Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Toward effective local Web advertising

The Internet is a gloriously efficient means of communicating. So far, however, it’s not a great tool for advertising on anything less than a global scale. This is one of its dirty little secrets.

In 1997, Michael Dertouzos, now deceased but then the director of the Laboratory for Computer Science at Massachusetts Institute of technology, wrote that the Internet could lead to “computer-aided peace” by allowing disagreeing parties to work out their conflicts online, thereby eliminating or reducing the likelihood of shooting wars.

This obvious fallacy has nothing to do with advertising other than to illustrate that the people who know the most about the Internet's technological potential may not be best suited to create sustainable ways to use it.

Internet users don’t like advertising. When is the last time you actually clicked on an ad you found while surfing? For every Google that has been able to create enormous wealth by earning pennies per click, there are thousands of web startups that have come and gone – dozens here in eastern Idaho alone.

To the news business, nothing would be finer than making a reasonable return on Web advertising – if only you, our dear readers, would embrace it. Imagine how simple it would be to produce the Post Register online-only, sell gobs of advertising to it and forget about expensive and complex things like printing and delivering the paper.

That day is far, far off. (This will no doubt come some relief to our skilled press crews, our hundreds of carriers, and the bank that recently helped us buy a new press.)

There are two ways to make any real kind of money in online advertising:
1. Have a web site so inexpensive to operate and so globally popular that it can make money by generating a very small amount of revenue per view. Parenthetically, many of these sites are so popular because they use content that originates with – newspapers.

2. Develop ways to bring willing Internet users and advertisers together without resorting to pop-up ads, obnoxious Flash ads or other unwelcome obstacles to the Internet experience. When that happens, local advertisers will gladly pay for it.
The modest amount of advertising on the Post Register’s web site right now is a good value for those advertisers because it’s cheap and puts their message on hundreds of thousands of viewed pages a month. But it’s not effective enough for them to make it a major revenue source for us.

Yet. There is technology, unique to publishers that combine print and the Web, that we’ll be introducing to eastern Idaho in 2010 that may very well solve this problem. Like me, you’ve undoubtedly heard this sort of promise before, but you’ve not heard it from me. This time I think we may be onto something.

I apologize for teasing you with a TV phrase, but: Stay tuned.

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