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Why don’t banner ads work?

OK, I’m being provocative. Many of you will be running modest banner advertising campaigns on well-respected industry websites, and you’ll think the branding they give you, and the clickthroughs you get, are well worth the investment. I’m sure you’re right. But the price of banner ads has had to come down a lot over the years to become good value for the advertiser.

Why is this? If you take out a £500 advertisement hidden away in a 20,000-circulation trade magazine, I’d be surprised if as many as 1,000 people see it. You’re prepared to pay 50p per viewer. If you measure the cost-per-view of a banner advert on what you’d hope is an equally well-regarded website equivalent, it would be a lot less. The market obviously rates online views at a lower level. So what’s happening here?

I think that banner advertisements on websites aren’t perceived to be as valuable because they’re inappropriate for the medium. They’re just print adverts (which have been refined over many years), squashed into an odd format and put somewhere that was never really designed to take them. You’ll notice that the people whose websites you run the banners on don’t choose to use banners to get their own messages over.

The reason they came about was a sheer lack of imagination on the part of advertising agencies when online advertising started to take off, and the reason they still exist is a continued lack of imagination on the part of the publishers whose sites still make money from running the ads. I’m not suggesting that advertising online isn’t a good idea, just that perhaps it might be more effective to focus on what websites are good at, which is attracting searchers, not pushing messages to people who’ve arrived looking for something else. There are other ideas: many good sites offered paid-for options where they’ll link through to your website, or collect name-and-address sales leads for you, or provide text links to you; these can all represent good value.

Alternatively, the editors of most industry websites would be delighted to receive, publish and promote articles written exclusively for them. These won’t cost any more to get written than a banner advertisement costs to run, and I believe they’ll get substantially more serious response from prospects, over a far longer period. And best of all? Invest in content for your own website, which gets people to visit you directly, in the first place. There’s no point in advertising for people to visit your site unless you’ve got something good to show them.

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