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Online Advertising

Definition: Internet advertising whose goal it is to drive customers to your website or location(s), or to make a call regarding your products or services

While traditional offline advertising is used by many companies to drive customers to their websites, many businesses are trying online ads (such as banners, pay-per-click ads, pay-per-call ads and pop-ups) in e-newsletters, on compatible websites, on search engines and in online versions of newspapers and magazines as a way of reaching people who use the internet for shopping or to gather information.

While online advertising is still new to many, you can take heart in the fact that the same design and content requirements and guidelines translate well from traditional advertising to online ads. In fact, your newspaper print ads can simply be duplicated in the online version of the publication you're advertising in as long as you include a link to your website. Color, fonts, the size of your ad(s) and your message will all play the same critical role in getting your ads noticed and, more important, responded to. No one wants to have to wade through too much text to understand an ad's message. So present your message concisely and clearly, and relate it to an emotion or a situation shared by the consumers you're trying to reach.

Many businesses seem to think that a company logo on a banner ad is enough to get people to click on it. But it's not. A message that "rings a bell," makes a promise or asks an enticing question is much more likely to get someone to want to know more. Think of it as "What's behind door #1?" Hang something on the "curtain" that makes someone want to see what's behind it. Remember that an online customer is already engaged and focused--unlike a radio listener or even a TV viewer, who may only be half paying attention or out of the room when an ad appears. You want to take advantage of that focus while web surfers' fingers are on their keyboards.

As with traditional ads, online ads must be placed where the right people will see them ("right people" meaning the consumers you want to reach). So choose your placements according to age and gender, interests, hobbies, and all the psychographic (income, education, hobbies, etc.) information you use when you're buying ads in television, print or radio. It's especially easy to do this with newsletters and online versions of popular magazines because they'll each have a particular audience to deliver, as do websites that cover particular hobbies, careers, medical information, vacation spots and so on. Remember, no matter what you sell, you have to find sites that are complimentary or closely related to your products. If you sell dishes, for example, you might look for sites about entertaining, decorating, homes and gardens, flower arranging or distinctive glassware.

Focus groups can help you determine the look of your ads so they attract the consumers you really want to reach. Attracting the eye comes first--keep in mind that what they see reflects directly on your company. Be sure that when they get to your site or call you, they're not disappointed with that "next step." Your site must load quickly, be easily navigated, and not require too many forms to complete or entail too many steps to get to the final order or check out or call. People answering your phones must be informed, helpful, quick and able to accurately capture information, take orders and offer information on other products or services you have available.

Pay-per call ads are new, but think of how appealing this is for a consumer or prospective client who needs an answer now or needs to make a purchase now to be able to make a quick call and take care of their pressing need, rather than clicking on a banner and being led to your website where they may need to fill in a registration form and then send you an e-mail and wait for a reply.

Pop-up ads have become more hated than calls from telemarketers--and like "remove my number" efforts, more and more people are purchasing pop-up-blocking software to minimize the aggravation. If you use this form of online advertising, you risk the transfer of the distaste people feel directly from your ad to your company. Why would you want to do that? The best way to decide what type of online advertising to do is to consider your own experiences with online ads. Which ones made you want to throw your stapler at the monitor? Which ones did you click on?

And be sure that any sites you advertise on have a good reputation themselves and aren't selling ad space to unsavory companies you wouldn't want to be associated with. Don't forget that your branding efforts extend to your online advertising, and every contact with the public either builds your brand or tears it down.

And make it easy on your customers: It's essential that you allow anyone to easily opt-out of any e-mail marketing you do so your efforts don't turn into spam. It's also essential that you provide ways for people to return purchases, either to a brick-and-mortar location or through shipping it back to you. Answer complaints promptly and make consumers happy, whenever possible, with a speedy apology, a refund, a discount on future purchases or an exchange. Not everyone shops online; many still don't trust it as a form of legitimate commerce. Like any emerging venue, online shopping must prove itself to each user, and where your online ads take them is where it all starts.