Pixel Ads: The Next Big Thing in Web Marketing?

What will they think of next? I’ve been in marketing for many years, and just when I think I’ve seen it all, I get shocked all over again. Every new gimmick I see either causes me to laugh hysterically; shake my head in utter disbelief; or, in the words of C&C Music Factory, makes me go, “Hmmm.” This time, however; I’m saying, “Hmmm.” What am I talking about? I’m talking about Pixel Ads.

Pixel Ads, sometimes referred to as Micro Ads or Miniature Ads, are tiny advertisements that only occupy the space of a pixel on a web page. These ads range anywhere from a penny to a dollar per pixel and several sites are offering free Pixel Ads. Selling the ads on the front page of a site has been easy because they are unique, one of the companies selling pixel ads said. If an advertiser buys a 100-pixel ad, it appears as a small square in the grid of small squares on the site’s front page.

“It looks like the demographics of the heavy Internet users are 18- to 29-year-olds,” marketing veteran Bob Cefail said. “It’s an extremely tough demographic for people to touch, so [the site] is an alternative. It is kind of quirky.” The site also makes advertising fun, instead of a “big, serious thing.” Cefail, who is chairman of In Touch Media Group, heard last month about a British Web site that boosted awareness of several little-known companies by selling micro ads by the pixel, and a few days later, his online and search marketing firm developed its own site that displays miniature ads: PixelBay.org.

It’s no secret that banner advertising has been steadily declining in popularity and effectiveness, and everyone has popup blockers installed to keep those annoying popup ads from showing. Pay-per-click advertisers are becoming increasingly frustrated with click fraud, the high rate of unqualified clicks, and the outrageous bid prices on keywords. Even buying text links has seen better days. We’ve all heard of silly marketing gimmicks that were outlandish enough that the notoriety itself gave overwhelming push to the idea; and while some of these ideas stick around, most do not.

Response from advertisers and visitors has been beyond Cefail’s expectations, as well. “It’s a whirlwind,” he said of the many advertiser calls In Touch has received. Cefail also is surprised that, when visitors click on the ads that link to the advertiser’s Web site, “they are on these sites for hours. Already, the guys that bought the ads are reporting tremendous volume shifts.”

Crazy Advertising Schemes

You’ve all probably seen savetoby.com by now; this is a website where a couple of college kids use the concept of threatening to kill and eat a pet rabbit if they were unable to raise a ransom of $50,000 by a deadline. The site features Save Toby merchandise and donations to the cause, as well as rabbit recipes. (The deadline has come and gone, and the bunny is still alive, by the way, thanks to a book deal from Kensington Publishers.) The two students receive massive amounts of hate mail, and their PayPal account has been shut down, rumor has it, due to great numbers of PETA protesters. Ridiculous ideas such as auctioning off a grilled cheese sandwich with the face of Mary on it (I though it looked more like Mae West) to age old pyramid marketing schemes have been around for years, and will continue to entice gullible or fascinated individuals for many years to come.

So we knew something would come along and try to fill the void being left by the decline of banner advertising, and this time it appears to be Pixel Ads. Oddly enough, the concept took off nearly overnight. A search on Google for the term “pixel ads” lists 1.75 million results. Stories have popped up everywhere about instant successes of those selling these Micro Ads, like the story of the 21 year old kid raising money for college who already raked in over half of a million dollars so far with his site, Milliondollarhomepage.com. The driving force behind the wildly crazy popularity of this gimmick right now could very well simply be the novelty of it all. The question is: how long will this new fad last?

Points to Consider

A few impressions I have about the whole idea, however, I would like to mention to you here. First, I want to point out that on the advertising page, there are no categories of ads; they are all jumbled together on one page. So there is not a good chance that I’ll probably get much qualified traffic to my website. Even with pay-per-click, at least I would have keywords pulled from the page to associate with my ad. I’m honestly not at all convinced that people click will click on my ad other than out of pure curiosity.

Another thought I have is the close proximity in appearance an ad site like this has to a free-for-all links (FFA) page. Being on an advertising page linked with other sites whose reputation is unknown might be putting you at risk.

PageRank is passed by any link to a normal link, either text or image links, and when they are one way links, it’s even better. However, there is still a lot of debate as to whether Pixel Ads will even pass PageRank. One SEO expert told me he was pretty sure PageRank was passed on from the site with the ad; another equally trustworthy SEO expert told me otherwise. The jury is still out on this one for me.

Another concern I have is the similarity of Pixel Ads to posting hidden links or single pixel image links, which unfortunately can be seen as spam to some search engines. We haven’t seen too many advertisement sites that are penalized for advertising, but we also don’t see millions of ads on a site at the same time or only a single pixel in size, either. I shouldn’t worry about my site specifically in this regard, however if I am hoping that PageRank will be passed through the link, this could really hurt my changes of receiving any type of veritable PageRank.

When the novelty of these tiny little ads wear off and curiosities have been satisfied, I truly doubt that surfers will want to browse thousands of ads on a site over time. Ultimately, if the traffic received from the Pixel Ad isn’t qualified or targeted, then it may be the only one benefiting from Pixel Advertising is the site doing the advertising. At $1 per pixel, I could see how it could become very lucrative.

My Experiment

I hold the opinion that it really is nothing more than a phase, but what the heck; I decided to give it a try. After all, a Pixel Ad is so inexpensive to purchase that anyone could do it. Since several sites are offering freebies, I decided to go this route just to see how it turned out. So I checked out PixelWars.com, which is basically a directory of sites that sell Pixel Ads. I found one in the free category, and placed my 6-pixel ad. Over the next few days I’ll watch the traffic, and find out how it goes.

After watching my stats for traffic from the Pixel Ad, I am really surprised to find about 25 visitors after about 2 days. I’m pretty surprised because I didn’t expect my ad to even be found, let alone clicked on. I’ll keep watching it, and see how it goes. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll spend the money for other ads. I guess even if it is a fad, I might as well ride the wave of momentum in the meantime. I’ll keep track of the referrers, as well as the time spent on the site from those clicks, and then compare it to traffic or visitors I receive from other types of advertising that I do.

Several days and analyses later, I’ve determined that while the Pixel Ad has definitely increased my traffic a bit, more so than I would have expected; I have yet to see where it is bringing me qualified traffic, or increasing my ROI or conversion ratios. I am very careful about my advertising, if and when I do it, and there is nothing I can see so far in the site traffic patterns that tell me that this is worth doing just yet. It has only been a week, and like I said earlier, the ad was free, so I certainly will keep it where it is for now, and watch it from time to time.

So my final take on Pixel Ads? I’m really not sure, as it really is too early to tell. It is definitely a novel idea, and seems to be catching on very quickly. There are things this idea has going for it, even if my points of concern I listed above far outweigh the good points. But over all, If I had to make a prediction, I’d have to say that it’ll fizzle out and fade away like a one-hit wonder, and we’ll all sit around and say, “Hey you remember those Pixel Ads? Weren’t they silly?” and “Oh yeah, I remember those!”

Still on the other hand, I could be very wrong. I’d rather have a small ad in a high traffic place than a billboard in the middle of the desert. If the idea takes off, and sites that have high PageRank jump on board the new Pixel Ad Era, pass all kinds of PageRank to the advertisers, and Pixel Ads gain massive targeted traffic and conversion ratios for its advertiser; then I will eat my words politely with a knife and fork, and ask for more. But if the plan falls flat on its face, I’ll be the first to say, “I told you so!”

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