Online: Tools and Resources

InternetUniversity: Web Beacons
by Mark Kecko

Providing free content to Internet users has created quite a conundrum for online publishers. The effectiveness of advertising, their primary revenue source, is directly proportional to the success and longevity of many online content providers. Finding out how users are navigating through a specific site or keeping track of what ads they’ve seen is key to adding to the bottom line.

This process of finding out where a visitor has been began with the evaluation of large, bulky Web server logs. Then came cookies, which provided a more convenient method to track Web traffic. However, cookies aren’t foolproof; since they reside on a user’s computer, they can easily be disabled in Internet browsers.

Web beacons are the next link in the chain of Web tracking tools. Web beacons, as defined by the latest release of the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI), are “small strings of code that provide a method for delivering a graphic image on a Web page or in an email message for the purpose of transferring data.” These “strings of code” are usually HTML image tags that don’t really display images. Instead the image tag points to a URL or Web page, which is executed when the image tag is interpreted by an Internet browser or an email client, like Outlook Express.

The programs or Web pages executed by Web beacons most often record innocuous user actions, like reporting that they saw a particular ad in their email or that they sent a certain article to a friend from a site. However, major players in the industry, like the NAI, DoubleClick, Avenue A, and Truste, have decided to take the initiative and publish some guidelines for the use of Web beacons. These guidelines can be viewed at: http://www.networkadvertising.org/release.pdf.

It seems that the industry’s past experiences with cookies and the fallout experienced with respect to the collection and combination of personal online and offline spending habits have proven reason enough to enlighten the public about Web beacons. These guidelines are a huge step in the online ad industry’s efforts to self-regulate.

ClickPick: Hoovers.com
by Amy Corr

Hoovers.com is an excellent new business tool that enables agency professionals to research all angles of a company, from mini company profiles to related news articles and even financial information. The site provides business, financial, and news information on more than 18,500 public and privately owned companies.

The information supplied by Hoover’s is substantial but organized, so users are not overwhelmed. For example, if you need information on Intel, a search produces results divided into four initial categories: Capsule, Financials, Profile, and People. Capsule provides information about Intel and its top three competitors. Clicking on a tool called Competitive Landscape brings up a chart of Intel and its competitors, detailing financial earnings, staff size, market share, 12-month revenue growth, and other information. This type of analysis about a client and its competitors can be very useful when planning future media campaigns.

Access to the data on Hoover’s website is available at four paid yearly subscription levels. However, Hoover’s Pro and Pro Plus are the most popular subscriptions, with pricing for one to five users running from $1,995 to $4,995, respectively. As a note, Hoovers.com was purchased in December by Dun & Bradstreet.

AdServer Focus: BURST! Media’s AdDesktop
by Amy Corr

Technology companies, when touting their ad servers, tend to focus on the capabilities built into their product: Can updates be done in real time? Can ads be served to wireless platforms? How detailed are the campaign reports? What about surround sessions? This month’s ad server, AdDesktop, promotes something that most do not — customer service.

BURST! Media, known primarily as an ad network — with 20 major categories and 477 subcategories to target by — launched its ad serving technology, AdDesktop, in January 2002. BURST! Media didn’t jump onto the ad serving bandwagon to compete with other technologies, but rather as a way to better serve customers. Jarvis Coffin, president and CEO of BURST! Media, realized that most ad servers have impressive capabilities, but knowing how to use the technology is just as important.

“The marketplace is full of ad serving solutions, but what most miss is the commitment to the customer. When we launched AdDesktop we committed to delivering the same level of customer service that we provide to our content publishers. We work with each AdDesktop customer to help solve their problems, even to the point of developing customized solutions.”

AdDesktop is ideally suited for smaller companies or those new to the realm of ad servers. Its capabilities are basic, with a focus on customer service as the key point of difference. AdDesktop handles most rich media, but does not have wireless capabilities; updates are done every three hours, compared to some ad servers that update in real time, every 15 minutes or on the hour. Also, BURST! has no plans to add advertiser-side server technology to its package.

AdDesktop made its first major update back in July, which included enhanced reporting and campaign management features. Users can serve ads by effective CPM — meaning that the highest-paid ads automatically serve first, driving more revenue to customers. AdDesktop will soon add enhanced CPA capabilities to its product, and stresses that if a consumer wants something not offered by AdDesktop’s suite, it will customize the product as best it can.

AdDesktop is used by the BURST! Media network of sites, as well as by eight outside clients, including recent client additions, the websites TheDeal and Kaboose.

Adam Shelnut, an AdDesktop manager, says that unlike other ad networks, which place more emphasis on their technology, BURST! will continue to stress its media business. “We are a media company leveraging our technology.”

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