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Would You Sell Ads On Your Web Site?
excerpted from a Net-Lawyers List's thread

Date: Wed, 4 Sep 1996 02:03
Subject: Would You Sell Ads on your Web Site?

For the past couple of months, I have been building and maintaining a page about web-site banner advertising programs, and as an experiment I have added paid or "exchange" banner advertisements on certain of my web pages...

I am curious if other attorneys with web sites have considered selling advertising space on their web sites, and what thoughts you may have had.

In my case, I recognized that certain pages at my site which has absolutely no connection with my law practice) were unlikely to generate paying clients over time but were huge draws for traffic from all over the country and world. I decided that to subsidize that traffic (my site now draws 65,000 page requests per month), I would add advertisements to some of my web pages.

Thus far, the results have been "interesting." For July, I collected $181 in advertising revenue from a "pooled" advertising program that rotates paid ad banners at my site and about 3,000 other web sites, PLUS another $81 for ad space on my "Web site banner advertising" page... While that's more than four times my monthly charges to host the web site, it represents only about an hour's worth of my time. (Please don't ask how many hours I spend playing on the internet, as it only depresses me to think about it.)

Several concerns I have had include: (1) Paid advertising may draw people away from my site to other web sites, so they see less of what I have to offer. (2) It is conceivable that people would think I am endorsing or guaranteeing the performance of an advertiser. (3) It is conceivable that someone might seek to advertise at my site for (A) a competing estate-planning attorney in my geographic area, or (B) for a related service (life insurance, investments, financial planning) which might make people think I am affiliated with the advertising company.

I have NOT placed any advertisements on my main web page, or on my "biography" web page, but overall it is almost certain that anyone visiting my site will see at least one page with advertisements.

What do other attorneys think of this idea?
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Thu, 5 Sep 1996 11:33

I am curious if other attorneys with web sites have considered selling advertising space on their web sites, and what thoughts you may have had.

This is a topic that I have been intrigued by for quite some time. I would love to try some banner ads on my site and some ads even on net- lawyers. I am not interested in the money because like Mark, I don't envision it as being close to my billable rate at least in 1996. But it would be a grand experiment to see if there is a market. Net-lawyers would be a natural test. WU, though, is not ready to move in that direction, so I have not pursued it.

I am very interested in learning from others.
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Fri, 6 Sep 1996 20:25

My own opinion on advertising & web pages is that the two do not mix. I dumped Prodigy more than 3 years ago because of the extremely annoying "banner" ads plastered on every page and link. A few of the discrete sponser logos or GIF images are ok on some commercial web sites such as the industrial strength search engines. Otherwise, the internet bandwith should be free for substantive info - NOT advertisements.
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Sat, 7 Sep 1996 02:35

Having tried and failed to develop a commercial web site i do have some insight on this issue. But it's entirely anectdotal so you can take it with a grain of salt.

Some thoughts on Web survival:

It's plesant to believe that this new medium will provide for the free flow of information and opinion. The digerati makes plenty of egalitarian claims -- but the emerging reality is something else. The online world is Darwinian, developers are fighting tooth and nail to capture brainwidth. If you think lawyering is competive, the pace of Web development is relentless.

No application stands alone. The Web is cool but text is ubiquitous. Prior to the advent of the Web, there were and still are thriving electronic communities. Email, usenet groups and mailings list still account for a high percentage of the traffic on the Net. Text is not sexy, but it's where online environments evolve into virtual worlds.

Although the number of mailing list subscribers may be statistically insignificant many inveterate propeller heads belong to these cyber salons. It's in these quieter byways that longer term relationships between group members actually develop.

A Web site is not the only way to distribute quality content. The Net has had a long history of producing digests and zines for special interest groups. Currently, Intertext is published in three formats ASCII, HTML and PDF files. Slate seems to taking a similar approach. Distributing content in three formats gives the reader flexibility in terms of when and how they choose to digest information. Producers should be concerned with getting the content into readers hands by whatever- means- neccessary and stop the obsessing about delivery platforms.

Advertisers can be a rather churlish lot, before they depart with thier cash most will demand hard evidence on hit counts and demographics. This in turn drives up your production expenses as you calibrate your web site in order to suite thier requirements. And these costs are not to be underestimated.

You would probably be much better off using your site to showcase your own talents and to provide resources for your clientele and other lawyers. I think most people expect from a lawyer a site that provides usefull information rather than flying monkeys.

