In early days of the Internet, online advertising wasn’t allowed. For example, two of the predecessor networks to the Internet, ARPANET and NSFNet, had “acceptable use policies” that banned network “use for commercial activities by for-profit institutions”. The NSFNet began phasing out its commercial use ban in 1991.
Email. The first widely publicized example of online advertising was conducted via electronic mail. On May 3, 1978, a marketer from DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation), Gary Thuerk, sent an email to most of the ARPANET’s American west coast users, advertising an open house for a new model of a DEC computer. Despite the prevailing acceptable use policies, electronic mail marketing rapidly expanded and eventually became known as “spam.”
The first known large-scale non-commercial spam message was sent on January 18, 1994 by an Andrews University system administrator, by cross-posting a religious message to all USENET newsgroups. Four months later, Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel, partners in a law firm, broadly promoted their legal services in a USENET posting titled “Green Card Lottery – Final One?” Canter and Siegel’s Green Card USENET spam raised the profile of online advertising, stimulating widespread interest in advertising via both Usenet and traditional email. More recently, spam has evolved into a more industrial operation, where spammers use armies of virus-infected computers (botnets) to send spam remotely.
Display Ads. Online banner advertising began in the early 1990s as page owners sought additional revenue streams to support their content. Commercial online service Prodigy displayed banners at the bottom of the screen to promote Sears products. The first clickable web ad was sold by Global Network Navigator in 1993 to a Silicon Valley law firm. In 1994, web banner advertising became mainstream when HotWired, the online component of Wired Magazine, sold banner ads to AT&T and other companies. The first AT&T ad on HotWired had a 44% click-through rate, and instead of directing clickers to AT&T’s website, the ad linked to an online tour of seven of the world’s most acclaimed art museums.
Search Ads. GoTo.com (renamed Overture in 2001, and acquired by Yahoo! in 2003) created the first search advertising keyword auction in 1998. Google launched its “AdWords” search advertising program in 2000 and introduced quality-based ranking allocation in 2002, which sorts search advertisements by a combination of bid price and searchers’ likeliness to click on the ads.
Recent Trends. More recently, companies have sought to merge their advertising messages into editorial content or valuable services. Examples include Red Bull’s Red Bull Media House streaming Felix Baumgartner’s jump from space online, Coca-Cola’s online magazines, and Nike’s free applications for performance tracking. Advertisers are also embracing social media and mobile advertising; mobile ad spending has grown 90% each year from 2010 to 2013.
As advertisers collect data across multiple external websites about a user’s online activity, they can create a detailed picture of the user’s interests to deliver even more targeted advertising. This aggregation of data is called behavioral targeting. Advertisers can also target their audience by using contextual and semantic advertising to deliver display ads related to the content of the web page where the ads appear. Retargeting, behavioral targeting, and contextual advertising all are designed to increase an advertiser’s return on investment, or ROI, over untargeted ads.
Advertisers may also deliver ads based on a user’s suspected geography through geotargeting. A user’s IP address communicates some geographic information (at minimum, the user’s country or general region). The geographic information from an IP can be supplemented and refined with other proxies or information to narrow the range of possible locations. For example, with mobile devices, advertisers can sometimes use a phone’s GPS receiver or the location of nearby mobile towers. Cookies and other persistent data on a user’s machine may provide help narrow a user’s location further.
Web banner advertising
Web banners or banner ads typically are graphical ads displayed within a web page. Many banner ads are delivered by a central ad server.
Banner ads can use rich media to incorporate video, audio, animations, buttons, forms, or other interactive elements using Java applets, HTML5, Adobe Flash, and other programs.
Frame ad (traditional banner)
Frame ads were the first form of web banners. The colloquial usage of “banner ads” often refers to traditional frame ads. Website publishers incorporate frame ads by setting aside a particular space on the web page. The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Ad Unit Guidelines proposes standardized pixel dimensions for ad units.
