It used to be that a simple image on a Web site could be enough to attract attention. In the early days of the Web, so much of the content was text (and so much still is, by the way) that the slightest clearing in the obscured woods of syntax was a welcome reprieve.
But the online advertising arms race has escalated to a fever pitch. These days, in order to get in front of the content and rise above the din of the other advertisers it is now necessary to do one of two things: either be more clever and sublime in how one addresses an audience or be the biggest voice in the crowd of messages. The former is nuanced and difficult, which means the latter is the winning approach most advertisers take.
The bigger voice approach works, of course. It has for years in other media; why should the effects be any different online?
What have become among the most outstanding formats for online advertising are the Home Page Takeover and the Roadblock.
Both these formats have been at the disposal of online media planners and buyers for a couple of years now. With greater competition for attention in all media channels, including online, the more adventurous (and deeper-pocketed) marketers have to go for bigger, better real estate to attract attention. Pepsi-Co and Ford and Frito-Lay have been seen on the Yahoo! home page on more than one occasion. Pharmaceutical and auto manufacturers have used roadblocks on CNN.com or Surround Sessions (essentially a road block) on NYTimes.com. Even Comedy Central has recently advertised the Daily Show's election coverage as a Day Pass ad on Salon.com.
All manner of advertiser seems to use either Home Page Takeovers or Road Blocks. When asked if any advertiser in particular made use of them, publisher representatives didn't distinguish by category of advertiser but rather the quality of the statement an advertiser wants to make.
"These units are ideal for advertisers with a bold brand message or complex creative, such as streaming," says David Leider, Category Development Officer for Automotive, of Yahoo! But preference for the big, bold, and beautiful seems to be greatest among the automotive and entertainment categories.
One thing is certain, regardless of what kinds of advertiser are making use of Home Page Takeovers or Road Blocks those that are have created restrictive demand. Yahoo! has sold this inventory in a kind of "upfront"-like format. Scott Bender, Sales Manger for CNN Networks, said that "home page roadblocks have been very popular this year on CNN.com. In our case we've actually had to turn away business, as inventory has tightened in the second half of the year."
It is difficult to know just how much is being spent on the Home Page Takeover or Road Block format, but these things aren't cheap. Sources not speaking for attribution said that a one-day Takeover on a weekend being sold as remnant (please note: this almost never happens) would go for two-hundred thousand dollars. For a "prime time" online run (for example an at-work daypart for adults on a Tuesday or Wednesday) one can expect to pay as much as twice that.
But the results seen from some of these types of ad formats justify the costs.
For example: by most accounts, Ford's launch of the 2004 F-150 was deemed the most successful in the history of the company. During Ford's campaign, a full-page animated "home page takeover" ad on Yahoo!, MSN and AOL (Netscape) ran. According to an IAB XMOS study, in a single day Ford reached 43 percent of its total target audience of men age 25-54. According to a published statement from the IAB, "Ford realized $750 million dollars worth of revenue from online."
In a DoubleClick Q2 2004 Ad Serving Trends report, the 550 x 480, which is most often used for interstitials, had the very highest click rates at 2.35 percent.
This is certainly enough of an impact to justify doing as much of this kind of advertising as possible and spending as much as is being asked by publishers to make it happen.
Something else about the impact of the home page takeover or the road block is the effect it has on clients themselves. The power of the unit's visibility and the use of that to merchandise online media inside a company cannot be underestimated. Clients love these kinds of ad placements because they can actually see them, point them out to colleagues, and show them to management when they are asked, "so, what did our online budget go towards?" These ad placements overcome the still-persistent barrier to traditional marketing clients' involvement with online advertising; namely, getting to see the ad itself and be impressed by it as a regular consumer of media would be.
If marketers go to greater lengths to own -– or at least rent -– more of an individual's online media environment, will individuals accept it as part of a subsidized media experience or will they head to the barricades?
"At Yahoo! we are incredibly conscientious of the user experience," says David Leider.
"We believe that a positive consumer experience is [the] key to a positive advertiser experience. We have structured our front page events to offer marketers innovative advertising experience, while not marring the content of the page so the user has full control over page navigation. We also offer feedback links in each advertisement and take user feedback very seriously."
It would seem that the majority of the major online content providers do have as their primary concern a person's experience. However, some publishers are deploying neat-o technologies that enable takeovers not enabled with frequency controls. Similarly, some advertisers don't always design coherent creative that takes advantage of the road block format. But in general the publishers making these available do make efforts to keep user experience at the center.
Scott Bender of CNN Networks points out there is a "big difference between a takeover/100 percent share-of-voice of existing ad units and one where an advertiser's message is jumping out of the banner." Frequency control for these units is paramount, he says.
