Cyber Ads: Muscle in on Other People's Web Sites

Found: The secrets to buying targeted online ad space without hacking your computer equipment

September 1, 1998

When an engineer in Detroit wanted to learn something about the city to which he was moving, he got on the Internet and surfed over to the online pages of The San Diego Union-Tribune. Among the pleasant news about weather and the Padres, he found something that ultimately proved more useful: a banner ad for Prudential California Realty.

After clicking on the ad to go to the realty company's Web site, he browsed the salesperson bios, selected one, and sent her an E-mail. Three months later, he closed on a house with her help.

Similar stories are popping up elsewhere: In Miami, an ad for the 31-office Keyes Co., REALTOR®, figures prominently in the online pages of The Miami Herald; in Atlanta, the Century 21--Metro Atlanta Area Council, representing 21 franchisees, buys space on The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's site.

What’s surprising isn’t that those companies have dared emblazon their names across the Internet's hottest Web sites; it’s that more real estate companies haven't.

Follow the Fleet Cyber Steps of Corporate America

“The Internet is still considered new and revolutionary,” says Ann Handley, editor in chief at ClickZ, a publisher of marketing-related Web magazines, based in Andover, Mass. “But it has grown up fast. Internet advertising is just as effective as television and print advertising, maybe more so.”

Corporate America seems to have figured that out. The Internet Advertising Bureau reports that online advertising totaled $906 million in 1997.

American Express, General Motors, Pepsi, FTD Florists—the bigwigs of TV advertising—have all taken the cyber plunge. At stake is the buying power of 100 million Internet users worldwide, 40 million of them in the United States. And we’re not talking about those goateed computer geeks we thought ruled the Web; surfers these days have bucks.

Your Ads Won't Get Lost in the Vastness of the Web

“Our Web ads have been a resounding success,” says Diane Pal, director of marketing for Prudential California Realty, La Jolla, Calif., citing the huge boost in visitors to the company's Web site (it receives 30,000 impressions per month, and the figure is rising) since The San Diego Union-Tribune ads started two years ago. Tracking actual transactions that come from them is daunting, since it requires that consumers identify what led them to the company and that associates pass on the information to someone who cares.

Finding realty professionals who are as enthusiastic about Web ads as Pal is no easy task, thanks to the lack of a centralized directory of Web advertisers. Practitioners are not, it seems, where you expect them most, on the 10 most popular Web sites (such as Infoseek, Microsoft's pages, or Disney's), which hoard about 90 percent of the Web's ad revenue, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau.

“Localized businesses think the Internet is too vast for them,” Handley says. “Who wants to pay for a million eyes to see an ad, when 99 percent are too far away to patronize my business?”

But that’s not the way it works. Web-wide search engines, such as Yahoo!, allow advertisers to specify the conditions under which their ads appear. So, for example, a Denver realty company's ad won't pop up until someone searches for “real estate” and “Denver” or “Colorado.”

Reputable Web sites guarantee the number of times that ads are viewed. So if you're guaranteed 100,000 viewings, the company will run the ad until that number is reached. And you pay only for those times your ad pops up to the people interested in Denver.

One alternative is to advertise on regional newspaper sites. That eliminates the need to specify a geographic keyword that triggers the ad. Within such sites, you can choose to have your ad appear no matter what “section” or “department” the viewer enters, such as the sports page. Prudential California Realty goes that route.

Or, you can dedicate your ad to only pages that have something to do with homes or real estate, as is the case with The Keyes Co., REALTOR®.

There's also an economic advantage to advertising on regional sites instead of Web-wide ones. America Online commands about $60,000 for a million guaranteed impressions, or the number of times an ad is seen on its home page, which an advertiser may realize in just a few days.

Prudential California Realty plunks down about $75 a day for its sitewide ads. Keyes pays about $500 a month for its Miami Herald home section presence. RE/MAX–North Atlanta pays Access Atlanta, the Journal-Constitution's site, $10,000 a year for its banner ads.

“It’s just not feasible for a regional real estate company to pay tens of thousands of dollars a month for banner ads on national Web sites or search engines,” says Nick Khuri, owner of Hamptons Online, a West Hampton, N.Y., marketing company. “One way to draw national attention to your company, though, is to partner with other brokerages in your area to buy national ad space.”

