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SearchTHIS: Overture Gets Local Right

SearchTHIS: Overture Gets Local Right Kevin Ryan

Remember one of the original promises of the World Wide Web? "Local relevant content for all," went the mantra. Until now, marketers and users alike have been forced to live with search content and local information at odds with one another. Like a collected group of "B" movies with cult-like user loyalties, local information and search providers had yet to meet the needs of its constituency in a truly efficient manner.

Local search is said to be worth billions of dollars, yet for a lot of good reasons, local content providers have yet to crack the local code. For the past year, we have watched Internet yellow pages struggle with an identity crisis and search engines catch and release local marketing tools in beta tests, while users get left in the lurch looking for plumbers, lawyers, restaurants and dentists online.

This week, Overture releases Local Match, its second iteration of local search and probably the smartest approach to serving up local content to date. Overture's product seems to be the first of its kind that keeps both users and advertisers in mind while intuitively addressing some of the biggest problems with local search.

What's wrong with local?

For the most part, the notion of applying local dynamics to some type of directional online experience conjures up nasty images. Search providers are competing with Internet yellow pages directories and local destinations or city guides, all trying to create the ultimate local experience but ultimately forming a congealing mass of quasi discernable geographically germane information.

Where can I find a video store with a copy of "Clash of the Titans?" Does my local convenience store carry Nails brand cigarettes? Is there a diner nearby with cheap artwork for sale? Can I use my American Express card at the video store, corner shop and diner? Will they be open when I get there?

Advertisers in Internet yellow pages buy ads that show up in search results where they may or may not have locations, because that's how the former regional bell operating company autocrats designed the ad units. It was a great idea for generating ad revenue but not the best local experience for users. In the absence of accurate data, the national ad seems like a good idea, though.

The user interface for most Internet yellow pages is a bit cumbersome as well. I like to call it the "search, search and search again" tool. User identifies location, guesses at category and then launches the search. Then, user refines the category search. You see, one can never just search for a "hotel" in New York because there are nine categories for "hotels" and you have to pick one before searching again for the result.

Search engines aren't much better. Targeting local searchers in paid listings means assembling an enormous keyword list of keywords, titles and descriptions, and/or applying some level of match technology to a brand name or generic keyword to pick up geographic combinations. In the latter instance, the user is faced once again with the yellow pages problem. Maybe the search result is locally relevant, maybe it isn't.

Of course, it would seem trying to turn an Internet yellow pages into a pay-per-click search engine would be a good idea, right? Verizon tried it earlier this year and replaced the flat fee for ad unit model with a pay-per-click bidding environment. The preferred method -- by phone number -- for many users to respond to an Internet yellow pages ad is now harder to find. All you have to do to update a bid is call it in, relying on the friendly operator to put your ad in the right position. Said process is sadly reminiscent of a used car salesman's tactic of "just sign the contract and I'll fill in the numbers later." While pay-per-call models are currently being tested and released on a limited basis, clearly the pay-per-click migration for online yellow pages is in need of refinement.

Breaking local search paradigms

How does Overture's latest effort break the barriers created by existing local search evils? It's a pay-per-click model that works within the existing Overture advertiser system. It allows businesses without Web sites the ability to advertise in pay-per-click. Location-based paid listings are provided by either a user designation or the "cookie remember me" function.

In short, Overture has solved many of the troublesome issues of local search for both advertisers and users with easy access to maps and the ability to provide critical business information such as hours of operation, methods of payment and specific services offered.

Here's a breakdown of the new local experience.

Integration and representation -- The first question advertisers will ask is, "Can I just move my existing program into a local environment?" Well, yes and no. You can import terms from your existing Overture paid listing program and use keyword suggestion tools, but the ad format is a bit different. Local Match advertisers must have a physical location. A jewel in the crown of this new program is the ability to upload massive amounts of existing location data as quickly as one would upload a paid inclusion feed though advertisers will not be able to modify terms or bids by location. National advertisers with hundreds or thousands of local sales channel listings will be provided in a snap, assuming of course said advertisers are in possession of stated location specific data.

