Pressure's on Web portals

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Advertisers aren't too happy with the performance of huge ad and promotion deals with Web portals. Here's the solution: Ditch the megadeals, look at portals as a place for carefully targeted ads and promotions -- and hammer portals to deliver results.

Jupiter Communications' new portal study, which Advertising Age reported on last week, shows advertisers' dissatisfaction with key aspects of portal promotions. The same study illustrates how consumers increasingly are bypassing portals' shopping sections and going directly to merchants' sites.

For a time, advertisers -- both dot-com and traditional -- seemed to be competing to see who could do the biggest, broadest promotional deal with a portal. The logic: Portals such as Yahoo!, America Online and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN had the eyeballs, and portals could deliver their loyal users to the big sponsors' sites.

But this too often has failed to happen. Portals have become so big -- Yahoo! is the Mall of America of portals -- that a marketer's mere presence inside a portal is no guaranty that consumers will find or respond to a promotion.

And secondary portals -- outfits such as AltaVista, Walt Disney Co.'s Go and Lycos -- offer, somewhat like weak regional malls, limited appeal for either consumers or advertisers.

The result, Jupiter says, is that portal sponsors will be pressing for shorter, more limited deals. But Jupiter analyst Michele Slack's other point is important:

Advertisers may want to skip the broad portal deals and steer their money into targeted buys -- specialty sites, plus those sections inside a portal that deliver the right audience.

Sweeping portal deals are simple in concept. But they simply don't make sense unless they produce results for advertisers.

Advertisers should push portals hard and press to tie compensation to performance. If portals have a purpose, they had better perform.

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