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E-commerce marketers should check out new mega portal features

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As mainstream consumer portals such as Yahoo!, Excite, AltaVista, AOL and Infoseek increase their Joe-surfer user base, popular marketing logic has been that these mega portals had lost much of their value to niche business-to-business electronic-commerce marketers.

In other words, if you're selling a limited range of products to a narrow business clientele, a place like Yahoo! or AltaVista is too broad in its focus to help you much from a banner advertising standpoint. Your prospects would more likely be found in a vertical portal that serves your industry.

While I still agree with that, you may want to consider some new mega portal features from a b-to-b marketing perspective. Let's look at a few.

New targeting options

It used to be that, with a site like Infoseek, you would submit your URLs for indexing and that would be that. You'd hope for the best with your search rankings and Infoseek couldn't offer you much else as a Web marketer. Maybe a banner buy tied to search words but not much else.

In the past few months, this has changed. While the plain vanilla URL submission to Infoseek is still available, notice that Infoseek now also offers a Web directory that accepts submissions for many business categories.

Look even further and you will find a new Infoseek service called Infoseek Clicks, a banner exchange with some fairly sophisticated targeting, allowing you to choose the categories of sites on which to display your ad, or let Infoseek's targeting technology place your ad on the types of sites that prove to work best for you.

Likewise, AltaVista still offers its standard free URL submission, but it also has a nifty new partnership with a company named Centraal, a.k.a. RealNames, which allows your site to secure the position above the portal's search results for just $100 a year, tied to whatever search terms you wish.

RealNames also has a partnership with LookSmart, another portal site, which further enhances the value of that $100.

And, of course, there's GoTo.com, the paid engine where you can bid for traffic and pay as little as a couple of cents per click-through to your site.

Even the venerable Yahoo! has gotten into the act with a new $199 Business Express listing feature, designed for e-commerce sites that want to get listed quickly and properly within Yahoo!'s ever-more complex hierarchy. The $199 doesn't guarantee you a listing, but it does guarantee that a Yahoo! editor will review your submission and get back to you with a yes or noÅ"and the rationale, should you be turned downÅ"within seven days.

Worth a try

What's the NetSense in all this? As inexpensive as these new portal features are, you may want to take a look at using them as part of your e-commerce site marketing plans.

I'm not saying they should replace a well-thought-out vertical marketing plan. In the marketing plans I build for my clients, I still focus heavily on vertical submission and linking activities.

However, if you're spending thousands of dollars for vertical banner or link placement, why not spend a few hundred with a service like RealNames to secure several key phrases related to products you market in your industry segment? Frankly, you have so little to lose and so much to gain, you'd be foolish not to.

Why not test one of the new portal banner exchanges to see if they can help you? Sure, the majority of portal traffic anymore is consumer-oriented, but consumers have day jobs, too, and in those jobs, they might need what you are selling.

Eric Ward is a consultant, speaker and writer who launched the Web's first awareness-building service for Web sites in 1994. Reach him at AdAge@netpost.com.

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