Online Advertising

Does It Work?
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This story appears in the March 1999 issue of Startups. Subscribe »

Question: How many of us really look at those little banner ads floating at the top of Web sites?

Answer: It's hard to tell.

Most Web advertisers agree banner ads are an excellent way for getting company names and messages out to the masses, and studies have linked Web banners to higher brand awareness and consumers' incentive to buy.

A January 1998 report by Forrester Research, however, showed advertisers are baffled by the impact of their banner ads and unsatisfied with the methods sites use to track responses. "Media sites and advertisers resoundingly agreed: Ad measurement on the Internet is a mess," the report states. Reasons cited for messy ad tracking included: hyped expectations, a lack of agreement on standards, technology obstacles and a fragmented ad delivery process.

Online ad agencies and ad software companies are pushing for standards to resolve these issues. In fact, a bona fide movement is underway-these specialists are perfecting technology that would measure ads' effectiveness and count the number of click-throughs (people who click on a banner ad to reach an advertiser's site). Soon ad software companies will be able to track users' demographic and behavioral characteristics as well.

Does the Internet provide a foolproof way of measuring the ad responsiveness it initially promised? Obviously not. But with industry standards and technology hurdles being addressed, Web advertising may soon live up to advertisers' high expectations.

Bronwyn Fryer writes about technology for Newsweek, C/NET and other publications from her office in Santa Cruz, California.

Edition: September 2017

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