a $250 reddit ads experiment

The Reddit Ads Experiment: What We Learned for $250

This is a guest post on Reddit Ads by Alex Berman of Experiment 27. We worked with Alex to test out Reddit’s advertising platform. Below are the results of that test.

*Updated September 2018


Online advertising is constantly changing.

As marketers, we have to put our money on the best option. We already know Facebook and Twitter work when done right.

But we weren’t quite sure how to advertise on Reddit, the world’s biggest social forum.

A lot of marketers we know are asking the same question, and Reddit has struggled with it themselves. A new article pops up every week about how Reddit is having advertising revenue problems. You’ll find complaints about conversion, low ROI for businesses, and general opinions that Reddit Ads are the worst idea.

So Reddit is having clear and present issues with driving advertisers, agencies, and businesses to buy ads.

As a distinct platform with its own norms, standards, and subcommunities for every topic you could possibly imagine, Reddit should be a pool of leads. It’s the dream platform for every marketer: a highly self-selected, targeted audience for any interest.

Simply put: with Reddit advertising, the targeting work is already done for you and the opportunity to reach new and active audiences is there.

But it just doesn’t work out that way, and our Reddit Ads experiment shows why:

What are Reddit Ads?

For those who are not familiar with the term, a Reddit Ad can look a lot like regular Reddit post except for the words “promoted post” indicating that it’s actually a paid piece of content.

reddit ad

This type of Reddit post appears on the top of every subcommunity forum, or subreddit. Sometimes they are posts, and sometimes they’re an ad for companies – it depends on what your intent is with the ad. You can buy them on the Reddit dashboard.

What Reddit promises on their Advertising page is this: “reach more than 234 million engaged and passionate users through a flexible programmatic platform!”

So I was hyped to try it and aware that the Reddit community is growing. If we could get it right, we’d be able to tap into some of the best targeting and one of the most active communities in the world.

But immediately, I came across a slew of red flags. When you scroll down the Reddit Ads landing page, you see this:

reddit best ads

Businesses are still experimenting with Reddit advertising and it’s right there in the testimonials. Not too convincing for new advertisers, and clearly not a good tactic when it comes to the UX of the platform, but I continued.

Next up, the “ads they’re really proud of”… Really? Proud of a promoted post with a total of 395 votes and 650 comments? You’re the biggest forum alive. That should be more like the minimum exposure someone gets for advertising on Reddit.

Despite all this, I still wanted to try Reddit advertising, if only because Reddit is one of the highest ranked websites in the world and I like Reddit as a community.

It looked like a great place to test out ads that might drive ROI for businesses: you can target subreddits, track performance easily, and drive clicks on this part social network, part media platform for a relatively cheap price ($1.50 CPM).

If we could get Reddit ads to work, it would be very profitable.

So did it work?

The First Test – Experiment 27 ($50)

So initially, I did some testing on my own for $50 with guidance from this huge Ladder Growth Strategies blog post. Using that article we wrote four different Reddit Ads for my company, Experiment 27, an outsourced CMO for digital agencies.

I submitted the four ads and waited for approval. (Approval on a Reddit Ad usually takes about 2 hours.)

6 days into the 7-day experiment, one post had 6 comments. But that’s about it. None of the ads were getting much traction.

Since the campaigns started I talked to one lead who couldn’t remember where he found us — said it might have been Twitter, but my analytics showed that was unlikely, so it might have been from Reddit. Not the strongest conclusion either way.

Otherwise, ZERO leads for $50 spent on Reddit advertising — not exactly worth it, especially if you consider the traffic from all 4 ads totaled at around 900 clicks.

The most popular Ad by far in this test was the one titled “Agencies that are active on Dribbble typically see 10-14 qualified leads per month from that channel. Find out how we can help you grow your Dribbble account.” This one got 2 upvotes on Reddit and no comments, but it did receive $94.35 of CPM for only $12. So we were driving good traffic for a low cost, but not much was resulting from it.

The most commented ad was the click-baity one “Only 8 spots left – we work with some of the top digital agencies in the world to grow their leads. Will you be left behind?”

Reddit hated this one. I was given a very hard time by Reddit users when I asked for feedback on this ad.

So that was it for the first Reddit Ads Experiment. At this point Reddit advertising did not seem like it was driving good ROI.

All in all, it was a decent way to spend $50 to confirm what others were saying – Reddit is in trouble and their advertising option is extremely weak.

The Second Test – Ladder + Experiment 27 ($200)

Back in the lab and this time teaming up with the folks at Ladder, the plan was to spend $200 on Reddit advertising, but this time to push traffic to their site, and more specifically their blog posts.

We worked together to choose 4 different pages from the Ladder blog + landing page arsenal to create a series of Reddit Ads, spending $50 dollars on each page and running each ad for 7 days.

The Posts

The first Reddit Ads experiment was all about pushing visitors to the Experiment 27 homepage. There was no specific content, and we saw zero conversions.

This time, with Ladder.io we took a slightly different approach and tested sending people to specific content. So we chose:

Working with Ladder’s Head of Content, Stefan, we wrote 5-7 headlines for every one of these pages. They each took a different approach, from article titles to click-baity headlines and more, and then I converted them into Reddit Ads.

reddit ad

With these, I targeted the frontpage, some specific subreddits, and some groups of subreddits testing everything we could think of.

We created 27 Reddit Ads in total and 7 days later I circled back to see how we did this time.

reddit ads

Stefan from Ladder passed us the analytics and here’s what we got for $200:

  • 39 pageviews on the Ladder.io homepage.
  • 141 pageviews on the different blog posts.
  • 30 sessions on referral.
  • A handful of Ladder newsletter signups.

