Pop-Ups Work

While Internet service providers take steps to block pop-ups, a study shows why the format has such staying power: it works.

According to an Advertising.com analysis, pop-up ads generate a click-through 13 times that of the standard 468 x 60 pixels banner and a conversion rate more than 14 times better. The unit’s performance dwarfed long banners, 728 x 90, which had a click-through rate slightly higher than the standard banner and a lower conversion rate. Skyscrapers were also found effective, with a 60 percent higher click-through rate and 20 percent better conversion rate.

The analysis was done over a one-week period with 15 million Internet users served 168 million ad impressions on the Advertising.com network of sites.

Baltimore-based Advertising.com concluded that pop-ups, for all the fuss they generate, are the best creative format for generating consumer conversions. Heavy pop-up advertisers, like Orbitz, have long said their pop-ups work well in generating conversions.

“To me, pops are just a digitized form of those analog BRC cards,” said Doug McFarland, executive vice president and general manager of Advertising.com’s publishing business, referring to the renewal cards that fall out of magazines. “We’re not advocating one kind of creative exposure over another. If they were so absolutely intrusive, in the same way much telemarketing is, you’d see much more action taken.”

While spam is the runaway favorite for top villain of Internet marketing, pop-ups consistently rank not far behind. IVillage, which banished pop-up ads from its site in August 2002, reported that 92.5 percent of its users tabbed them as their least favorite part of the site experience.

EarthLink and AOL have dueled over which is tougher on pop-up ads, with EarthLink going so far as to run an ad campaign on lambasting AOL’s pop-up policy.

Yet for all the posturing and predictions of pop-ups demise, advertisers and publishers continue to serve them. According to Nielsen//NetRatings’ AdRelevance unit, publishers served 13.4 billion pop-up ads in the first quarter, a 24 percent increase from the previous quarter. AdRelevance does not count house ads in its totals.

Advertising.com, which serves pop-up ads for clients, cited a Dynamic Logic study from 2001 that found consumers accepting of pop-up ads so long as they were infrequent, regarding the unit with the same mild irritation with which they regard direct mail.

The performance of pop-ups versus standard formats was even better than rich media’s. The analysis found that rich media failed to improve click-through rates but garnered four times better conversions.

Pop-up ads still remain a small portion of the overall online advertising market, accounting for under 5 percent of all ads served in the first quarter.

Industry analysts have said pop-up advertisers and publishers have diluted their effectiveness through lax frequency controls. Advertising.com’s study found that all ads lose their effectiveness when impression levels rise, with one to five impressions generating the best revenue return.

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