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Week 10: Web Page Commercials: Getting Users to Notice Advertisers

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It doesn't matter how much time and effort you expend on getting great advertising on your site if your users just ignore the ads. In this article, Professor F shows some simple techniques for focusing the user's attention where it makes the most cents.
Web business engineering expert Nick V. Flor is the creator of Web Business Engineering.com, a Web business content forum, and the author of Web Business Engineering: Using Offline Activities to Drive Internet Strategies (Addison-Wesley, 2001, ISBN 0-201-60468-X). Professor Flor is a regular contributor to InformIT on Web business topics.

Users can learn to ignore advertisements that you place in fixed locations on your web pages. If you really want a user to notice a commercial, you need to pop up a web page commercial. This article explains how to add web page commercials to your web pages. But first, the "Hacker Phrase of the Week."

Hacker Phrase of the Week

"You were just 337'ed."

Usage: Whenever a friend or coworker gets interrupted (usually by a manager).

History: 337 is a common voice-mail command sequence to fast-forward (33) and delete (7) a boring, annoying, or useless voice mail.

Example:

Boss

Why isn't the code finished?

Barney

Uh, well it was a really hard problem and I spent all night...

Boss

(interrupting) Hey, I don't want any excuses; just get it done!

Fred

You were just 337'ed.


Introduction

My Week 9 article explained that placing ads at interruption points in a user's attention flow is an effective way to get users to notice and click ads. However, your users can still learn to ignore those interruption points, thereby diminishing your ads' effectiveness. To really get your user's attention, you need your ad to take over the entire web page—you need to implement web page commercials.

A web page commercial is not the same device as those annoying interstitial or pop-up ads, which appear in a separate window and you learn to immediately close with a keyboard shortcut (typically Alt+F4, known as a "337" in hacker jargon). You don't pop anything up. When a user clicks one of your links, instead of immediately bringing the page for that link, you bring up a web page devoted solely to that ad. You also place incentives on this page to get the user to do the advertiser's required action, whether it's clicking the ad, signing up for something, or even purchasing an item. The incentive can be as simple as a sentence or two asking the user to help keep your site up and running by visiting the advertiser, or it can be an offer to access or gain privileges on your site in exchange for performing the advertiser's required action. Users can't help but notice a web page commercial, and they can't easily get rid of it with a 337.

Before we look at how to implement web page commercials, I should mention that most advertisers expressly forbid you to force users to click their ads and/or do something on the advertiser's site in exchange for viewing pages on your own site. If an advertiser catches you forcing users to their site, you'll most likely be dropped as an affiliate and lose any earnings. Thus, it's important that you give your users the option of doing nothing and continuing to the page they thought they were linking to. Finally, even if you give your users the option of continuing, advertisers may also forbid you to give users incentives to visit their sites. For example, the sentence "Please click the banner below to keep my site up, or click here to continue" gives users the option of continuing, but a pay-per-click advertiser may view it as an incentive to artificially inflate clicks on its banner and they may drop you as an affiliate (and keep all the money you've made!). The moral is, you should always read the fine print in the affiliate agreement when you sign up with an advertiser, and when in doubt you should contact the advertiser and get permission.

In terms of the autonomous business model, web page commercials are one way of implementing step [3] in the revenue section of the model, which if done correctly should lead to step [4] (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 The autonomous business model, revenue section highlighted with dashed lines.

Before we look at implementing web page commercials, let's get a quick overview of how they work.

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