Relevance and user experience -- The real beauty of search engine local models is the absence of the cumbersome search, search and search again interface. A user simply enters a keyword and location and search results are delivered in one step. The advertiser's address provides the listing and description messaging is used to promote the location. Though much of the user interaction will be determined by how Overture's partners integrate the local search functionality, since user location is either pre-determined or self-designated, advertisers will need a physical location. Great news for local businesses, not the best news for virtual businesses -- but seriously, how annoying would it be to get virtual plumber listings when doing a local search?

Advertiser and user symbiosis -- URL inclusion is optional, providing the truly small business that has no time, desire, funds or perceived need to launch a Web site, with the opportunity to advertise. I love my dry cleaner, but I really don't think I would spend a whole lot of time at his Web site. At the same time, I am sure my dry cleaner wouldn't care to spend the time normally assigned to locating my lost articles each week writing titles and descriptions for his search ad. In the Overture model, he won't have to, since the title is automatically created as a business name or business name combined with the geography.

Internet yellow pages tend to deliver ad units in order of amount invested, while relevance is determined by user category selection (search, search, then search again) in the guessing game format. Overture's model offers listings with the bid amount first, followed by location, and lastly, seniority. This model will ultimately allow an easier user interface with a better advertiser experience.

Local search utopia

Overture's local search will be released here in the United States on primary syndication partners like MSN and Overture parent Yahoo! yellow pages,  along with other local areas and relevant locations within InfoSpace, to name a few. All of these sites have yellow pages areas, populated with local or national advertisers, which raises an important question. Are we witnessing the end of online yellow pages?

MSN, for example, already has search clutter with multiple paid search listing sources beside crawler-based listings. Now, the Verizon-provided yellow pages listings will be competing with local listings, which users might perceive as more clutter. Clutter, as we have come to know, is the kiss of death for search listings.

Overture doesn't see the two areas in competition. Geoff Stevens, general manager, Overture Local, says, "Local Match is designed to complement existing yellow pages content areas."

The Local Match program may have been designed to complement, but as with any other new ad format or technology, users will decide whether yellow pages or Local Match is better with their click-and-call behavior. My money is on the Overture model, but its ultimate success in overtaking the yellow pages will depend on being able to provide much needed accurate data on a large scale.

iMedia search columnist Kevin Ryan's current and former client roster reads like a "who's who" in big brands: Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization and several regional non-profit organizations. Meet Kevin Ryan at Ad:Tech July 12-13, 2004.

Name of targeting product:
MediaSpan Network

What types of local properties do you work with, and in what size markets?
MediaSpan works with local radio stations, newspapers, television stations and alternative newsweeklies in nearly 300 U.S. markets. MediaSpan has partners in market one, market 201 and everything in between. MediaSpan has more than 100 properties in the top 25 U.S. markets, and more than 200 in the top 50 U.S. markets.

What types of targeting can you do beyond geo?
MediaSpan not only delivers a local audience, it delivers the exact audience an advertiser demands through additional layers of targeting, including targeting by:

  • Character ClusterTM : Because MediaSpan works with multiple types of media in a market, campaigns can be targeted to specific local affinity groups that frequent similar types of local media sites. For example, video game advertisers can reach 18- to 35-year-old gamers through our "Alternative Nation" cluster of the top modern rock radio and alternative newsweekly websites in a market. MediaSpan has about a dozen pre-formatted clusters, and advertisers can also create their own on the fly.

  • Daypart: Ads can be delivered during peak surfing times appropriate per specific types of advertisers-- fast food during lunch, full service restaurants at 5 p.m., et cetera.

  • Context/Content: Ads can be delivered to specific sections of the local media site, such as weather, autos, et cetera.

