If you're like most people with an event-related Web site, you are always thinking about how to create new revenue from your site. Your virtualor product forum would seem like an easy place to do so. But, like most of us, you've probably found that your exhibitors aren't crazy about spending money for an online listing. In fact, they're becoming ever more insistent on seeing real value for their dollars. I've recently been working with a client on just this sort of problem, so I thought I'd share some of our experiences.
First, I have to stress that if your site isn't generating any substantial traffic--and I would say that anything below 10,000 unique visitors per month isn't substantial--you will have trouble no matter what you do. Online listings are just another form of advertising, and advertisers buy audience circulation. Assuming that you already know this and that your site receives a respectable amount of traffic, here are some ideas on convincing your exhibitors to spend money on your site.
Value Creates Revenue This may seem obvious, but you have to create a value package that will entice your advertisers. Each advertiser is a little different, and each industry has its own unique needs, so expect to go through some trial and error creating your package and pricing it. Here is how my client approached this process.
My client runs a very well-trafficked medical information site with more than 35,000 monthly visitors and more than 1.5 million hits per month. Yet they were still having trouble selling listings in the product forum. Although the site got lots of traffic, the product forum section got very little of that action, so advertisers were reluctant to pay for a listing. In fact, even the free "basic" listing on the site wasn't being picked up by advertisers. The two levels of paid listings (the "Plus" and the more expensive "Premium") didn't move at all.
We decided to combine the features of the Plus and Premium into a new, enhanced Plus package, and we kept the fee at the old Plus cost of $2,500 per year. The new package encompasses all the elements of the free listing, which allowed advertisers to list as many products as they wanted, including product photos and unlimited text about the company. The package also includes options to add streaming video and audio, unlimited links to the advertiser's Web site, unlimited links to citations in the medical literature that mentioned the advertiser's products, and individualized traffic measurement reports (using Web Trends software) that show traffic levels for each advertiser's listing. Most important, the new Plus package offers inclusion in the "featured product" section on the site's home page.
Drawing Attention The featured product is, I believe, the key to the new-found popularity of the Plus listing. The function works by allowing an advertiser to specify one product as the featured product; this product photo and its tag line are then displayed in rotation in a box on the site's home page. By displaying the featured product on the homepage and allowing visitors to click through directly to that product within the site's product forum, my client has raised the visibility not only of the advertiser's product but also of the entire product forum section.
Of course you have to be careful when going down this path to ensure that your organization's reputation and credibility aren't compromised by any appearance of commercial bias. But as long as you create the necessary separation, via disclaimers and visual clues on the site, this type of program should work for any event-related site.