What's the Buzz?

A number of issues were visited and re-visited on industry discussion lists last week. Topics on banner ad viability, paid search engine listings, web site content vs. images, sample size, alcohol sales to Mid-East audiences, e-zine ad networks and online ad history bring the din of industry shop talk to you in a nutshell.

Are Banners Dead?

Leo Sheiner took issue last week with Ramon Ray’s earlier Online Ads post in which he said the present (banner ad) model is “dumb, dying and dead.” Banners aren’t perfect, Leo conceded, but they still attract “the largest amount of (ad) dollars” on the Internet. “Basically if you want volume and reach on the Internet there isn’t a real alternative to banners at the moment.” Banner traffic on Leo’s network, at least, is increasing.

Ramon responded with a challenge that he and Leo go one-on-one with a $10,000 budget, Ramon’s email and sponsorship campaign against Leo’s banners. “Common sense tells me banners are dead,” said Ramon.

Leo decided to pass on Ramon’s challenge. It’s hard to reach a business audience, after all (and that was Ramon’s target), because business people don’t spend that much time surfing the web. Leo conceded that if he had accepted Ramon’s challenge, “The largest share of my promotional resource will go to targeted mailing, e-zines, sponsorships and offline advertising,” though he’d also run a banner campaign.

Dana Adams then joined the debate, suggesting that the growth in banner traffic Leo’s experiencing may have less to do with the effectiveness of banners than with the overall growth in net traffic. “Banner ads are not chosen,” Dana wrote, “they simply accompany the download of content from their host site. If you increase the number of visitors you increase the number of ads served.”

Leo responded that Dana is missing the point. “Banners are not passive downloads as you imply. Advertisers are paying good money to have them displayed. Advertisers would soon stop the growth in their banner traffic if it was costing cash that was not producing a return.”

More on AltaVista

AltaVista’s pay-per-click model continued to grab the attention of Online Ads participants for a third week. Wayne Kessler cautioned AltaVista to proceed slowly. “This seems like a relatively short-term way to make money and a great long-term way to lose reputation.”

Commenting on Wayne’s post, Online-Ads Moderator Richard Hoy wrote that “The search function is less about finding unbiased, useful content in a profitable manner and more about using search as a gateway for directing people into other parts of the media property.”

GoTo.com fan Joe Wiseman thinks AltaVista’s paid placement program is excellent but that ten paid spots should be available per-search word instead of only two. “If they do it right and not try to rip the advertisers off, the process will work and will be beneficial for the web site owners, the web surfers and the search engines.”

Commenting on Ian Douglas’ “brilliant idea” of applying the Dewey Decimal System to the web, Allan Gardyne said that search engines would still have to rank all of the sites in a category by relevance. “Humans do the best job of rating sites. To pay humans, the search engines have to earn lots of money. Perhaps some combination of paid and unpaid listings is the answer.”

“The argument that auctions are good for small businesses when they are bidding against giant competitors simply isn’t credible,” wrote Mark Montgomery. “Auctioning off entry to a distribution channel is the most blatant abuse of capitalism one can imagine, but of course it’s been used on store shelves for decades.”

Content or Images?

Debate ebbed at I-Advertising last week but lots of good questions were asked and (presumably) thoughtful answers were given. Tony Hicks tossed a potentially intriguing ball in the air when he asked which was more important, content or images, but few participants went for it.

Mariah Betz pointed out that “content equals everything – design, organization, navigation, back-end applications, and of course, the information on your pages.” The way the elements are integrated is what’s really important. Chris Donaldson said Tony’s question is like asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. “What drives good content is good copy and good images, and each individual instance will call for completely different requirements.”

Sample Size

It turns out we really don’t need a particular sample size in order to compare the performance of one banner against another, at least not if we use a Z-test, and Tim Lee told I-Advertising participants last week just how to conduct one. See his post (Real Time Banner Testing) for the formula, but we warn you that it’s not for the stats-phobic.

Alcohol in Arabia

The week before last, Varun Gupta asked for ideas about reaching audiences in the Middle East. He’s marketing a brand of alcohol and wants to reach expatriates living in the region. Micky Allen literally cut to the chase. Foreigners’ favorite gathering, he wrote, is the “Hash,” a form of “hare and hounds.” Runners shouting “on-on” follow a trail across the desert. After a couple of hours there’s a big party at which home brew is served, so Varun’s brand should sponsor a hash.

E-Zine Net Needed

Dr. Mani Sivasubramanian, who publishes a 2,500-circulation e-zine, wonders if there are any ad networks specifically for e-zine newsletters, and ventures that if there aren’t, there should be. Matt Mickiewicz and Chris Pirillo both recommended e-zine ad network PENN Media, which claims to sell ads for over 100 newsletters with a total readership of more than three million.

Douglas Freake reported that Lifestyles Publishing has a directory of e-zines and newsletters that accept classified advertising (www.lifestylespub.com/cgi-bin/ezines.cgi?10622).

Online Ad History

Jens Jokschat wants info on the history of online advertising all the way back to ’94. “To look at the history of online advertising as starting in 1994 is like thinking that the history of human life on earth started with the invention of the steam Engine,” scolded Janet Ryan. She said the industry dates back ten or more years earlier.

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