Dilemmas Abound with Internet Ads; Technological Advances Allow Viewers to Bypass Advertising Altogether

Article excerpt

From where I sit, surfing the Web day in and day out, Internet advertising ubiquitous. Banner ads are everywhere. Obviously, this must be a major generator of revenue for Web publishers.

Well, not really. According to a report released earlier this year by Jupiter Communications, about 600 Web sites have garnered about $71.7 million in advertising revenue, which sounds like a lot until you consider that it's a small fraction of the total amount spent on advertising in all media - print, TV, radio, etc.

Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, about two-thirds of that $71.7 million went to just 10 Web sites. And if you're the least bit Internet savvy, you can probably name most of them. In order, they are Netscape (http://home.netscape. com), infoSeek (http://www.infoseek. com), Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo.com), Lycos (http://www.lycos.com), Excite (http://www.excite.com), CNET (http:// www.cnet.com), ZD Net (http://www. zdnet.com), NewsPage (http://www. newspage.com), ESPNET SportsZone (http://www.espn.com), and WebCrawler (http://www.webcrawler.com).

Take a look at this list. What's the most obvious thing about it? Half of the sites generating the most advertising revenue are search engines (or hybrids, like the meta-index Yahoo!). The reason is no mystery. Despite the "channel surfing" metaphor from the world of the couch potato, the fact is that most folks who venture out onto the Web are looking for specific information.

What they are looking for is an interesting issue in and of itself. For a snapshot of the Web searching public in action, check out The Search Voyeur (http://voyeur.mckinley.com/voyeur.cgi), which features 20 actual, real-time searches being performed in McKinley's Magellan Web directory. If you are using a newer browser, the page will update itself automatically every 20 seconds. Be forwarned, however, that this is not an experience for the overly sensitive or easily offended.

Search engines provide a valuable service. Those of us who have been using the Web since its early days recall when there were no search engines and no indexes like Yahoo!. You simply hopped from link to link hoping to get lucky. Remember when Lycos, the first major search engine, made its initial appearance back in 1994 (an eon ago in Net time)? It was impossible to access the site a good part of the time due to its almost instantaneous popularity.

As information professionals, we know these Web search tools are far from perfect, although they keep improving over time. But for virtually everyone who ventures onto the Web with a specific quest and no real idea of where to start, a visit to a search page is a must. I personally know at least half a dozen people who have made Yahoo! the default home page for their browsers. The reason sites like this command the bulk of Internet advertising dollars is the same reason companies pay through the nose to advertise on the Super Bowl telecast.

And consider the effect that the TV remote control and VCRs have had on television advertising. These technological advances essentially permit viewers to bypass commercials entirely. If an ad is clever or interesting, the average couch potato might pause to watch it. If it's boring or annoying - Zap!

Web advertising banners are somewhat similar in this respect. The advertiser hopes you'll be intrigued enough to click on the banner and get the full commercial scoop. Advertising experts interviewed for an article in the October 23 issue of WebWeek (http:hwww.webweek.com) offered five tips for effective banner advertising on Web pages:

1. Put your banner at the top of the page. Banners down the sides don't do as well in terms of generating "click-through." 2. If possible, bracket important content between two banners. 3. Make banners big. "The more pixels, the more likely surfers are to click through." 4. Put banners on the home page, if possible. Banners on home pages generate more click-through than banners on ages deeper within a site. …