Marketers toy with new ways to keep eyes on site

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"Advertisers need to learn the line between messaging people and aggravating them." There are a lot of new ways popping up to present information on World Wide Web sites. While techniques such as pop-ups and interstitial ads have been used primarily by consumer-oriented sites so far, they have clear business-to-business applications for Web site managers looking to keep eyeballs on their sites and draw more revenue from those eyeballs.

"You're dealing with such a new medium it's a question of using technology to find out what works," says Todd Haedrich, Web technology analyst at Jupiter Communications, a New York market researcher.

However, "just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do it," says Evan Neufeld, a senior analyst-online advertising, for the same company.

Risks in using new tricks

There are risks in the new practices, he says.

"Advertisers need to learn the line between messaging people and aggravating them," he says.

Still, some of the biggest names in the online world have been trying the new techniques.

Netscape Communications Corp. recently began using pop-ups, which are mini Web pages delivered using JavaScript that pop up on top of the existing browser screen that allow visitors to see additional information, view ads or conduct searches while their main screen remains visible.

"We've designed a very streamlined home page, and when we need to get out extra information on products and services we give it to them in a pop-up," says Larry Jordan, manager of Netscape's Netcenter, a subscriber-driven feature of Netscape.

The number of Netcenter memberships rose 600,000, to 2.6 million in the month after the pop-ups went online, Mr. Jordan says.

GeoCities and Tripod, which offer free Web pages to consumers, started the trend last fall by adding pop-ups to users' pages.

The pop-up test

"We tried interstitials, we tried ads on members' pages, but we got the best response from pop-ups because they also include navigation aids for the rest of the site," says a spokesman for Tripod, Williamstown, Mass..

Recently The New York Times also began an experiment with pop-ups. The Times' pop-ups disappear in a few seconds and are linked to users' cookie files so they'll appear only once a day.

The new techniques can have editorial as well as marketing value.

When New York-based BusinessWire launched a redesign of its press release site Jan. 15 it added a pop-up that appears when someone clicks the word "search" on its Web page.

The idea was to save "screen real estate," says Michael Lissauer, VP-marketing.

There's another advantage, adds BusinessWire Webmaster Peter Karlson.

Reporters can leave the pop-up on their screen as they work, renewing the search for an upcoming press release every hour or on their editor's command.

Plus, there's room on that pop-up for a mini ad.

Another technique to increase the amount of information Web visitors see is interstitial ads, which pop up briefly on the screen while content pages load.

Interstitials remain the most popular at free game sites such as Berkeley Systems, where they're seen as a user's payment for playing.

The problem is they take a long time to load, says Sean Cafferky, president of the Professional Presence Network, an organization for Web developers based in Houston.

A full screen of graphics might take a 28.8 Kbps modem user 45 seconds to download, he says.

The interstitial comeback

Mr. Cafferky expects interstitials to make a comeback as phone companies and cable companies roll out faster access services. When consumers can access the Internet at 1 Mbps, the delays in loading graphics will disappear.

"It'll be more like TV in terms of speed," he says.

Some of the new techniques are aimed less at focusing attention on an advertiser's message and more at keeping them from leaving a site through a link.

The Year2000 site of Houston-based Tenagra Corp. uses an HTML command to deliver a new window when users click to a news story, rather than letting them leave the site.

"They're still on the site and if they want to read more of the stories we link to, they don't have to use the back button," says Cliff Kurtzman, president.

Mr. Cafferky has also seen a technique called frameless frames used to keep clicks from leading users away. "You tell any link to point to a frame" rather than just the target URL, he says.

"The location will still be the original URL," and while a savvy user could right-click on that frame to create a new window, most won't.

But frameless frames have a downside, he says. They annoy users as well as site managers, whose clicks are diminished, and most sites using the technique have abandoned it.

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