The future undoubtedly holds more Home Page Takeovers and Road Blocks in online advertising. Until consumer backlash is at a fever pitch, marketers most often does what works, even if people don't like it. After all, in the marketing world, real backlash is only that which does not yield sales. If the marketing doesn't ultimately move the needle, it isn't working. Until then, if it's new and it works, keep doing it and do more of it.
"I think advertisers are always looking for ways of breaking through the media fragmentation, regardless of the platform," says Scott Bender. "Roadblocks are one way of doing this."
Says David Leider of Yahoo!, "Innovative creative which entertains the consumer and contributes to their overall experience will provide a positive experience. They key is to offer impactful creative while not changing the consumer experience. If done well and right, we believe this type of advertising has great future potential."
Jim Meskauskas is Chief Strategic Officer for Underscore Marketing LLC in New York.
Online customer acquisition campaigns deliver a list of responsive consumers who have expressed interest in specific brands and products and have requested (or opted-in) to be marketed to. Marketers can then immediately engage these interested consumers with one-to-one dialog and convert them to long-term, profitable customers.
Why is online customer acquisition so effective at engaging consumers? Because it gives consumers what they want: control over the messages they receive and when and how they receive them. By allowing consumers to self-select marketing messages, it ensures they're already interested in and engaged in your brands and products.
In this model, consumers' permission and privacy are guaranteed, leaving them confident they'll only receive marketing messages they want; making it more likely they'll see and be receptive to your message, and more importantly, respond to your call to action, whether that be purchasing your product, printing an online coupon or taking advantage of a promotional offer.
The key to a successful online customer acquisition campaign is using multiple online channels and tools such as email, search, vertically targeted consumer web properties, dynamic polls and co-registration. Because consumers are online for varied reasons (i.e. researching products, comparing prices and varieties, purchasing, et cetera) and because individual online behavior itself is so different, it's important to use several methods to reach consumers.
Here's a snapshot of some of the key channels and tools mentioned above, including why each is effective in consumer engagement as well as some advice for implementing as part of an online customer acquisition campaign.
Email marketing is thriving. A recent DMA study found email delivers the highest return on investment: $57.25 for every dollar spent, compared to the ROI of all non-email online marketing, which is just $22.52. JupiterResearch predicts email marketing spending will rise to $1.1 billion by 2010.
Email marketing has also proven to be one of the most powerful channels to engage consumers and drive online customer acquisition campaigns. Why? Email enables you to target consumers based on their profile and offer them something of value in exchange for their permission and personal information to market your products or services to them. This is an essential first step to building your in-house list and engaging consumers with messages that are welcome in their in-box.
Engaged customers who get the messages they want will buy more from you and will become passionate advocates for your brand and products. Email marketing also helps you build a level of engagement with customers that fosters loyalty, which can be very valuable in driving profits for your brand.
To build your in-house list and engage consumers using email, follow these basic steps:
- Be sure to partner with a customer acquisition provider that uses responsible email practices
- Understand who your customers are and what they are interested in
- Understand how to use the unique attributes of email (targeting, permission, personalization, communication preferences, et cetera)
- Get your target customers to sign-up for your email communications by offering something of real value in exchange
- Make subscribing easy
Vertically oriented sites provide targeted content that attracts consumers actively interested in that category. This offers an ideal environment to reach your target audience, engage them with relevant products or promotional offers, and invite them to sign-up to receive your marketing messages.
Sites that offer relevant content and user-generated material encourage visitor interaction and will deliver more highly interested consumers. For example, by offering interactive content such as recipes and printable coupons, Eversave.com is able to further attract engaged consumers in its marketing initiatives. This content not only engages and entertains members, but it also provides a perfect setting for brand marketers looking to acquire customers who are interested in savings, cooking and everyday value.
Polling techniques provide a highly interactive, engaging and entertaining user experience. With an infinite number of marketing messages and choices out there, marketers face intense pressure to precisely target consumers with relevant information. One dynamic poll containing a few questions can yield defined customer segments and category analysis, as it captures consumers' attention and drills down into their specific preferences and interests, allowing marketers to pinpoint the right customers to join their house lists.
Here are some best practices for developing engaging, interactive polls:
- Limit your poll to three to four questions to keep consumers engaged
- Use simple questions, in a similar format each time
- Allow consumers to compare their choices to others
- Use popular, fun, and timely topics to engage consumers
Return to interactive polls engage prospects
Brand-oriented micro-sites are another approach to engage consumers, build strong brand awareness and build in-house lists. These customized web pages present a product or promotional offer and engage consumers with high impact creative and offers to get them to sign-up for your house list. Micro-sites use an approach to present the marketer's program and collect profile information from interested consumers that has proven to enhance consumer engagement and increase completion and conversion rates.
To most effectively increase results from a micro-site:
- Use high impact creative and a compelling headline
- Limit body copy and required questions
- Include a clear call to action and related offers
Online channels and tools provide myriad opportunities for consumer brand marketers to attract customers, introduce their brand, products and services, build their house list, and begin building one-to-one relationships. When it comes to engaging customers closely based on their expressed interests and preferences, online customer acquisition continues to deliver as one of the most effective methods for consumer brand marketers today.
