Biztravel.com Maximizes Ad Banners

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Biztravel.com has launched an online ad campaign using a new banner-tracking service that its executives think is their best bet to lift banner response rates and drive down member-acquisition costs.


AdMaximize is a customizable ad-tracking service available from interactive agency i33 Communications, New York, that provides online reports on click-throughs (the rate at which Web users click on banners), lead generation and, most importantly, customer acquisition and sales.


"AdMaximize is everything that everyone else is promising in that it measures click-throughs and [impressions], but all that means nothing without back-end conversion data," said Drew Rayman, president of i33 Communications. "If you have a banner that is getting a 1 percent click-through, your first reaction may be to pull it. But just maybe, that 1 percent click-through is delivering 100 percent customers, whereas a banner with a 10 percent click-through is delivering only browsers. If your system doesn't account for that, it's useless."


Membership-driven Biztravel.com, New York, makes money by booking travel, rental car and hotel reservations. The company focuses on 50- to 100-person businesses that generally lack corporate travel managers. Biztravel.com does not release its membership numbers.


Last month, Biztravel.com ran a test campaign of five creative approaches and just under 1 million impressions on several sites, including The New York Times and Infoseek. The banners' average click-through rate at the beginning of the test was 1.6 percent. Using AdMaximize, Biztravel.com was able to lift banner click-through rates to 4 percent, said Bonnie Schwartz, senior vice president of marketing and business development at Biztravel.com. As a result, the average cost per click-through dropped from $2.22 to 77 cents.


"This is an application of classical direct marketing to new media," Schwartz said.


The test campaign did not measure conversion-to-membership rates.


The roll-out campaign will serve 2.5 million impressions across 10 sites, including the Times, Infoseek, Barron's Online, E*Trade and Geocities. It includes one control creative approach and eight tests.


Though tracking banner conversion rates isn't a technological breakthrough, it apparently isn't widely used by Web advertisers or highly publicized by ad-management firms.


"No one has touted it publicly, but that doesn't mean no one is doing it," said David Levin, director of marketing and brand strategy at i33 Communications.


Virginia MacLean, director of corporate marketing for online ad-management firm IMGIS, Cupertino, CA, said that although her company made back-end tracking available more than a year ago, only a small percentage of its clients request it.


"It may be because the Internet has yet to be fully embraced by the direct marketing community," she said, adding that brand advertisers aren't necessarily concerned with tracking conversion rates. She also said that many marketers are leery of fueling online privacy concerns by tracking Web users too closely.


Though the Biztravel.com campaign is using cookie -- repeat visitor tracking -- technology to track conversion rates, Rayman said, i33 Communications will tailor AdMaximize to any system.


"Without getting too technical, there are other ways to measure back-end data," he said.


Schwartz said Biztravel.com's campaign's goal is benchmarking.


"We are in a learning phase to develop a customer acquisition and retention model that is sustainable," she said. "It is important to understand where our most productive fishing ground is and how much those prospects are costing us to acquire."
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