Online advertising… how your website can help kill ROI for mobile visitors

Strategy vs. Tactics… how a website can kill ROI for a mobile ad campaign

Strategy is grand. Agencies love to sell it. Clients love to talk about it. Conferences love to feature it. And every marketing campaign indeed needs a good strategy.

But a problem occurs when the tactics of implementing a strategy don’t receive equal importance in planning the overall marketing campaign. Tactics are not glamorous but bad tactics can kill the best strategy. Bad tactics lower ROI possibilities.

In the intense current competiton for online students, taking time to check tactics at each step of the conversion process is critical.

To illustrate, let’s look at 4 images from an online advertising from graduate education at Oakland University.

The online ad on mobile…

Oakland University mobile adThe online ad itself is fine. It stood out in a can’t miss position on the BBC news app on my iPhone. The ad likley was a retargeting effort appearing a few days after I had visited the OU site in response to another mobile ad. At that time I looked at two pages and left without completing an inquiry form. So it made sense to include me in the retargeting effort.

The ad is pretty simple, with a primary message crafted to appeal to the near universal desire of most people interested in graduate education: career advancement. In that context, people might follow the “Make it Here” exhortation to see how they might be able to do just that.

The landing page for the mobile ad…

Oakland University Graduate educationThe landing page repeats the “Make it Here” ad theme… that’s good as people will immediately know that they are following the right trail.

There’s an additional note that OU will help “Push the boundaries of your potential to become a true leader.” That’s OK, although not everyone responding to an ad like this wants to be a “leader.” Some will just be searching for the right credential for job security or a routine promotion to earn more money. But becoming a “true leader” is language that marketers love and there’s nothing really wrong with it here.

The ad seems to assume that people responding are ready to apply. Two main links on this page give the opportunity to “Apply Now” and tell us “How to Apply.”

But if we are not ready to apply (and our strategy has to assume that many people are not) we can move easily from this page to learn more about “Graduate Programs” at OU.

After the landing page… Graduate Programs

Oakland University Graduate ProgramsA visitor who was not yet ready to “Apply Now” and first wanted to learn more about the OU programs available can do that from the immediate landing page.

We’ve now arrived at a page with a reasonably short 6 line paragraph telling us a bit more about what OU offers:

  • 135 degree programs
  • “including certificates and endorsements so you can take your learning – and earning – potential to the next level.”

We are then prompted to follow an “Online Programs” link to “learn more about specific programs and deadlines” to move forward.

So far, so good. Let’s assume that visitor interest continues. We’re ready to “learn more” about the OU online programs. If we find a program that interests us, we’ll want to know about those “deadlines.”

And now things fall apart.

Online Progams at Oakland University… poor mobile display hurts ROI

Oakland University Online ProgramsSo far each page visited has been mobile-friendly. Now we are at a critical point in the posssible conversion of a potential student to either a formal inquiry or to an actual applicant.

And we take this possible student to a website page where it is difficult for someone to continue using their mobile phone. From everything we know about how people react to website content display, people using a mobile phone will flee from this page if they do not already have a great interest in enrolling at OU.

Content is impossible to read without “finger flicking” to enlarge the text. Do that and the left and right column content disappears. Today, people expect a much better experience.

Follow the links on this page deeper into the Graduate Education site you’ll arrive at pages designed in the same fashion. These pages are decidely not web-friendly” for those who wish to continue using their smart phone to expore what’s available.


This abrupt speed bump on the visitor journey didn’t have to happen. What we have is an illustration of what was missing from the original strategy… asking the question “Are all of the pages people are likely to visit if they respond to our ad mobile friendly?” Failing to ask that question leads to a tactical fail. And given the overall investment in a campaign like this, that’s a pity.

We don’t know why this happened at OU but we do know some reasons often given for problems like this:

  • (1) We don’t control those web pages… in that case, be sure to walk the people who do control them and presumably want higher enrollment through the likely visitor experience. That just might motivate change for the next two items.
  • (2) we didn’t have the time to change the pages… make the time.
  • (3) we didn’t have the money to change the pages… find the money. Take the money from some other marketing activity… billboards? radio ads? retargeting campaigns? Move it from somewhere to get all website pages that are part of a campaign like this web-friendly.

The Google “Test My Site” rating for these pages is clear: Mobile download speed aside (the “What’s an Online Program?” page is rated “fair” at 8 seconds with an estimated 28 percent visitor loss), the page “doesn’t pass usability guidelines.” The Google admonition is on target: “Use legible font sizes” and “Size tap targets appropriately.”

Depending on the enrollment goals for this campaign, results might have met ROI expectations. A campaign that used more mobile friendly web content most likely would have had an even higher ROI.

That’s All for Now

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