Reddit Native Advertising Case Study: 7,500% Conversion Rate Increase & CPA Decrease of 93%

For my soccer training site RockThePitch.com, I ran a series of native ads on Reddit that got progressively better, going from generating just 3 leads from my ad, at a conversion rate of 0.3%, to generating 44 at a conversion rate of 22%. That’s a 7500% increase in conversion rate, and a decrease in cost-per-lead of 93%.

Read on to learn how I did it, what my hypotheses were for each test and what the real takeaway is (surprise: it’s not a specific tactic). You’ll also learn about Reddit native advertising along the way. 

Some terms defined:

Reddit: A social media site where people either share links to content they like (e.g. news, videos etc) or start discussions. Members vote each item up or down, and the most upvoted items go to the ‘front page’ of the site or subsection. My ads appeared on the soccer subreddit (subreddit: section of the site devoted to a specific topic, in this case soccer), shown below:

soccer subreddit on reddit.com

Native ads: The web’s version of an advertorial, i.e. an ad formatted to look like editorial content, aka organic content. They’re nothing new – advertorials have existed in print for decades – but native ads have gained lots of attention recently, thanks to the format’s very successful and visible adoption by Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Stumbleupon, Reddit and other social media sites.

Native Ad #1: Content & appeal to confidence gets amazing clickthrough rate… but the landing page drops the ball

This informed my initial strategy – rather than try to create too sales-y an ad, I thought I’d share tips on better defense. If they liked it, people would join my newsletter.

Here’s what a native ad looks like on Reddit (I specify native because they have standard banners as well, e.g. in the sidebar). It’s the first ad I ran. Click to enlarge. reddit ad encouraging visitors to build confidence by learning how to regain the ball on defense

My Reddit advertisement copy read:

Maximize your odds when defending 1 v 1 by mastering these 4 subtle tricks and gain confidence in your ability to win the ball back.

It got some pretty awesome stats: 1046 clicks, an incredible clickthrough rate (CTR) for social media of 0.802 , and a 0.03 cost-per-click (CPC) :D.

And here’s the landing page. Click to enlarge.

This blog post sharing four tactics served as my first landing page.

I got three signups to my newsletter, for a conversion rate of 0.3%. The ad (back then) cost $20, flat fee, so I paid $6.67/email. Quite steep for anyone familiar with email marketing of consumer goods. Pretty lame also considering how much traffic I drew.

Native Ad #2: Change the offer to a contest & give Redditors an exclusive

My second attempt decided to be a bit more sales-y, but still do something that was relevant to social media –  a contest. I’d give away a pair of soccer cleats. And I’d give Redditors an exclusive benefit: 3x more chances than visitors from elsewhere (in this case, other social media).

I don’t recall exactly why I changed the offer, but it may be that I wanted to give visitors a greater incentive to enter their emails beyond ‘get more tips like this’…

Here’s the ad I ran. Click to enlarge.

reddit ad offering a free soccer cleat giveaway, where redditors get triple chances when they enter

The ad copy reads:

Exclusive for r/Soccer Redditors: Get 3x chances to win soccer gear – Sign up for my training emails, sharpen your skills and have more fun playing. 

This time my ad drew 194 clicks, clickthrough rate was 0.257, ,and CPC $0.12.

Here’s my landing page. Click to enlarge.

case-study-rtp-lp-exclusive-3x

I got 8 signups to my newsletter, for a conversion rate around 4% (8/194). Nice improvement (especially in conversion rate – about 13x better), but still not worth writing home about.

In hindsight, this ad was a little scattered – not very specific and just offering chances to win free gear in general. What exactly would people win though?

Native Ad #3: Find the feeling. Or as super salesman Joe Girard puts it, “Sell the feeling of the first time you used the product.

What happened next was that I tried to put myself in the audience’s shoes. I asked, what do I feel when I put on a new pair of soccer shoes or a new jersey? I love soccer gear, so knew that the feeling I got the first time was a feeling of looking super and being excited to go out and rock the pitch.

Note that this also partly explains the success of the first ad, in which I offered to help redditors increase their confidence. That ad also promised that they’d get the ball more, which is something everyone in ball sports desires.

