I was looking for the oldest evidence of marketing firms formally selling links and came across this one from 1995 that predates Google and most current search engines. Back then the Internet-on-a-Disk newsletter was hot.

Their November 1995 issue http://bubl.ac.uk/archive/journals/ioad/n1395.htm  reports this:

A NEW KIND OF ADVERTISING — Webconnect http://www.worldata.com/webcon.htm These folks act as hyperlink brokers. They have signed up hundreds of Web sites. They go to potential advertisers and offer them a package deal. For $X per month, you can have hyperlinks to your Web site from Y Web sites which attract the kinds of audiences you want to appeal to. The revenue is shared with the Web sites, which have the right to refuse any advertiser they don’t feel is appropriate for them.

They contacted us about a month ago, and now already we have our first “advertiser” — The Encyclopedia Britannica. For including a hypertext link to their site (with a little graphic), we receive $45 a month. That’s not bad considering the run our entire Web site on free space that we get with our $29 a month SLIP account with TIAC. So our one advertiser more than pays for our Internet access and our Web space. And the advertiser is a company we’re glad to help promote – they have a site that we have wanted to point to anyway as an important educational resource (http://www.eb.com)

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“HIT-VITATIONS” – WHAT’S GOING ON? AND HOW DO YOU PLAY THIS GAME? by Richard Seltzer, B&R Samizdat Express
I never expected that blatant commerical advertising would work on the Internet. The medium is much better suited for providing detailed information to people who want it, when they want it, and how they want it. Surprisingly, some of the much travelled on-ramp sites like Netscape are showing impressive results from “hyper- banner” advertising. I recently spoke with Kathleen Gilroy of Kathleen Gilroy Associates, a distance education company in Cambridge, Mass.. In exchange for sponsorship of an Internet training program, she got a hyperlinked “banner” on the Netscape site. The result was 500,000 hits on her Web site in the first month (http://www.kga.com).

Well, if you learn anything from dealing with the Internet and human behavior there, it’s that you’ve got to expect the unexpected and adjust quickly to change.

So is advertising “in” now? Is that the way to go?

I’ve heard people comparing hits or visits at a Web site to responses to a direct mail campaign. That seems far-fetched — not the right ballpark, not the right order of magnitude in terms of predicting audience behavior.

The first-time visitor who clicks to your site by way of a hyper-banner does so on random impulse. You’ve generated some street traffic by making it easy for people to impulsively move in your direction from some other site — a click costs the user little time and almost no effort — little thinking is involved — curiosity is enough.

When you buy an ad on television or in a newspaper, you are buying an opportunity to catch the attention of an established audience. When you buy a hyper-banner on the Internet, you buy an opportunity to induce people to come to your site and be (at least once) part of your audience. You have not yet begun to catch their attention.

A reminder and invitation to check a website (not a direct ad for a product or service) is a step or two removed from traditional advertising. It is audience acquisition for another program.

Once they “hit” your site, you have an opportunity to catch their interest, to provide them with useful information or an enjoyable experience or a discussion with people of like mind. You have earned a chance to give them good reason to come back again and again to your site. If, at that point, you simply shove a blatant ad in their face or ask them to fill out a long form before you let them see or do anything else, you could be throwing away that opportunity.

In other words, a hyper-banner is a “hit-vitation,” an invitation to hit another site. And the success of this approach does not mean that blatant advertising is thriving on the Internet.

In the Hit-vitation business, you are in do-it-yourself mode. Your Web site is the equivalent of a publication or a broadcast station – run by you. You need to build an audience — by serving an audience — before you can expect to get results. And raw hits – randomly gleaned from pointers and paid-for banner links — are not an audience, they are just an opportunity to build an audience.

Generating hits by way of hyperlink invitations is analogous to acquiring a list of prospects for one-time direct-mail use. These people have not yet even seen, much less read, an ad or marketing material, and the vast majority, once at your site, will do the equivalent of throwing your marketing material in the wastebasket. In other words, this is a step removed from direct mail responses, and marketers should set their expectations of results accordingly.

At this point in the evolution of commerce on the Internet, the experience of the user with a Web site is simply too complex to reduce to statistics. For the long term, success should be measured not by hits or visits but by some index of user loyalty — how likely they are to retun again and again. For today, remember that if you pay for a banner/link, you are sending out invitations to anyone and everyone to click on over to your site and take a look. And what that’s worth to you depends on what you have at your site — how useful and compelling people find it.

