Washington ferries Web site to include banner ads

Visitors to the Washington State Ferries Web site will see new banner advertising beginning Jan. 3. During a one-year pilot project approved by the Legislature, ads are for sale on the ferry schedules and ferry vessel watch Web pages.

“We join a handful of government agencies across the country exploring Web site advertising and how it might benefit taxpayers,” said Paula Hammond, secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), which includes the Ferries Division. “This could potentially generate new revenue at a time when it’s badly needed, as well as offer businesses a new way to reach potential customers.” Hammond said the pilot project, funded by $75,000 from the Legislature, will help determine a number of things, including whether it can make money and be done in a way that doesn’t disrupt the online experience of people looking for ferry information.

The pages with advertising will be converted to a dot-com address instead of dot-gov because federal guidelines prohibit government agencies from selling ads in the dot-gov domain. However, visitors going to the usual dot-gov site likely will not even notice when the system transitions them seamlessly to the dot-com domain.

All of WSDOT’s Web pages get about 410 million page views a year. The 13 ferry pages with the first ads receive nearly 1.2 million page views a month. This viewership may prove attractive to businesses targeting motorists, commuters, travelers and tourists in Washington state, said Jeff Doyle, director of WSDOT’s Public-Private Partnerships Office, which is conducting the pilot project in conjunction with the Ferries Division.

Doyle said the pilot project, which was recommended in a WSDOT Web Site Monetizing Feasibility Study, include these goals:

— Test the revenue and cost assumptions on a small number of Web pages with high page views;

— Confirm the level of demand from advertisers for display advertisement and sponsorships;

— Evaluate the public’s perception and online experience navigating sites with advertising;

— Work through technical and legal issues, including development of advertising guidelines and a rigorous review process;

— Establish a sustainable business model if the decision is to move beyond a pilot project at ferries or expand it to other WSDOT pages.

The first advertiser on the ferries Web pages will be the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. Mockups of the ads can be viewed at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Funding/Partners/ferryads.htm . The tourism bureau is paying about $12,800 for its banner ads on the 13 ferry pages in January. WSDOT will receive about $7,000 of that, with the remainder going to an ad sales company.

The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau is one of several advertisers who have placed ads in ferry terminals and onboard vessels. The Ferries Division has had this advertising program in place since 2007 and, this year, earned more than $474,000.

Other government entities already selling Web site advertising space include the Washington State Department of Commerce “Experience WA,” Oregon Department of Transportation “Trip Check,” Oregon Tourism Commission “Travel Oregon,” California Travel and Tourism Commission “Visit California,” and the Chicago, Ill., Cook County Assessor’s Office.

To learn more about advertising on ferry vessels, at ferry terminals or on ferry Web pages, visit http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Ferries/Planning/marketing.htm .