Despite the huge growth in the number of Internet users in the UK, the media and marketing worlds still aren't taking the Internet very seriously. This lack of interest is evidenced by the fact that in 1996 a mere #1.7 million was spent on advertising with UK-based sites. This might seem a lot until you compare it with the #300 million spent on radio advertising, the #1.2 billion spent on direct mail and the #2.2 billion spent on TV.
When research firm New Media Communications conducted a study on the UK market for Internet advertising, it found that although publishers and broadcasters were spending millions creating Web sites that attract banner and other paid-for advertising, few were seeing more than a few tens of thousands of pounds come back from ad revenues. This is largely because the owners of such commercial sites still have a hard job convincing any of their regular advertising clients that spending money on Web advertising is worthwhile. Even in the IT business, where you'd think that the virtues of the Web were well known, companies willing to part with hard-earned cash for Web ad space are few and far between.
Perhaps one reason for this lack of spending is that since there are so many possibilities for cheap and no-cost advertising on the Internet, it's difficult to see any justification in paying for it. Even if you do decide to include paid-for advertising in a campaign, it's not difficult to beat down the price, given that there are far more advertising slots than takers.
So just what is Web advertising? Everybody knows what TV advertising or press advertising is, but there is still some discussion about the extent to which the Web is, or can be, an advertising medium. Some people believe that a Web site is itself an advertisement. But others say that because Web information is audience-selected as opposed to other media where it's broadcast or widely distributed, it can never be considered advertising in the usual sense of the word.
The truth is somewhere in between. Think of the Internet as a worldwide computer network that mirrors the function of the phone or the postal network. Like phones and letters, you can use the Internet to communicate with friends, conduct business, provide information and promote your company and its products.
When a company produces a brochure on a Web site, it's no more an advertisement than it would be to produce a regular print version. The company may well run ads inviting customers to request a copy of the product brochure or view the products by visiting retail outlets, but the brochure itself is passive and has to be specifically requested, just like a Web page.
So the Web medium is pretty much the same as any other communications medium except it has a high degree of built-in interactivity that can be used to create effective promotional campaigns. An Internet marketing campaign or strategy essentially has three elements:
-The Web site itself
For obvious reasons, there's no point conducting an Internet advertising campaign without a Web site. With no site, what would the "call to action be?" With most Internet campaigns the call to action would be a call to visit the given URL by clicking on the advertisement or other link. Indeed, it's becoming more common to see URLs quoted at the end of TV ads or at the bottom of press ads. So much so, that the amount of money spent on traditional media in order to promote Web sites is many times greater than the money spent promoting Web sites on the Internet.
If you're going to spend time and money publicising a Web site, make sure it's interesting. Product and corporate information doesn't raise anything greater than a yawn from even the most easily satisfied surfer. Use competitions, quizzes, online games and anything else that might make the site worthwhile.
Online promotion is probably the most involved aspect of Internet marketing. At its simplest level, online promotion involves submitting URLs to search engines, Web directories and specialist resource listings. Even targeting only the biggest of these could mean spending days submitting to hundreds of such sites. Submission services such as Submit It can help, but really only scratch the surface. There are so many sites to cover and the number is increasing all the time. There are other resources to consider such as newsgroups, online discussion groups and mailing lists. And then there are the Web awards schemes, not to mention the hundreds of Internet publications and newspaper supplements that need to be told about your site.
For this reason, if you want to get wide coverage for your Web site, it might be worth using one of the many Internet marketing services. They can often accomplish in one day what might take you weeks to do on your own.
Web advertising is such a new discipline in the UK that there are few site owners who can deliver the kind of standards that are expected of such sites in the US. Even the ones that are trying are still so new to the game that they're still feeling their way, often at the client's expense.
So if you're going to allocate a budget to this area, then plan carefully. Of the three-part marketing mix - Web site, online promotion and Web advertising - the third part is the most expendable. It may not even be necessary to pay for Web advertising; you could use free ad services like the Link Exchange.
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE
You must be clear on what you hope to achieve with a campaign. It might be as simple as increasing user traffic to your Web sites, increasing product sales or promoting a better image for the company. Try to quantify your desired success. Instead of just looking for an increase in site traffic, work out exactly how big an increase you'd consider a success, keeping in mind the size of your target audience.
