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The new Web ad strategy

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Until this month, Houston-based software developer DataCert Inc. launched all its new products, seminars and service offerings via e-mail, using both one-off promotions and a monthly e-mail newsletter. After doing some research, however, Jill Black, the company's director of marketing, realized the company, which markets to law firms and corporate counsels, was missing out by not including a Web advertising campaign.

After careful research, Black placed banner ads on two industry sites, Law.com and FindLaw.com. In addition to the five different animated ads the company is running on those two sites, it placed several print ads and sponsored a newsletter.

In advertising online, the company faced the questions of where to place the ads, how and when they should run, and what was the best way to get in front of potential customers. A decade ago, those answers were pretty basic, said Emily Riley, an analyst with Jupiter Research: place simple banner ads on industry-related sites. Today, the "where" and "how" components of the equation can change almost quarterly.

"Finally, people are able to apply traditional branding and direct response models to the Web," she said. "Originally, the Web was an experimental medium, and things were measured in impressions and clicks. Now, people can measure more deeply and can involve customers in much more rich experiences."

One such rich experience, Riley said, is placing banners or sponsorships on social media and marketing sites on the Web, such as blogs, podcasts and RSS feeds?environments that get prospects to share that content and your ad with other colleagues.

On the traditional side, marketers can succeed by purchasing placements outside a site's home page. For example, Brian Quinn, VP-sales and marketing at Dow Jones Online, the publisher of Marketwatch.com, WSJ.com and Barrons.com, said his clients are buying into special-section packages, taking advantage of behavioral targeting the company is able to offer.

One agency executive said some of her b-to-b clients are going even further from the traditional home page, advertising business services and products on b-to-c sites.

"We've actually advertised [for clients] on eBay or smaller sites that are owned by a person or a small group," said Terri Walter, senior account director with Avenue A|Razorfish. "For b-to-b it's very interesting. A lot of the sites we think will perform best are not always the most obvious choices."

When to buy seems to be a moot question, several analysts and advertisers said, because it's very rare?and almost counterproductive?to remove advertising from what's considered a critical piece of Web real estate.

"It used to be there were times of the year where advertisers would go dark, but we're not seeing that as much," said Tracy Hagan, associate publisher of CMP Inc.'s technology network TechWeb.com. "There's a lot more consistency. Yes, our clients are constantly optimizing their campaigns, but they want to be constantly cultivating leads and exposing prospects to their assets."

However, going dark a few hours each day by dayparting is a different story, said Michael Cassidy, president-CEO of online media network Undertone Networks. So is behavioral marketing, he said, which aims to present impressions to the same customer multiple times.

"With that kind of technology, we see five to 10 times the response," he said. "If someone sees an ad but doesn't click through on a banner, we can find that person later and serve them another ad. It all becomes a numbers game."

Still, he said, that same advertiser should be careful not to over-saturate a market or a customer. "Generally, if someone buys 100,000 impressions ? instead of trying to get in front of 10,000 people, we're going to try and get in front of as close to 100,000 people as we can," he said.

Once marketers know where to place ads, their online strategies rarely consist of a single-element purchase. Instead, Walter said, they're using integrated purchases that include a mix of banner ads, page and page-element sponsorships, and e-mail marketing. This allows them to gain better visibility with customers.

"The more integrated you are with a site itself, the more information you're bringing to customers, the more credibility you'll get," Walter said. "Plus by using multiple elements, you don't have to pay for a persistent presence."

While your own e-mail marketing program can be effective, sending a targeted message only to those who have seen your online ads is even more effective, one online publisher said.

MDLinx Inc., which maintains a network of 32 medical Web sites targeted at professionals in the field, has its advertising clients submit their e-mail marketing list after company executives sign a nondisclosure agreement. That list is compared to ad tracking information. Those targets on both lists receive a customized e-mail, said Sandra Jerez, MDLinx's chief strategy officer. "We provide new information about a product, but we're also creating top-of-mind marketing," she said.

CMP Inc.'s TechWeb.com network has also gone the customized route, Hagan said. Web ads link directly to CMP-created microsites that contain original content, interactive polls, video, webcasts and podcasts, among other collateral.

Ad purchases such as blog sponsorships, podcasts and microsites are best for those marketers looking to own the entire buying cycle, not necessarily just the lead generation portion, Walter said.

Finding those opportunities?at least those outside the major publishers?can take a little legwork, said Jupiter Research's Riley. "One way you can find a blog that works for your industry is contact Digg.com or Technorati," she said. "They can tell you which blogs rate your industry the highest."

Even evaluating the success of a campaign?the post-placement strategy?has morphed recently, said Dow Jones Online's Quinn. Click-throughs aren't as important as they once were, he said. "Post-impression analysis is important," he said. "Marketers are saying, `This person didn't click on my banner today, but they came to a site within a month. ?You'd be surprised at how many people are not obsessed with the short-term."

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