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Evolving to Revolving Banner Ads          Print the current page
by Brian D. Chmielewski

It's been a waxing trend of savvy marketers to install affiliate banners in place of unused banner inventory. Using this strategy, sites are earning revenue based on impression, click-though, action, or sale rather than over-delivering on advertiser's banners or priming audiences with self-promotional ad bar messages. Incentive banner brokers such as Safe Market and CyberBounty are two wonderful resources that Webmasters should join for refreshing their web site's earning capacity from banners. Each of these sites is home to some of the Web's best pay-outs for banners and they allow even the smallest of sites with low traffic counts to join. With their proprietary delivery infrastructure, both sites provide statistical data on cumulative and individual banner performance, tips for placement and location and earning capacity.

Adding a banner to your web site is as simple as uploading a graphic. There are thousands of sites on the Internet that host dozens of banners on a single page that scrolls. This is fine for web sites who's aim is to click-farm - the practice of placing clusters of per-click, per-action or per-purchase pay-out banners on a single page - in hopes of generating revenue. This strategy can earn respectable revenue in the proper setting and with the proper traffic. To make more substantial income by supporting advertising, web sites need to support ad server technology that offers effortless tracking and implementation procedures for the site owner, accurate and understandable reporting for the advertiser and an aesthetically pleasing page layout for the visitor.

I. Auditing your site for advertising
Prior to researching ad server technology, a web site owner must be realistic about the potential for meeting an advertiser's expectations. Advertisers want traffic - targeted traffic and a lot of it. Do you know the demographic breakdown of your web audience? How will you market it to potential advertisers? While every web site draws a demographic that some advertiser will probably want to reach with their message, sites with more narrowly defined demographics are more viable. Likewise, the more populated this demographic, the more responsive advertisers anticipate your advertising opportunity to be. Few advertisers will deal with low traffic sites because the time and effort spent buying advertising is not justified by return on investment. If your site has fewer than 10,000 visitors per month, it is unlikely to draw advertisers. Be persistent in building your most targeted audience. It can eventually pay off.

Content is King
Many next generation online business models centralize around the concept of supplying valuable content to drive initial and repeat traffic to a web site. It's been proven that supplying valuable content is key to building long-term relationships that have a higher probability of converting to sales. Once a site knows its audience composition, it can become a resource by supplying information that simplifies their lives and enriches their core competency. The web site becomes a natural resource for them. What content does your web site offer? Will advertisers be interested in sponsoring that content? A web site's content and its visitor demographics are integral to advertisers, but if forced to choose between the two, advertisers will opt for sites with themes that blend with their advertising message. Keep in mind that some advertisers also avoid controversy or offensive content.

II. Organizing your site for advertising
Design is Queen
Most sites are not designed with paid advertising in mind, so dedicated space is not assigned for the traditional banner's 468 x 60 pixel real estate. Since this is still the accepted standard, most advertisers will already have banner creative matching these dimensions. Advertisers expect banner ad placement at the top of the page, so pages allotting the proper area for the standard banner creative are suiting advertiser's needs. There are other acceptable ad bar sizes and shapes, but none still quite as popular at the 468 x 60 pixel banner. Remember this, advertisers avoid poorly designed pages that don't give prominence to their advertising message or meet their aesthetic expectations. Without a professional appeal, you will not reap your e-commercial potential. You may also want to develop a relationship with a banner designer to offer that value-added service to advertisers that visit your site. Companies like BannerNetworks and GW Design make effective animated banners at reasonable prices.

Serve or be Served
Site owners must decide if they will build or purchase an ad server or if they will use a third party network or broker to serve the banner ads. In the case of third party serving, sites simply insert assigned unique HTML code into the pages to display the banner. This code loads the ads from the broker's server. For more versatility, site owners many site owners elect to rotate banners. This allows multiple advertisers to target the traffic on a single page from the same precious top-of-the-page point. Rotating banners being retrieved from numerous sources requires software that can handle rotating the different codes. Since this software typically operates from cgi script, free or low-cost sites on AOL, GeoCities, Tripod and others will not be able to participate. As mentioned earlier, software with a user-friendly interface for uploading banners or HTML code and that offers complete and concise reporting is well worth the money.

Many large web sites rely on outside firms to sell their ad space, serve ad bars and provide reporting. Companies like Burst, DoubleClick and Softbank Interactive are not cheap, but they allow Web-based businesses to concentrate on building their business while offering industry-leading support. These companies ask for high CPM rates, so criteria for becoming a member of their networks caters to rooted sites with heavy traffic influxes. Other ad networks, like FlyCast and AdAuction may generate low CPM rate for a much larger portion of your inventory, but they also have guidelines for membership. Putting some combination of these two models to work for your site will allow you to balance your commitment to either and since it's difficult to predict which will perform the best for your business, this approach let's you play it safe.

Should you agree to an "exclusive" representation agreement? Probably not. These arrangements exist for rep firms to act as exclusive agent for you. Using exclusive agents contradicts a web site's aim to make revenue from space regardless of its origin. Wouldn't it be better to have many sources helping your site sell advertising? If you choose to sign an exclusivity contract for an ad broker, limit the duration of the arrangement and reserve the right to accept other types of advertising, such as commission-based or click-through advertising, to fill your unsold inventory.

The best method for comparing the different networks that you encounter is to review the roster of sites being represented by each network. Contact these sites and ask how the brokers service stacked up. Selling web advertising, like selling anything else, requires effort and time. If your site doesn't describe how you can help an advertiser make money, don't expect a third party to be able to do this for you.

The best proof for your pricing structure comes from results. The more traffic or higher the click-through rate a banner receives on your site, the more likely that you will get word-of-mouth referrals and repeat business. This, in turn, can lead to increased traffic, increased CPM rates and increased advertisers. Remember this, unless you can rapidly compile content, tap into strategic alliances and blast millions of dollars into advertising your site, there is no quick solution to building a banner advertising empire from your web site. If you concentrate on providing value to your customers, you will set yourself apart from your competitors and thrive. Don't just sell products and services. Sell solutions.