BtoB

Essential rules for banner buying

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Your site can make money on the Internet. You can even make money advertising with banner ads. You just have to know the new rules. I first heard these rules from the founder of a consumer site, Randy Conrads of Classmates.com, Seattle. Then I called Daren Hillebrandt, executive director of strategy marketing for Mailboxes Etc. Inc., San Diego, who said they're now common in the b-to-b market as well.

• Forget book rates. Every site posts a book of rates. But the average site fails to sell 75% of its available space. And banner space is like an airline seat—once it flies, it's gone. Hillebrandt said MBE uses a professional media buyer and typically pays less than book rate. If you don't have the heart for hard dealing, find someone who does.

Also remember, you can bargain on more than price. "We've been able to negotiate good positioning," Hillebrandt said, "[securing] additional locations and maybe higher placement, staying above the fold rather than below the fold. Some sites have been willing to offer content sponsorships as an added value." Also, remember that with cash being king, you might get more months on the contract if you buy up-front, Hillebrandt said.

• Know your goal. Is the goal of your ad a sale, a completed registration form or a qualified lead? Until you know what you need, you can't measure your success against something real. MBE is looking to sell franchises, so Hillebrandt measures click-through rates and requests for information. A click-through might lead to a request page at the advertiser's site or at MBE's own.

• Don't pay a lot for design. A banner is, at most, a 15-kilobyte file. Newer button formats approved by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (formerly the Internet Advertising Bureau) in March can be as small as 2 kilobytes—no bigger than your logo. So why spend big money on banner design? Hillebrandt had his ad agency do an initial design, and then he took the work in-house. "You don't need interesting creative in the right place."

• Don't pay for targeting. Prices for targeted rates start at book rates and go up. If you're already buying remnant space and refusing to pay book prices, why are you even thinking of paying extra for targeting? Hillebrandt targets by site, choosing to buy only at sites that attract potential franchisees. Targeted sites, he said, don't cost any more than others.

"We had one gal here, in addition to our ad agency, who spent hours just combing for the best locations," he said. He also found sub-sites, the franchising channels of USAToday.com and Entrepreneur.com, to be good targets.

• Measure relentlessly and cancel ruthlessly. Once you know what your ads are supposed to do, measure each buy against that goal, and cancel those contracts that don't measure up. "We've advertised on 30 to 40 sites," said Hillebrandt, who often starts with a four-week test. "If we're not generating leads from where we are, we might get new sites." p> Follow the rules, and you can win in this buyer's market for Internet advertising.

Dana Blankenhorn is a free-lance journalist who specializes in Internet issues. He is publisher of the Web site www.a-clue.com.

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