Here’s the third ad I wrote. Click to enlarge. reddit ad asking redditos, 'how would you look in a new pair of cleats (free)?'

My copywriting:
How would you look in a brand new pair of cleats (free)? Redditors get triple chances to win cleats, DVDs, and more. Enter free! 

This Reddit native ad got 464 clicks at a CTR of 0.255 and a CPC of $0.06.

It took visitors to this landing page. Click to enlarge.

case-study-rtp-lp-how-would-you-look

It generated 48 leads, from 464 clicks, for a conversion rate slightly over 10%. Getting better! This was about 33x higher than the original, terrible 0.3% conversion rate.

Native Ad #4: Back to content

You may have noticed that while conversions were going up, the clicks were going down. So I thought, how about if I go back to promoting content – the first Reddit ad’s 1046 clicks and a 0.802 CTR were pretty darn good – and try a different approach to getting signups. Keep in mind the ad pricing was a flat $20/day, so it was in my interests to try and max traffic and get more conversions that way.

Here’s the next native ad I ran.

reddit defense ad leading to a new landing page

My copy read:

Maximize your odds when defending 1 v 1 by mastering these 4 subtle tricks and gain confidence in your ability to win the ball back.

Yup, it’s the same as the first one. Except that it got a much lower CTR the second time around: only 0.352.  I attribute that to banner fatigue; Reddit’s traffic has a lot of returning visitors and this ad ran about 5-6 weeks after the first one. Nevertheless, that still generated 832 clicks for an affordable CPC of $0.04 :D.

(Since you used to buy ads by the day, you could get lucky and buy your ad on a day where traffic was very high, resulting in your ad being seen and clicked more. Thanks to my ad getting more impressions, a clickthrough rate that was 50% lower than the original ad still generated 832 clicks, i.e. only about 20% fewer clicks.

Note that you could also get unlucky and buy ads on a day where the traffic was very low, and you’d still have to pay as much. That indeed happened in my first experience buying an ad on Reddit, targeting their SEO forum. So it used to be important to target only high-traffic topical sections on the site, known as subreddits, which traffic information was freely available. Now that Reddit has switched its advertising to a cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM or cost-per-mille) model,  this opportunity/risk no longer exists.)

My hypothesis with this a/b test was that using a blog post for a landing page was inefficient since there are distractions and the focus isn’t on the call to action. Therefore I created a short page with just bare copy and a form (“squeeze pages” in industry jargon) for one version. The other version is longer and tested the idea that offering greater value (i.e. displaying the content promised in the ad, directly on the landing page without requiring a form submission to access it) would persuade more people to subscribe.

Here’s the short version of the landing page followed by the longer version. Click either to enlarge. You may notice some cool details, including drop caps (split tests show this increases conversions, probably because it helps get people started reading the first sentence of content), and integration of social media feedback.

case-study-rtp-lp-4defense-short

case-study-rtp-lp-4defense-long

How many leads did that generate?

A whopping total of 7 leads. D’oh! Back under 1% conversion…

Reddit Native Ad #5: A study reveals a weird finding

How about some different content? People enjoy scoring goals more than defending and perhaps some research would work better. This was my next ad:reddit ad inviting redditors to see a weird thing that a study of premiership goals revealed

The copy for this native ad reads:
A new study of 3 seasons of Premiership goals revealed a weird truth. Read this carefully to score like, uh, like… like a scoring machine that scores a lot! RockThePitch.com

I got a CTR of 0.337, and thanks to that and an absurdly high number of impressions (back then Reddit charged a flat fee per day, remember), 1,431 clicks, for a CPC of $0.02.

Not bad copywriting (curiosity angle & benefits & a teensy bit of humour) and a pretty sweet amount of traffic if I do say so myself! That’s what I call a baker’s dozen :D.

