Advertising on the Web

Of course you have a website, even if there’s only as an online postcard or brochure (and there’s nothing wrong with that: most businesses need a summary in words and graphics to tell people what they do and what kind of organisation they are).
But if you have a website, you need traffic.The best way to get people to visit your website is by word of mouth; give them a reason to go there, and tell them where it is. But if you can’t address your target audience on a one-to-one basis, you’ll need to advertise your site in some way. And the best way to promote your website is to use the web. This is part one of two, and next month we’ll look at appealing to search engines. This time though we’re surveying the principal online forms of advertising: familiar, understandable and usually affordable.

The web isn’t the only internet-based marketing opportunity for your business; we’ll look at email newsletters and mailshots in a future issue, for instance. But if you have a website, it makes sense to use other websites when you want web users to find you. These are the principal options, roughly in order of appeal to the smaller business:

Directories

There are dozens of web directories, but the most useful will be those that are well-established (like Yell, at www.yell.co.uk), those that deal with your local area, or those that specialise in a particular sector that you are targeting.

As with Yellow Pages, you may get a pretty basic entry for free; if you want to include more information and a stand-out graphic, you’ll have to pay. Not all directories will automatically include a link to your website – sometimes that too is charged for.

Plus: Simple, understandable, familiar, affordable, easy.
Minus: You have to be sure that the kind of people you want to sell to are users of such directories. There’s a feeling that most visitors to directory sites are marketeers trawling for business names and email addresses.

Ebay

The web auction site has grown well beyond its original parameters and now includes numerous businesses offering goods at a fixed price – exactly like any other e-commerce website.

Plus: Easy to set up, easy to operate. Ebay has loads of tools and advice for sellers of all sizes, and there are numerous add-on tools to automate and simplify the process of selling and fulfilment. There’s also the useful perception that the buyer is getting a bargain because you’re selling on Ebay.
Minus: You do have to offer a discount, and unless you have a unique product it will probably have to be a substantial discount to compete with other Ebay vendors. The punters have to come to you, and you can’t sell to them unless they can find your product in the huge mass of Ebay offerings.

Online classifieds

A few websites carry classified ads in much the same way as magazines and newspapers. You buy the ad in the same way too.

Plus: As with print media, classifieds can be a good bet for individuals and the smaller company with something very specific to sell.
Minus: In fact the people who spend time at on-line classified ad sites tend to be sellers rather than buyers. If you’re in the same business as a lot of other advertisers – selling mobile phones, say – your ad can easily get swamped.

Keyword purchase

You improve your chances of appearing at the top of a list of searched-for web pages, basically by paying the search engine owner for a preferential position when a search matches the keywords you have associated with your own website.

Plus: Very easy to set up, can be economical, can deliver a red-hot sales prospect (because they’re searching for exactly your kind of keyword).
Minus: The trick is to find the right keywords: “mobile phone” won’t exactly be a unique search-for phrase. But “mobile phone Much Dewchurch” might be the precise combination that guarantees you reach that elusive customer in Much Dewchurch.

Pay per click

This variant of keywording that has become well nigh essential: most search tools also sell simple banner-like advertisements that appear on the search results display page. Google’s AdWords facility is the best example. You pay a small amount every time someone decides to click on your link. You can decide how much you’re prepared to pay for this – the more you bid, the higher you will appear in the stack of mini-ads on the search page.

Plus: If anything, it’s even easier to set up than keyword purchase; you can also put a cap on your total spend, thus preventing yourself being landed with an unexpectedly large bill when the whole world suddenly decides to click on your link.
Minus: Again, you need to be associated with the right keywords. If you’re in competition with other keyword advertisers, you may have to pay over the odds to appear towards the top of the stack of ads. Wording your tiny three-line ad takes some skill.

Links

A clickable logo or some text can take the user to your website. This kind of linking is sometimes free, sometimes charged for, and sometimes offered on an exchange basis (“I’ll put a link to your website on my pages if you do the same for me”).

Plus: Even if you’re charged for this kind of web linking, costs are minimal and your coverage can be focused on a targeted market.
Minus: The potential problem is that you may find yourself having to scratch somebody else’s back twice as much as they scratch yours; check the visitor volumes on the host site. And if you want to get involved in reciprocal link exchanges, be aware that it might be more difficult for you to strike a deal if your own site is low on visitor traffic. Worst of all, visitors to your site may react badly to a profusion of irrelevant links.

Banners

Many websites include advertisement space on their pages, usually at the head or the foot, which are rented by the advertiser. Banners can be static, animated or fully interactive; clicking on a banner usually takes the user to your website.
A variety of standard sizes are on offer. And in fact the ad shapes available aren’t all banners which have their longest edge horizontal. Tower or skyscraper ads have their longest edge vertical, usually appearing on the left or right side of the page. And ‘buttons’ are small rectangles or square graphics that advertise something.

Plus: Simple to explain, easy to understand. Rules of frequency and reach are easily applied. This is an understandable, familiar way to promote something. Some websites simply wouldn’t exist without the revenue from such ads, and it might be in your interest to help subsidise such sites by buying an ad.
Minus: Most site visitors will skip most banner ads. That doesn’t mean they’re always redundant; rather than the more immediate make-the-sale value, a cleverly designed ad can work on a more subtle level to promote brand awareness.

Pop-ups

Undersized web pages or windows containing advertisements pop up on top of the page the viewer is looking at. (Pop unders are similar but rarer – new windows that open under the active window, not usually apparent until the user closes the active window.)

Plus: The advertiser gets more space to play with, the ad is more attention-grabbing, and it can more easily incorporate sound and video.
Minus: Users don’t generally like them. For a start, they don’t understand that the pop-up is using “dead time” while a page is loading; instead, they tend to think the interstitial is slowing the arrival of the page they’ve requested. And while it’s easy enough for the user to close these windows one by one, that does slow things down and many people find them intensely irritating. This is why so many users have installed pop up blockers to stop new windows from opening in the first place.

Rich-media ads

This is a catch-all term for an ad that usually includes sound or video as well as text and static graphics; the ad will expand when someone puts their mouse over them, or just automatically open and cover a large section of the page until a set time expires or they are closed.

Plus: They (should) look good and they are (hopefully) more interesting than static ads. Because of that, they are probably more effective than banners. They carry more impact because they appear in the middle of the screen; users prefer them, not least because they can be clicked off easily and quickly.
Minus: Creating good rich-media ads can’t be done by amateurs – so you’ll have to pay for the pros if you want quality. And some of audience will react adversely to any kind of ad, so you might miss the hot prospects anyhow.

 

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