A pop-up ad is displayed in a new web browser window that opens above a website visitor’s initial browser window. A pop-under ad opens a new browser window under a website visitor’s initial browser window.
A floating ad, or overlay ad, is a type of rich media advertisement that appears superimposed over the requested website’s content. Floating ads may disappear or become less obtrusive after a preset time period.
An expanding ad is a rich media frame ad that changes dimensions upon a predefined condition, such as a preset amount of time a visitor spends on a webpage, the user’s click on the ad, or the user’s mouse movement over the ad. Expanding ads allow advertisers to fit more information into a restricted ad space.
A trick banner is a banner ad where the ad copy imitates some screen element users commonly encounter, such as an operating system message or popular application message, to induce ad clicks. Trick banners typically do not mention the advertiser in the initial ad, and thus they are a form of bait-and-switch. Trick banners commonly attract a higher-than-average click-through rate, but tricked users may resent the advertiser for deceiving them.
An interstitial ad displays before a user can access requested content, sometimes while the user is waiting for the content to load. Interstitial ads are a form of interruption marketing.
A text ad displays text-based hyperlinks. Text-based ads may display separately from a web page’s primary content, or they can be embedded by hyperlinking individual words or phrases to advertiser’s websites. Text ads may also be delivered through email marketing or text message marketing. Text-based ads often render faster than graphical ads and can be harder for ad-blocking software to block.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
Search Engine Marketing, or SEM, is designed to increase a website’s visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs). Search engines provide sponsored results and organic (non-sponsored) results based on a web searcher’s query. Search engines often employ visual cues to differentiate sponsored results from organic results. Search engine marketing includes all of an advertiser’s actions to make a website’s listing more prominent for topical keywords.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, attempts to improve a website’s organic search rankings in SERPs by increasing the website content’s relevance to search terms. Search engines regularly update their algorithms to penalize poor quality sites that try to game their rankings, making optimization a moving target for advertisers. Many vendors offer SEO services.
Sponsored search (also called sponsored links or search ads) allows advertisers to be included in the sponsored results of a search for selected keywords. Search ads are often sold via real-time auctions, where advertisers bid on keywords. In addition to setting a maximum price per keyword, bids may include time, language, geographical, and other constraints. Search engines originally sold listings in order of highest bids. Modern search engines rank sponsored listings based on a combination of bid price, expected click-through rate, keyword relevancy, and site quality.
Social media marketing
Social media marketing is commercial promotion conducted through social media websites. Many companies promote their products by posting frequent updates and providing special offers through their social media profiles.
Mobile advertising is ad copy delivered through wireless mobile devices such as smartphones, feature phones, or tablet computers. Mobile advertising may take the form of static or rich media display ads, SMS (Short Message Service) or MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) ads, mobile search ads, advertising within mobile websites, or ads within mobile applications or games (such as interstitial ads, “advergaming,” or application sponsorship). Industry groups such as the Mobile Marketing Association have attempted to standardize mobile ad unit specifications, similar to the IAB’s efforts for general online advertising.
Mobile advertising is growing rapidly for several reasons. There are more mobile devices in the field, connectivity speeds have improved (which, among other things, allows for richer media ads to be served quickly), screen resolutions have advanced, mobile publishers are becoming more sophisticated about incorporating ads, and consumers are using mobile devices more extensively. The Interactive Advertising Bureau predicts continued growth in mobile advertising with the adoption of location-based targeting and other technological features not available or relevant on personal computers.
Email advertising is ad copy comprising an entire email or a portion of an email message. Email marketing may be unsolicited, in which case the sender may give the recipient an option to opt-out of future emails, or it may be sent with the recipient’s prior consent (opt-in).
Online classified advertising
Online classified advertising is advertising posted online in a categorical listing of specific products or services. Examples include online job boards, online real estate listings, automotive listings, online yellow pages, and online auction-based listings. Craigslist and eBay are two prominent providers of online classified listings.
