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Old 02-15-2001, 02:06 PM   #1
Tony Burgan
Registered User
Join Date: Feb 2001
Posts: 31
Exclamation I read things like this and don't know where to start

Commercial Overkill
by Andrew Starling

One of the few things I like about spam mail is that it's so obvious. On
the very first line there are usually block capitals and dollar symbols,
letting me know that this is junk and I can trash it immediately. As the
dotcom industry struggles to make money, I'm noticing the same negative
signals cropping up on an increasing number of Web sites too. "Ignore
me. I'm junk."

Most professional Web sites exist to make money. A few lucky ones can
make it indirectly by raising a company's profile and don't need to turn
a profit on the site itself. Others are there to educate and inform
without money as a motive - for example the sites I recently browsed
chronicling the life of William Shakespeare.

But for most of us, profit is the driving force. And in these days of
reduced ad rates, low Internet investment and online consumer apathy,
it's a driving force that's hard to satisfy. That's why many sites are
increasing their level of commercialisation. They're cramming more
adverts on to their pages and heavily pushing their affiliate programs.
The problem is that at some point the law of diminishing returns kicks
in. Their visitors begin to say, "That's too much, I'm off elsewhere."

I can think of more than one search engine that's gone in this
direction. Their pages were once uncluttered. Now they're full of
affiliate links. I run a search for Mars Pathfinder and I get the
message "Find Mars Pathfinder and millions of other cool items at eBay!"
Hey, cool! I didn't even know it had come back to Earth, much less that
I could bid for it.

Nonsense, isn't it? Kind of fun nonsense though, because there's lots of
other interesting stuff I can type into the search field, like enriched
plutonium or spiritual redemption. "Buy Supreme Court Judges and more at
Amazon.com." But the problem is that this nonsense detracts from the
image of the search site. It becomes unintentionally amusing, and for a
commercial enterprise, that's a dangerous way to be perceived.

Portals play the affiliate game too. Up to half the space on a portal
front page may be taken up by affiliates and adverts. Most visitors will
ignore them after a couple of visits. From then on, they become a
constant reminder that the aims of the portal and the aims of the
visitor are not the same.

It's all a matter of degree. Most Web users are aware that advertising
and affiliate programs pay the rent. In most cases they accept a touch
of commercialism with good grace. As they become increasingly familiar
with the Web, they attempt to ignore banner ads, which then become
subliminal and therefore work in a different way. It's when
commercialism becomes intrusive that it spoils the party - when it
becomes commercial overkill.


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For extreme examples we only have to look at the webmaster services
sector - stuff like search engine promotion, banner exchanges and
email/newsletter distribution services. There's barely any money to be
made in this sector and heavy commercialism is rife. Many sites offering
these services appear to think their webmaster visitors are
fundamentally dumb and highly susceptible to garish hype. Take a look at
junk email database services and the extreme is taken about as far as it
can go.

Even if this approach works, the end result is a client-base of dumb
customers. The better webmasters are passing over these sites and
looking for the ones that give full information and explain the
capabilities of the company in a calm, measured manner. Or possibly
they're ignoring the sector altogether.

Which brings us on to a further disadvantage of commercial overkill -
bad associations. Heavily hyped sites full of adverts and affiliations
are often on the periphery of the Web's core. They include
get-rich-quick schemes plus other charlatans, and pornography. Those are
the mental associations a visitor may make. The over-commercialised site
may also give the impression that the company is in poor financial shape
and has to make money in the short term however it can, because the long
term doesn't look too rosy. Again, not a good association.

Global Reach
Finally, there's the issue of globalisation of the Web. International TV
and billboard advertisers have known for a long time that adverts have
to be tailored to the culture of their intended audience. In general,
Americans are tolerant of hard-sell ads, but in Europe and elsewhere a
soft-sell is likely to be more effective. So although British TV, for
example, is stuffed full of American programs, it rarely ever shows
American ads. They simply don't work in Europe.

The Web was originally dominated by the US, and has taken on some
American cultural values. But now there are more Internet users outside
the US than inside, and the latest prediction is that by 2003 less than
one third of Internet users will be American. In the past, hard-sell
sites could at least say they were suitable for the majority audience.
Not any more.

Commercial overkill reduces the breadth of your audience, the quality of
your audience, and the respect they hold for your site. If none of these
things matter to you, please go right ahead and overdo it. Your more
discerning visitors will thank you, because they'll be able to tell
straight away that they've come to the wrong place.
Tony Burgan is offline   Reply With Quote


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