are they converting? Yes, they are. When compared against Adsense and other ad earnings from previous months it’s at about 4 times better. Could it be even better? Yes, it could, but considering OpTempo’s recent focus has been primarily on the low money making area of meta-blogging and money-blogging it’s not that too bad. Imagine how effective this technique could be in a niche blog.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the thinking behind the ads I selected, my overall Big Honkin’ Ad delivery strategy and some other thoughts I’ve had on this topic.

As always, if you have any thoughts and questions you would like to share in a comment, please go right ahead and leave one.


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Comment by Caveman
2007-12-26 14:10:49

As you know, I just switched from Adsense to affiliate ads. I haven’t made a single cent yet. It’s only been 6 days, so I’m thinking I’ll let it run for a month also to test it out.

It’s hard to manage all of these ads. I’ve had some discontinue and not even tell me. It’s like I have to check on it everyday. Big hassle so far compared to adsense.


Comment by jfc
2007-12-26 14:49:22

Hi Caveman,

It took about 10 days or so before I saw anything other than the increase in CTR. The first thing to check is are visitors clicking the ads. If that’s not happening, then it’s back to square one with ad selection. Conversions seem to come at a slower pace on blogs than they do with targeted landing pages.

On managing the ads, it isn’t as “fire and forget” as Adsense. Vic wrote about a program you can use to help manage it: Ad Software You Really Need. It’s an important program you’re going to need if you insert ads directly into posts. If you’re doing full site sidebar ads it isn’t quite as necessary but still useful. Ad selection and the ad provider also figures into it. I’ll cover some of this in my next post in this series.

Comment by Colin King
2007-12-27 09:57:55

I think that it’s a matter of attention. With a load of the 125’s it is to uniform for the eye to notice, whereas the one or two big honking ads they are so different that they command out attention. It’s good to see that they are converting as well ;)

Comment by jfc
2007-12-27 14:22:15

Thanks again for the inspiration Colin,

You might have noticed that I’m using different sizes for the ads, ranging from about 300×180 up to 600×300. This makes the sidebar change appearance between page loads which I think helps draw attention to it.

Comment by Mike Olbinski
2007-12-27 10:29:46

Good write up, I have some 125s up now, and I think I’ve gotten some clicks, but not much.

Of course, only been a few days :)

Comment by jfc
2007-12-27 14:25:04

Thanks Mike,

I see you’re also discussing the products in a post as well. That’s one of the things I kind of mention in my follow-up article to this one.

2007-12-30 21:43:02

[…] Failure? This post is fantastic! Great discussion, he even gets some Akismet devs joining in! Big Honkin’ Ads … Do They Work? Part 1 of a 3 part series, very good analysis. Your Blog Monetization Options: Part I - […]

Comment by Guy McLaren
2008-01-04 08:59:58

I have no ads and thus no click through on my personal site, Its my goal to attract custom, not to send tham elsewhere. On one of my sites I have ads that are not a standard size and get better click through than I ever achieved with adsense or small ads, strange that

Comment by jfc
2008-01-04 11:49:06

Hi Guy,

First of all, I had to retrieve your comment from the Akismet filter. It seems someone incorrectly marked you as spam at some point. Go to Akismet and ask them to fix this false positive for you.

I agree. If your site is entirely about promoting your own services you don’t want ads that take away potential customers.

2008-08-10 01:27:37

I’ve done very little with advertising on my sites beyond AdSense … maybe it’s time to give it a try with a “big honkin’ ad” (BTW, did you copyright that term?!)

I do definitely see better results from my sites which have the AdSense blogs front and center, so it makes sense that the big ads would do well.

2008-09-03 01:53:51

[…] advertisers like AOL and MSN are promoting them as part of their portfolio. Why? Larger ads perform better, from both a CTR and conversion […]

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