What types of special advertising products or campaigns can you produce for advertisers?
MediaSpan can do everything from integrated content sponsorships to full-fledged syndicated advertorial programs. Currently MediaSpan is promoting its exclusive series of Fan Frenzy sports contests, which allow advertisers to brand College Hoops Tourney, Pro Football, Auto Racing and College Bowl online sports pick challenges that are distributed in more than 100 markets and include nearly 200,000 players.

What types of ad units do you sell?
MediaSpan sells all standard IAB ad units, as well as most rich media formats, audio streams, pre-roll video and email sponsorships.

What benefits can you deliver the properties you work with?
MediaSpan delivers its 1,200 local media partners access to new, national revenue that they have never been able to tap before. Right now, more than 70 percent of online ad revenue is generated by only 10 properties. Local online media sites need to get above the radar with national advertisers or be overshadowed by the "big guys." MediaSpan's goal is to elevate its local media partners to a national marketing audience. Additionally, the financial benefits of being a MediaSpan local partner are more than one-dimensional-- it is a two-way relationship. MediaSpan is the only network to actually pay our affiliate partners commissions for referring deals to MediaSpan.

What types of advertisers do you work with?
Our drive is to help national advertisers reach a local target audience with specific geo-based messages or offers. Just a few of the segments that MediaSpan has been able to help in this respect have been local recruitment, travel (airline/car rental), financial services (local banking), media services (cable/broadband), consumer packaged goods, (regional product roll-outs) and quick-service restaurants. Basically, national brands that tailor messages and deliver their products to local markets.

How do advertisers know where their ads are showing up?
Every one of its local sites is a leading local media property that has a premium reputation (and in some cases an FCC license) to nurture and protect online. MediaSpan is totally transparent--  there are no "mystery sites," and no questionable content. Furthermore every RFP and delivery report that MediaSpan generates designates the sites where an advertiser's campaign will run and when. Advertisers have total flexibility before and during a campaign to include or exclude any of our 1,200 local affiliate partner websites. The advertiser has a clear picture of exactly where their ads are showing up.

How can you slice up your network?
MediaSpan can deliver advertiser messages to a single locality, DMA, state or region. Additionally, through our exclusive Character Clusters, MediaSpan can specify different types of media that appeal to different demos in each market. Urban radio stations in the southeast, news television stations in the northwest, et cetera. One ad buy, one thousand options.

How does MediaSpan differ from competitors?
(Answers provided by Mark S. Zagorski, MediaSpan's chief marketing officer)

  1. MediaSpan is the only local multimedia network. MediaSpan works with local radio, newspaper, television and alternative newsweekly sites. By doing so, MediaSpan provides advertisers with more flexibility in their targeting and delivery than "single media" local networks.

  2. Multimedia also applies to the ad types MediaSpan supports. MediaSpan can deliver advertisers display ads, pre-roll video, audio streams and email sponsorships.

  3. MediaSpan provides multiple types of relationship models for our affiliate partners that can meet the needs of any size market. From guaranteed revenue models to variable rep relationships, our flexibility has allowed MediaSpan to grow more rapidly than any local network.

  4. MediaSpan is non-exclusive with our local partners.

  5. MediaSpan is the only local network to provide commissions to our affiliate partners for referring business to us, thereby allowing affiliates to "double dip" to generate even more revenue.

Name of local targeting product:
Real Cities is made up of more than 130 local newspaper sites, providing national advertisers with a means to target and reach local markets and the quality online demographics provided by local newspaper.com sites. Real Cities eliminates the advertiser's need to contact individual newspaper sites directly. Real Cities provides advertisers with a single point of contact to buy, implement and manage an advertiser campaign locally, regionally or nationally.

What types of local properties do you work with, and in what size markets?
Real Cities works with local newspaper sites. They represent sites in top markets like New York, Chicago, Miami, the Bay Area and Dallas, just to name a few. The complete list is here.

What level of targeting can you do beyond geo?
Real Cities can get as specific as ZIP code.

