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Online advertising, also called online marketing or Internet advertising or web advertising, is a form of marketing and advertising which uses the Internet to deliver promotional marketing messages to consumers. It includes email marketing, search engine marketing (SEM), social media marketing, many types of display advertising (including web banner advertising), and mobile advertising. Like other advertising media, online advertising frequently involves both a publisher, who integrates advertisements into its online content, and an advertiser, who provides the advertisements to be displayed on the publisher's content. Other potential participants include advertising agencies who help generate and place the ad copy, an ad server which technologically delivers the ad and tracks statistics, and advertising affiliates who do independent promotional work for the advertiser.

In 2011, Internet advertising revenues in the United States surpassed those of cable television and nearly exceeded those of broadcast television. In 2013, Internet advertising revenues in the United States totaled $42.8 billion, a 17% increase over the $36.57 billion in revenues in 2012. U.S. internet ad revenue hit a historic high of $20.1 billion for the first half of 2013, up 18% over the same period in 2012. Online advertising is widely used across virtually all industry sectors.

Many common online advertising practices are controversial and increasingly subject to regulation. Online ad revenues may not adequately replace other publishers' revenue streams. Declining ad revenue has led some publishers to hide their content behind paywalls.

Display ads : Online banner advertising began in the early 1990s as page owners sought additional revenue streams to support their content. Commercial online service Prodigy displayed banners at the bottom of the screen to promote Sears products. The first clickable web ad was sold by Global Network Navigator in 1993 to a Silicon Valley law firm. In 1994, web banner advertising became mainstream when Hot wired, the online component of Wired Magazine, sold banner ads to AT&T and other companies. The first AT&T ad on Hot Wired had a 44% click-through rate, and instead of directing clickers to AT&T's website, the ad linked to an online tour of seven of the world's most acclaimed art museums.

Recent trends : More recently, companies have sought to merge their advertising messages into editorial content or valuable services. Examples include Red Bull's Red Bull Media House streaming Felix Baumgartner's jump from space online, Coca-Cola's online magazines, and Nike's free applications for performance tracking. Advertisers are also embracing social media and mobile advertising; mobile ad spending has grown 90% each year from 2010 to 2013.


Display advertising : Display advertising conveys its advertising message visually using text, logos, animations, videos, photographs, or other graphics. Display advertisers frequently target users with particular traits to increase the ads' effect. Online advertisers (typically through their ad servers) often use cookies, which are unique identifiers of specific computers, to decide which ads to serve to a particular consumer. Cookies can track whether a user left a page without buying anything, so the advertiser can later retarget the user with ads from the site the user visited.

As advertisers collect data across multiple external websites about a user's online activity, they can create a detailed picture of the user's interests to deliver even more targeted advertising. This aggregation of data is called behavioral targeting. Advertisers can also target their audience by using contextual and semantic advertising to deliver display ads related to the content of the web page where the ads appear. Retargeting, behavioral targeting, and contextual advertising all are designed to increase an advertiser's return on investment, or ROI, over untargeted ads.

Advertisers may also deliver ads based on a user's suspected geography through geotargeting. A user's IP address communicates some geographic information (at minimum, the user's country or general region). The geographic information from an IP can be supplemented and refined with other proxies or information to narrow the range of possible locations. For example, with mobile devices, advertisers can sometimes use a phone's GPS receiver or the location of nearby mobile towers. Cookies and other persistent data on a user's machine may provide help narrowing a user's location further.

Web banner advertising : Web banners or banner ads typically are graphical ads displayed within a web page. Many banner ads are delivered by a central ad server. Banner ads can use rich media to incorporate video, audio, animations, buttons, forms, or other interactive elements using Java applets, HTML5, Adobe Flash, and other programs.

Frame ad (traditional banner) : Frame ads were the first form of web banners. The colloquial usage of "banner ads" often refers to traditional frame ads. Website publishers incorporate frame ads by setting aside a particular space on the web page. The Interactive Advertising Bureau's Ad Unit Guidelines proposes standardized pixel dimensions for ad units.

Pop-ups/pop-unders : A pop-up ad is displayed in a new web browser window that opens above a website visitor's initial browser window. A pop-under ad opens a new browser window under a website visitor's initial browser window. Pop-under ads and similar technologies are now advised against by online authorities such as Google, who state that they "do not condone this practice".

Floating ad : A floating ad, or overlay ad, is a type of rich media advertisement that appears superimposed over the requested website's content. Floating ads may disappear or become less obtrusive after a preset time period.

Expanding ad : An expanding ad is a rich media frame ad that changes dimensions upon a predefined condition, such as a preset amount of time a visitor spends on a webpage, the user's click on the ad, or the user's mouse movement over the ad. Expanding ads allow advertisers to fit more information into a restricted ad space.

