Digital MarketingStrategiesIn Search of a Better Online Ad Unit

In Search of a Better Online Ad Unit

There's been a lot of talk about the effectiveness of standard online ad units. Recent research says smaller units such as buttons and half banners are getting higher impressions. But do higher impressions really equal more effective ads?

There’s been a lot of talk about the effectiveness of standard online ad units. Basically, we’re talking 468 x 60 pixels and other generally smaller ad units.

A recent CyberAtlas study says that smaller ad units such as buttons and half banners are getting higher impressions. But do higher impressions really equal more effective ads? From a creative and message perspective, many of these smaller ad units are extremely limiting. Try squeezing anything more than a logo into an 88 x 31 pixel button; it can’t be done.

Rich media and streaming media are seen as more effective tools in the online marketer’s arsenal, but according to the same study, 19 out of 25 online ads are still GIFs. Why is online advertising lagging so far behind online content?

The level of sophistication of site design hasn’t slowed down at all, while online advertising isn’t moving quite as quickly. One could point to the large number of sites that still don’t adequately support rich media, to the long list of clients who demand fast turnaround for animated GIFs, or to the fact that more time and resources are required to create rich media and beyond-the-banner campaigns.

What it all comes down to is that there’s no really successful formula to online advertising, and the industry is still in the early stages of development. Interstitials offer hope, as do the recent slew of “skyscraper” ad units. Also, companies that create content recognize that alternatives to banner and button placements are of significant value to online marketers.

During my stint as a Microscope reviewer, I came across an interesting ad unit from Freeinternet.com (now called NetZero.net). Basically, a 15-second “Flash-spot” came on before a user went online, a kind of trade for free Internet access. Another example of interesting, innovative online advertising opportunities can be seen on rocket8.com; its content is all advertainment based on incentivized user interaction. I mention these companies because you have to give them credit for trying to create more effective advertising opportunities online.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a client (a major content site) that was interested in creating an advertising-friendly web site that could offer real value to marketers. Here are a few points for host sites that are worth mentioning:

  1. Hire a team of production specialists to handle rich media advertising. In particular, any host site should have onsite staff members with DHTML, Java, and Flash expertise. Sure, agencies have these people, but there should really be someone on both sides of the server to ensure the rich media does what it’s designed to do.
  2. Never, and I mean never, allow anyone to put a fake graphic user interface in an ad on your site. It makes you look bad, and once fooled, users will be less likely to interact with anything on your site that looks like rich media.
  3. Try to bridge opportunities between advertisers and your content. Having sections that relate to specific consumer interests is standard, but how about creating something equivalent to a special feature in a magazine? This may not work for portals where information, design, and quick download dominate, but this is where advertainment opportunities are perfect and usually require more cooperation from sites than from resources.
  4. Recognize that advertisers want as much reach as possible for ad-unit real estate to work with; tiny ad units might give a media person a low CPM and high impressions, but they’re not very useful for acquisition strategies.

It seems the greatest opportunities for creating high-impact online advertising are in the content sites going broadband. You see more and more sites offering narrowband and broadband versions of themselves. If a company has the savvy to realize it should get in the game early or have content that is uniquely suited to broadband, that’s smart thinking.

That’s not to say you still can’t have very effective online ad campaigns, despite the low industry-average click-through rate. The real point is that the industry is still young and has a lot of growing to do. We’re all continuing to look for more effective online ad units that can take advantage of the benefits of one-to-one interactive marketing.

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