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Banner Exchanges
an overview, and a small study

By Dan Knight

Does it strike you as odd that a banner exchange works by inviting people to leave your site for another?

It's something about human nature: we love to explore. For many of us, the world wide web is the ultimate resource. There's always something new, always something familiar, always a way back to your home page. And we can spend hours following links to undiscovered territory. If that weren't the case, there would be no banner exchanges. It's that inquisitiveness which gets us to click a link or banner in search of another useful resource. This article examines banner exchanges as used on hundreds of Macintosh-related web sites.

The Options

There are lots of banner exchanges to choose from, but only two Mac-specific ones, Mac Web Network and Macseek. Following are the more popular exchanges on Mac-related sites:

  • Mac Web Network (aka MacInSearch), the first and largest Mac-related banner exchange.
  • Macseek, the upstart, begun December 1997.
  • Link Exchange, the most popular general purpose banner exchange.
  • Smart Clicks, the second most popular general purpose banner exchange.

Except for Smart Clicks, these exchanges use a standard 400x40 banner. Smart Clicks uses an unconventional 400x50 design, which means you can't use the same banner on Smart Clicks that you might use on the other exchanges. Macseek displays a 40x40 Macseek icon next to each banner (for 440x40 total). Link Exchange incorporates a 40x40 icon with your 400x40 banner to create a 440x40 banner (but it is all in one image). Link Exchange has also launched a premium service with a larger banner and more add-ons (counter, etc.). Drawbacks to this premium service include the need to design yet another banner, slower loads for the larger graphic, and the requirement that it appear at the top of your page. Since many sponsored sites promise that location to paying advertisers, requiring that spot for a banner exchange rules out this service for sponsored sites.

Survey Results

I attempted to visit over 400 Mac-related sites while researching this article. Mac Web Network listed 385 sites on its members page while I conducted my research; Macseek had 57. In cases where I did not see a banner on the home page, I went to a second page on the site to verify that there were no banners displayed. This is not 100% accurate, as some sites may display banners only on specific pages, but it is a reasonable test for participation.

Remember, click-through numbers are based on a survey only of sites displaying banners from two or more exchanges. Sites displaying a single banner may have different results.


Mac Web Network

My first surprise was the sheer number of sites listed in the directory which either no longer exist, have moved without updating their link, or no longer display a Mac Web Network (MWN) banner.

I attempted to visit all 385 sites listed as members. Of those, 184 (48%) actively display the banner, 61 are dead links or bad URLs (16%), and 140 (36%) are not displaying a Mac Web Network banner (at least not on their main page). They are NOT keeping up on maintenance.

Of the active MWN sites, over half (103, or 56%) participate in two or more banner exchanges, with 78 (76% of that 103 or 42% of all active sites) display banners from two exchanges. (Some sites may be involved in additional banner exchanges which I didn't recognize. Unless a banner was marked as part of an exchange or known to me, I assumed it was not part of a banner exchange.)

For sites displaying two or more banners, I emailed a survey to the site owner, when I could find an email link. The feedback consistently showed a higher click-through rate for Mac Web Network compared with other banner exchanges.

Each of the 23 sites reporting click-throughs on two or more exchanges participate in Mac Web Network.

Click-through: the average reported click-through on Mac Web Network was 2.52%, with a range from 0.80% to 9.50%. Because members earn one credit for each two banners displayed, this works out to 1.26% of banners displayed on the site. The median (middle) click-through was 2.00% (1.00% per banner displayed on site).

If we throw out the highest reported score as probably spurious, the range is from 0.80% to 4.50%, with an average of 2.20%, or 1.10% per banner displayed on that site.



Being a newer banner exchange, almost every site listed is an active participant in the Macseek banner exchange. Of 57 sites listed, I found the Macseek banner displayed on 43 (74%), no Macseek banner on 12 (21%), and was unable to reach 2 sites (3%). Thirty of the 43 active sites (70%) participate in two or more banner exchanges, and 21 of those 30 display banners for two exchanges. Eleven of 21 reporting sites display Macseek banners.

