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How to make Web ads more effective

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"You want good, strong copy, a clear call to action and an emphasis on impact over design beauty." For World Wide Web advertisers, movement is in, bigger is better, and "click here" may be the two most powerful words in cyberspace.

For business advertisers, effective Web advertising translates to "fulfilling specific business needs in a direct and interesting manner," said Kate Margolese, VP-marketplace development at Cambridge, Mass.-based Nets, a provider of Internet-based business-to-business services, including Industry.net and Business Network.

Typically that means avoiding "loud, flashy colors or gyrating graphics" that might work well in a consumer ad, and sticking to basics, Ms. Margolese said.

"We've had the highest click-through rates and the highest targeted leads," said Ms. Margolese, "when the ad has been specific about business benefits."

GETTING PEOPLE TO ACT

Typically, the purpose of a Web banner ad, like a direct response ad, is to get people to act -- in the Web's case, to click on a banner and go to the advertiser's site. For that reason, Web advertising experts say a strong call to action and strong message are the most important elements of an effective banner.

Or, as Jim Savage, VP and general manager for Cambridge, Mass.-based ZD Net, says, "You want good, strong copy, a clear call to action and an emphasis on impact over design beauty."

Though it may seem obvious, simply adding "click here" to a banner ad can increase response rates twofold, said Scott Rabschnuk, a management supervisor at Anderson & Lembke, San Francisco.

ENTICING WORDS: `PRESS HERE'

"That's because a lot of users still need to know that it's a banner you don't just look at but take action with," he said.

Other enticing words? Try "press" or "enter," Web advertising experts say.

Boldly spelling out the action also can help boost response. For example, a Toshiba America banner ad for copiers combines a "click here" message with a bright red arrow directing users where to click on the ad.

The ad has averaged a 5.7% response on three search engine sites and AT&T's Business Network, said Michelle Rennert, project manager for Internet advertising agency Internet Outfitters, Santa Monica, Calif., which did the ad.

RAISING RESPONSE RATE

That compares with a 1% to 2% response rate that most Web advertisements draw, according to DoubleClick, a New York Internet advertising network company.

Other keys to raise banner response rates include the following:

  • Animation. This can improve response rates at least 30% to 40%, said ZD Net's Mr. Savage.

    The idea is not simply adding animation but incorporating it into the overall message.

    The most successful ad on ZD Net's site, for example, has been an animated one for ICon CMT Corp., which sells T-1 access. The ad initially pulled a 19% response rate and later averaged rates of 15% on ZD Net, CMP Media's TechWeb and NetworkWorld Fusion sites, said Hans Sydow, managing director of Anderson & Lembke, New York, which designed the ICon ad.

  • Color. The prevailing wisdom is to avoid nondescript colors like beige and gray that fade into the background. As to which colors are the most effective, most advertisers say the jury's still out.

    But a recent study of Web advertising from San Francisco-based Internet Profiles Corp. and DoubleClick reported that bold colors like green and yellow outperform black and white, said David Henderson, VP-North American sales for DoubleClick.

  • Web appeal. "Web audiences don't want to see a branding campaign if it has nothing to do with the Web," said Matthew Lindley, ZD Net creative director of advertising. "If it's a free download, that's appealing," he said. "If it's a free newsletter sent to you, it doesn't have the same impact."

  • Interaction. "We want people to interact with the ads," said John Nardone, director of media and research for Modem Media, Westport, Conn. "If you tell, they forget; if you show, they remember," he said. For example, Modem Media ran a Summer Olympics campaign for AT&T that let people view ads showing images from the Olympics without having to leave the site the ad was placed on.

  • Size. Although banners are standardizing around 468-by-60 pixels, larger banners draw a higher response, Mr. Nardone said. The trade-off, though, is higher cost. Some agencies are also beginning to experiment with shapes.

  • Testing. The rule is test, test and test again, advertisers say. It's easy and inexpensive to test banner ads and see which creative works best on which site.

  • Banner burnout. The life span of a banner is short. Response rates can drop by one-half from the second to third time someone sees an ad, said DoubleClick's Mr. Henderson. To get around this, advertisers should rotate banners and quickly remove bad performers.

  • Location. As important, if not more so than the creative, is the ad's location. The key, as Mr. Nardone puts it, is, "Are the right people seeing it? If you're an online brokerage service, you want to be in financial sites, not entertainment sites."

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