Utilizing the WebMake this a 'banner' year for your business

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Utilizing the WebMake this a 'banner' year for your business

By Michael Zervas, Michaels/Wilder Group

Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you're doing--but nobody else does.

Let's talk about turning on the Internet for your business. The goal: to leave the "dark ages" behind and explore new and exciting ways, using state-of-the-art technology, to spread the word about your business and/or product.

Even in the year 2000, with all the extraordinary advances and opportunities presented via the Internet, many business people still rely on traditional routes of advertising such as direct marketing--print and outdoor billboards, with an occasional foray into TV or radio--to get their message out. Most of us have heard about the power of the Internet, but many of us do not have a clear idea on how to tap its potential or structure our message in the most efficient way possible.

For the uninitiated, advertising on the Internet can be intimidating; however, it needn't be. There are basic elements to creating a presence on the net: web design, site promotion and search-engine registration. All follow basic rules of advertising, and the concepts will come quickly to anyone with advertising experience.

Banner Ads

For starters, let's explore the concept of banner advertising. This cost-effective, attention-grabbing, online mode of communication is typically found on commercial or search-engine pages. If you're visiting web sites with any regularity, you've certainly seen a few of them. Banner ads utilize Internet technology to display advertising-type messages that contain sound and motion. Most importantly, they make it possible for users to link directly to your web site.

The very best banner ads are clever, colorful and creative--and a proven way to connect with potential customers and clients. But, keep in mind that these ads often compete with others on the same page. You want yours to be the one viewers notice first, the one that jumps out and says "Look at me!" One way to accomplish this goal and to get more "hits" (visitors to your site) is to promise the consumer a bonus, such as a free quote or a gift if they visit your site. This has been proven over and over again in controlled studies. To significantly increase the click-through rates for banner ads, utilize this technique.

For example, a plumbing company that specialized in finding and correcting water leaks was looking to broaden its customer base. To promote its business, the company selected a brightly colored, animated banner ad that depicted a man chasing a drop of water--all the way across the Internet page. Alone, it drew attention; but when we added the incentive of a free site inspection for each click-through, the business really started pouring in.

A Few Pointers

A couple of other points should be made regarding the above story. First of all, anyone designing your advertising campaign should recognize the need to measure all of your ads to see which are most effective. Plus, you should test several versions in each campaign. The information you learn today will help the campaign you design tomorrow.

Secondly, and specific to creating banner ads: If there is too much going on in the banner, it slows down the load time and you might wind up trying the patience of the person whose attention you want to attract. Time is of the essence, and the idea is to draw 'em in. While it often helps to have a gimmick, it also is important to remember that sometimes less is more--and you don't want to overwhelm.

Ad Placement

Once you have a great banner ad, the question becomes where to put it. Any buyer has an overwhelming choice between commercial sites, search engines and reciprocal placements with compatible sites. What should ultimately sway your decision is how well the site reaches your potential customer. To determine this, there are objective ways to categorize customers and site visitors. Among these factors to consider are demographics (education, income levels, number of adults vs. children, number of men vs. women, etc.), targeted mapping (geographic locations of homework and play) and psychographics (attitudes and beliefs). When reviewing a site for possible ad placement, request to see these breakdowns. You should also request information regarding how long each visitor stays on the site, and where they navigate within the site.

Perhaps the most unique and exciting reality of banner advertising is that it allows you to track impressions--to learn how many times the banner has appeared in front of a potential customer. Additionally, website owners can track click-throughs to learn how many times the customer actually has been driven through to your specific site. In only a few short steps, you can find out how may people saw your ad, and how many of those sightings turned into actual business. This is very different than the traditional media we spoke of earlier, and one of the main reasons you should consider a focused and efficient campaign on the net.

Determining who should help you put this campaign together is a little tricky, as the Internet industry is somewhat fragmented between designers, media buyers and agencies. Many designers will not have experience in developing media plans, and some media buyers will not be a good fit for designing your banner ad. Therefore, it's highly recommended that you seek out an agency with experience in working with new media. Find an agency that either specializes in it or has a division concentrating in new media. They will have both designers and media buyers on staff to provide a comprehensive program.

Michael Zervas is co-owner of the Michaels/Wilder Group, a specialized advertising agency incorporating three divisions: Yellow Pages, Internet and recruitment advertising. Based in Phoenix, the award-winning firm's client base includes America West, Luby's Cafeterias, Quaker Oats and Conseco Financial Services. Mr. Zervas can be reached at mz@michaelswilder.com.

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