Adware is software that, once installed, automatically displays advertisements on a user’s computer. The ads may appear in the software itself, integrated into web pages visited by the user, or in pop-ups/pop-unders. Adware installed without the user’s permission is a type of malware.
Affiliate marketing (sometimes called lead generation) occurs when advertisers organize third parties to generate potential customers for them. Third-party affiliates receive payment based on sales generated through their promotion.
Advertisers and publishers use a wide range of payment calculation methods. In 2012, advertisers calculated 32% of online advertising transactions on a cost-per-impression basis, 66% on customer performance (e.g. cost per click or cost per acquisition), and 2% on hybrids of impression and performance methods.
CPM (Cost Per Mille)
Cost per mille, often abbreviated to CPM, means that advertisers pay for every thousand displays of their message to potential customers (mille is the Latin word for thousand). In the online context, ad displays are usually called “impressions.” Definitions of an “impression” vary among publishers, and some impressions may not be charged because they don’t represent a new exposure to an actual customer. Advertisers can use technologies such as web bugs to verify if an impression is actually delivered.
Publishers use a variety of techniques to increase page views, such as dividing content across multiple pages, repurposing someone else’s content, using sensational titles, or publishing tabloid or sexual content.
CPM advertising is susceptible to “impression fraud,” and advertisers who want visitors to their sites may not find per-impression payments a good proxy for the results they desire.
CPC (cost per click)
CPC (Cost Per Click) or PPC (Pay per click) means advertisers pay each time a user clicks on the ad. CPC advertising works well when advertisers want visitors to their sites, but it’s a less accurate measurement for advertisers looking to build brand awareness. CPC’s market share has grown each year since its introduction, eclipsing CPM to dominate two-thirds of all online advertising compensation methods.
Like impressions, not all recorded clicks are valuable to advertisers. GoldSpot Media reported that up to 50% of clicks on static mobile banner ads are accidental and resulted in redirected visitors leaving the new site immediately.
Other performance-based compensation
CPA (Cost Per Action or Cost Per Acquisition) or PPP (Pay Per Performance) advertising means the advertiser pays for the number of users who perform a desired activity, such as completing a purchase or filling out a registration form. Performance-based compensation can also incorporate revenue sharing, where publishers earn a percentage of the advertiser’s profits made as a result of the ad. Performance-based compensation shifts the risk of failed advertising onto publishers.
Fixed cost compensation means advertisers pay a fixed cost for delivery of ads online, usually over a specified time period, irrespective of the ad’s visibility or users’ response to it.
Benefits of Online Advertising
The low costs of electronic communication reduce the cost of displaying online advertisements compared to offline ads. Online advertising, and in particular social media, provides a low-cost means for advertisers to engage with large established communities. Advertising online offers better returns than in other media.
Online advertisers can collect data on their ads’ effectiveness, such as the size of the potential audience or actual audience response, how a visitor reached their advertisement, whether the advertisement resulted in a sale, and whether an ad actually loaded within a visitor’s view. This helps online advertisers improve their ad campaigns over time.
Advertisers have a wide variety of ways of presenting their promotional messages, including the ability to convey images, video, audio, and links. Unlike many offline ads, online ads also can be interactive. For example, some ads let users input queries or let users follow the advertiser on social media. Online ads can even incorporate games.
Publishers can offer advertisers the ability to reach customizable and narrow market segments for targeted advertising. Online advertising may use geo-targeting to display relevant advertisements to the user’s geography. Advertisers can customize each individual ad to a particular user based on the user’s previous preferences. Advertisers can also track whether a visitor has already seen a particular ad in order to reduce unwanted repetitious exposures and provide adequate time gaps between exposures.
Online advertising can reach nearly every global market, and online advertising influences offline sales.
Once ad design is complete, online ads can be deployed immediately. The delivery of online ads does not need to be linked to the publisher’s publication schedule. Furthermore, online advertisers can modify or replace ad copy more rapidly than their offline counterparts.