Use other Web sites to promote your site

Buying banners on other Web sites may help promote your Web site. Here's how.

If there's a traditional form of advertising in cyberspace, it's ad banners—the digital billboards that grace the tops, bottoms, or sides of many Web pages. When people talk of advertising money spent on the Web, they are usually referring to those flashy 400-by-40-pixel strips that beg users to "click here." Many big online-only companies—search sites such as Yahoo and magazines such as Feed, for example—depend primarily on ad banner sales for revenue.

It used to be that ad banners were found on only a few high-profile sites, advertising products from companies with very deep pockets. But these days ad banners are found everywhere, and in some cases, they're free.

Of course, ad banners aren't the only means to getting links from other sites. "What's New" sites and award sites can send thousands of visitors your way, while Web rings offer links to and from sites devoted to related subjects. Smart marketers will take advantage of as many promotional opportunities as possible.

Buy ad banners

If you have a budget of several thousand dollars or more, you can target a specific Web audience by placing banners on established sites that cater to your audience. You can buy from the sites directly or through ad brokers, who offer ad space at a number of sites with similar visitor demographics. Banner space is typically sold by thousands of impressions, or the number of times the banner is served on the site.

Just as in the print ad business, not all page space is created equal. You could pay anywhere from $10 to $100—or even higher—per 1,000 impressions. Web sites that can deliver a valuable niche command the higher prices. AdCentral features an ad space registry of sites that offer advertising, along with their rates and terms.

Use a banner exchange service

If you don't have big bucks to spend on ad banners, consider using a banner exchange network. It works like this: you join a banner exchange service such as LinkExchange or SmartClicks. The service guarantees that your ad banner(s) will receive a certain number of exposures on other member sites. In exchange, you promise to display other members' banners on your site a certain number of times. Typically, you receive one exposure for every two you give; the exchange companies make their money by selling the difference to paying advertisers. Most services also provide statistics on access and click-through rates for your ads.

To target a more specific audience, try a more specific exchange service, such as the Mac Web Network or Gamers Link Xchange. Check out Mark Welch's list of general and specific banner exchanges to find one or more that work for you.

Trade ad banners on your own

Brokering your own exchange deals is a great way to save money and reach a specific audience with your ad banners. Reciprocal ad exchanges with complementary sites can be fruitful for both parties. For instance, a home improvement site and a real estate site could bring each other lots of interested visitors.

Your list of bookmarks probably includes sites similar to yours that might be interested in swapping banners. Get in touch with the people behind the site, and see what you can work out.

Boost your banners' click-through rate

Server log files tell advertisers how many times a page with their ad banner was served on a site (impressions), as well as how many times the banner elicited a click from readers (click-throughs). The ratio of impressions to click-throughs gives you the click-through rate, the common measure of an ad banner's success.

Several strategies can increase your banners' click-through rate:

  • Keep your message short.
  • Use attention-getting words like "free."
  • Tell users what you want them to do: put "click here" on the banner.
  • Keep banners fresh. Change them periodically, or create more than one version and rotate them. (This is especially important if you advertise on a popular site with a lot of repeat visitors.)
  • Movement draws the eye. Jazz up the banner with a GIF animation, but try to keep the animation simple and the file size less than 15K.

You can learn a lot from looking at other ad banners. Microscope magazine features weekly reviews of the most interesting ad banners designed by the big names in online advertising. The Four Corners page offers click-through comparisons and tips for creating successful banners.

Be new

Highlighting just-hatched Web pages is the job of "What's New" sites. Some sites, such as Netscape's What's New, have real people scanning hundreds of new sites and writing reviews of the most promising. The Scout Report operates on the same model and includes a form that lets you submit sites for consideration. Similar sites, such as What's New Too, have listing engines that accept submissions—their only criterion for adding a site is that it has a URL they haven't seen before. Perhaps most importantly, some e-zine Web reviewers use What's New pages to scan for sites that are worth writing about.

Get an award

Why not nominate your site for a few online trophies? A nod from one of the better-known award sites can garner plenty of traffic, not to mention the right to wear a badge of approval from the awarding site on your home page. Cool Site of the Day was one of the first sites to start handing out kudos, spawning a host of daily, weekly, and monthly award sites. You can take advantage of the fact that many of these sites depend on visitor tips to point them toward worthy candidates by submitting your own site—to Lycos's Top 5% area, for instance.

Get reviewed

Perhaps the most rewarding recognition a site can get is a glowing review from an electronic magazine, or e-zine. The online version of The Web Magazine, for instance, is devoted almost exclusively to reviewing Web sites. Other e-zines, such as HotWired, devote special sections to sites du jour. Most e-zines have an email link in their reviews section where readers can pass along favorite URLs. For small publications, send the editor a heads-up email with your site's URL and a short description. A page of links to reviews from such sites is great PR to include on your site.

Join a Web ring

An increasingly popular way of trading links with similar sites is via Web rings, which are like Internet conga lines: each participating site is linked to a site ahead and a site behind, with the whole group forming a hyperlinked ring. There are rings devoted to hundreds of subjects, from the mundane (such as Windows Notepad users) to the obscure (such as The Discordian Ring of Fnords). A centralized Web ring site maintains the rings, adding new members, removing dead links, and establishing new rings; go there to get started.

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