Again, I emailed surveys to any site displaying two or more banners, in cases where I could find an email address. I received reports from 12 Macseek sites.

Click-through: the average reported click-through on Macseek was 0.75%, with a range from 0.30% to 1.21%. With members earning one credit per banner displayed, there is no need to adjust this figure. The median click-through was 0.80%.


Link Exchange

I didn't explicitly research non-Mac banner exchanges. However, a few did show up on several Mac-related sites, so I queried webmasters for hit information. Link Exchange is the most popular non-Mac banner exchange among the sites surveyed. Fourteen of the 23 reporting sites display Link Exchange banners.

Click-through: the average reported click-through on Link Exchange was 1.18%, with a range of 0.37% to 4.10%. As with Mac Web Network, sites earn one credit for each two banners displayed, making the final figure 0.59% of clicks for pages displayed on the site. The median click-through was 0.98%, or 0.49% per banner displayed.

Dropping the highest score as possibly spurious (over twice as high as the next one), the range becomes 0.37% to 1.80%, with an average of 0.95%, or 0.48% per banner displayed on the site.


Other Exchanges

Several other banner exchanges also showed up in this survey, including Smart Clicks, Kids Hyperlinks, Millions of Banners, and Bannerswap. However, among those reporting click-throughs, none of these exchanges was reported more than once.


Using the membership list for Mac Web Network <> and Macseek <>, I attempted to visit every site listed. I kept a spreadsheet open to record websites, whether they displayed a banner for the exchange that listed them, and how many banner exchanges they participated in. For sites participating in two or more exchanges, I emailed the site owner with the following survey (slightly modified as necessary):

I notice that your site has banners for the Mac Web Network and Link Exchange. I am doing research for an article on banner exchanges on pro-Mac sites and looking for feedback from sites using banner exchanges that are not Mac-specific.If you could answer the following questions, it would be most helpful.
1) What is your click-through on Mac Web Network?
2) What is your click-through on Link Exchange?
3) If a member, what is your click-through on Macseek?
4) If you are on any other banner exchanges, please list them and your click-through.
Thank you. I hope to compile this information in the coming week for an article on the Mac Webmasters site.

A few messages bounced, many received no response, but several webmasters were forthcoming with the requested information. I believe this is the first detailed study of banner exchanges as used on Mac-related web sites. I hope the information will help you determine whether participation in a banner exchange could benefit you and, if so, which exchange or exchanges you should use.

Pet Peeves

I discovered a few things I find frustrating while visiting all these sites. I'll list them now and get them off my chest.

  • Sites where the so-called home page is only a link to another home page.
  • Sites that play music automatically. Not only noisy, but sometimes locks up my Mac.
  • Too many frames. (But I also saw some excellent use of frames!)
  • Sites that moved but never updated their URL with the banner exchange.
  • Sites that don't display any banner exchange on their main page even though membership in the exchange benefits them.
  • Sites that can't make up their mind and have 3-6 banner exchanges plus several rings on their home page. Not only is this busy, but it makes for some very slow downloads.

The biggest surprise was the great number of sites listed as participating in a banner exchange that showed no sign of participation when I visited their sites. Second to this, I was disappointed at how many sites moved without updating their URLs with the banner exchange.


Put your banners where your customers are. Mac-related link exchanges provide consistently higher click-through for Mac-related sites than the generic link exchanges. Mac Web Network is the winner when it comes to click-through ratio (even calculating in the 2:1 display ratio) and breadth of Mac-related sites. Macseek is a solid second, providing a good click-through ratio and a Macintosh focus, but currently lacking the breadth of Mac Web Network. For Mac-related sites, Link Exchange is a distant third. It and other banner exchanges are better used for general purpose sites, not Mac-related ones. With the majority of surfers using Windows (70-75%), only a minority of those seeing your banner on these exchanges are predisposed to visit a Macintosh site (and they call us Bigots).

Created: 07/30/98
Updated: 11/09/02

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