Here are the landing pages for the study ad:

Reddit ad lander #1: Short and sweet squeeze page. Click to enlarge

squeeze-style landing page with brief copy and call to action

(Cool thing to notice about the footer: It’s deliberately forcedlower with blank space to create a ‘false bottom’ effect and avoid people reading on/getting distracted away from the form. That said, since I was only driving paid traffic to the page and not using the links in the footer to help Google index my pages and rank me better, it would have been smarter to get rid of the footer and links altogether. Hindsight is 20/20…)

Reddit advert landing page #2: Sharing the actual insights in hopes that a taster will get more people to sign up. I think I overdid the taster and gave them a full meal :(.  Click to enlarge.

landing page featuring ridiculously long copy, infographics and more.

That generated 15 leads, which sounds nice relative to the previous effort, but that’s still only 1% of the 1431 visitors converting.

So I decided to go back down the giveaway route. Note that it’s plausible that with more work, the content approach would have yielded better results eventually. I did all this 2 years ago so don’t remember all the details, though building on strengths (rather than focusing on correcting weaknesses), typically gets you better results in digital marketing.

Native Ad #6: Introducing urgency into the offer.

For my next effort, I thought about how I could get more conversions by focusing on the landing page, rather than the traffic source. How could I make the previous giveaway landing page better?

I thought… what if I can introduce an element of urgency? How about if I tell them when i’m going to do the drawing, so they need to enter their name and email before then?

Here’s the Reddit ad. Click to enlarge. reddit ad showing urgency angle combined with how would people look vanity/pride appeal

The ad copy reads:

“How would you look in a brand new pair of cleats (free)? Next drawing is Wednesday & Redditors get triple chances. Enter here.”

I split the traffic between two landing pages.

Here’s the first landing page treatment, which tells visitors when the deadline is for signing up, and tries to increase pressure with a timer (that I programmed myself 😀 ) indicating how much time was left to sign up before the giveaway. Click to enlarge

landing page with deadline and countdown timer

If you notice, there’s a glaring problem with this page. There’s a critical failure in message match relative to the ad. The ad tells people that the drawing is Wednesday. The landing page doesn’t mention when the drawing is happening, and only discusses the deadline being Tuesday 11:59pm, alongside a countdown timer until then. Suddenly it looks like I lied and am just pressuring the skeptical Reddit audience (comments on the ad included some calling this a fraud; it wasn’t as you’ll see below) to give me their emails.

The other landing page handled message match properly:

reddit ad landing page for soccer cleats giveaway, indicating the date for the giveaway and deadline to enter

Only the second page generated conversions. Even so, that one page generated 44 leads. Lesson to be learnt: run usability tests on your landing pages before sending them traffic.

To conclude, the real secret to sky-high conversion lifts is perseverance.

Sure, particular tactics were helpful – researching the right subreddit to get loads of impressions at a cheap rate; copywriting based on people’s desires (confidence, looking great); using faces alongside the ads, since those draw eyes and get people looking where the face is looking; having a great offer (giveaway); creating urgency … None of that would have mattered if I’d quit early.

After the first ad, I could have given up and said something like “oh, Reddit traffic is just a bunch of impatient teens who never convert.” It would have been plausible, I could have shown the super clickthrough rate that my copywriting earned, and called it a day.

After the second ad, I could have said … if they’re still hardly responding to an exclusive – something you’re always told to do in advertising on Reddit – then they’re not going to respond to anything. Forget it.

And especially after my return to content advertising tanked the conversion rate, I could have just said “OK, let’s revert to the previous landing page, because that’s as good as it gets with the ad traffic from this social media crowd. ”

I’m far from alone in recognizing that perseverance is what makes or breaks a campaign in online marketing, regardless of channel. I know a guy who made $500,000 gross, $100,000 net as an affiliate in his first year with paid traffic… when he was 19. Yet when he started that year, his ads barely got impressions and he was making the equivalent of minimum wage. Perseverance is what made him successful.

Successful conversion rate optimization isn’t a project – it’s an ongoing cycle of research and execution.

p.s. The person who won the pair of cleats already had two nice pairs. So he gave them to someone else who didn’t have any. And for those skeptics who said I was making stuff up and wasn’t going to give away cleats, eat your hearts out:

rock the pitch cleats give away

This was originally published on Reddit.