And then there are the ethical issues...
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Sat, 7 Sep 1996 07:01

We have given this question alot of thought. Both in our role as Internet consultants to law firms with web sites and for our own site, mailing list, and newsletter.

My general sense (and advice) for law firms is that selling advertisement space on a law firm web site is a mistake. But I do not think it necessarily is a mistake or any sort of problem for firm's that have set up sites that are in essence resource centers. That is, separate sites that may be sponsored by a firm but are really devoted to information about a specific topic. I don't want to mention specific site, by us or others. But I think the basic model is familiar to all: Jones, Jones & Jones web site and then the Anti-Trust Web Site, sponsored by Jones Jones & Jones. I am not arguring that there is any ethical problem with advertising on a firm's site. I just don't think that it looks good.

I would say that this is especially the case for "exchange" banner advertisements where you do not control what ad may be appearing on your site from one week to the next. For those, who are not familiar with this, you place a piece of html code in your web site and different ads appear there on a daily or weekly basis. You do this in exchange for your ads to appear in a like manner on other people's sites. This would seem to me to be an obvious problem for any law firm, since you really don't want a banner ad for a pizza parlor showing up on your web site, not to mention some of the other more notorious services offered over the web.

With the Netlawyers list, I don't think that there would necessarily be a problem including some form of advertisement. There is a lot of work involved in effectively moderating a group of the size of NL and I don't think there is anything wrong with recouping some of that expense.

There are also certain practical issues for doing any sort of advertisement in an e-mail based communication like Net-Lawyers. However, I think that in the next 6 months to a year we will be using e- mail that will be much more richly formatted and thus will be able to include graphics, etc.

We have received a number of requests for ad-space in both the e-mail and the on-line version of Internet Legal Practice Newsletter (plug, plug), and though we have not sold ad space in it as yet, I believe we will in the near future.

Just to wrap up though I would think there should be a distinction drawn between a firm's site and other sections of the site that may count as resources or information center. Again, just to use us as an example. I would never sell ad space on our site, as in the sections that discuss xxx, or the services we offer, etc. But I would do so on the resource sections of our site that are in essence public services to the legal community. We are a commercial enterprise, not a law firm, and this does make a difference I would think in terms of the propriety of any form of advertising. But I do think that the basic distinction still holds.
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Sat, 7 Sep 1996 07

In my limited discussions with people on this subject (mostly consisting of chatting with the group that I travelled to MacWorld in Boston with), I have found opinion sharply divided on the issue of banner ads. Some people think that they are tacky and, even worse, CHEAPEN THE WEB. To many, banner ads are indicative of the commercialization of the Web, and indicate a move away from the free exchange of intellectual thought in favor of crass money making on the Web.

I understand that point of view, but, I personally do NOT adhere to it.

I view banner ads as a productive use of the Web. So long as they are well done, don't interfere with the content of a page or site, and are not for "offensive" products or services (such as, hypothetically, a banner showing big boobs with "click here" tatooed in strategic spots on the banner), then I think that they are a viable and productive way to exploit a natural marketplace on the Web.

If advertisers want to associate with intelligent discussion groups like "Net- Lawyers", and PAY for the right to do so, I say fine! Likewise, I am glad that companies sponsor PBS shows and NPR programming. If it KEEPS COSTS DOWN ON INTELLIGENT SITES ON THE WEB -- GO FOR IT! This includes law firm sites.

Personally, I am more offended by companies that once provided free access to their sites, now instituting charges. This practice may stop the free flow of information on the Web. We all know of several (Wall St. Journal, ESPN, etc.). If banner advertising helps to keep information and access to such information free (or less expensive), then I welcome well done banner ads.

In fact, too bad Andy Warhol isn't around to paint a banner ad on canvas like he did of a Heniz Ketchup bottle. In my opinion, a well done banner ad is very much a "work of art" (I know I have torn my hair out trying to create one with Photoshop -- and I am no Andy Warhol). I appreciate clever banner ads considering the limitations inherent in the medium.

I am taking my Web site down and doing a major reconstruction. I don't have the kind of volume on my Web site which would earn me much money from banner ads, but I am proud to say that I am a member of many banner exchanges and belong to the Link Exchange, which runs my banner in rotation on other sites in exchange for my allowing random banners to rotate on my site. I have had a positive experience with both forms of exchange. In fact, I see them as classic and productive forms of networking. Moreover, both forms of exchange strike me as being true to the pioneering and sharing spirit of people who truly make use of the Web TODAY.

