Online advertisers use creative techniques to woo distracted Canadian surfers

Online advertisers challenged with winning over distracted Web surfers are turning to pointed, user-specific marketing methods and Web analytics to help attract those eyeballs.

Canadians spending time on the Internet are also doing another activity about half the time, an Ipsos Reid survey shows.

While the average Canuck spends about 15 hours per a week online, it’s likely that for more than seven of those hours they simultaneously watch TV or listen to the radio.

“It’s a multi-channel universe now, in terms of getting the message through,” says Mark Laver, associate vice-president at Ipsos Reid. “You can’t just rely on one channel to get your message out there.”

As distracted Web surfers also become savvier in their browsing habits, traditional banner advertising is working less often, according to marketing experts.

Successful online marketers make their ads as specific as possible, hoping to snag users’ attention with messaging that speaks directly to them. A tool chest of user behaviour analytical tools and ad-campaign success measurement tools can help in this process.

For starters, advertisers must know if an ad campaign is working or not.

“Everybody needs to be careful and track what they’re spending,” Laver says. “If your advertising can’t break through the clutter, then something has to change.”

Online analytical tools such as Google Analytics can help measure the success of both online and offline campaigns.

Google’s free service is easy for companies to set up. Simply paste a line of code on to each Web page you want to collect data from, and the tool will start collecting data on who is visiting your site and how they got there. Depending on the level of traffic a site gets, it won’t take long to reveal some interesting trends.

“A lot of big retail sites that use our tool have so much traffic that they start to see trending insights in a single day,” says Ian Caminsky, head of business development at Google Canada. “You can watch a user’s path and see where you were successful on your Web site.”

He said companies can learn quickly how users are navigating their Web sites by examining the content funnels that form. One particular entry point might usually lead to a Web site’s goal – such as making a purchase. But another entry point might lead to a hasty exit. From there, the site can be tweaked to guide more users to the desired goal.

Web site owners not only see which online elements were driving traffic – organic searches, search engine advertising, or online banners – but what traditional media campaigns are working too.

For example, Tourism British Columbia used Google Analytics to measure the success of a TV ad campaign, Caminsky says. The commercial pushed viewers to a unique URL, so the company knew where users were coming from.

Creating successful online campaigns can be very challenging. The trend lately has been to create very personalized ads, says Len Rosen, the sole proprietor of Len Rosen Marketing Inc.

“It requires an incredibly intelligent advertising campaign,” he says. “Being able to aggregate personal data so the information that goes back to the user reflects who that user is and what they like.”

Many good Web sites are able to set up sophisticated databases that capture user information and build upon that from repeated visits. Based on that information, the Web site will transform itself — becoming tailored to a user’s preferences.

Online retailer Amazon is one such example, Rosen says. The site will remember what a user purchases and offer them similar products on repeated visits. The more purchases a user makes, the more refined the system becomes.

“They’re still pushing the wrong things to me, but that’s because I’m not a high-frequency buyer,” he says. “If I was a real cash cow, they’d have me refined to the point that I only see exactly what I’m looking for.”

Social networking sites provide an example of sites that have successfully collected user’s personal information and use it to hone advertising.

Popular sites such as Facebook and MySpace are among the most-visited sites on the Internet, collecting 22 million visits and 12 million visits in the month of December, respectively.

Yet despite all those eyeballs, the click-through advertising hasn’t necessarily been successful yet, according to Bill Jula, CEO and co-founder of Fast Pitch!, a Sarasota, Fla.-based business networking site.

Jula was so discouraged with his own online advertising results that he decided to build his business network on a subscription-funded model, and not rely on advertising.

“I think you’re starting to see that Facebook is having a difficult time justifying their valuation,” he says. “We’re advertising agnostic.”

The network offers services to members for a fee, such as the ability to send news releases or other content to the Inboxes of members fitting a specific description. That sort of business model has led to 200 per cent year-over-year growth for the company, says Jula.

“If you build something around advertising, then you’re a one-trick pony,” he says. “Once the economy starts to dry up a bit, those companies are sort of stuck.”

It’s the same young users of the social network sites that are spending more time online than with any other media, according to Ipsos Reid. Those polled in the 18-34 demographic spend 18.4 hours online a week — that’s more time spent online than watching TV.

That leads to some tough decisions for marketers, Rosen says. What would be a better way to advertise – a commercial aired during the Superbowl, or an ad placed on the Superbowl’s Web site?

Doing both is the best bet, he says. Have an ad on the TV and on the Web site and you’ll improve the chances that your multi-tasking user is looking at one or the other.

But don’t make the online advertisement a banner, Rosen says. They don’t work anymore. “That signage has become the white noise you pass by as you cruise the broadband Internet highway.”

The Ipsos-Reid survey also revealed that online Canadians are more likely to drop print media. Four out of 10 online Canadians don’t read magazines, and one in five don’t read newspapers.

The survey of 2,644 adults was conducted online and is considered accurate within 1.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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