Ad Agency Banner Size Demands May Require Site Redesigns

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By: Steve Outing

A year ago, the Internet Advertising Bureau released a recommendation for Web advertising banner sizes, listing eight standard sizes that it urged Web sites to support. The idea was to solve a problem with Web sites requiring all manner of banner sizes, which made it difficult for advertisers and agencies to come up with banners that would fit in the sites they chose to place ads. If all sites that accept advertising could accommodate one of the eight sizes, advertisers would be happy, but Web sites would still have considerable flexibility in terms of site design.

Now, not long after those recommendations were first announced, the national advertising industry is close to making the IAB banner size standards obsolete. For a news site that wants to attract national advertising today, it needs to support one of two banner sizes: 468 x 60 pixels or 234 x 60 pixels. To not accommodate those sizes now risks being left out of national ad buys where advertisers are placing in multiple sites via a Web advertising network.

Dave Morgan, president of New York-based Web ad network Real Media, which works with several hundred Web sites (the majority of them newspaper sites), says most national advertisers that his company works with these days will not produce banner ads for more than those two most popular sizes. A year ago ad agencies would produce the extra banners, but now most "will absolutely not do extra creative," he says.

Morgan says his company is still running campaigns with other banner ad sizes, but an ever increasing number of advertisers are saying that they won't bother with sites that require other banner sizes. When Real Media encounters a client that won't budge on the size issue, it typically puts the ads only on those sites that accommodate the 468- or 234-pixel format; other news sites simply lose out on the revenue.

It's hard to argue with success

At New Century Network (NCN), vice president of advertising Tom Bates says he's seeing a similar trend as advertisers gravitate toward the 468 x 60 size. That's predictable, he says, because the larger ads simply generate better results, with much higher clickthrough rates.

Smaller size banners, if run side by side, perform considerably worse on consumer sites. And sites that put four or more small banners on the same Web page are asking for trouble. "Ultimately, (those) advertisers are going to be dissatisfied," he says. (Bates qualifies that statement by saying that on narrow vertical market sites, the many-banner page can be effective; but the approach makes less sense on a site with a broad consumer audience.)

Bates says that incorporating a smaller banner into contextual content can work well. He cites USA Today Online as a site that does a good job giving value to advertisers even with smaller banner sizes.

The banner size issue is less significant for sites that only want to attract local advertising support. The issue is only important for news Web sites that want to attract national advertisers. The way most publishers do that is to take part in a national ad network like Real Media's or NCN's. A few have the luxury of having a national sales staff, or a newspaper chain may have a national sales staff supporting all its Web sites.

Getting national Web ads is tricky for news sites, of course, because the vast majority of national ad money is going to the most heavily trafficked sites on the Web -- the directories and search engines, Netscape, CNET, etc. A national advertiser looking for huge numbers of eyeballs is most likely to go to the big sites in the top 20 and not bother going elsewhere. That leaves even most large newspaper sites out of the picture. But advertisers are increasingly going to the ad networks, who by aggregating lower-traffic news sites can compete with the Web traffic giants.

Time for a redesign?

Newspaper Web sites increasingly are finding themselves having discussions about redesigning their sites to accommodate the new demands by national advertisers. At Knight-Ridder New Media, the central online arm for the U.S. newspaper chain's nearly 30 Web sites, chief designer Bill Skeet confirms that banner size has been the subject of discussion. Some of Knight-Ridder's sites are designed around either the 234 x 60 pixel banner size or 120 x 90. A serious move by the industry toward supporting the larger 468 x 60 size exclusively could cause some redesigns at the chain's sites.

Skeet worries about site home pages becoming overburdened with the many components required on the newspaper sites, as the company adds new elements such as city guides and other goodies to the corporate Web stable. Add a 468 x 60 banner into the mix and it creates a design challenge. While no decisions have been made regarding Knight-Ridder's sites, Skeet thinks that the design challenge can be met if the company decides it's necessary to accommodate national advertisers' demands.

The next evolution

Banner size is not the only emerging issue to worry about. Jamie Byrne, online marketing manager for U.S. national Web ad network DoubleClick, says that his company is increasingly demanding that sites support "enhanced creative" -- that is, Web ads that are Java applets or Shockwave animations, for example. He says that DoubleClick has asked some member ad network sites to begin supporting inline frames (for Microsoft Explorer) and additional layers (for Netscape), which allow an applet to run within a separate frame of a Web page.

Lots of sites still won't support this. Real Media's Morgan says about one-third of the sites he deals with can support Java applets and Shockwave ads, so the majority of his affiliate sites are excluded from buys when an advertiser wants enhanced creative.

"I'm not trying to be an evangelist" on this issue, Morgan says. Rather, Real Media will simply go with the sites that can accommodate the fancy ad treatments, figuring that they can do a better job by putting an ad on a small number of sites rather than spending energy convincing the others to support the enhanced ads.

Such ads do generate much improved response rates, says NCN's Bates, especially those ads that allow a consumer to interact with the ad, say by filling out a form to request personalized information. Bates says sites can still get away with not supporting this type of Web advertising, but by next summer the situation is likely to have changed. Either support enhanced creative or kiss some potential revenue goodbye.

The Java/Shockwave issue isn't critical yet, Morgan agrees, but the time is fast approaching. Likewise, Real Media is beginning to see a few advertisers seeking placement on sites that auto-configure page presentation for WebTV browsers. That's still in its infancy, but again, in another year this may be something that Web site managers will need to support if they want national advertising.

In general, ad agencies and the Web ad networks are getting more demanding. "There's less time to be patient with a difficult site," says Morgan. If sites aren't willing to be accommodating of advertisers' desires, the ad industry is more likely to walk away.

It's really a simple supply and demand issue. More and more Web sites are available for national advertisers, so the balance is in favor of advertisers getting what they want.

Steve

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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at steve@planetarynews.com

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company































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