The Real Problem with Online Advertising

Bigger. Flashier. More intrusive. The advertising industry is willing to try anything and everything to get people to pay more attention to their Internet advertising.

Here’s another idea: Start with some interesting advertisements. That might do more than all the multimedia, interstitial and skyscraper ads combined to get the Web advertising industry off of life support.

As of right now, the vast majority of ads on the Web are simply too easy to ignore. They have no relevance. They don’t compel me to click them. They are well on their way to becoming background noise.

But if the advertiser hits the right note, any size ad can be effective. In other words, it’s not about the size of the banner, it’s about what’s in it.

There are naysayers who claim that Web surfers have become too savvy and too used to seeing banners to click them that much any more. But I contend that today’s Internet users are just as eager to be entertained, enticed — and above all, surprised — as they were in the earliest days of the commercial Web.

But don’t just take my word for it.

Nielsen//NetRatings tracks which banner advertisements get the most clicks. The list shows that people will click on even the smallest of ads if the ad is good enough.

Click the Pounds Away

Two of the top 10 on NetRatings’ list promote a quick weight-loss diet program. Two more advertise, a service for helping to find “old friends.” Four ads are for credit card services or debt-refinancing plans. And other two in the top 10 are for Columbia House, each offering 4 DVDs for 49 cents as an introductory offer.

A few things jump out when looking at this list. One, it’s not terribly diverse. All 10 of the most-viewed ads fall into one of four categories. Second, while some of the banners use flashy graphics, most are just text ads with interesting offers.

The point is that these top 10 ads hit home. Americans are more overweight and more in debt than ever before. And who isn’t at least curious about finding their old friends? What Internet surfer doesn’t have at least half an eye peeled for a great deal?

Is there a magic formula for successful ads in this mix? Well, since not everyone is selling diet pills or in the business of gathering the e-mail addresses of old friends, probably not. But some general lessons can and must be learned.

Target Yourself

Don’t waste money advertising something specific to a general audience. This means you, What percentage of the population actually buys wireless spy cameras, anyway?

And you too, Casino on Net ( Online gambling isn’t my cup of tea, and I don’t want your ad popping up when I look at a page that has absolutely no plausible relation to online gambling. I venture to say the majority of my fellow Internet users feel the same way.

But more important, make me curious. Make it impossible for me to resist the urge to click out of the page I’m on — and to your site.

I’m a savvy enough Web user. I can always get back to where I was. If I see something intriguing enough, I’ll take the trip.

Uncharted Territory

This task isn’t easy. It will probably require content as well as commerce. Information as well as deals. But, that’s supposed to be the beauty of the Web. You never know where the next click will lead.

And if advertisers want to tap into the true power of the Web, that’s where they should aim. Bring back that sense of adventure that took us all to the Internet in the first place. Do that and we’ll be clicking like crazy.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


  • Never have I seen something more on target! The flashier it is, the more repulsive I find it. Casino’s are the worst. It is about time that somebody realized that advertising relevance is what matters most. Does the advertisement seem to lead to a product or service that likely could be used by the surfer? I find that advertisers still have a learning curve for Internet marketing. The fact that we are less likely to play a role as a business partner rather than just take advertising cash, only feeds and taints the bad press banners already receive.

    Would it not be better, smarter and more likely successful to advertise your hotel on a travel site than on a zoo webcam page?

    The numbers don’t mean a thing if the relevancy does not exist. As a company, ours will only accept and place advertising that is relevant to our site. Yes, we actually don’t accept some advertisers! I strongly feel that if more companies would take this approach, we could raise the overall integrity of web advertising, not have to football prices and make our relevant customers easier to sell.

    That’s my .02

    • Actually, the author of the article is entirely correct. One thing not pointed out is that textual advertisements outperform and outsell banners overwhelmingly. Why don’t banners sell anymore? Because they are tired and boring, and the 486×60 standard horizontal banner is one of the least clicked style of banner on the internet today. Internet advertisers have not kept up with the growing net-telligence of their surfers. Instead, they have chosen to use the same blase marketing techniques that worked back in 1995 when the web was young and all surfers were newbie-surfers. The ads are bigger now, they are flashier, and more obnoxious than a barking pommeranian. That’s why they aren’t working. is a prime example of BAD marketing. Just look at their exposure to click to purchase ratios. They’re in the bottom 10% of the industry. Sure they’ve gotten sales, from uninformed foolish surfers. The number of surfers and potential customers that they have utterly angered far and away outnumber they’re postitive contacts.

      Back to text. When you talk to a surfer you get inside their head a little, once you’re inside your pitch becomes more plausible because now the surfer has shown a little trust in your offer. Trust sells. Blinking banners and flashy lights don’t.

      My $0.02.

  • I think that editors shouldn’t let people write just what they think, before you write about this you must go beyond your self and your friends.

    The masses work differently than you. Do you think that everyone is wrong? Maybe they use big ads because they get better results. Maybe if Columbia House uses a bigger ad they get higher clicks.

    Beside, this thing happens on every media, not just internet. TV and radio, press, print, etc. Everyone is trying to be bigger, to be over the noise.

    I do agree that the big problem with internet ads today is the context and the content of the ad, but that is not all.

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