Cost-effective Net ads

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Advertising on the Internet has intrigued and baffled business-to-business marketers for years. While few have questioned the Internet's potential, concerns over its cost-effectiveness as an advertising medium, whether messages are reaching the right companies and whether sales can be tracked, continue to exist.

Now, Jay Schwedelson, co-founder of WebConnect, a Boca Raton, Fla., agency that specializes in media placement on the Net, is busy trying to prove that the era of cost-effective Net advertising and of verifiable results has arrived. Some of his clients, such as Computer Discount Warehouse, attest to his claim.

Susan Fischer, manager of electronic commerce marketing for the Vernon Hills, Ill., provider of computing solutions for businesses and consumers, says Computer Discount Warehouse has used WebConnect as an Internet advertising service for nearly two years. That has involved media planning, media negotiation and purchase, online tracking and "central serving'' for various Internet media.

For central serving, Computer Discount Warehouse sends WebConnect banners, text links and other ad units for Web sites. WebConnect deploys the ad units and tracks their impressions and click-throughs by source code. Then WebConnect gives Computer Discount Warehouse a report by site and source code, highlighting the best performers.

"WebConnect has been able to help us accelerate our revenue growth and brand awareness,'' Ms. Fischer says. "Its media research continuously opens new avenues and opportunities for CDW, and its central serving, customized reports and private URLs allow me to make informed decisions and still react very quickly . . . in virtual time.''

Open network

WebConnect places all forms of Internet advertisingÅ"banners, buttons, links, keywords, sponsorshipsÅ"onto sites throughout the Web, unlike competing services that limit themselves to a "network'' of sites. Typically, competitors like DoubleClick or 24/7 Media will handle the advertising interests of only a group of sites, Mr. Schwedelson says.

"These companies concentrate on bringing revenue to the sites they represent, as opposed to trying to help specific advertisers reach their target markets,'' he says. "WebConnect is an `open network,' which means that our only interest is servicing the advertiser and helping them reach that target market. We can place advertisers on any site that will help them reach the right audiences at the right time, including within these other `closed networks.' ''

Tailoring messages

WebConnect's appeal also lies within a variety of new services for its clients. CustomView, for instance, allows advertisers to tailor their campaigns for individual Internet users, anywhere on the Net.

Research has shown that after a Net user has seen the same advertisement three or four times, response to itÅ"clicks on the bannerÅ"decreases significantly, Mr. Schwedelson says.

CustomView is intended to prevent "banner fatigue'' by letting advertisers control the number of times an individual sees the same image by switching to an alternate graphic after a pre-determined number of visits.

This practice, called "frequency capping,'' is common in print media advertising, but CustomView marks the first time it's possible on the entire Internet, Mr. Schwedelson says.

"Because we service every single advertisement we place, we can change banners instantly, without having to go to each site every time we want to update an ad,'' he says. "CustomView allows advertisers to maximize their return on investment by creating individualized ad campaigns and testing the number of banner views per individual.''

Tracking results

WebConnect's clients are kept informed about their banner or other ad through the company's Impression-to-Click-to-Sale tracking system.

This system allows an advertiser to monitor every aspect of its Internet advertising, from impressions delivered to clicks received to the number of transactions generated, Mr. Schwedelson says.

Clients can call up an online statistic report that lists how many visitors are exposed to a banner for each site, analysis of advertising cost vs. number of click-throughs, and the action taken by the user after seeing the banner, as well as corresponding percentage of sales per impression.

In addition, the company recently introduced its Site Price Index, which tracks fluctuations in the cost of placing banner ads on more than 140 sites. Updated quarterly, the index provides the first quantifiable data on the cost of placing banner ads on the Net, according to WebConnect.

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