Online Ads Make IRS.gov a Hot Site

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Advertising for electronic tax filing was a boon for the Internal Revenue Service, according to a report released today by Media Metrix's AdRelevance tracking division.


A 6 million-impression campaign on Yahoo, Talk City and Bloomberg.com helped traffic on IRS.gov jump 182 percent this tax season.


"It's got to be a source of great satisfaction to the government because whatever strategy they put in place has really worked," said Charlie Buchwalter, vice president of media research at Seattle-based AdRelevance.


While traffic on IRS.gov has spiked, the number of unique visitors to the U.S. Department of the Treasury's ustreas.gov site plunged 46 percent during this tax period. Part of the Treasury department, the IRS.gov site in its present form allows taxpayers to file taxes on the site itself.


"In years past, it was the Treasury site that most people went to, and as the IRS.gov site has become so much more user friendly, so much more customer-centered by that definition, customers or taxpayers have just reversed their traffic patterns from a more global Treasury site to the more focused IRS.gov," Buchwalter said.


According to AdRelevance records for the monitored period of December 1999 through February, Yahoo accounted for 58 percent of the ad impressions bought by the IRS. Talk City chipped in with 30 percent, and Bloomberg.com 12 percent.


Unique visitors at IRS.gov during this period rose to 7.5 million, up from 2.7 million visitors during December 1998 through February 1999.


To make the online filing quicker and easier for taxpayers, the IRS has partnered with other for-profit tax-filing sites. IRS.gov directs online visitors to use tax software from these sites.


Of these private-sector sites, Intuit's TurboTax takes top spot, AdRelevance said. TurboTax's traffic during this tax season rose 122 percent to 4.2 million unique visitors, followed by Taxcut.com, which was up 32 percent to 2.1 million visitors. A new entrant to online filing, hrblock.com recorded close to 1 million visitors.


Visitor traffic on other government agency sites such as Fedworld.gov was up 18 percent, followed by ustreas.gov, where traffic was down sharply.


AdRelevance's Buchwalter said this indicates that a growing number of people want to file taxes online and take advantage of the efficiencies and productivity inherent in Web-based interfaces.


From another perspective, the IRS' success with online ads might embolden other government agencies to follow suit, he pointed out.


"Isn't it interesting that an agency of the U.S. government has some varied advertising online and has tried a very innovative way to meet their audiences," Buchwalter said.


"Okay, they didn't choose to advertise widely, but they chose three sites that received significant amount of traffic, and we think it's the beginning of a trend. More and more agencies are going to be looking at this experience and say, 'We want to try this also.'"
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