That brings us to just under $1 per click.

Let’s jump into the Reddit analytics and see how we did on the actual Reddit Ads:

  • 1 Ad (How to Get a Marketing Job – At Ladder) got 1 upvote and 0 comments.
  • Most of the ads didn’t get any upvotes at all.

Takeaway:

  • Total spent on two Reddit Ads experiments – $250
  • Leads: 0
  • Traffic: About 2,000 sessions across two experiments.

Compare this with just posting organically on Reddit and you’ll get my point.

How Reddit Ads Compare to Organic Posts

When someone posts one of our videos on Reddit, it will get around 3,000 views. One of our videos even got 25,000 views when it hit the top of a subreddit.

That’s 25,000 views for $0.

And this Reddit Ads experiment? $250 with very, very little to show for it.

What’s strange here is that some of Ladder’s blog posts posts have been posted on Reddit before as standard, regular content. Those continue to get engagement, comments, and drive traffic. Posting them as Reddit Ads got close to nothing, despite Reddit’s clear attempt to make ads as native and natural-looking as possible for their community of users.

Ad Platform Tech

Running Reddit Ads ended up being one of the worst user experiences you could imagine as an advertiser.

Getting ads set up on the Reddit Ads platform is a mess. Things start simple enough:

new promotion

All standard stuff – pop in your creative, write some copy, add your URL, etc…

ladder reddit ad

From there you see a preview of how things will look, and you’ll be able to start selecting your audience for the ad. Specifically, you’ll be able to target subreddit groups, or specific subreddits.

reddit subreddits

The problems start here – the suggestions listed are entirely off from what the ad is actually going for – SaaS growth tools. Yet the suggestions given are unrelated and useless.

So you’d have to manually discover subreddits, or go for their collections.

But collections aren’t necessarily up to par either.

reddit collections

Ok, some good options there for a lot of different types of businesses, but what should we choose? Technology? Maybe… But there’s nothing here for marketing.

So, discovery of subreddits and selection of collections is lacking from Reddit advertising.

But that’s still pretty simple.

Where advertising on Reddit really gets annoying is when you actually pay for ads.

You have to go into each individual ad you create, hit pay, set up payment specifics, and run the ad.

Every single time.

Yeah, you’ll be able to save a credit card, but the manual process is only slightly shortened with that.

And we also ran into problems with getting multiple ads through the payment system. The system kept declining the credit card we were using over and over, forcing us to give it 15 minutes between setting up payment for each ad. Time-consuming and annoying.

At the time it seemed quite like Reddit’s Ads platform doesn’t like it when advertisers try to run multiple ads. Since A/B testing is key to marketing success, this seems like another reason not to advertise on Reddit.

And that may also be because of the second major problem with the platform.

Reddit Users Don’t Trust Advertisers

There’s no getting around this simple truth. Reddit’s users are paranoid about ads.

That’s right: Redditors hate Reddit advertising.

It makes some sense – Reddit used to be entirely ad-free for a long time while juggernauts like Digg were still around and popular. But Digg killed itself with its own advertising strategy, effectively driving away its entire userbase.

A ton of Reddit’s users were around for that time and flocked to the Reddit platform as a better alternative. That’s where the anti-advertising attitude comes from initially, but even users who’ve never experienced the Digg are introduced to Reddit as a place hostile to ads.

Combine that with shady advertising practices where advertisers try to pretend they’re normal users, or where they buy accounts to fake trustworthiness, and it’s likely advertising on Reddit will never be seen with anything but distrust by its core audience.

Reddit Advertising May Never Work

It’s sad that such an amazing, large, and high-quality community like Reddit will never accept advertising.

At the end of the day, Reddit’s growth depends on its ability to keep server costs paid for, continue building new features, make enough money to pay staff, and make investors happy. But it isn’t working, so they’ve had to resort to tip jar style premium memberships in Reddit Gold to supplement ad revenue.

Revenue growth is not up to their own expectations, and part of that is the Reddit Ads problem outlined above.

But that’s not the end of the world. Reddit’s big drive into advertising came as part of their leadership’s drive to become a venture-backed startup. It’s an ambitious goal, but it’s not one that necessarily works well with how people currently perceive Reddit.

Considering the hostile nature of Reddit’s userbase to ads, it’s no surprise that ads don’t make as much money as they should with such a targeted audience.

Is Reddit Advertising Worth It?

Back to the experiments:

We got a few clicks generated for $250 spent. They turned out to be expensive, and who knows how much we should spend for Reddit to include us in the “Ads we’re proud of” section.

reddit advertising post

On the other hand, before advertising on Reddit, we tried reaching out to people organically. That actually worked.

Organic traffic brought us far more clicks than paid traffic from Reddit Ads.

More so, we got a clear confirmation that the Reddit community is still Ad-proof and smells/ignores promoted posts. That is a huge problem not only for advertisers, but also for Reddit.

And with all that in mind, we’re calling it on this one for now: Reddit Ads are not part of a good advertising strategy for now.

Reddit has a big problem when it comes to their advertising option and it’s very concerning for the future of the platform, at least when it comes to monetizing via ads. If they can find a way to create trust between advertisers and users, it might work in their favor. Their latest move allowing brands to sponsor users’ posts might be the right answer, but we’ve yet to see results from it.

Until then, Reddit Ads will have to stay on the backburner for our advertising strategy.

To anyone thinking about advertising on Reddit, it’s always good to try new things, but don’t be surprised if your Reddit ads don’t pan out.