What types of special advertising "products" or unique campaigns can you get for advertisers? 
Real Cities provides targeted mail products, including newsletter and advertiser exclusive email solutions, podcasts, video, blogs and sponsorship packages (unique opportunities for advertisers in addition to rotational media).

What types of ad units do you sell?
Real Cities supports all rich media formats, including expandables, and interactive ad units such as PointRoll's PaperBoy ad unit and DoubleClick's SmartMedia ad unit that takes an advertisers Sunday circular and puts it online. Real Cities supports IAB standard units.

What benefits can you deliver the properties that you work with?
The key benefit Real Cities provides local newspaper.com sites is access to national ad dollars they would not otherwise see, and increased utilization of their ad inventory. Real Cities is an additional revenue stream for its properties in addition to helping them expand their national sales reach. Real Cities also provides its affiliates/members a forum to share ideas with other local sites and the opportunity to participate in unique integrated advertising programs.

What types of advertisers do you work with? 
Real Cities works with a broad range of advertisers across many categories: auto (Volvo, Ford, Lexus, Nissan), financial (AMEX, Wachovia, Visa), mobile/telcom (Verizon, AT&T, Cingular), travel (American Airlines, Jet Blue, Marriott) and retail (Walgreens, Target), just to name a few.

How do advertisers know where their ads are showing up?
Real Cities tracks all campaigns and provide reporting on delivery and screen shots showing placements.

How can you slice up your network?
By site, by market, by region, by DMA or by ZIP code.

How does Real Cities differ from its competitors?
"Our ability to provide beyond the banner opportunities and unique sponsorship packages to advertisers," says David Fitzpatrick, vice president of national sales for Real Cities.

Name of local targeting product:
Local targeting isn't just a product for us; it's what we do. http://www.ibsys.com/index.html

What types of local properties do you work with, and in what size markets? 
Internet Broadcasting (IB) works with top TV stations in more than 80 markets, including the top 25 Designated Market Areas. Because IB publishes most of these sites, they are able to provide uniform advertising programs, including custom placements, content and sponsorships across its nationwide network.

What level of targeting can you do beyond geo? 
IB can provide contextual targeting and behavioral targeting nationally or even within specific markets.

What types of special advertising "products" or unique campaigns can you get for advertisers?   
Custom content modules allow advertisers to integrate more seamlessly into key channels. They are advertorial pieces within the page that go beyond IAB standard adjacencies. IB also creates brand immersion opportunities, like the Weather Wrapper skin. Video vignettes have become more popular, and IB uses its in-house production studio to work with advertisers on custom online and on-air pieces. Convergent programs that include branded on-air promotion and online integration have become increasingly popular as advertisers look to leverage the halo effect of local, trusted brands.

What types of ad units do you sell?   
Video in the form of custom vignettes (on-air and online) and 15-second pre-roll. Homepage push down units that run on key dates. IAB standard units (728x90, 300x250, 160x600). IB accepts flash and rich media.

What benefits can you deliver the properties that you work with?   
IB is able to leverage our nationwide network to provide each individual site with access to national advertising revenue they may not normally have. IB also make it easy for our partners with our ad serving capabilities, in-house production studios, full creative team and advertising support team.

What types of advertisers do you work with?
Major national brands across many key categories including automotive, insurance, banking, travel and consumer packaged goods.

How do advertisers know where their ads are showing up?
The entire IB network is served through DoubleClick's DART ad serving system. Advertisers can easily find out current campaign statistics and optimize accordingly.

How can you slice up your network?
IB can sell the entire network, region, or individual markets-- down to one vertical lifestyle channel (e.g., health) on one local site in a single market. This level of targeting benefits both local and national advertisers looking for efficiency and laser targeting in their campaigns.

