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Web ad networks give marketers a new option

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Email from Net Marketing reader In the short history of Web advertising, the development of the Web network may go down as one of the most useful and least understood innovations.

Web networks promise to give marketers a fast and easy way to plan an Internet ad buy. By combining dozens or even thousands of sites in a convenient, flexible package, these networks claim they can reduce the amount of time spent planning, negotiating and tracking ad performance.

Several networks have sprung up in the past year, ranging from DoubleClick to WebConnect.

While each one has its own bells and whistles, the concept and functioning of a network is simple: A group of Web sites sign up with the network. The network is responsible for selling banner space and in return keeps a royalty.

SEAMLESS PROCESS

A simple line of HTML code on a participating site's pages directs the browser to the banner graphic. Banners are served up by the network, and the sites continue to serve up their own pages. The process is seamless to the end user.

"Using a network allowed us to know how specific banners were doing and make changes on a day-to-day basis," said James Cote of Cambridge Technologies, which used one network, WebConnect, on a recent campaign.

Web networks are not the same as Web rep firms, such as Softbank Interactive Marketing's Interactive Media Sales, which can combine sites into a package buy but more often sell ads for individual sites.

Which network to use? It depends on a marketer's goals. Here's a look at how each of them works:

DOUBLECLICK NETWORK

Although DoubleClick offers only 60 sites on its network, it has more options to target end users, including site category, Internet service provider and SIC industry classification code of company and geographic location.

Peter Meluso, media director of i-traffic, a Web media planning company in New York, recently used DoubleClick to target Web users in four specific metropolitan areas by delivering ads to users that came from the corresponding area codes.

"We believe that if we bought a local city Web site we would get a lot of people that just wanted information on the city and not people that actually lived in the area," he said.

DoubleClick gets most of its geographic information from a user's IP address and domain name. Additional information, such as operating system and browser type, comes directly from the end user. DoubleClick uses Netscape cookie technology to determine visitor frequency and how many times a user has seen an ad.

According to DoubleClick, limiting exposure can dramatically increase click rates.

"After four impressions you are wasting your money," said company CEO Kevin O'Connor.

COMMONWEALTH

The Commonwealth network contains thousands of smaller, emerging sites.

"We support Web sites that are the personal creations of artists and writers," said Greg Stuart, who until last month was exec VP-marketing for the Commonwealth, a unit of Interactive Imaginations, New York. "Most of these sites would not be able to get advertising on their own, and ad agencies would have a hard time keeping track of and contacting most of them."

Commonwealth has 20 separate channels of content, including music, sports and health.

Quaker Oats Co.'s Snapple recently used the network, selecting hundreds of sites that would best fit into the Snapple campaign. After the first week, sites that were performing poorly, as measured by click rates, were replaced with sites that were bringing higher rates.

One drawback to the Commonwealth concept: Many of the sites are so small that they don't get a lot of traffic. Marketers looking for mass exposure won't find it here, but those wanting to target a specific demographic slice would do well.

WEBCONNECT

WebConnect from Worldata allows advertisers to select sites by content modeled after SRDS categories.

"Our job is to bring targeted users to the advertiser; we are not waiting around for all the psychographical data of every user to be available," said Roy Schwedelson, president of WebConnect.

For example, if an advertiser wants to reach golfers, the WebConnect network has more than 30 golf sites to choose from. An advertiser could select all 30 and "move impressions around to the sites that are scoring higher on a daily basis," Mr. Schwedelson said.

OTHER NETWORKS

Other networks include Burst! and the Media Express Network.

The Burst Network, with 625 sites, has 32 different subject categories.

"We are very strong in travel, computers and technology and are adding additional sites each week that will help us cover every special interest or hobby that is represented on the Web," said Jarvis Coffin, president of Burst. A unique feature of Burst is its ability to allow member sites to increase traffic by trading links with other sites on the network.

Another site, Media Express, is made up of more than 100 local and alternative newspapers. Advertisers such as Bell Atlantic and Nabisco have used Media Express to target specific geographic areas.

Media Express also offers a feature that it calls "contextual targeting," which allows advertisers to select the editorial section where they want their ad to run.

One feature all the networks have in common: good reporting. All provide advertisers with information that includes click rates so banner effectiveness can be measured usually online and in real time.

TRACKING THE BUY

i-traffic's Mr. Meluso said tracking allowed him to "see how the buy was doing on a day-by-day basis including impressions and click rates. We were not only able to report back to the client, but to make changes and prepare for the next buy."

Ad pricing increases as more targeting takes place, but at a cost-per-thousand ranging from $12 to $70, networks are still competitive with super sites.

"It takes some of the guesswork out of selecting sites," said Sarah Kim, account executive with Blue Marble Advanced Communications Group, New York. "The ability to target your message and then get reports makes it easier and in many cases more effective than selecting sites one at a time."

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