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Alternatives to banner ads?

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This month, we're looking at Web advertising alternatives for e-commerce sites. The question: With click-through rates often at less than 2%, what are some alternatives to banner advertising for Web sites?

There are more than you might think. The banner may get a lot of press attention, and it may be the most common form of Web site advertising, but it is far from the only option you have if you want to advertise your Web site on the Internet.

Let's take a look at several other Net advertising techniques that are gaining popularity.

Badges, buttons and text links

Badges are small graphics that can be seen in many places where a full-size banner ad wouldn't fit or be appropriate. Take a look at Newslinx, at www.newslinx.com. Scroll down the page and you'll see a badge for TechTalk, an Internet radio show.

One of the benefits of badges is that they can be placed in so many locations on a site, while most full-size banners are placed at the top of the page only.

Also, badges are often less expensive on a cost-per-thousand basis than banners and can be negotiated for price and location in many more ways than traditional banners. Likewise with a button, which is a variation of the badge.

Take a look at the bottom of the page at www.yahoo.com to see a button. Smaller than a badge, this button features a Visa logo that jumps out more than you would think. Note that in this case the button is augmented by a small bit of text that says "Smart Shopping With," just before the button.

Some people use the terms badge and button interchangeably, and this is fine. The concept is what's most important because the advertiser doesn't have to be boxed into a banner ad as the only option.

These types of ad options are available to you, though you may need to ask for them.

A buy in action

To see a keyword buy in action, go back to Yahoo and do a search on the term "office supplies." On the page of results that comes up, I have a banner ad for Quill Office Products above the search results.

Quill paid Yahoo for the keywords "office supplies," and when a user searches with that term, the Quill banner is displayed -- a nice targeting method that often results in better click-through rates.

Moving further still from the banner ad is the interstitial. One type of interstitial ad is a marketing message included between two pages of a site.

Put simply, it's a message that comes after the page you were just on and before the page you are waiting to see. Some studies seem to indicate these types of ads are more effective than any other type of Web ad.

Another type of interstitial is a new browser window that appears the moment a link is clicked, so that two browser windows are open on the user's screen. Some users, including me, find this type of approach irritating, while others like it.

One other type of non-banner ad is the "microsite." For a microsite, an advertiser either places an entire set of Web pages within someone else's Web site, or builds a site to serve the needs of a certain client.

Using a 'microsite'

Microsites are often on corporate intranets and work something like this: Say a corporation has a regular need to deliver products within a certain geographic region, and it uses any one of several delivery services.

One of the delivery services builds a 10-page Web site with a full set of services and pricing, and an online booking feature. It then offers to house this microsite on the corporation's intranet, making it easier for the corporation's employees to access and book deliveries.

If this isn't feasible, then the service houses the microsite at a password-protected URL given out to only the corporation's users.

This microsite is separate from the service's main company site. In fact, the company could build as many such microsites as it wishes.

The truth is, new Web advertising and marketing techniques are being developed every day. The banner caught on, but it may well end up as one of the least effective of all options.

Next month: more types of non-banner ads.

Eric Ward began the Internet's first third-party Web site awareness-building service in 1994. He also publishes the URLwire, a private e-mail-based news service for new-media editors, writers, reporters and reviewers who cover the Web.

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