Banners, skyscrapers, billboards, and pop-ups … it's almost impossible to go online and not be deluged (or annoyed) by some form of commercial advertising.
So now, online advertisers and Web sites are beginning to try a new tactic: Ads that aren't flashy, and which, in fact, are practically hidden within a Web page's text.
Vibrant Media Inc. in San Francisco, recently introduced such an online ad service called IntelliTXT.
Like other ad networks, the service delivers online pitches to participating members based on "keywords" on the Web sites' pages. For instance, a Web site devoted to the Java programming language may get ads related to computers and software. Meanwhile, a coffee site mentioning "java" would might receive pitches related to the caffeinated beverage.
But unlike other contextual ad services, the advertisements aren't animated or graphical images that require a set space on the individual Web pages.
Instead, the actual relevant text on the Web page becomes highlighted by a green, double underline that looks similar to an ordinary "hyperlink" — text that normally takes users to a related story or other resource on the Web.
When visitors move the computer's mouse over the distinctive text, a small window pops up, delivering a small text-based ad.
A recent survey found that 80 percent of all online users are frustrated by annoying pop-up ads, according to Denise Garcia, principal analyst with GartnerG2 in Framingham, Mass. And response rates to online rates remain particularly low — less than five percent of all users will click on a graphical Web ad.
So Doug Stevenson, chief executive officer of Vibrant Media, says the company's new ad approach makes better sense, since the online audience is already comfortable with embedded text links.
And by using as its ad medium a Web page's actual text — the content that surfers log on to see in the first place — Web users are much more likely to see and click on it.
"This is the best area for ads to appear," says Stevenson. "If someone's reading an interesting review or a vacation story, chances are they are going to do a search on it. This is a powerful way to match the ad to the content and make the ad relevant, in context."
Stevenson claims that initial test of IntelliTXT link ads over the last year show readers click on its links 24 times as often as traditional banner ads. And he believes part of the appeal among users is its low-key approach.
"These are 'user-activated' ads," says Stevenson. "We don't show the ad unless the user chooses to see it [so] they don't annoy them like traditional ads."
About 150 Web sites, mostly those devoted to special news and interest, have signed up to use IntelliTXT. And so far Web publishers say they're happy with the added capabilities and revenue the new ad type seems to deliver.
Vincent Nguyen, president of Smartfone.net, has been using the service for just under three months but says it is already performing "on par" with the other ad types on his Web site for news and reviews of next-generation cell phones.
"I was amazed in the first four or five days [of implementing IntelliTXT] at the number of people clicking through," says Nguyen. "It shocked us to death."
And since he's received "not one single negative comment" from site users about the new text-based ads, Nguyen has begun adding IntelliTXT ads in other areas of his site such as the online forums where most of the content is member-created messages.
"To me, this is the next best thing to sliced bread," says Nguyen. "I tell all my colleagues, it's not like you have to sell a lot of real estate [on your Web page]. It's just four or five keywords."
But IntelliTXT is far from a clear-cut winner in the online advertising world yet. A few issues could still cloud its place in the online space.
For one, as with any other contextual ad service, IntelliTXT can place ads within a page that could raise certain ethical objections.
But perhaps more important to IntelliTXT's growth is its acceptance among advertisers and Web surfers.
Paul Eng, ABC News. April 20, 2004
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