Business-to-business Web sites seldom appeal to a broad audience. In fact, their low-volume traffic kept them out of the online advertising flurry of 1999. But 2000 brings to the business-to-business sector its own ad network, which could mean significant revenue for sites that reach only a select few.
CMGI's online ad network Adsmart yesterday launched its b-to-b ad network, which allows advertisers to buy banner ads across a variety of sites in particular categories. The new network will focus on niche categories of b-to-b sites and cost advertisers twice as much as Adsmart's business-to-consumer network.
"We have the sales people and relationships with top advertisers, so we decided to very aggressively develop this as a separate network," said Joanne Currie, Adsmart's VP of marketing. "We estimate that in six to nine months, it will be as big as (the consumer network)."
The b-to-b network will focus initially on legal, insurance, high-tech and real estate categories. Adsmart plans to pursue other categories, including finance, medicine, agriculture and telecom, in the future.
Four sites have joined the network so far - the Patent Cafe, Legal Recruitment Network, FindForms.com and LawGuru.com. Adsmart is in talks with 20 other sites and plans to tap other CMGI properties, such as the numerous AtVenture businesses, to get more customers.
Many niche b-to-b sites sell ads, but few find that the banners they run ever speak to their audience. Bahman Eslamboly, a partner at Eslamboly and Barlavi, the law firm that runs FindForms.com and LawGuru.com, participated in ad network Flycast in the past, but found it only useful for selling leftover ad inventory.
"Legal ads get better click-through," said Eslamboly. "We considered joining forces with the Patent Cafe and a couple other legal sites to hire an ad sales staff, but then Adsmart came along. Hopefully, we won't need a dedicated sales staff." Eslamboly said he is confident that Adsmart will get relevant ads in front of viewers.
Emplawyernet.com never actively tried selling banner ads on its site. Instead, it would gladly sell ads to whichever advertisers come knocking on its door. So banner ads sales were sporadic, and largely a result of strategic partnerships.
"Before, we couldn't devote manpower to selling ads and didn't have enough page views to participate in a network. The audience we reached just wasn't big enough to join a network," said Adam Turteltaub. "Finally someone is realizing that broader is not necessarily better."
While sites in a b-to-b network may have fewer viewers than highly trafficked sites like portals, advertisers will be able to target viewers with highly specialized interests. As a result, Adsmart will be able to charge advertisers more.
"We've set our rate card. It'll cost roughly twice as much as the (consumer) network," said Adsmart's Currie. "Each category will be different, but it'll generally cost around $50 to $70 per thousand impressions."
Sites running ads will get a 60 percent share of the ad revenue; Adsmart will take a 40 percent cut. Eslamboly said he expects his company's ad revenue to double, since Adsmart will charge advertisers a premium to reach a targeted audience.
Some specialized b-to-b sites don't currently earn much advertising revenue, so any will be gravy. "Now our banner sales will go from a negligible amount to a significant amount that could reach six figures this year," said Turteltaub.
DoubleClick, the ad network leader, has both consumer and business sites under the umbrella of a single network. But Adsmart isn't alone in recognizing the potential of structuring the two separately. Forrester predicts that annual business-to-business ad spending will reach $2.5 billion by 2002. 24/7 also sees the promise of a distinct b-to-b ad network.
24/7 Media signed an exclusive partnership last September with Medical Economics to launch a b-to-b channel called the Health Professional Channel.
And 24/7 broadened its b-to-b offerings last month with the launch of its small business channel, which includes sites like FreeAgent.com and Portera and advertisers such as AllBusiness.com, CNET and CommerceKey.com.
"We feel like we have a head start in (the) health care and small-office, home-office arena," said David Moore, 24/7's CEO. Moore agreed that the idea of a b-to-b network is a good one for advertisers: "They get a rifle shot to the folks most likely to buy their products."