The other day I was browsing different online shopping websites during my time off (as one does) and came across a countdown timer on a Display Ad for a clothing and accessories website. That got me thinking: how effective are these timers at bringing in more potential customers? Never mind how effective they are, let’s start with: are these timers effective at engaging audiences and increasing conversion rates? Let’s dig in a little to find out.
Display Ads have been featuring countdown timers for a while now, especially when it comes to promoting a discount or sale. You’re most likely to find these timers everywhere online around festivals and during the transitioning of seasons. For instance, several big brands and third-party websites use countdown timers to let viewers know they’re having huge discounts towards the end of summer or winter. The timer is usually accompanied by an urgent call to action that is meant to propel users into buying the products on offer ‘NOW’ before ‘TIME RUNS OUT’.
The fact these ads have been around for a while means companies are achieving satisfactory results with them. Reliable studies have shown that Display Ads with countdown timers can increase conversion rates by a whopping 70% or higher. This is truly impressive considering a timer is a relatively simple tool to use and is certainly a lot easier on the pocket than hiring experienced PPC experts to increase engagement.
However, as is the case with all marketing tools, countdown timers come with their fair share of drawbacks. The most significant of these drawbacks is overuse or improper use. Now, big companies know that you can only use a tool or strategy so many times before it fizzles out and loses its appeal. The same cannot be said for brands with smaller operations or those that are just starting.
The latter often use countdown timers every single time they have a discount – regardless of how big or small it is. This is sure to lose its charm for users who wait for discounts on their favorite products. It could also cause users to view the brand and the quality of its products with suspicion. For example, I once came across an apparel brand that was offering users heavy discounts on dresses, shoes, etc. I’d see Display Ads from this brand quite often when I opened my browser and most, if not all of these ads featured a countdown timer for a midnight or midday sale.
At first, I was tempted to sample a product from the brand. However, I decided to wait it out and as time went by I realized this brand was offering heavy discounts every single day. Yes, you heard that right. This immediately led me to view the brand with suspicion as I wondered what brand offers the kind of discounts you’d expect from Black Friday or an end-of-season sale every day? And you know what sparked this suspicion in the first place? Countdown Timers.
The fact that a brand was asking me to purchase its discounted products right away every day of the week convinced me that the products it was offering were neither authentic nor of good quality. I’m sure, not alone in thinking this, and others who have had similar experiences with Countdown Ads will agree. Therefore, it can be safe to conclude that brands with sound marketing expertise will know to use countdown timers only when they think it’ll create an impact as opposed to anytime they feel like it. Ironically, timing is of utmost importance when using a countdown timer in Display Ads.
Another important consideration to keep in mind when using timers is the overall quality of your ads. Don’t go about laying off PPC experts and members of your marketing team just because you think you’ve found a golden egg concerning high conversion rates. Instead, as the story goes, focus on nurturing the hen — or the marketing model behind using countdown timers.
The model or idea behind using countdown timers is to create a sense of urgency among viewers. One could argue that there’s more than one way to create this that can be achieved even without reliance on countdown timers. A good Display Ad combines aspects of graphic design with written content to capture a viewer’s interest and facilitate meaningful interaction. You can’t hope to rely on a timer alone to realize this goal. If you feature plain, boring content with minimal visual aids, you’re going to be just another brand offering a discount in a user’s eyes.
This is especially true if you’re planning on using countdown timers to promote discounts when every other brand is doing the same (such as around festival times). Therefore, make sure you use PPC experts and graphic designers to create customized Display Ads that feature labels and more that help them stand out. Your countdown timer should be one component of your ad, not its main feature, in other words. Customization is key here bearing in mind all businesses are not likely to profit from using timers in the same way. The nature of a business and the kind of ad campaign it requires will ultimately determine whether or not countdown timers will prove effective.
If you want to gauge the effectiveness of countdown timers, you could use testing methods such as split testing when you’re planning discounts or promotions. So the idea behind this is that you create one Display Ad that has great content and one that has plain content but a countdown timer included. You could then sit back and observe the results you achieve with either ad then zero down on which strategy you’d like to use in the future. However, if ads used by the biggest brands in the industry are anything to go by, a good Display Ad relies on a combination of these aforementioned strategies.
All said and done, it seems as though countdown timers are here to stay. The level of conversion they offer companies is too high for us to assume anything other than their continued presence in the world of display marketing. However, if these conversion rates are to be maintained over time, it looks as though companies will need to step up and add more dimensions to countdown ads. As always, the key is to test results adequately and go with whichever strategy will serve your business best.
Sasha is the kind of person you'll always find with a book in their hands. She believes writing is also a way of learning, and apparently there's nothing better to learn about than PPC & Advertising.