How do you differ from your competitors?
"IB provides a bumper to bumper solution. Rather than reaching out to markets individually, IB is a one-stop shop for national advertisers looking to reach consumers on a local level-- via the web. What really sets us apart is we actually build, design, host, research and market the properties in our network. Because of this, we have an unparalleled knowledge of our audience and their online habits," says Paul Bremer, IB's EVP of national advertising sales. "We use this to create the most optimal programs for our advertisers. Additionally, because we publish the sites, we're able to offer a lot more than the standard IAB ad unit. We can create custom content, pages, video vignettes and other brand immersion opportunities that reach our audience in the most impactful ways."

Name of local targeting product:
Local Media Network (LMN) (www.localmedianetwork.com)

What types of local properties do you work with, and in what size markets?
LMN works with local TV stations primarily, but has expanded into newspapers, cable systems and other local media companies that use internet technology, such as content management systems, video solutions and/or auto classifieds products. LMN also has relationships with local media companies that simply want to be part of the LMN network. LMN has more than 180 sites in its network and covers more than 85 percent of the United States. Its media partners cover markets one to 200.

What level of targeting can you do beyond geo?
In addition to Designated Market Areas/site/ZIP code targeting, LMN offers content/site section targeting, behavioral targeting and dayparting, as well as run of network.

What types of special advertising "products" or unique campaigns can you get for advertisers?
Its local media partners are the largest producers of local news text and video content. These stories are managed by news directors in the market, so the content is extremely relevant to the community. LMN offers banner advertising adjacent to this content as well as significant pre-roll opportunities.

Since LMN hosts most of its local sites, LMN is also in a position to offer advertisers unique content sponsorship and integration opportunities. LMN has a national content team that centrally produces and publishes national stories, as well as sponsor content and sweepstakes, across more than 120 local news websites.

In addition, this year LMN will be producing national lifestyle video channels that will be available for sponsors.

What types of ad units do you sell?
LMN offers IAB standard units, video, rich media, content sponsorships and custom content integration. In addition, LMN provides advertising in 400,000 daily emails that consumers opt-in to receive. This includes news, weather and traffic updates. Mobile advertising is in development and will be launched soon.

What benefits can you deliver the properties that you work with?
LMN brings them national advertisers which would not have the staffing to contact each station individually. Its sales organization provides the quick turnaround that agencies demand, and stewardship/performance and maintenance that would be difficult for a local team to manage. LMN also centrally serves and administers all advertising and incurs all additional costs to maintain client relationships. LMN manage the entire process from presales to campaign launch and optimization.

What types of advertisers do you work with?
Pharmaceutical, travel and tourism, auto, financial, retail, insurance, consumer packaged goods, restaurants, telecommunications, consumer electronics, home furnishings, entertainment, as well as online classifieds.

How do advertisers know where their ads are showing up?
LMN is transparent, providing an updated list for the advertisers who run across the network and for those who are looking for specific regions or markets they pick from a list.

How can you slice up your network?
Any way the advertiser wants. You can buy LMN nationally, regionally, market-by-market or by site.

How do you differ from your competitors?
"Our relationships with our local media partners go beyond a simple rep agreement. In fact LMN hosts over 75 percent of the sites in our network and serves all the advertising centrally through LMN. Local media companies also use our content management system, video technology and auto classifieds solutions to power their sites, further enforcing our relationship. Therefore LMN is on the publisher side, and owns the majority of the ad inventory LMN offer to the marketplace. Local buying services, such as Centro, or rep firms have to secure inventory from us. In addition, LMN enables marketers to run national campaigns across the entire network (RON) while also allowing them to target specific creative to individual markets should they have geo-specific goals. LMN can therefore be considered for both national and local ad buys," says Allison Bodenmann, EVP national sales for LMN. "Unlike specific broadcast networks such as NBC who are restricted to offering advertisers their local stations, LMN's network comprises affiliates of all networks be they ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox."

Note: Centro is another company that is recognized for its local targeting. However, it is not really a local ad network but rather is an intermediary between agencies, clients and local websites. Centro obtains the local inventory necessary to fulfill advertiser campaign requirements, as well as provides client with advice and council on how to run effective campaigns.

