There are so many sites, books, newsletters, e-zines and articles concerning online marketing that you may be wondering why it’s worth reading yet another piece written on the subject. Surely you know everything there is to know by now, but if that were true the search for the answer to the eternal question: What is the best way to market my business online?, would be over, and it isn’t. There are varying forms of the question, which include the cheapest, the best value for money, the most effective way to market online. I’m not sure there is one, and every time someone claims to have the killer method, so many people jump on the bandwagon it gets swamped and almost immediately becomes completely ineffective anyway. No, I’m not here to propose The Ultimate Solution to Online Marketing. I’m simply here to point out what doesn’t work, at least in my experience (there’s bound to be someone out there who claims these methods have made them millions and will sell you an e-book telling you how for a mere $49.95).
For those of you still living in the 1990s, the pop-up, in all its forms, is dead. It has long been the case that they were the annoyance of every browser, but with pop up blockers now so readily available (indeed some already built into browsers), people won’t even see them let alone have a chance to click on them. This goes for pop-unders, page redirection and opening a new page when yours is closed too. Their time has gone. They’d long been ineffective anyway. They’d died long before pop-up blockers came into force, the sites that had pop-ups slowly vanished as people avoided them, they’re still there, but as for making money, I don’t think so.
Banner ads are another legacy from a bygone age. These still work to some extent, but in the same way that billboards, or magazine ads work. They won’t necessarily drive traffic to your web site, they just get your brand in front of people’s eyes, get it recognised and, hopefully, when those people want something you sell, they’ll remember your name. This means that in order to be effective you need to advertise on sites who receive lots of visitors, and the more hits they have, the higher the cost will be. It also helps to be on a site with a similar customer/visitor demographic as you and have a related service. The design really does need to be eye-catching, or out of the ordinary. So they do work you might say, well, maybe. The problem is that the body adapts. Your entire body is covered in touch receptors, but you can’t feel every piece of clothing on you, it doesn’t distract you, or irritate you, because your mind adapts to the sensations and learns to block them out, to take them as the norm, and only register changes beyond that. That is what has happened to browsers, they’ve seen so many sites with banner ads that they’ve learnt to just filter them out. We all do it, we’ve become desensitised to the ads, we know where we expect them to be, we know what they’re all about, we simply skip over them and head for the juicy part – the content. Most browsers do so without even thinking about it. So, if you’ve got the money to just get your name out there, aren’t worried about direct results and can pay and play with the big boys, banner ads are for you, but for the rest of us, don’t bother.
You’ll probably have seen the kind of claims I mean: ‘We guarantee you 10,000 hits,’ ‘A guaranteed 50% increase in your hit rate.’ And you do get what they’re advertising, I’m not suggesting you don’t, the problem is that a very small number, if any, of those hits will be from people who actually want your service or product. I’ve heard numerous stories of people seeing the surge arrive and depart without a solitary sale, the lucky ones got one or two.
The second claim is usually achieved via very simple means. You basically add a pop-under link to your site so that when someone closes your page a window appears for another member site on the scheme. When this is done twice, you earn one pop-under on another member’s site. There you go, 50% more bandwidth. Unfortunately, most people won’t be interested in your service, the pop-under will annoy them, and they’ll close it without looking at it. In fact, these services could end up costing you money because the extra hits use bandwidth while not bringing in any sales to compensate.
Obviously the email kind is out of the question, since being ruled illegal in many countries, not that it did much good before anyway, it acted as a way of driving away customers. There are other kinds of spam though. As server-side software such as PHP, MySQL and Perl become part of the average web package and bulletin boards become easier to install, the number of people you can reach on forums will increase. Unfortunately, with it comes the temptation to sign up and post your own little message to all those users. Having been a user of forums for some time, I can honestly say that if someone pops on and posts a blatant piece of spam, they don’t make it out alive. Most webmasters are very vigilant of spam and will remove it as soon as look at it, all you’ll inspire is undying hatred from other posters. It still amazes me how violent a reaction it causes, the damage to your brand may be permanent, not just in the people who see it as a violation of their community, but by everyone they tell. Word of mouth may be the most powerful marketing tool out there, but it’s equally powerful when it’s arrayed against you.
The same goes for spam on IRC, most people who use these communities are hardened browsers and so have become oblivious to most advertising forms, especially the overt kind. And they don’t take to kindly to someone wandering into the neighbourhood yelling about how good their service is. There is no real gain in doing it, and it could actually damage your sales rather than boost them.
Online advertising is far from dead, but if you want to spend your time and money wisely, you need to know what does work, and what doesn’t. This list is by no means definitive, but it’s a good starting point and should help you think about which methods will be best for you. The online environment is constantly changing, and so will the forms of advertising that are taking preference, so it pays to stay on top of what the current trend is. Always remember, if you do find a killer advertising technique, let me know.