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A Faster Connection

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This is more than a column on Internet advertising. It's my first annual Danny K Click-Through Survey.

First, a word about the tools you'll need: a computer, a high-speed connection and a tolerance for stunningly bad Internet-marketing techniques. Let's get clicking.

First stop: MSN (aka, my home page). One page with news, stocks, weather and (of course) advertisements tailored to my interests alone, all of it courtesy of Bill G. Right? Not so fast.

The first thing I notice is the Polar Express train zooming across the screen, promoting a film I will never see. Conventional wisdom suggests the animated train would eventually stop and settle in the most coveted placement: the upper-right corner of the display. Instead, it zooms and vanishes. (To be fair, I thought the train was cool enough to play it back a couple of times, and in re-viewing it, I began to wonder: When will Hollywood "get it"? When will the studios realize that fans covet celebrities, not films? If they want to quench our thirst for stars, they would find a way to get us, say, Tom Hanks' Friendster link … even if it's just a studio executive manning the site. OK, now back to the column, already in progress.)

After recovering from the distracting animation, I return to MSN the next day and notice a bulky new box ad flacking some product called Zelnorm. Since this is my personalized portal, Zelnorm must be perfect for me—after all, MSN thinks it's worth about five square inches of my attention!

I float my cursor over the image—an exposed stomach smeared with the words "Abdominal pain, bloating, constipation" written in lipstick—and, much to my disappointment, learn that Zelnorm is meant for women only. Thanks, hyper-tagging. I press on. Since these unfortunate symptoms could prevent me from scoring points with the ladies, I decide to click the button marked "Learn about relief." After all, it's better to be safe.

A soundtrack rolls, and I arrive on a landing page. I feel like I'm at a bad buffet with endless rows of unappetizing choices—I just don't know what links to click. "About Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)" … "What is Zelnorm?" … "Get your symptom checklist!" … each choice less attractive than the one before it.

Now for the fun part of the survey. It's time for my readers and me to join together and shout: "Your CTA sucks!" (That's short for "call to action," for those of you who don't know what you just yelled.) Microsoft and its advertising partners are missing the point. Online ads must get the viewer to interact immediately. Danny K says, "One clear, single message is the first step to a great CTA." (I say that as well, so at least two of us agree.)

Sure, I suppose you can eventually lead the viewer to a page filled with cluttered links (if you must), but not before you have their attention. So how do you get the visitor's attention? Start by being nice, like with a teaser that reads, "If you experience IBS, you know it's not very pleasant. Would you like to learn how we can help?"

Those who click this link will meet the virtual Dr. Zel, a nice, albeit goofy-looking man I invented a moment ago. Dr. Zel tells the IBS sufferer that he would like to ask a few questions that will help him share some important information about IBS treatment.

Blah, blah. Yadda, yadda. Better copy for Zelnorm in the span of two ham-handed paragraphs.

Why is my suggested approach more effective? (And why should Zelnorm's Internet marketers consider visiting a career-change counselor?) Because ironically, their fear of not fully utilizing the customer engagement causes them to blow the opportunity to interact with the customer. Or more simply, they try to do too much. (After all, they paid a boatload for that home position so they will get as much "traffic" as possible.)

I know this is supposed to be a column, not a rant. So in case I haven't made it yet, here's my point: Effective Internet advertising is not about pushing marketing messages through endless links. It's about creating a dialogue with those kind enough to click the banner. But no matter how many times I point this out, most Internet advertisers are going to persist in creating the same mess I've just finished criticizing.

Until next time … remember these words from Danny K: "Everyone looks better in a leisure suit."