While I sat on my chair looking at my first greatly successful website, I realized that getting visitors to my site was a bigger challenge then (late 90s) than it is now. The only formula was to get a successful listing in the Yahoo! Directory. It is no joke, Yahoo! was the best way to get traffic to your site in those days. I remember rejoicing when my website was finally listed in Yahoo! (It still remains listed to this day)
Banner exchange programs were another way to expose your website to the masses. The idea was to put up a huge graphical banner on top of your main webpage to advertise other websites. These banners were mostly animated. In return of advertising other websites, you got your own banner advertised on someone else’s website. The idea was simple, and over 200,000 websites in that time actually subscribed to one or the other banner exchange services.
One of the biggest such services was LinkExchange, which was eventually bought by Microsoft in 1998 for $250 million in stock. It seemed like a smart move for Microsoft at the time considering that they really wanted to develop an Internet business strategy. Something that they did not have until Balmer literally yelled at Gates for. Of course, LinkExchange was fairly profitable at that time, and had a user base of about a quarter of a million websites, both professional and not so professional.
Everyone likes to increase their website’s traffic, but no one likes “scandalous” third party banners on their webpages. What if a banner supporting the Linux SANs crops up on your webpage about the Windows Server family? People wanted an easier way to market their websites cheaply, and in a targetted manner. This is when Google launched a search engine, and some time later, their Adsense/AdWords service.
AdSense does not display any annoying big-sized banners on top of your webpage, and you can customize the ads in any way you wish. The end goal still remains at bringing more surfers to your webpage. Only, this time you don’t exchange ads. Rather, you get paid for publishing third party ads on your site. So, how do you increase viewership? You just invest a little in the AdWords program and get ads posted on publishers’ websites. Not everyone wants increased viewership. Some display ads just to make money off their websites. The scheme makes perfect sense, and isn’t annoying for either the publisher or the advertiser. Everyone goes home happy!
If only Microsoft hadn’t given up on the golden opportunity to revolutionize online advertising at a time when the Internet was growing at the rate of 100% every 2-3 months, they would have been a far more happier bunch. It is strange how the world’s best software company couldn’t come up first with a more user-friendly service.