That’s what the members of the Hamptons and North Fork (N.Y.) REALTOR® Association do when they pay Khuri's company to buy a banner ad on Yahoo! and AOL.netfind and then link Hamptons Online's site to their own sites.

“Hamptons Online's banner ads have funneled a lot of business our way,” reports Susan Von Freddi, president of the Hamptons and North Fork REALTOR® Association and owner of Village Real Estate, Hampton Bays, N.Y.

By the way, some ads are sold on the basis of the number of impressions and some on the basis of a time frame in which you're guaranteed a certain number of impressions.

The Birth of a Web Ad

Web sites make it easy to sign on with them. If you have your own Web page with graphics you like, the commercial site on which you'll be advertising can pull the graphics right from there. If not, you'll need to provide electronic artwork that’s been saved as a GIF, or graphics interface format.

Ad sizes vary from sponsorship, or tile, ads (about a half inch square measured in pixels) to full-banner ads (about 1 inch by 5 inches). The Internet research company Jupiter Communications estimates that banner ads constitute 80 percent of placements.

Don't count on being the only real estate ad, though. Coldwell Banker in San Diego shares the real estate limelight with Prudential California Realty on the Union-Tribune site. On another site, we even caught a Century 21 banner atop a full-page RE/MAX ad.

Despite the availability of reports that show the number of times their ads were viewed and “clicked through” (that is, the viewer clicked on the ad to go to the realty company's home page), few of the companies we spoke to could quantify the results of their Web advertising, though we did hear lots of superlatives.

One exception: RE/MAX–North Atlanta. President Lee Finch says one-third of the traffic to the company's Web site comes from his banner ads at Access Atlanta. And that’s not an insignificant number: RE/MAX– North Atlanta averages 6,000 Web visitors a week. Web surfers view properties from its inventory of 1,800 listings 23,000 times a week. So each property is viewed 13 times a week on average.

About 600 people a week register with the company by providing their name, address, E-mail address, and so on. And an additional 200 to 500 visitors E-mail or fax inquiries.

“The people who do that are very serious prospects,” Finch says, because they take the time to give out contact information.

Aren't those the kind of prospects you want to spend your money attracting?

5 Tips for Advertising on the Web

Are you considering placing an ad on someone else's Web site? Here are a few tips that will help:

  1. Know the territory, says Perri Futo, office manager at Century 21--Gold Medal Realty, Atlanta. “Get online and see where it leads you,” he says. You'll get a great idea of what kinds of banners work and which commercial sites you'd like to be on by seeing it all through the eyes of a surfer.
  2. “Contract with people who know their way around Internet advertising,” says Ann Handley, editor in chief at ClickZ, Andover, Mass. “The Web has its own vernacular and culture.”
  3. Spot-check to ensure the ad is running smoothly, says Kerry Wilcox, communications director for The Keyes Co., REALTOR®, Miami. “On rare occasions, you'll find a glitch in the system and your ad not where it should be. It’s not good business to pay the money, then turn a blind eye.”
  4. Cough up an extra few dollars for simple animation in your ads (really just a series of rotating graphic images). “Ads that move attract a lot more attention than those that don’t,” says Carmella Spencer, online marketing representative at The San Diego Union-Tribune.
  5. Implement dynamic target marketing, which tells your ad to pop up only when certain real estate-related keywords, such as realty, real estate, orhouses, and certain geographic keywords, such as New England or Pacific Northwest, are used or specific areas of a Web site are accessed. That way, you're not blowing your ad budget on people who aren’t in a position to use your services.

For More Information

  • The Internet Advertising Bureau's Web site ( contains all kinds of information to help people understand how to market on the Internet.
  • The International Real Estate Digest keeps a roster of Web page designers and marketing experts who specialize in real estate on the Internet (
  • ClickZ's online magazine, Who's Marketing Online, provides links to and articles about Internet marketing.
  • A list of the 25 most visited Web sites can be found at Media Metrix ( in the “Press Room.”
  • For examples of real estate banner ads, check out The San Diego Union-Tribune's Web pages (, The Miami Herald's Web site (, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Web pages (

To learn more about your online prospects, check out “Who's Surfing the Web?” on Today’s REALTOR®Online at One Realtor Place® (accessible via REALTOR.COM).

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