Not sure what Gmail Sponsored Promotions are? Gmail Sponsored Promotions (GSPs) give advertisers a way to reach Gmail users with ad messaging in the promotions tab of their inbox. Basically, GSPs are a specific type of display ad, appearing only within the gmail.com placement. They offer most of the same targeting options as display ads, plus a couple bonus options.
GSPs consist of two main elements. The first is a collapsed ad version, which appears just like a collapsed email does in your inbox, showing the sender, a subject line, and a short line of content (in this case, dictated by the advertiser) to help users know what the ad is about. Once a user clicks on the collapsed version, the ad expands or opens to reveal the second element, which is an expanded ad, just like an email would.
After a lengthy beta trial, GSPs were rolled out to the general public in the fall of 2015. JMH participated in the beta before the roll out, and have continued to use these ads for several client accounts and a range of higher ed programs. With a little more than a year of experience with GSPs, we’ve learned a few things that are worth sharing and encountered some challenges as well.
Despite a couple drawbacks and limitations, GSPs have the potential to be an effective tool in your department’s toolbox. Below, we’ll discuss four reasons to consider this channel.
1. Range of ad format options, including html customization
Advertisers can create everything from a single promotion ad – consisting of an image, a headline, a lengthy bit of content, and a call to action button – to a standard banner ad to a customized html ad with an embedded inquiry form. The particularly exciting custom html option allows you to remove the additional step of clicking through to the landing page in order to generate a conversion. However, if you’re just dipping your toe into the GSP waters, we recommend starting with a simple single promotion ad. It requires the least input of resources and time, and can serve as a test for how you can effectively target your program audiences before investing time and energy building out custom html or even highly-designed banner ads.
2. Domain targeting
In addition to all the traditional display targeting options, GSPs allow advertisers to target audiences by email sender domains. That means that if someone receives emails from the domains included in your targeting, that individual may have an ad delivered to their inbox. As a result, GSPs are great for programs with related organizations or associations. For instance, an advanced HR Management program can be targeted to people who receive emails from shrm.org. This is a boon for programs where traditional display targeting has been costly and ineffective at reaching relevant audiences.
3. Auxiliary value of Gmail saves and forwards
Similar to social media advertising, GSPs give advertisers the opportunity to deliver ads to prospects in a context that supports bookmarking and sharing those ads. In Gmail, these actions are called Gmail Saves and Gmail Forwards. In traditional display advertising, ads are delivered in a space where prospects have no option for what to do next aside from clicking on the ad. With these options, prospects can share the ad with a friend who may be interested or save the ad to look into more closely later.
4. Strong Performance
In addition to the range of capabilities that make this tool something worth trying, we have seen some strong performance for a handful of programs. For one program in particular we saw an almost 23% conversion rate from visitor to lead, resulting in 22 leads at a cost per conversion of $40 in slightly over two months, which is far better than we expect for a niche Master’s degree program like the one in question. Several other programs – including noncredit certificates, degree completion, and master’s degrees – have experienced conversion rates between 10 and 15%, with competitive and reasonable costs per conversion.
While GSPs have proven advantageous for several programs, we have definitely encountered some obstacles and there are important considerations to make when deciding whether or not to give them a try.
1. Different method for charging clicks
Number one, the metrics used to track clicks and the way that clicks are charged for GSPs is different. For traditional display ads, a click is measured and charged to the advertiser when someone clicks on the ad directing them to the landing page. This is not the case for GSPs, where the click is measured when someone clicks to expand an ad. This means that advertisers are paying for clicks to open an ad, not to visit the landing page. It also creates a challenge when creating performance reports, requiring an additional metric, called Gmail clicks to website.
2. Metrics can be misleading
Because advertisers are charged for clicks to expand an ad, the metrics can be misleading at first glance. It may seem like the campaigns are driving clicks at an amazing cost, often below $0.50 per click, and a healthy CTR, generally above 2 or 3%. However, when you consider that one more step is required before a user is directed to the landing page where they can convert, you’ll see a different story. In many cases, we are seeing very low CTRs (measured from impression to Gmail click to website), often as low as .003% and, as a result, quite high costs per click to website, up to $10 in some cases. That’s on par with CPCs for paid search, which converts visitors to leads at a higher rate in most cases. Because of this, we recommend keeping a close eye on Gmail spends to make sure its driving high quality traffic and not spending too much for visitors that don’t convert.
3. High impressions can be a challenge
On the flip side, GSPs can drive limited traffic volumes in some cases. While GSPs seem to be a good fit for the degree completion audience, for instance, we’ve found it difficult for some programs to get the impression volumes you need to drive enough traffic for a viable test.
In summary, GSPs are a useful tool that higher ed departments should consider trying. The targeting and ad format options are ideal for certain types of programs, and in some cases, the costs can be quite manageable, making it a good option to test out without much risk. If anything, your programs can at least receive a good amount of awareness at a reasonable cost.