I still believe that the most interesting opportunities on the Internet are likely to come from serving audiences rather than selling advertising.

In my ideal model, you provide a place where people can interact with one another about matters of common interest; you provide related free information and useful pointers; and once you have built an audience and interact with those people regularly, you begin to provide them with services and products which they need. The better you serve them, the more likely you are to be successful. And in this mode very small operations could be very profitable and very beneficial as well.

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REACTIONS TO “HIT-VITATIONS”
by Tom Camp, camp@zeke.enet.dec.com

Some interesting thoughts regarding “hit-vitation”. Another way to view these interesting “sign-posts” is from the perspective of someone driving down a city street loaded with signs for organizations (e.g. churchs, clubs, etc.), businesses (stores, commercial sites, etc.) and leisure activities (theatres, parks, amusements, etc.).

The Internet allows individuals to return to first days of driving (a.k.a. teenagers) when “cruising” in and of itself was compelling. While cruising, we looked at all the signs. They were new, exciting and had never been seen from the drivers seat. A great way to just enjoy ourselves as we thrilled at the freedom. Computers prior to the Internet didn’t allow us much freedom, you know. We saw the same view of office applications and accounting programs, spreadsheets, lists, etc.

When we first drove our cars, we may have driven by those signs thousands of times and driven into a few parking lots and browsed in some stores. Slowing to check things out, talking with people on the sidewalk – just enjoying the thrill. The places we checked out had a high degree of relationship to our interests.

As we matured though, driving became routine and lost some of its thrill and excitment. We went from one place to another because we had a purpose. Sometimes that purpose was to browse or loose ourselves for few hours in a Mall or store that we liked, but most often it was guided by a very specific purpose. When driven by such a purpose, every red light, yellow light, traffic jam and small yellow volkswagon in front of us proved a maddening distraction. Eventually we stop only where we have a purpose.

Much of what we’re pursuing with the Internet today is an attempt to match our Internet content and services to purposes which people find compelling in their lives. For the consumer market this will not be an easy task. The business user will benefit significantly in the short term for all the reasons you’ve described before.

Obviously, we need to understand more about the habits and effects of maturation of the Internet driver. I know I still act like a teenager sometimes, clicking and clicking and clicking… But when I’m looking for specific information on a company or a product – I want it NOW (one click away). Long delays (regardless what the cause) drive me to look for a horn to blow or some gesture to make at some faceless Webmaster in the sky. I maintain my hot list and constantly scribble URLs to avoid those long lines.

As a marketeer, I know there is power in this new medium. Measuring its effectiveness will keep us all employeed for many years to come. I agree with your concept that return is important. But as in life on the road, for some sites how often is not so important — pure hits may be. The type of site is a critical component in measuring how successful it is. For example, a site which provides information for a specific event might be effectively measured on total hits, while a commercial site offering a variety of information over time might be better measured by some combination of new hits and returns.

Over time we’ll see an evolution of sites and a maturity of users. As with any new market, niches will evolve that we can’t anticipate today and specialized services will develop to meet these needs. For us the challenge is to keep looking to identify these trends and help characterize them, measure their success and build (as we say) compelling solutions.

Just a few thoughts…

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HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS? THE REAL RESULTS DIRECTORY

People who run Web sites have many different objectives — from making the world a better place to live, to building a business or both — and hence they have very different definitions of success and methods of trying to achieve it. If you run a Web site and believe that it brings you results, send email to samizdat@samizdat.com and ask for “results.txt”, and we’ll send back a questionnaire. We’ll gather the responses (no hobbies and personal pages please — just sites designed to produce results), and we’ll make them available to all for free on our Web site at http://www.tiac.net/users/samizdat/results.html (Remember, we’re just getting started. There’s not much to see yet.)

We hope that by sharing our experiences we can help one another make better use of this strange and exciting new medium. And at the same time, this is a vehicle for those who run Web sites to let people know what they’re doing and why, and why people should visit.

We’re calling this project “Real Results: The directory of successful Web sites.” Please spread the word.

I am not claiming these are the earliest link brokers and probably they aren’t.

If some have pointers to earliest link brokers, let me know as there is nothing new under the Sun. Nevertheless, it is a great fun reading about how online marketing components started. I always learn something new by reading or lecturing on pieces of online history.

Send me pointers to the original sources, not articles some marketer wrote or compiled about the history of the Internet. I am putting together material for a new lecture titled: The History of Online Marketing.

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