Was it only last year that Lou Gerstner, ex-biscuit company boss and now supremo of IBM, said "If you're not in e-business in five years you won't be in business"? And was it only last month that IT analyst Martin Butler said it could take 20 years for e-business to become a "key part of the business scene"? Confusion reigns in e-business punditry, but one thing I never thought I would witness this side of England's World Cup triumph, was Jeremy Paxman trying to come to terms with click-through rates.
This strange scene played itself out the other week as Paxo, taking time off from foot and mouth matters, wrestled with the slippery serpent that we on the inside track of the e-business phenomenon like to call business-to-consumer. Paxman's minions had invited, onto Newsnight, some lantern-jawed be-suited publisher of an e-business organ who told him that a prime cause of the dotcom implosion - sorry, market correction - was a flawed business model which placed too much reliance on click-through rates. "Wozat?" said the Great Interrogator.
"Well, it's when a website visitor clicks on a banner ad," explained Paxo's victim. "For the benefit of our viewers what is a banner ad?" demanded Paxo. "It's a strip containing an ad, and if you click on it then it takes you to the advertiser's website." "Oh really." Thus chimed the death knell of the banner ad before an enraptured nation.
Of course many in the business-to-business and B2C sectors have only themselves to blame by creating a click-through fog which enveloped would-be advertisers and backers in a virtual cling-film of confusion. "Like wow our site is getting one zillion hits a day," was a (slightly exaggerated) typical statistic bandied about in the pioneering three-wheels-on-my-wagon days of commercial websites.
This gave the false impression to the Web-ignorant that loading a single Web page counts as one hit and thus, in the twilight world of Web marketing, as one visitor. Of course loading one page counts as many hits as it may well include frames, GIFs, Java applets and so on.
Such manipulation of the truth is the stock in trade of many in marketing and sales and so we should not be surprised that these try-ons are as prevalent in the B2B and B2C worlds as in more established and respectable fields such as crack house management techniques. Now it seems banner ads may be heading for the Room 101 of e-business detritus.
Forecasts from Forrester Research predict banner adverts' share of the online advertising spend will fall from 61% this year to 48% in 2003. A tad optimistic I would say, while Merrill Lynch predicts the Internet banner advertising market may fall by 25% this year. Not surprising, if research group AdKnowledge is right in its claim that click-through rates have fallen to 0.05% of hit rates in some sectors.
The challenge now is to find some other tricks to lure site visitors through to advertisers' sites. Now, this is going to be on the hard side of very difficult, for the old model's aim was to either flog something to banner click-throughers, or get their details and bombard them with product details and offers.
Well, site surfers are a pretty savvy bunch and certainly not in the lower quartile of Dunce's Directory of Inbreeds. If advertisers are canny, and a wee bit lucky, the most they can hope for are contact details for more marketing and selling. Thus they need to make the site visitor feel so grateful they won't mind leaving more than their email address.
So I've been whirring away on the old idea hamster wheel, trying to come up with some ploys to get those banner click rates ratcheting up faster than a foot-and-mouth cull.
And, here are some click-and-go serving suggestions to rejuvenate banner advertising.
- Click-through to footage of Eminem playing all the victims in The Great Texas Chainsaw Massacre Two.
- Click-through via punternet.com. One of the most charming sites around, which lists localised details of personal services providers with marks out of 10.
- Click through via the yet-to-be-launched animated site, beheadantheaturner.com
- Finally, for unemployed dotcommers, click through via ounthague'sheadhair.com. Get the total right, win a safe seat.
That should do the trick.