Pointed Clicks: Right Ad, Right Person, Right Time

We all remember the days when clicking on a web banner ad was new and exciting, lots of us clicked on them. Now, pity the poor web banner as it moves from a novelty to a commodity.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take very long.

Begging for Clicks

My experience with web banner advertising started in 1996 with an ad campaign that ran on a few key web sites. Back then, you could place ads on “targeted” sites, but targeting was limited to keyword targeting on search engines such as Yahoo

I can tell you that I felt a lot of ups (14 percent click-throughs) and downs (1 percent click-throughs, which at that time was quite pitiful). At the time, my co-workers would often hear me complaining that this web-thing should be offering up better response rates!

Many marketers, in fact, were banking that this new medium would provide better response rates than print advertising, direct mail and other offline vehicles. While I experienced some better-than-average response rates when my web banner messages appeared on web sites whose content appealed to the same audience, overall I was a bit well, underwhelmed.

Eternal Optimism Rewarded

Luckily, we’ve come a long way in a short time. Today, web advertising comes in many different forms. Yes, there are mass-advertising vehicles to fulfill your brand marketing goals. But new enhancements in web advertising technology — particularly profiling and targeting — may yet let us realize better, more profitable online ad campaigns.

By way of refresher, the concept of targeted online advertising means that the advertiser displays an ad that is relevant to the viewer based on his or her unique online profile. The potential outcome from this effort should be higher click-through, and more importantly, higher conversion to action or transaction.

Take a property like Lycos. Lauren Prescott, director of advertising technologies, tells how Lycos has many different advertising opportunities from run-of-site, all of which can build awareness and branding to a highly targeted audience.

The targeting capabilities of Lycos include serving ads based on many specific criteria, such as keyword, keyword phrase, time of day, day of the week, special events, special promotions, topic, page specific, operating system, browser, company, ISP, domain, and demographic criteria such as age, gender, zip code, and so on.

Lycos collects the user-declared demographic and psychographic information anonymously and vigorously protects user privacy, Prescott says. It collects the information via personalized services, chat and online communities Angel Fire and Tripod.

Your Mileage May Vary

Of course, your mileage may vary with targeting. For instance, keyword targeting can be challenging, because you must try to think like your customer to determine which keywords they might use to look for products and services that you offer. Lycos offers both keyword and keyword phrase (more than one word) targeting, and the latter produces higher click-through rates than the former.

When I think back to my own experience with the whopping 14 percent response rates, I realize the rate was clearly the result of early targeting, of sorts. I placed banners promoting children’s educational software on FamilyPC magazine’s web site during the holiday shopping season. Right ad, right audience, right time.

“Targeting can bring relevant messages and offers to a pre-qualified audience,” Prescott said, “resulting in successful click rates and conversion to sales.”

For example, the Lycos Shopping Center categorizes by type of store. For example, the “Home & Garden” shopping network main page displays a featured store that sells products related to home and garden, and on this same page Barnes & Noble features home and garden books such as The Herb Gardener, The Garden Primer, and I Can Fix That.

And in the “Sports & Fitness” shopping network is the ESPN Store, Chip Shot Golf store, Fogdog Sports/Visa banner ad, and sports books featured by Barnes & Noble such as The Quotable ESPN and Football for Dummies.

But all marketers are the original “show me” types. Show me that targeted advertising warrants higher CPMs over non-targeted advertising. In general, targeting can “short cut” the buying process by presenting products that are relevant to that online buyer, so the benefit is more efficient marketing, which should translate to a lower customer acquisition cost.

For example, advertisers on the “Career” section of Lycos receive better than average response rates than run-of-site ads, because the user is visiting this section for specific reasons. Advertisers such as Monster.com, Career Magazine and Headhunter.net benefit from this precision marketing technique.

With click rates on web banners slipping in many cases down to 0.5 percent, the new advertising models have emerged to help advertisers get more bang for their buck. Targeting could be one of those ad models to provide the cure for common banner ills.

Next Week: A look at targeting via email, without a hearty helping of Spam.

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