We have been in the online services business since the mid 1980’s. R & D Enterprises, our Maryland Partnership, began as a BBS (Bulletin Board Service), one of those old (gosh, it seems like ages ago) dial-up systems where people primarily exchanged e-mail, hung around in chat rooms, and uploaded or downloaded a few relatively small data/software files. It was big news as ‘modems’ grew in speed and capacity from 1200 baud to 56k baud over a decade. The online world was dominated by the likes of CompuServe, GEnie, Prodigy, and eventually the premier privately subscribed AOL.
At first, customers paid by the hour on a tiered speed based connectivity rate. These systems were almost exclusively text-based, except for AOL, and it was very hard to entice advertizers to embrace these systems. Why spend your advertizing dollars in some clunky text-based or low resolution graphics environment when you had TV, radio, or glossy print periodicals that could really show off your product or service in style. As a result, the pre-Internet online services were forced to rely primarily on subscriptions as their chief revenue source. Only AOL has managed to make the transition to the Internet age as a subscription system, and we suspect that nowadays, even AOL derives the major source of it’s income from advertizing dollars. Today, even if you only have one web-site, you can derive advertizing income from the domain by participating in one of the many advertizing revenue sharing services. We use Google’s AdSense program and we are very pleased with the results. We are often rebuffed by some of our web-site hosting clients when we suggest employing an advertizing revenue sharing service as an essential component of their web-site design. Many reasons are given. Our customers say things like, “we don’t want to clutter up our appearance” or “we don’t want anything to detract from our primary focus”. In some instances, we have agreed that advertizing on a particular web-site may not be appropriate. But, in the vast majority of cases, we think it’s a bad idea to pass on this potential source of revenue for a number of reasons.
Because, by definiton, the Internet is a world-wide means of communication with a stellar array of pathways and signposts that lead visitors to a web-site, and even with the best-of-breed web-site activity tracking systems/software in operation, one has a hard time figuring out why some of those visitors show up. We try to point out that, whatever ‘product’ or ’service’ or ‘important message’ you may be attempting to promote or sell, may have no bearing on the reason many web-site visitors chose to come to a particular web-site. Even with good traffic analysis, it’s darn near impossible to ascribe a ‘why’ to particular categories of web-site visitor’s. We contend that these types of visitors constitute a ‘natural’ Internet audience and you may not be serving them at all. Just one conceptually-related or eye-catching advertizement on your site that a visitor choose’s to ‘click-through’ may be the very thing that is memorable about your web-site. That ad will immediately generate some revenue from a service like Google’s AdSense and it may also make a repeat visitor to your web-site.
Our web-site hosting customers often question whether it’s a good idea to potentially promote the ‘competition’ because most advertizing revenue sharing services will eventually produce ads shown on your web-site that essentially are in direct competition. The answer is, yes, it’s a great idea to promote the competition. First, it shows that your web-site is ready to compete in the planet-wide marketplace of products, services, and ideas. Nobody can maintain a monopoly or a ‘corner’ in this global environment. We believe having ads from the competition on a web-site demonstrates it’s readiness to be a ‘player’ in the global game, no matter what your size is as an organization. Right up front, it demonstrates that you are at least confident of your ‘message’ standing directly next to the competition’s ads. Furthermore, having ads from direct competitors prominately displayed on your web-site automatically lends a certain legitimacy to your main focus. Most importantly, your web-site ‘content’ may end up being not exactly what a visitor hopes to find. However, if the visitor does find exactly what’s needed from a ‘related’ competitor’s ad on your site, then at least you have a chance at being remembered as a stepping-stone towards that vistor’s goals, otherwise, you may be just another ‘dead-end’ search pathway.