What's The Buzz?

Dominating the discussion on Online-Ads last week was the revelation that AltaVista is testing the pay-per-click model pioneered by GoTo.com. While the one participant who’d actually used the service was moderately happy, most were against the move.

“I’m all for revenue streams and increased NOI for AltaVista which has contributed so much,” wrote Mark Montgomery, “but this is a suicidal method in attempting to achieve it, especially for Compaq.”

Fred Warner’s take was that viewers will be migrating to other search engines or at least looking deeper into search results, and that DoubleClick will have a hard time selling lower-down positions, so search engine optimization companies will still be able to work with AltaVista. Moderator Richard Hoy had been worried about that.

“Hey, best of luck to any who think consumers are so foolish that they will put up with this for long,” wrote Michael Wexler. “Maybe I can pay the phone company to list me first in the phone book, and then pay extra to put lots of blank space between me and my competitors. That’ll work.”

Dana Todd’s firm spent a day-and-a-half buying paid listings and “it’s currently a pain in the patootie” because each bid had to be entered manually and the site was shut down early due to technical difficulties. Reportedly it’s being automated. Dana was happy with the phrases available and their placement and positioning. Most went for under a buck. Dana’s not happy that the rates are non-commissionable, and complains that AltaVista gives the worst click-through rates for most words.

Is the Net is or is it ain’t a branding vehicle wondered a few Online-Ads participants. The takeoff point was Michael Fischler’s contention that branding was essential for web business success, but the web isn’t the place to do it.

Tim Lee insisted on separating product branding from online business branding, then took the discussion to a higher plane, contending that the Internet was neither for branding nor for direct marketing, but is “the place we are surviving… the place we brand for” and the “whole lives” of the likes of Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.

There were some Online-Ad members fuming at an IBM e-business banner ad involving Vespa and Wired News that required a 140k ad download before any content could be seen.

“About the only thing Vespa got right was having their site so poorly navigable that someone like me gives up looking for a place to complain,” pouted Dana Adams.

Johnny Ho and Jonathan Roy kicked around the decrease in CTR rate. Ho blamed it on too much content. Roy said sites are providing more and more impressions for the same number of users, whether they’re there or not. “Heck, sometimes I minimize my browser and go play a game for a few hours, and every 30-90 seconds it’s happily reloading ads I don’t see. Automatically reloading ads can’t do anything but hurt your click rate. Of course, you get a lot more impressions and can sell more ads that way,” Roy wrote. Both agreed on limiting the number of times a user should see an ad.

Last week’s threads on I-Advertising ranged from an erudite discussion of banner test sample sizes to the more prosaic “How do I get people to come to my web site without spending big bucks?” In between, participants pondered a Jupiter Communications report that said portals weren’t faring too well in e-commerce, debated how much to pay for search terms (more competition for GoTo.com), and talked TV CPMs. Moderator Adam Boettiger kept things on track from his temporary HQ in Hawaii.

There was more light than heat in the sample size dust-up. Attentive readers can apply for Statistics 102 credit. Just remember that the size of your sample — how many banner impressions are needed to compare one creative approach against another — depends on the level of confidence you want and the margin of error you’re willing to accept. You can’t get statistically significant results from small samples because the margin of error is likely to be too large.

On the other hand, Tim Lee pointed out, “Experienced people can make intuitive judgements based on a small amount of information that prove as useful, and less expensive.

Jim Dattilo asked about profitable ways of getting more people to a site and wondered what the big gun online zines are doing. Bob Cortez answered that the big guns are losing big money, then abruptly shifted metaphors from guns to dogs. Form alliances, develop personal relationships, was his advice. Don’t forget “sticky apps” like free email and online calendaring, added Blaine Mathieu. Karthi Gandhi reminded Jim that repeat visits are the measure of success.

The aforementioned Jupiter report said portals drive only 18 percent of e-commerce now, and their share will only grow to 20 percent by 2002. Adam Boettiger wondered how the portals are likely to respond. The apparent consensus was that the portals have to get more involved in selling and that it won’t hurt web merchants if they do. “Rather than using ads to drive traffic, merchants should start selling right on the portal,” said Eric Picard.

William Balderaz queried his I-Advertising confreres about a GoTo.com competitor demanding a minimum CPC of .25 Vs GoTo’s .01. Are the competitor’s visitors 25 times more desirable? Adam Boettiger’s somewhat predictable response? It depends. You can’t really tell without testing. Robert Woodhead’s more tactical advice for making GoTo work: Bid what it takes to get into position #5 or higher, but not more than .15. And don’t take position #1 or you’ll suffer “some mindless ‘top of the list’ clicks.”

Finally, Susan Kaup, who’s new to I-Advertising, didn’t get an answer to the question she asked about TV advertisers paying a higher CPM for TV advertising that targets web users, but her question did spark some enthusiastic discussion about the web Vs TV in general. And if we can’t be enthusiastic, why bother?

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