Name of local targeting product:
The Centro MMS

What types of local properties do you work with, and in what size markets?
Nearly 2,000 of them in nearly every local media property in the country.

What level of targeting can you do beyond geo?
Centro builds plans that take all other standard kinds of IAB-approved targeting into account.

What types of special advertising "products" or unique campaigns can you get for advertisers?  
Centro says it is the only company in the business that can create and execute homepage takeovers in every market on the local outlet.

What types of ad units do you sell?  
Centro sells every IAB-approved unit that its media partners can take for a given campaign.

What benefits can you deliver the properties that you work with?
The NAA says that Centro has done more to revive digital newspapers than any other company, and Burrell estimates that Centro delivers as much as 40 percent of all the national dollars that reach digital newspapers.

What types of advertisers do you work with? 
Centro works with every national and regional advertiser that works with an agency-- more than 170 last year alone.

How do advertisers know where their ads are showing up? 
Centro is completely transparent. Advertisers will know in advance, not just after the fact.

How can you slice up your network?
By site-market-state-region (then again, Centro isn't really a network.)

How do you differ from your competitors? 
"Scale and efficiency. Centro is many times the size of some local media networks because Centro works with every media company, not just one or two," says Shawn Riegsecker, Centro's founder and CEO. "Especially at the local level, content matters. As much as Yahoo succeeded against print newspapers' local sites, those newspapers still draw a far better demographic locally. This is due to their content, which nobody else can touch."

If you don't control local media inventory, you can't deliver the goods, say the networks. How does a portal that sells local targeting to advertisers respond? Well, Yahoo was the only one that did.

What types of local properties do you work with, and in what size markets?  What level of targeting can you do beyond geo?
In terms of geographic targeting, Yahoo offers both contextual placements in properties such as Y! Local, Maps, Yellow Pages, Classifieds, et cetera, as well geographic overlays across Yahoo's overall network. With these overlays, advertisers can reach audiences in specific states, DMAs or small regions as defined by ZIP code. Yahoo offers a very broad array of audience definition choices that may be used with these local audiences, such as demographics (age and gender), behavioral (shoppers or engagers), connection type (dial-up or broadband) and many more.

What types of special advertising "products" or unique campaigns can you get for advertisers? 
Some examples include couponing and promotions, property sponsorships or integrations, customized targeting or analytics/research.

A specific example would be a product Yahoo developed in conjunction with AC Nielsen called Consumer Direct, which directly targets consumers by what they are likely to purchase in addition to traditional demographics. Most CPG brands have "most valuable customer" (MVC) targets that tie the value of a consumer or household to purchasing. For example, the MVCs for a mayonnaise brand could be households that purchase at least 50 ounces per year. In traditional media, these targets are converted into demographics such as women, ages 25 to 54. Consumer Direct, however, uses the Nielsen Homescan purchase data to create the exact most valued target that the client is trying to reach. By targeting the ads, same level of online advertising yields a greater sales impact. Consumer Direct's ability to measure the offline sales impact has provided CPG marketers with what they've been hoping for-- a strong rationale for the increased use of online advertising.

What types of ad units do you sell?
Yahoo offers all types of ad units-- rich media, video, text-based ads. Yahoo also recently acquired AdInterax, which enables it to provide marketers with a self-service platform for rich media creative assembly and campaign management. Yahoo follows the IAB standards for our ad units.

What types of advertisers do you work with?
Yahoo works with a large majority of the AdAge Top 100 advertisers and offers marketers a broad array of innovative solutions, including customized research. These marketers span many vertical categories-- finance, travel, autos, consumer packaged goods, pharma, tech and telco, retail and entertainment.

How do advertisers know where their ads are showing up?
If advertisers buy contextually, they are buying specific areas of the site so they know where their ads will be. If advertisers are using behavioral targeting, geo-targeting or demographic targeting, they are buying audiences that can be reached across the Yahoo network.

