Steer Buyers to Your Door

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted June 01, 2000
by Liz Levy

Now that the novelty of the Internet has worn off, people no longer aimlessly "surf" the Web. Today's consumers go on line looking for a specific product or bit of information. So how do you get the right customers to your site? With a little marketing finesse, it's possible to target an audience (one that's ready to buy) and pull it to your site.

Search engines provide one practical way to drive in viewers, but that's only part of the answer. With the big search engines, like Yahoo and Excite, a Web site is just another needle in the haystack.

The only way to build real consumer awareness is through banners. People often challenge the effectiveness of banner advertising for turning traffic into revenue. But actually banner ads are on average just as or more powerful than other more costly types of advertising, such as direct mail campaigns.

The success of a banner has less to do with its design and more to do with where it's being placed. The advantage for e-commerce is that your store is just a click away. And, best of all, these clicks can be counted to quantify the success of an ad. Using traffic analysis tools, it's now much easier to track the effectiveness of your online ads.

Tools of the Trade
There are many services available that can aid businesses in strategically marketing themselves through banner ad campaigns. Microsoft's bCentral suite helps businesses get started on line. The suite includes Web site building and hosting, online marketing, and business consulting. bCentral's low cost marketing tools provide a variety of ways to promote a site.

Travel.com is an online mall of more than twenty companies in the travel industry that gets commissions based on the sales it generates for its tenants. "We needed to drive more targeted traffic to our site to increase sales in the mall," says Rik Brown, president and CEO. "About 10 percent of our traffic comes directly from the banners instantly." In order to market their site directly to travel consumers, they began using bCentral's Banner Network in 1997.

On the Banner Network, which includes about a half a million Web sites, companies can place targeted banners on the Web for free. For every two banners that are placed on your site, one of yours is placed on any site within the network. The service provides ways to target the ad to sites with a similar audience. For a $20 monthly fee, a user gets 5,000 banner ad impressions per month. This price also includes an e-mail address collection tool for direct e-mail campaigns and the opportunity to list up to 10 URLs on hundreds of search engines.

Travel.com also uses bCentral's diagnostic tools to track their daily and weekly traffic statistics. For every 100 impressions the banner gets (impressions being the number of eyeballs that see the Web page the banner is on), about 1.1 percent actually click on the ad (known as the click-through rate) and go to their site. This may not sound staggering, but it's about right. An acceptable click through rate falls somewhere between 1 and 2 percent.

"The important thing is getting our name out there so they think of us at a later time," says Brown.

Counting Clicks
When a small business starts spending thousands of dollars a month on banner ads, it's time to get serious about tracking the results. Through Web traffic analysis software, not only can companies count the number of visitors to their site, but they can also see where they are coming from and where they are going within the site. In essence the software can count the number of visitors clicking the banners and follow them through the site to see if they are indeed making purchases.

J & N Computer Services is a retailer of computer parts and equipment. The company derives almost all of its sales from its Web site (www.jncs.com), which was built in 1996. The company began advertising lightly in 1997 and increased its advertising at the end of 1999. Since then sales have doubled from $4 million to $8 million a year. It currently has three banners running on GoTo.com, Motherboard.org and Excite.com, and is spending between $9,000 and $10,000 a month in total. The company both designs the banners and picks the sites for the ads in-house. It uses WebSideStory's HitBox software to track the results of its ads.

WebSideStory hosts the information on its servers and provides subscribers all the data in real time. Users can track traffic on an hourly, daily, monthly, and annual basis. Besides counting page viewers and new visitors, the service will monitor all entry points to the site, including banners and links, to see how much traffic they send.

Businesses can also track the paths of visitors to see how they navigate through a site, including point of entry, course of interaction, and place of exit. Site managers can log in remotely from anywhere to view and analyze the site activity.

"If you are spending thousands of dollars a month on a campaign, you don't want to wait until the next day or the end of the week to know the results," says Jerry Jacobsen, co-owner of J & N. "With HitBox we know how the ads are doing by the hour, and we'll change them if the results look poor."

The company spends about two hours a day reviewing the statistics for its banners. "It helped us see that the expensive banner we placed on Excite.com wasn't working," says Jacobsen. "The targeted ads are far more profitable." The banner placed on Motherboard.org generates a sizeable 4 percent click-through rate.

J & N spends about $100 a month for the service, and sees a return of about $5,000 to $6,000 a month in profit, just by keeping up with the traffic. "The cost was insignificant compared to what we gain," notes Jacobsen.

Businesses can use the service for free by installing a HitBox banner or button on each page of their Web site. Each time visitors access a page, the impression is delivered to the WebSideStory servers. For $20 per month HitBox Pro subscribers do not have to display a banner or button. For larger, high traffic sites (at least 250,000 monthly page views), users are billed each month based on the total page views measured.

Cookie Monsters
Along with tracking visitor's site paths, HitBox creates viewer profiles, which businesses can use to find out which browsers, operating systems, and screen settings the audience uses, as well as their language and country. This data is gathered while consumers browse the Web by means of the use of "cookies," which are tiny files that are placed on visitors' hard drives when they click on ads and links on Web sites.

This type of anonymous cookie is relatively harmless to consumers. But when businesses combine this information with personal data, such as customers' names, their use begins to infringe on visitors' privacy. An advertiser or banner network gains access to this type of information when visitors buy a product from or register at a site. The name can then be used to find out consumers' offline buying habits. This practice caused the recent controversy surrounding the advertising network DoubleClick.

While it's legal to use the information learned from the cookie to target ads to the appropriate audience, customers may not appreciate the intrusion. Make sure to look into the banner networks' practices on using consumers' cookies for other purposes.

Final Word
It's no longer wise to haphazardly place ads on the Internet that do not bring in revenue. Look to other sites within your market to place targeted banners that will build awareness and potential customers. With electronic banner advertising it's never been easier to market your business and measure your success.

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