Web Publishers Should Angle For Small Advertisers

By: Carl Sullivan

Industry leaders are suggesting that online newspapers angle for small local advertisers before worrying about the big fish (national advertisers), and the evidence suggests that this indeed isn’t some fish story.

There appear to be a great deal of lucrative tuna — big and small — in local markets, even as the bait for attracting advertisers gets more sophisticated. Dan Hess, vice president of marketing communications for comScore Networks of Reston, Va., reports that his company is integrating offline consumer spending data with online behavior in the top 78 markets, so that publishers can make a case for the “buying power” of their online audiences. “We frequently find that sites with very large audiences may not have the highest buying power,” Hess said. ComScore’s Buying Power Index (BPI) compares the aggregate purchases of a given Web site’s audience with the spending of an average Internet user. Publishers might use the data to prove that a given site’s audience is more valuable to advertisers.

“We find more publishers taking those numbers to [the advertising] market, but as with any type of new measurement, there’s a continuing education process,” Hess said. He suggests that early adopters of sophisticated metrics such as the BPI might have an advantage over competitors.

Nielsen/NetRatings offers similar services that define the wealth and buying habits of Web visitors. As advertisers get more sophisticated about their messages, they’ll want Web publishers to provide this type of detailed demographic and economic information, said Lisa Strand, director and chief analyst for NetRatings Inc. of Milpitas, Calif.

At Belden Associates in Dallas, consultants are developing new Web visitor metrics by combining a site’s own server logs with Belden’s online survey research data to provide estimates of total traffic, total reach, basic audience profiles, and unduplicated reach (overlap with the print edition). Greg Harmon, director of interactive services, believes these metrics will be useful for both media buyers and newspaper ad reps, who will now be able to use the same lingo (reach, unduplicated audience, etc.) for their online editions as they do for the print side.

While the metric question is sorted out, be honest about the vagaries of measurement, suggests Paul Camp, CEO of Content That Works, a Chicago-based provider of integrated online and print special sections. “Tell advertisers that we don’t have really great measurement systems right now, but that’s one reason why it’s a lot cheaper than print,” he said. “Peg your rates to the best measurement that you currently have.” The better the measurement, presumably the higher the rates.

“The fact that you can’t get much money out of [your Web advertising] opens the opportunity to attract advertisers who can’t afford to advertise in print,” Camp. From his former life as an executive at the now defunct Thomson Newspapers, Camp remembers the vast sea of untapped local advertisers. He said that at the most successful Thomson property, only about 11% of all the local businesses were print newspaper advertisers.

Publishers must also be willing to fail, says Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive CEO and Publisher Christopher Schroeder. “You have to have close partnerships with your online advertisers,” he said. “Test strategies with them, create [ad vehicles] that haven’t been there before.”

At The Modesto (Calif.) Bee, “We’re still trying to bring our advertisers around to the power of online advertising,” said Eric Johnston, director of online services. “Some of our businesses don’t have Web access at work.” That learning curve for local advertisers means the paper has to be aggressive about new strategies while being extra supportive of mom and pop businesses. “If they don’t get results, we’ll move them from section to section [of the site],” Johnston said. “Our sales people are really on top of that.”

In Washington, Schroeder’s team has spent a lot of time building case studies that can be used to woo other advertisers. One study shows how a diamond retailer with three locations in the D.C. area received three to four appointment leads per day from their campaign on washingtonpost.com. (One day, they got 12 leads from the Web site.) And in-store surveys over a three-week period revealed that nearly 20% of the client’s customers recalled seeing the diamond store’s ads on washingtonpost.com.

Another advertiser, a national insurance provider, included a unique phone number in its online ads. They found that 26% of the leads from washingtonpost.com were generated over the telephone — demonstrating the offline power of online advertising.

Those are the kinds of tangible results that all advertisers should be able to understand — even those who are clueless about Web metrics. Can you think of a better addition for an online ad salesman’s tackle box?

To see the previous “On the Line” column about the lack of national advertisers on newspaper sites, click here.

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