What works best on the Web?

Susan Sweeney, a global online marketing guru, says it's not all over for the Internet as a marketing and advertising medium. But it is going to get harder to make an impact online.

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By  David Ingham Published  April 3, 2001

Online marketing is still alive|~||~||~|Susan Sweeney is the founder and President of Connex Network Inc., an international Internet marketing and consulting firm. Last month, the online marketing guru sat down with Arabian Business.com to explain where we go now in these days of dot-com disillusionment.

Arabian Business.com
What’s the current thinking on online marketing and what works?

Susan Sweeney
One of the latest things that’s taking hold is associate/affiliate programmes. That’s where people join a company’s programme, recommend the particular company’s products or services on their site, and if someone clicks through from an associate/affiliate to the site and buys the product or service then a royalty is paid back. These associate/affiliate programmes can be commission based [percentage of sale], or flat fee based on paying for click through.

These are working really well for a number of reasons. One is that when a third party recommends a product or service, it’s seen as an unbiased recommendation of the product or service. Therefore, the product or service is given more credibility.

Number two, every one of these associate/affiliates provides a link to the Web site. One or more of the search engines are giving higher priority to link popularity in their algorithms for high search engine placement.

The more links that point to the site, the higher the score they get in the algorithm so the higher they place when someone does a search. We’re seeing really big growth on this, and it seems to be a relatively new phenomena [for the Middle East.]

Arabian Business.com
But what if everybody’s trying to cheat on their search engine placement?

Susan Sweeney
It’s not that everybody’s trying to cheat. It’s the same as trying to have the best placement in a shopping mall. It’s like competing with other magazines that are on the stand. It’s certainly legitimate, it’s not a trick. If more people are recommending your product or service, it must be good, so why shouldn’t you place higher.

Arabian Business.com
Is banner advertising totally out now?

Susan Sweeney
Everyone does seem to think that it is. If anybody wants to do banner advertising for image and branding, it’s still alive and well. If their objective is to have somebody click-through from the banner ad to their site, yes it’s pretty much dead because the click-through percentages are less than 1%.

Where banner advertising is still a good option is you can do keyword banner advertising on search engines. When you do that, you buy a specific keyword or keyword phrase. So, if someone has a hotel in Dubai they can buy ‘Hotel Dubai’ and if anyone uses that exact phrase in the search engine, that’s the only time their banner ad will appear. It’s very targeted to the viewer and it’s very cost effective.

Another time when it’s very cost effective is when you buy IP addresses. If you wanted to have your banner ad seen by everybody in the UAE, you would find out what the IP address range is for the UAE and you would buy that range of IP addresses. Any time anybody within that range does a search that’s when your banner ad will appear.

Those types of banner advertising are still very appropriate. And, if you’ve got a very targeted site that really speaks to your market, you might want to advertise there. Let’s say there’s a Dubaimall. Those people are in the UAE and are interested in buying from within the UAE. If you’ve got close correlation between a site visitor and your target market, it’s a good place to banner advertise.

||**||How much to spend online?|~||~||~|
Arabian Business.com
If I’m an offline company, how much should I spend on online marketing?

Susan Sweeney
I don’t know what the rule of thumb is and it’s different for every industry. But, more and more companies are allocating more and more of their media budget to online. That could be to put a few more Internet marketing people on their payroll to promote themselves online. Quite often, the investment is in more people.

Arabian Business.com
If I’m a pure dot-com trying to drive traffic, should I still be spending fortunes on advertising?

Susan Sweeney
I think that you need to have a combination of online and offline marketing. Certainly, the Internet can provide good economies in that you don’t have to print as many of your brochures as you used to, because you can direct people to a Web site for that information. But unless you are doing an absolutely fabulous job of marketing online, there is still a number of your target market that isn’t going to find you there. You really need to have a good combination and have got to have a look at your return on investment for each one.

Arabian Business.com
Arabian Business.com research suggests that agencies are very resistant to the very idea of putting advertising spend online. Is that because they think it’s not effective or because they can’t change their thinking?

Susan Sweeney
Number one, the click-through rate on banner advertising — which is what they think of when they think advertising online – is so low. Also, the cost of advertising in a magazine or newspaper is far greater than on the Internet and when you’re getting paid a percentage of the ad dollars that are spent, where would you tend to focus? They’re not misdirecting people, but that’s the world they’ve lived in for years. They’re comfortable with it, they know it, they generate significantly more revenues by staying with it.

Arabian Business.com
Why is there this obsession with click-through? After all, there’s no click-through with a magazine advert.

Susan Sweeney
It depends what their objective is. For someone like Nike, branding is critically important. For a small business, they don’t have the budget to spend the amount of dollars it would take to achieve the branding that they’re [aiming for.] For some, the objective is branding; for others the objective is to sell more products. That can only be achieved if people click-through to buy products.

Arabian Business.com
Some of the most reluctant online advertisers are the biggest companies, the very companies that spend millions on generic branding. Why?

Susan Sweeney
It depends on their target market. If that fits the demographics of users of the Internet, such as a Nike, they’re doing a lot online. If, however, it’s a company whose target demographic is not online, it doesn’t make sense. If it’s hospital care for seniors, their demographic is probably not looking on the Internet for that type of thing. It’s a matter of who their target market is, what their objectives are and what their products and services are, and on those three things everything hinges.

||**||Building it doesn't mean they'll come|~||~||~|
Arabian Business.com
It’s said that some of the largest online properties are not easy to deal with, like Yahoo for example. Do you think that they are approaching the advertiser in the wrong way?

Susan Sweeney
Sometimes, Yahoo is perceived to have an attitude. But sometimes it’s not a bad thing. Yahoo only accepts one third of the admissions it receives for inclusion in its database. So people think that’s an attitude, [because] they decline two thirds of the sites that want to be registered in their directory. But you look at it and ask why they decline. They have certain criteria and will look at sites. If it has ‘under construction’ on it, they won’t include it. They want good quality. When I go to Yahoo, I know I’m going to see good quality sites. They’re providing me a good service even though, on first blush, it seems they have an arrogant attitude to companies that want to work with them.

Arabian Business.com
How would you sum up your message to your audience here?

Susan Sweeney
My message today was the formula for e-business success. And the formula for e-business success is this: you have to have the right e-business model, you have to have the right Web site and you have to have the right traffic. If you miss any one of those three elements, you cannot have success online.

You can have the best Web site in the world, and the right e-business model, but if you don’t have any traffic you’re not going to do any business. You can have a ton of traffic, but if you don’t have the right Web site you’re not going to do any business. So what I’ve tried to do is expose the e-business myths that abound out there, and we talked about the e-business model and how a company should decide which model is most appropriate for them. We talked about designing a Web site and how one would go about building it, starting off with objectives, target markets, products and services, and designing your sites around these objectives.

It’s very difficult to have a Web developer design the perfect site for you, if you haven’t told him what your objectives are. Also the Web site should have repeat traffic generators, permission marketing techniques, viral marketing techniques and all these things that encourage people to come back again and again, to become part of your community, that encourage people to tell other people about your products and services.

You don’t put up a Web site and the whole world beats a path to your door. You’ve got to do something about it, and it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.||**||

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