"Set realistic expectations," says Jim Sterne, author of World Wide Web Marketing. "Ignore the hype. Like anything else in business, hard work wins out over silver bullets every day."
A 5,000-a-week increase in visitors to a high-profile sports site might be considered achievable, but the same traffic to a corporate site for a rubber bung manufacturer would be hopelessly optimistic.
Look at those sites that take advertising, what they have on offer, and at what price. Don't pay a penny for a site that cannot produce detailed server log data in a form that shows how successful your campaign has been. As VP of Guesttrack Deborah Kania points out: "Performance that is measured improves. Performance that is measured and reported accelerates."
Sites that have demographic information about their users are valuable in establishing whether they are the kind of people you are trying to target in the campaign. Numbers alone aren't enough. "Advertise where the people who are likely to buy your products are going to be," says Jane Wilson, an independent Web marketing advisor. "Ten thousand people may see the banner ad, but if it's not relevant, then it's worthless," she says.
There are several ways that sites measure user traffic. You can measure impressions, click-throughs, hits as well as visitors. Remember that the number of hits to a site is a worthless measure, so don't let a site owner fob you off with the number of hits to a site. Hits are a measure of files requested or opened by the user when requesting a URL. The total number includes all HTML files, graphics files and any other file the host server happens to open. Those Web pages with the fanciest logos tend to have higher hit counts. If you want to know how many users access a particular Web page, then the number of page impressions is the most reliable measure, even though there are some subtle differences in the way the numbers are counted. A page impression means just that. If you click on a link to a Web page, you add a single page impression to the total for that page, regardless of the number of graphics and other files attached to the page. It follows that a single advertisement included in the page will get the same number of hits as the page itself, excluding users who switch off images on their browsers. Bear in mind that some sites rotate banners, so if two banners are rotated at random, with equal priority, then each will receive 50 per cent of the page impressions of the host page. In this instance, ad impressions would be 50 per cent of the page impressions. Sometimes sites measure click-throughs to ads which may be used as a basis for pricing the ad placement. Click-through rates simply mean the number of times any user has clicked from the ad through to the ad page or client site. If you pay a price according to click-through then you will only pay for actual response to the banner ad.
Pricing varies hugely, as does the basis for payment. The accepted norm in the US is payment per 1,000 page impressions, which is referred to as CPM or cost per thousand impressions. The typical CPM rate in the US is between $25 and $35, but there is no average for the UK as rates differ so much and there are few sites that achieve any substantial revenue from banner advertising.
You could be charged anything up to #80 CPM for those UK sites that use CPM as a measure - some sites charge even higher CPM rates. Quite a few sites still work on a weekly or monthly rate, regardless of the number of impressions the site or ad get in the time the ad is available. In these cases, some sites will report the number of impressions achieved, while many others won't. Some will guarantee a minimum number of impressions, while others will make no such guarantees.
Big search engines are expensive and are unlikely to discount much, but are worth using where budgets are high enough. "Personally, I would spend most of my money on search engines and use advertising space to increase brand awareness," says Jason Kitcat, editor of ezine: j-dom.
"Any remaining money would go to Web sites whose users would have similar interests to my own projected user interests, as these would be the most likely to click-through. My last few cents would go on press releases to press organisations and a possible direct email campaign," says Kitcat.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF CHEAP SERVICES
Make the most of low-cost and free services. The bulk of Web marketing is done on tight budgets or no budget at all, so take advantage of this aspect of the Web. As Kevin Leathers, marketing director of Obgyn.net, advises: "Identify the sites, networks and search engines that serve their target markets, and leach off of them."
When paying for ad space on Web sites, remember that it's a buyer's market. Always try to argue the price down. Where possible, pay according to a CPM or click-through rate, and if a site owner talks about hits to their site, cross them off the short list immediately.
Web advertising should really be seen as the icing on the cake. Without it you can still produce a very good response to your Web site at very little or no expense. But with carefully planned Web advertising you can turn a very successful site into a hugely successful site.
Ray Taylor is author of The UK Internet Advertising Report ([email protected] www.bizbiz.com).
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