Trick banners : A trick banner is a banner ad where the ad copy imitates some screen element users commonly encounter, such as an operating system message or popular application message, to induce ad clicks. Trick banners typically do not mention the advertiser in the initial ad, and thus they are a form of bait-and-switch. Trick banners commonly attract a higher-than-average click-through rate, but tricked users may resent the advertiser for deceiving them.

News Feed Ads: "News Feed Ads", also called "Sponsored Stories", "Boosted Posts", typically exist on Social Media Platforms that offer a steady stream of information updates ("news feed") in regulated formats (i.e. in similar sized small boxes with a uniform style). Those advertisements are intertwined with non-promoted news that the users are reading through. Those advertisements can be of any content, such as promoting a website, a fan page, an app, or a product. Some examples are: Facebook's "Sponsored Stories", LinkedIn's "Sponsored Updates", and Twitter's "Promoted Tweets".

This display ads format falls into its own category because unlike banner ads which are quite distinguishable, News Feed Ads' format blends well into non-paid news updates. This format of online advertisement yields much higher click-through rates than traditional display ads.

Display advertising process overview : The process by which online advertising is displayed can involve many parties. In the simplest case, the web site publisher selects and serves the ads. Publishers which operate their own advertising departments may use this method.

Online advertising serving process - simple publisher case
The ads may be outsourced to an advertising agency under contract with the publisher, and served from the advertising agency's servers.

Online advertising serving process using an ad agency

Online advertising serving process using online bidding

Alternatively, ad space may be offered for sale in a bidding market using an ad exchange and real-time bidding. This involves many parties interacting automatically in real time. In response to a request from the user's browser, the publisher content server sends the web page content to the user's browser over the Internet. The page does not yet contain ads, but contains links which cause the user's browser to connect to the publisher ad server to request that the spaces left for ads be filled in with ads. Information identifying the user, such as cookies and the page being viewed, is transmitted to the publisher ad server.

The publisher ad server then communicates with a supply-side platform server. The publisher is offering ad space for sale, so they are considered the supplier. The supply side platform also receives the user's identifying information, which it sends to a data management platform. At the data management platform, the user's identifying information is used to look up demographic information, previous purchases, and other information of interest to advertisers.

Broadly speaking, there are three types of data obtained through such a data management platform:

  • First party data refers to the data retrieved from customer relationship management (CRM) platforms, in addition to website and paid media content or cross-platform data. This can include data from customer behaviors, actions or interests.
     

  • Second party data refers to an amalgamation of statistics related to cookie pools on external publications and platforms. The data is provided directly from the source (adservers, hosted solutions for social or an analytics platform). It is also possible to negotiate a deal with a particular publisher to secure specific data points or audiences.
     

  • Third party data is sourced from external providers and often aggregated from numerous websites. Businesses sell third-party data and are able to share this via an array of distribution avenues.

This customer information is combined and returned to the supply side platform, which can now package up the offer of ad space along with information about the user who will view it. The supply side platform sends that offer to an ad exchange.

The ad exchange puts the offer out for bid to demand-side platforms. Demand side platforms act on behalf of ad agencies, who sell ads which advertise brands. Demand side platforms thus have ads ready to display, and are searching for users to view them. Bidders get the information about the user ready to view the ad, and decide, based on that information, how much to offer to buy the ad space. According to the Internet Advertising Bureau, a demand side platform has 10 milliseconds to respond to an offer. The ad exchange picks the winning bid and informs both parties.

The ad exchange then passes the link to the ad back through the supply side platform and the publisher's ad server to the user's browser, which then requests the ad content from the agency's ad server. The ad agency can thus confirm that the ad was delivered to the browser.

This is simplified, according to the IAB. Exchanges may try to unload unsold ("remnant") space at low prices through other exchanges. Some agencies maintain semi-permanent pre-cached bids with ad exchanges, and those may be examined before going out to additional demand side platforms for bids. The process for mobile advertising is different and may involve mobile carriers and handset software manufacturers.

Interstitial : An interstitial ad displays before a user can access requested content, sometimes while the user is waiting for the content to load. Interstitial ads are a form of interruption marketing.

Text ads : A text ad displays text-based hyperlinks. Text-based ads may display separately from a web page's primary content, or they can be embedded by hyperlinking individual words or phrases to advertiser's websites. Text ads may also be delivered through email marketing or text message marketing. Text-based ads often render faster than graphical ads and can be harder for ad-blocking software to block.

Search engine marketing (SEM) : Search engine marketing, or SEM, is designed to increase a website's visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs). Search engines provide sponsored results and organic (non-sponsored) results based on a web searcher's query.[19]:117 Search engines often employ visual cues to differentiate sponsored results from organic results. Search engine marketing includes all of an advertiser's actions to make a website's listing more prominent for topical keywords.

