Banner Ads Work When They're Finely Targeted

March 1, 1999

Dear Mr. Internet,
How can I use banner ads at other Web sites to boost my online marketing?—Mike Avila, broker associate, Sabbagh Pickens Real Estate, Bloomington, Ind.

Dear Mike,
Banner ads--those long, thin graphic advertisements typically seen at the top of many commercial Web sites--have yet to be widely adopted by many individual real estate sales associates. However, if you implement them appropriately, you could realize, well, a banner year in sales.

Follow three important steps to create an effective banner ad campaign:

1. Craft Your Message

This is perhaps the most important yet least considered part of developing an effective banner ad. Aim your message at a well-defined target market (for example, relocators, first-time buyers, aging baby boomers, or people looking for buyer's agents) appropriate to your particular geographical location.

Also, in conjunction with the graphical look and feel of the ad, include a compelling call to action. That is, your message must impart a strong desire to click the ad, which will drive visitors to your site.

Keep in mind that banner ads don't give you much room to say a whole lot--so your message must be succinct. Enlisting the aid of a professional copywriter is probably a wise investment.

2. Create the Ad's Look and Feel

Banner ads come in many shapes and sizes. However, an approximate standard is 60 pixels high x 468 pixels wide. A pixel is the smallest dot that can be viewed on your computer monitor.

The make up of a banner ad can range from a simple static digital image (typically a .GIF file or graphics interchange format) like the one below to a complex multimedia, interactive online commercial.

Animated ads consists of an animated .GIF or a series of .GIF images played in sequence that gives the appearance of animation--much like the flip-book cartoons of the early 1900's. Animated .GIF banner ads often do a better job of capturing attention and providing a compelling message than a simple static graphic. However, they can be considerably more difficult, and expensive, to create.

If you want to create your own static or animated banner ads, there are great tools available. ULead GIF Animator 3.0 helps to create dynamic banner ads with small file sizes so that they download quickly. (If possible, keep file sizes below 15K bytes.) However, unless you're a talented graphic designer, it's best to leave this part of the process to the pro's.

If you become a member of LinkExchange, you'll have access to graphic designers who may be willing to design one static banner ad for you at no charge.

However you create the look and feel of your ad, it's important that it complements or augments your message, rather than detracting from or even confusing it.

3. Place Your Ad

Okay, now that you have a killer ad, what do you do with it? Contact the advertising departments of large portal sites, such as Yahoo!, that have lots of visitors to request banner ad space or go through an agency that specializes in the placement of banner ads. Although banner ads are priced in several ways, the most common pricing method is CPM or cost per thousand impressions. An impression occurs every time an ad is served up to or seen by someone browsing a site that hosts the ad.

CPM costs can range from $6 to $60 for every 1,000 impressions, depending on the site's rate card and how targeted the ad is.The more finely targeted an ad, the more likely the CPM will be greater because there's a premium on that kind of precision targeting. And sites such as Yahoo! charge some of the highest CPM rates because of their high number of daily visitors. Although $60 per 1000 impressions may not seem like a lot of money, it can add up in a hurry if you aren't careful.

In addition, placing banner ads on a popular site like Yahoo!, where impressions are triggered by certain keywords, can lead to an enormous banner ad bill that doesn't have much to show for it. If 10,000 people a day see your ad because you didn't restrict your key word sufficiently (the phrase "real estate" isn't targeted enough, for instance), you'll spend $500 to $600 a day, and the lack of targeting means not many of those people can be converted to a closed sale. Always insist on a automatic spending cap when taking out banner ads.

Several online companies specialize in placing banner ads for small business. LinkExchange lets you purchase banner space by buying it and targeting it the way you want.

It also has an innovative approach to placing banner ads. In return for allowing other advertisers to put banners on your site, you earn credits to put your banner on their sites, which could reduce your CPM to $0.

However, I don't recommend that you allow other ads are your site. It could give some visitors the impression that you're "commercial", which may turn off some prospects.

Another service, Flycast, also could help you maximize your banner ad dollar returns. It lets you target down to the zip code level (ads are only shown to visitors from a particular zip code), an important tool considering how geographically oriented real estate is. Also, Flycast automatically shifts your ad to those sites with the highest "click-through ratio" (the percentage of impressions that visitors actually click on) for your service.

Know Your Costs

Regardless of how you place your ads, have some idea of how much you'll need to spend to generate enough visits to your site to produce a closed transaction.

To calculate your cost of unit sale--the ad dollars needed to generate one closed transaction--you need to know your cost per thousand impressions, click-through rate (the percentage of impressions that actually get clicked on), and conversion rate (the percentage of click throughs that result in a closed transaction).

Remember, your banner ad campaign is only as effective as your Web site. A great banner ad that channels new visitors to an effective Web site is a winning combination bound to boost your online business.

Tip of the Month

Did you ever wish you could magically connect with your Web site visitors? You can with a service called InstantCall, which allows you to place a Call Ne Now button on your Web site. When visitors click on it, they're prompted for their name, E-mail address, and phone number. If they click, Call Me again, they initiate a call to the phone number you've designated.

How's that for impulse marketing?

Better still, you can save the $95 sign up fee by saying that you heard about InstantCall from Mr. Internet. (Some restrictions apply). InstantCall will also show you how to install the buttons on all your REALTOR.COMAgentSimple listing pages for no extra charge.

Michael Russer, a.k.a. Mr. Internet®, is CEO of Russer Communications. He is a leading speaker and author in the real estate industry and has been writing about Internet marketing and virtual outsourcing since the dawn of the commercial Internet.

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