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 (or whatever you call your online listing of companies) would seem like an easy place to do so. But you've probably found that your exhibitors aren't crazy about spending money for an online listing, and that they're becoming ever more insistent on seeing real value in return for their dollars. I've been working with one of my clients 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--then you'll have trouble no matter what you do. Online listings are just another form of advertising, and advertisers buy audience circulation. If you don't have circulation, you don't have an asset to sell. Assuming that you already know this and your site receives a respectable amount of traffic, here are some ideas for convincing 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 you should 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 visitors per month and more than 1.5 million hits per month. Yet they were still having trouble selling listings in their product forum. The problem was that 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," priced at $2,500 per year, and the "Premium," priced at $7,500 per year) simply 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 price at $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 back 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.
Key Item 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, and 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 home page and by allowing visitors to click 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.
Be careful that your organization's reputation and credibility aren't compromised by any appearance of commercial bias. 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.