How can you slice up your network?
Yahoo's platforms allow for explicit targeting -- demographic, geographic, contextual and behavioral -- enables marketers to reach their key audiences efficiently. In terms of geographic targeting, Yahoo offers both contextual placements in properties such as Y! Local, Maps, Yellow Pages, Classifieds, et cetera, as well geographic overlays across Yahoo's overall network. With these overlays, advertisers can reach audiences in specific states, Designated Market Areas or small regions as defined by ZIP code.

How do you differ from your competitors?
"With the world's largest online audience, Yahoo is uniquely capable of providing marketers the most relevant audiences of scale because of the size, depth and breadth of our audience," says Richard Frankel, Yahoo's senior director, product marketing. "We aggregate a huge audience with our products and services, which in turn makes our inventory incredibly valuable to our advertisers (who we, in turn, constantly drive to provide with the most effective marketing tools and solutions). That is a key differentiator for Yahoo-- our growing and lasting relationships with our users create a very unique opportunity to provide them with useful and relevant marketing messages in a way that is very difficult to replicate for a company without those user relationships."

Let me get in your face

The much maligned pop-up/pop-under of the late 90s and early 2000 was responsible for brand building and an incredible amount of direct response sales. It was dominated by advertising for the now defunct X10 camera.

The pop-under was a popular ad unit and the first IAB standard ad unit to have a patent. It became a staple for many direct response advertisers during the first half of this decade. As many browsers began to incorporate pop-under blocking, the pop-under became less and less effective as a direct response tool. As a result, most brands stopped using them, and many publishers stopped selling them.

With that said, pop-ups and pop-unders are still being used even though many publishers stopped utilizing them on their sites. Why? Because they came close to having a full-blown audience revolt. But some publishers are still selling them to brands that are willing to buy them.

Fax -- the relic

It never fails that once a new technology gains adoption, unscrupulous marketers find a way to "piss in the well." It didn't take long for people to start promoting the use of fax machines to launch what became the precursor to email SPAM.

Many marketers got sucked into what seemed like a great way to reach their audience. Of course, once the messaging got out of control, and complaints escalated, most brands dropped the fax machine from their marketing mix.

Unfortunately, while larger brands stopped the fax blasts, sellers of this service targeted the less sophisticated small- and medium-sized business. Especially guilty of using "Fax Spam" are business-to-business marketers. At least once a week, I end up with an ad sent to me via fax.

Whenever I call any of these companies and berate them for using this advertising method, they sound shocked to hear that it's a problem. I resist the urge to ask them if they understand the concept of permission marketing. However, I always ask if this is type of advertising is effective for them. The answer is usually that it produces more complaints than customers. This tactic probably won't die until fax machines are completely phased out. 

468x60 -- the original

For all of us who have been entrenched in interactive for a decade or more, we have fond memories of the 468x60. It was the display ad unit that served as the bread and butter for most of us in the early years of display advertising.

As the industry has evolved, and publishers have redesigned their sites with advertising dollars in mind, the 468x60 has been dying a slow death. Site real estate is premium, and being noticed is what it's about.

From the perspective of a direct response-focused marketer, bigger units work better for us. They've always worked better and will likely continue to work better. It's the same reason full-page print ads work better for us than ¼ page and ½ page ads. We're able to get our message across more effectively in a larger ad unit. We're not unique in this respect, as the trend for larger and larger ad units continues to grow. Whether or not the purpose of the ad is for branding, or direct response, the larger units simply produce a better ROI for most brands.

With all of the benefits of the larger units, why are we still seeing the 468x60? It's like the bratty neighborhood kid that just won't go away. When you least expect it, there it is. Is it the responsibility of publishers to design their sites in a way that fit a leaderboard, skyscraper, box, or larger unit? Or is it up to advertisers to take a hard look at their metrics and figure out that the 468x60 isn't the best ROI-producing unit any more? With all due respect to small community sites, even small local advertisers will benefit from these larger ad units. A little redesign work will produce better results for your advertisers. You'll increase your sell-through rate and ultimately produce more revenue from your digital assets.