How can you get the text in your Flash files indexed?
Google says you don't need to do anything. The new improvements do not require any special action on the part of web designers or webmasters -- Google will automatically index content on your Flash site up to the limits of its current technical ability.
The Google bot can see the text that your Flash site visitors see. If you want Google to ignore mundane content, such as "copyright" or "loading" messages, you might want to put that text in an image, making it invisible.
What are the technical limitations?
Google's Webmaster Central Blog states there are three main limitations (Google is working to resolve them):
2. Google does not attach content from external resources loaded by your Flash files. So, if your Flash file loads an HTML file, an XML file, or another SWF file, Google will separately index that resource, but it will not be considered as part of the content in your Flash file.
3. While Google is able to index Flash in almost any language found on the web, it currently has difficulties with Flash content written in bidirectional languages. Until this is fixed, it will be unable to index Hebrew language or Arabic language content from Flash files.
Overcoming the limitations
While there may be limitations to indexing Flash sites, two new software improvements are making it a bit easier. Below is the latest information on Adobe's Ichabod headless Flash player, which makes Flash sites indexable, and Asual's SWF Address, which supports deep linking on Flash sites.
Adobe's Ichabod headless Flash Player
Flash is popular with web designers who want to deliver elegant user interfaces, database-driven content, and uncommon topography on the internet. To meet the challenge of indexing Flash, Adobe teamed with Google and Yahoo in 2008.
The solution they came up with is the Adobe Ichabod headless Flash player, which is designed to play Flash content in a way that helps search engine spiders index it. As reported in InfoWorld, Ichabod would enable search spiders to index results thusly:
"The search engine, for example, might find a button in an application; Ichabod will try to push the button and generate an event, which then might lead to an indexing of that content."
Google just added external resource loading to its Flash indexing capabilities in June, which indexes external content that SWF files call into rich internet applications (RIAs). As posted on Google's Webmaster Central Blog by software engineer Janis Stipins, "This means that when a SWF file loads content from some other file -- whether it's text, HTML, XML, or another SWF -- we can index this external content too, and associate it with the parent SWF file and any documents that embed it."
Flash supports deep linking
The second problem search spiders faced when indexing Flash content was accessing links. There was only one URL and no way to link back to a particular state in the Flash. Asual's SWF Address makes it possible to link directly to a particular state in Flash. Therefore, if Flash designers want a unique URL for every state in a Flash site, this is now possible.
Search engines and visitors to your site can link directly to whatever part of your Flash content they want. A site can even develop back links for PageRank that point to particular Flash states.
As described on the Asual website, SWFAddress provides deep linking for Flash and Ajax. This developer tool allows creation of unique virtual URLs that can point to a website section or to an application state. SWFAddress enables a number of important capabilities that are missing in today's rich web technologies including:
- Bookmarking in a browser or social website
- Sending links via email or instant messenger
- Finding specific content with the major search engines
- Utilizing browser history and reload buttons
Optimizing for SEO
While many obstacles to indexing Flash are behind us, it remains a unique challenge to optimize these sites. To search robots, a Flash site still looks like a single page, rather than the multiple pages encountered with HTML.
As a guide, it is best to apply standard SEO best practices when optimizing Flash sites to make it easier for search spiders to crawl. Damian Bianchi offered some additional Flash SEO tips at SMX Advanced in June:
- Build 10 unique URLs that are HTML based to target your top 10 keywords. The indexable HTML content should be displayed in the
- Unique URLs will get indexed.
- Push out an XML sitemap to those URLs.
- Give the search engines some content to crawl. This allows you to maintain the Flash functionality.
- Ensure your Flash developers are up to speed with latest practices.
- Make search a part of the project scope.
- Ensure your developers are part of the initial planning stages and avoid oversimplifying the IA decisions.
- Justify your strategy and outline the business objectives at the beginning.
Earned media is the new word-of-mouth marketing
Social media is the most engaging and profound digital marketing landscape that exists. A consumer who does not click on a banner ad might turn around and engage with a brand heavily on Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. Why? Because social media is the new word-of-mouth marketing. What are they loving about your social presence that you're not applying to display creative? Find the answer to that question, and it will change the way you approach normal online ad creation.
David Shadpour continues our conversation by explaining why earned media on social has become the 21st century word-of-mouth marketing.
Social media can directly inform your creative with technology
Is it possible that social media activity can algorithmically populate online paid media? Tech providers are tapping into this potential and the repercussions can be extraordinary for meaningful creative engagement.
David Shadpour ends our discussion by talking about why engagement can be directly driven if social media is your leader and you invest in the right technology.
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"Hand with ballot and box on Flag of USA" image via Shutterstock.