I don't know what the Web will be like in a year or two, I might change my mind about banner ads if they "fall under the spell" of certain low- life types. I know that low class marketing groups that do ads on late night TV (Gunthey-Reinker (sp?)) are trying to get people to buy web pages in their "Cyber Mall" and then "resell" them to others in a virtual Ponzi scheme. To me, that is a vile and unacceptable use of the Web. If these sorts of folks start doing this type of scheme with banner ads, then I might be truly offended. Until then, I see them as a positive way to sponsor useful Web sites, including as a way to decrease the cost of a well done law firm site.
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Sat, 7 Sep 1996 09:08

I basically maintain two sites, one, a simple, typical law firm site for my firm, and the other being the Securities Law Home Page. I would not run ads on the firm's site, as I believe that runs counter to the purpose of the site, and is somewhat demeaning, but have examined the issue for the law topic site.

In fact, I run ads through riddler.com on two sections of my site.

My thought was that varied legal publishers would welcome the opportunity to advertise to my extremely focused audience - lawyers looking for information on the securities laws. I thought that software publishers and others would be interested in the other two groups that visit the site, stock brokers and investors.

But, apparently not. Although my efforts to gain advertisers has not been focused, or energetic, my varied inquiries to advertisers have been met with a polite, no thanks, even at extremely low rates of $20 a month.

The problem (I hope ) is not the quality of my site or its content - it is always very highly rated by legal and non-legal reviewers - I think it is this concept that if you don't have 1000 visitors a day, it is not worth it to advertise. Most of our sites don't even come close to that.

Is it worth it for an advertiser to pay $300 a year for an ad to its exact target audience? I thought so.

Apparently they don't.

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Mon, 9 Sep 1996 17:46

There is a distinct difference between blatant advertisement for commercial gain and advertisement used to advance the service or recoup the cost of the service being provided.

I run the web site for a non-profit law library and had no problem including advertisements for products and services we provide because profits are used to fund new and existing projects. I would also not have a problem including advertisements from outside venders if this would create awareness of a product or service that could potentially provide some benefit to our members while at the same time help us to defray some of our costs.
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Mon, 9 Sep 1996 19:11

While the thought of decreasing web site costs through modest advertising probably appeals to every lawyer putting a web page/site up on the web, I know many lawyers who are resisting such a route. For many of the attorneys I've talked with on the subject, the question of whether to post an advert on a web page is always done by asking if the attorney would place the same advert in their office waiting room. If you can't approve the content, then the advert probably wouldn't be permitted at all.

Still, this is not the only question attorneys must ask. The state bar associations are starting to hand down opinions which state that web pages are advertising, and the ethical rules relating to any advertisement must apply. This should certainly be a consideration before deciding to post an advert.

Hope this helps...
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Tue, 10 Sep 1996 17:27

--- On Mon, 9 Sep 1996 19:24:07 xxx wrote:

Asking the question about the office waiting room may be a tempting analogy, but is it a good one? It's not at all common for law firms, or even other companies, to put advertisements in waiting rooms (or lobby areas). It might be useful to look at why some companies (or services) put advertisements on their web pages in the first place. For the most part I think it's entities that are offering some kind of *free* service and feel justified in using advertising to defray the costs because the service is free. If that's the principal rationale, then an attorney web site should probably pose the same question. Again, it might be tempting to say that an attorney web site is offering an array of free services that might not otherwise be available in a traditional setting, but is that really true? How far do those free services go? Can a client interact with an attorney through the web site without paying an hourly rate? Isn't a potential client's interaction simply a prelude to a paying relationship?

Not being an attorney (at all) with a web site, I'm actually not sure about the answers to those questions, but it does seem to me that having advertisements in a web setting where the justification is to reduce the web costs doesn't hold up well unless the whole thing is relatively removed from commercial use.

Beyond that, there are, of course, other considerations like tone, the local bar, etc., but those are separate issues.
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Fri, 13 Sep 1996 22:31

There is nothing wrong with advertising for gain. That's exactly what you're doing. Those commercial advertisers are "creating awareness of a product or service that could provide some benefit" to the public. "For profit" doesn't mean immoral, just as "not-for-profit" does not mean moral.

Of course, attorneys have other restrictions, based on our profession.

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