Targeting, not reach, delivers online ad value

The UK is beginning to develop the data to analyse the audience reach of Websites, already a key element in determining the pecking order of the US’ leading online destinations.

In the last fortnight, home-grown outfit Fletcher Research reported that 31 per cent of all UK Web users subscribe to Freeserve – more than double the next biggest, BT ClickFree.

Fletcher has also revealed that Excite UK is now regularly used by 33 per cent of the UK online audience – still trailing Yahoo! UK and Ireland, and BBC Online, but significantly up on the 18 per cent reported at the end of last year and certainly the main mover in the pack.

Good news for those concerned – as establishing a sense of market leadership among possible commercial partners must be a key corporate objective for the more popular Web destinations and free ISPs.

Why? Because according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the largest portal sites and online media players already get 60 per cent of the ad revenue. This is not just because they have the reach, but because it’s easier to buy media on fewer sites, than run targeted campaigns across many different niche sites.

But do big macho reach figures add up to good media value for advertisers and potential e-commerce partners? Is it wise to import the US practice of emphasising reach?

A rarely-mentioned fact is that the most popular initial Web destination does not necessarily deliver “stickiness” to advertisers or commercial partners. Online marketing is ultimately about targeting, hence the fastest growth in online advertising is among the vertical sites serving niche markets and interests.

In recent months, some of the biggest launches here have been vertical sites, such as Arcadia’s Zoom, and Carlton Online’s Popcorn, Jamba and SimplyFood.

Site owners should be selling not on reach but on the quality of the relationship they have established with their visitors. Their sales pitches should be emphasising measures of time spent on the site by users, their loyalty, and whether have they responded to other campaigns on the site before.

Only a tiny number of sites come close to delivering this kind of targeting capability – but if the rest are complacent, it’s because advertisers are not pushing them to show their mettle. Happily, the lazy ones won’t be in business in a couple of years.

Mike Butcher is editor of New Media Age (mikeb@centaur.

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