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Getting the word out

Sometimes the most economical way to drive traffic to your site is to advertise. Web Site Advisor hed: dek: by Cary Grifith

Nothing in life is free; hence, online advertising. Visit any major search engine, e-commerce site, or news site and you will see advertising-lots and lots of it. Across the top, down the sides, squeezed in between articles, or in pop-up windows with fancy streaming media. If the Internet is free, online advertisers pay for it.

Do all these ads make cents? Moreover, should you try to use online ads to promote your site, product, or service?

Today may be the best time ever to promote your site using Internet advertising. According to one analyst, time spent online has jumped by 59 percent in the last year. During that same period ad industry revenues slumped. According to one news source, Net advertising prices have plummeted by around 30 percent over the last 12 months.

Every dark cloud has a silver lining. Increased online time, coupled with the ad revenue slump, may translate into banner-ad bargains. Now may be one of the best times ever to advertise on the Internet. If you’re thinking about it, here are some things you should consider.

What’s your site, product or service?

If you want to enter the world of online advertising, first consider what it is you’re trying to promote or sell. Content and purpose dictates purpose and content. That’s obvious, but important. If you’re selling software applications, displaying a beautiful face with an alluring wink might fetch you traffic, but will it be the right traffic? Nothing is more counter-productive than deceptive ads. If you’re selling flowers, your ad should look, smell, and act like flowers. That doesn’t mean it can’t be creative. Just don’t cross the line to misleading allure. People hate deception, and while it may temporarily drive up traffic, in the end it will backfire.

What type of ad should you run?

Your ad type will govern many of your other collateral decisions. Perhaps most important is what kind of resources-people and money-you will need to produce your ad. Simplest among online ad types is the ubiquitous banner ad. While its omnipresence may diminish its effectiveness, many believe the banner ad is the first step in creating an industry presence.

Because banner ads come in all shapes and sizes, they range in price from practically nothing to plenty expensive. Some banner ad standards include the full banner (468-by-60 pixels), the half banner (234-by-60), and the vertical banner (120-by-240).

If the site you want to promote contains a snappy graphic or a URL name that reads like a jingle, then producing your banner ad may involve nothing more than cutting and sizing a graphic from your site. But if your product, service, or site is more complex and difficult to convey you may need help. Not surprisingly, you can find it on the Net. Other ad types include the button, and the interstitial ad.

The micro button (standard size 88-by-31) is really a variation on the banner ad, though its small size means it can be placed at just about any location on a site. Its small size also means it may not be as expensive as larger banner ads, though considerations of location and placement also contribute to cost.

The interstitial (or in-between) ad is one of the newer ad types. You’ve seen them before-the pop-ups that appear in a separate window when you enter a site and it begins to load. Usually these pop-ups contain some kind of streaming media, questionnaire, flashy graphic, or applet. Because of its complex presentation and content, the interstitial ad is more expensive to produce and place than a banner or a button.

Why go to the extra expense of creating an interstitial ad? Some studies have found that interstitial ads have one of the highest click-through rates of all Internet advertising, making many in the industry swear by effectiveness. Other ad types and resources can be found at The Internet Advertising Resource Guide www.admedia.org/.

Where should you position your ad on the page?

Determining the position of your ad is one of the most important decisions you’ll face. Ad placement is all about location. Whenever possible, go for the top banner. The top banner on a site’s home page is excellent real estate. But if there’s a particular site section that covers the exact product or service you’re trying to promote, consider the subject-specific location. In the end the best site position for your ad is the one most likely to attract your buyers or other like-minded folks.

How much should you pay?

That depends. You can easily review standard ad pricing, by industry, online space, and other factors. And of course, any site that carries advertising will publish its ad rates or will provide a contact to someone who will give you the information.

Ad rates are most often determined on a cost per thousand views (CPM) basis. Site management software tracks the number of times a page or banner ad is served to a user. CPM rates vary widely and depend upon where your ad is placed, its size, your industry, what kind of traffic it generates and other factors. An average national newspaper site will charge you $40/CPM if you acquire 500,000 page views. The more page views you acquire the lower your CPM. The average cost for a search engine portal is $29/CPM if you acquire 250,000 views. (A good sample ad guide can be found at Internet.com adres.internet.com/adrates/article/0,,9251_198601,00.html.)

Where to go to find online ad opportunities?

They’re probably right under your nose. If you have a genuine Web presence and you spend a fair amount of time on the Web, you probably already have a good sense of which sites are the best places to promote your site, product or service. If you use a standard search engine portal, consider it. If you visit a particular newspaper (local or regional), and you have a local store, geography is important. And if you sell vitamins, the health care industry sites are where you should be looking.

Who can help you create your campaign?

You have two options: Do it yourself, or hire an ad agency. Often the do-it-yourself approach works well, though not always. If you’re selling a site, product or service that’s complex or involves plenty of variability, then consider getting some outside assistance. Plan to spend a little money. Sometimes the sites with which you plan to advertise will provide simple assistance (cutting and pasting to create a banner ad, for instance). Other times they provide more sophisticated help.

Some interesting sites to help you consider how best to produce your ad include The Banner Ad Museum www.banneradmuseum.com/, which provides plenty of ad examples, and sites like Bannerite.com www.bannerite.com/, and Channelseven.com www.channelseven.com/, which can assist you with your ad concerns.

If you get outside assistance, look locally. If something goes awry, it’s good to have someone nearby who can help. Of course, make sure the agency does online advertising (it’s rare these days to find any that don’t). Ask to see their Internet ad efforts. Make sure you sample some of their work, preferably live.

Make sure you manage the click-throughs

Regardless of ad type, cost, or who helps you create and place your ad, make sure you have in place the means to track its effectiveness. Usually the site carrying your ad provides this service, though you can also use your own site management tools to track the origin of referring URLs and similar statistics. The basics of ad tracking involve ad click rates and ad views.

An ad’s effectiveness can be gauged by tracking the number of people who visit your site by clicking on the ad, or the click-through rate. Don’t expect the number to be high (probably less than 1 percent of the total number of ad views). But neither should it be zero. If you’ve registered low click-throughs after a week of displays, you know your ad is in the wrong venue.

Other resources

If you want to find out more about Internet advertising, not surprisingly, there are plenty of web resources. The Ad Resource adres.internet.com/, ClickZ Today www.clickz.com/, and the Iconocast www.iconocast.com/ all provide plenty of how-to information, as well as industry news. The Internet Advertising Report www.internetnews.com/IAR/ includes daily stories and a deep archive of information on what’s going on in the industry. Want to view some of the most popular banner ads? Nielsen Netratings actually identifies the top 10 banners viewed on a weekly basis 209.249.142.27/nnpm/owa/NRpublicreports.topbannerweekly.

Internet advertising has its drawbacks but for some sites, products or services it can be the most effective promotional tool available.

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