The (almost) invisible banner

If a banner is never seen, was there really an impression? This is the question that needs to be asked when "footer banner" is served at the bottom of a page.

Several years ago, I started seeing an interesting line item creep into my media plans. Around the same time the 728x90 "leaderboard" unit replaced the 468x60, the footer banner made its way into almost every pitch I received. I'm guessing that someone focused on creating a balanced site look, or maybe someone on the media sales team thought it made logical sense to put a leaderboard at the bottom of the page if one was at the top of the page.

The problem here is that most people don't scroll all the way down the bottom of the page. They're just not going to see a banner ad below the site footer. I have to admit that I was lured into testing this unit because of the sales pitch and the cheap CPM. Even though the CPM was dirt cheap, the ad just didn't pull for us. It was almost as though it was serving blank impressions. The worst part was many publishers were using this unit to fill impression guarantees. The good news is that it gave me a good "lesson learned" moment, which resulted in the addition of "above the fold" language in each of our advertising contracts.

While many publishers have eliminated this unit altogether, I see this unit primarily on radio websites, local television news sites, and local newspaper sites. It makes me wonder if any of these advertisers realize that they are paying for what may as well be a blank impression. Whether or not you're focused on direct response or branding, it doesn't do you any good to serve an ad that no one sees.

Online video does not mean television commercial

When broadband finally hit a tipping point and the framework was built to serve online video -- publishers, agencies, and brands all looked at it as a way to extend the reach of a brand's television commercials.

The problem is that viewing habits in a lean-forward medium, like the internet, differ from the viewing habits of traditional television watchers. Many people are used to the fact that in order to get free video content online, they will have to watch an advertisement. It's now becoming an expectation. At the same time, most people expect to be engaged with these ads as opposed to zoning out 15 or 30 seconds of pre-roll.

Online video -- yes, even pre-roll -- provides advertisers with an opportunity to engage their audience in a different way. These methods captivate audiences in a way that TV just can't offer. Therefore, why would brands continue to serve the same commercial that was designed for a different medium? Is it laziness? Or simply the fact that it's taking a while for brands and agencies to figure out the best way to execute video creative online?

Video online has a pass-along capability that doesn't exist with TV, so please give me a reason to pass it along.

The blind redesign

It seems like most brands and publishers are in a constant state of website redesign. This is a good thing. Marketers never want their sites to become dull, outdated, or stale. The problem is that many brands are guilty of making changes to their site without testing to see how their audience will react.

Recently, I was speaking with someone with a large financial brand who was touting their new site redesign. The site definitely looked better and appeared more streamlined.  But the brand had no way to assess whether or not the new design was successful in relationship to their key performance indicators. They were gauging the performance improvement by comparing the number of leads generated on the site to the previous months. They didn't take into consideration the volume and type of traffic that was coming to their site month-over-month.

This is an example of the way that many brands still assess the success or failure of their website redesign. With all of the tools available to easily and effectively implement A/B and multivariate testing, there is no excuse for blindly making site changes, much less a full site overhaul, without testing the effectiveness first.

It's all about continual testing
If a marketing tactic is still effective, no matter how boring or uninspired it may be, it's hard to argue with results. Fortunately, most consumers don't react well to uninspired marketing practices. In order to avoid having your brand phased out along with these marketing practices, it is imperative for us as marketers to continue to listen to our audience and deliver innovation that meets their needs.

Sean Cheyney is the VP of marketing and business development for AccuQuote.

On Twitter? Follow Cheyney at @scheyney. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Kevin Ryan founded the strategic consulting firm Motivity Marketing in April 2007. Ryan is known throughout the world as an interactive marketing thought leader, particularly in the search marketing arena. Today's Motivity is a group of...

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