The most effective web marketing is having a website that is useful, simple and fast.

An online game recently ran a series of ads featuring buxom women. When asked why it had buxom women in its ads since no such women appeared in the game itself, a representative of the company admitted that the women were strictly for "marketing purposes."

I remember a couple of years ago telling a marketing professional that I had 13,000 subscribers to this opinion piece.

"So that's 30,000," he replied.
"So, if you're promoting it you'd obviously tell people you have 30,000," he said matter-of-factly.

I did a degree in marketing. Much of what I do every week involves marketing and selling. This opinion piece is a form of marketing. It's just a pity that, in many people's minds, marketing is synonymous with lying.

I remember watching someone try to complete a task on a website a while back. They came across content that they didn't think was very helpful, that they didn't feel moved them forward. "I'm not interested in reading this marketing," they stated in frustration.

It would seem that to a lot of people marketing is obstructive and deceptive. It's not useful. It gets in the way. It seeks to manipulate and inflate.

One classic marketing manipulation technique is the hero shot. By its very name, the hero shot implies something fantastic and heroic, something out of the ordinary. The hero in the picture is smooth and handsome, has a great white toothy smile. All Hollywood, they are an actor pretending to be a customer. However, the hero shot, in certain circumstances, does seem to work.

John Broady of Omniture Digital writes on the company blog about a test they carried out for two online universities. "For each test, the goal was an increase in the users who completed the Request for Information form," he writes. The tests involved presenting a very simple version of the Request for Information page as well as a more stylized one with a hero shot.

"The results for the two tests could not have been more different," Broady writes. "For one university, the page with the stylized page design and lifestyle hero image won handily; for the other university, the simple page design with no hero image won the day."

Why were there such great differences between the two sets of results? "For the page where the stylized design and the lifestyle hero image won, most of the traffic came directly from search engines," Broady explains. "For the page where a simple design and no hero image won, most of the traffic came from other pages on the university's own web site."

For people who had invested time in the site by visiting a number of pages, the simpler design worked better. For those who had arrived directly from a search engine and were scanning quickly, the more stylized design worked.

If I were a university, I think I'd prefer to be getting requests for more information from people who had spent time on my website reading up on the subjects of their choice.