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Natural Born Clickers

They might be clicking through, but will they buy? Don't just wait and see.

Just like most good internet startup entrepreneurs, Ben Chui, founder of BensBargains.net, a multimillion-dollar website for bargain hunters, started out by purchasing banner ads. A year later, in 2001, he was done with them. "They just weren't effective," says Chui, 27.

The stats back up his experience. A February study from Starcom USA, Tacoda and ComScore found that click-throughs are dominated by "natural born clickers"--a mere 6 percent of online users who make about 50 percent of all click-throughs. Generally between the ages of 25 and 44, their household incomes are usually less than $40,000. While they might seem like a good target for Chui's San Francisco-based company, the study found that they were most likely to visit auction, gambling and career services sites. Joseph Plummer, an adjunct professor of marketing at Columbia University and co-author of The Online Advertising Playbook, says that you can increase the number of qualified leads your ads get with a defined call to action. Use your banner to make a specific promise or offer that is of interest to your audience. "Don't sell the drill bits," he says. "Sell the holes that they drill."

Plummer also suggests better targeting. Behavioral targeting uses cookies that track which sites your customers visit, showing you where other customers are likely to be. Online marketing companies or the sites themselves work with you to place targeted promotional offers in display ads triggered by the cookies. This works as long as the cookies remain on the customer's hard drive.

Contextual targeting is another method--one that Chui found effective. He began working with sites that use links embedded within relevant content, directing readers back to his site. Plummer says banner ads can be contextual, too--placing an ad for a hardware store next to home improvement content, for example. The link should lead back to a landing page with specialized offers and information related to the content.

"Simply exposing your message or company name is not enough," Plummer says. "You have to find something about what you do that's engaging and make that promise clear in your ad, then put it in the right place to reach your customers. That's going to attract the clicks you want." Gwen Moran is co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans. Reach her at gwen@gwenmoran.com.

Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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This article was originally published in the September 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Natural Born Clickers.

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