Search engine optimization (SEO) : Search engine optimization, or SEO, attempts to improve a website's organic search rankings in SERPs by increasing the website content's relevance to search terms. Search engines regularly update their algorithms to penalize poor quality sites that try to game their rankings, making optimization a moving target for advertisers. Many vendors offer SEO services.

Sponsored search: Sponsored search (also called sponsored links, search ads, or paid search) allows advertisers to be included in the sponsored results of a search for selected keywords. Search ads are often sold via real-time auctions, where advertisers bid on keywords. In addition to setting a maximum price per keyword, bids may include time, language, geographical, and other constraints. Search engines originally sold listings in order of highest bids. Modern search engines rank sponsored listings based on a combination of bid price, expected click-through rate, keyword relevancy and site quality.

Social media marketing : Social media marketing is commercial promotion conducted through social media websites. Many companies promote their products by posting frequent updates and providing special offers through their social media profiles.

Mobile advertising : Mobile advertising is ad copy delivered through wireless mobile devices such as smart phones, feature phones, or tablet computers. Mobile advertising may take the form of static or rich media display ads, SMS (Short Message Service) or MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) ads, mobile search ads, advertising within mobile websites, or ads within mobile applications or games (such as interstitial ads, "advergaming," or application sponsorship). Industry groups such as the Mobile Marketing Association have attempted to standardize mobile ad unit specifications, similar to the IAB's efforts for general online advertising.

Mobile advertising is growing rapidly for several reasons. There are more mobile devices in the field, connectivity speeds have improved (which, among other things, allows for richer media ads to be served quickly), screen resolutions have advanced, mobile publishers are becoming more sophisticated about incorporating ads, and consumers are using mobile devices more extensively. The Interactive Advertising Bureau predicts continued growth in mobile advertising with the adoption of location-based targeting and other technological features not available or relevant on personal computers. In July 2014 Facebook reported advertising revenue for the June 2014 quarter of $2.68 billion, an increase of 67 percent over the second quarter of 2013. Of that, mobile advertising revenue accounted for around 62 percent, an increase of 41 percent on the previous year.

Email advertising : Email advertising is ad copy comprising an entire email or a portion of an email message. Email marketing may be unsolicited, in which case the sender may give the recipient an option to opt out of future emails, or it may be sent with the recipient's prior consent (opt-in).

Chat advertising : As opposed to static messaging, chat advertising refers to real time messages dropped to users on certain sites. This is done by the usage of live chat software or tracking applications installed within certain websites with the operating personnel behind the site often dropping adverts on the traffic surfing around the sites. In reality this is a subset of the email advertising but different because of its time window.

Online classified advertising : Online classified advertising is advertising posted online in a categorical listing of specific products or services. Examples include online job boards, online real estate listings, automotive listings, online yellow pages, and online auction-based listings. Craigslist and eBay are two prominent providers of online classified listings.

Adware : Adware is software that, once installed, automatically displays advertisements on a user's computer. The ads may appear in the software itself, integrated into web pages visited by the user, or in pop-ups/pop-unders. Adware installed without the user's permission is a type of malware.

Affiliate marketing : Affiliate marketing (sometimes called lead generation) occurs when advertisers organize third parties to generate potential customers for them. Third-party affiliates receive payment based on sales generated through their promotion. Affiliate marketers generate traffic to offers from affiliate networks, and when the desired action is taken by the visitor, the affiliate earns a commission. These desired actions can be an email submission, a phone call, filling out an online form, or an online order being completed.

Content Marketing : Content marketing is any marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire and retain customers. This information can be presented in a variety of formats, including blogs, news, video, white papers, e-books, infographics, case studies, how-to guides and more.

Considering that most marketing involves some form of published media, it is almost (though not entirely) redundant to call 'content marketing' anything other than simply 'marketing'. There are, of course, other forms of marketing (in-person marketing, telephone-based marketing, word of mouth marketing, etc.) where the label is more useful for identifying the type of marketing. However, even these are usually merely presenting content that they are marketing as information in a way that is different from traditional print, radio, TV, film, email, or web media.

Online marketing platform : Online marketing platform (OMP) is an integrated web-based platform that combines the benefits of a business directory, local search engine, search engine optimisation (SEO) tool, customer relationship management (CRM) package and content management system (CMS). Ebay and Amazon are used as online marketing and logistics management platforms. On Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and other Social Media, retail online marketing is also used. Online business marketing platforms such as Marketo, Aprimo, MarketBright and Pardot have been bought by major IT companies (Eloqua-Oracle, Neolane-Adobe and Unica-IBM).

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