Every weekly newspaper has an ad that hasn't changed in five years. Maybe longer.

You know which one I mean – the 2x2 ad, usually for a mechanic, a plumber or some other tradesman, that's on your run sheet every week "tfc" or "tfn."

Dependable revenue week after week, year after year, even if you can't remember the last time you freshened it up so it might be more effective for your customer.

Don't let ads go stale in your newspaper ‑ and especially on your Web site.

The Internet gives you the ability to track the effectiveness of advertising. Regardless whether you host your site in-house or pay an outside company to do it, you probably have software that details how many "impressions" – eyeballs – have seen each ad on your site. The software also tells you how many times a visitor has "clicked thru” the ad on your site to your advertiser’s own Web site, which is like a customer walking through the front door of the advertiser’s business.

The more sophisticated your Web site, the more stats it will produce for you.

Your ability to track readership of ads – news stories, too – is one of the coolest things about the Internet. When I owned a weekly newspaper, I checked my Web stats every day, sometimes more, because I was fascinated to see – after all my years in print – what my readers actually were reading. All the guesswork was gone.

What you do with these stats after you check them can make the difference between a customer being happy or unhappy with his online advertising.

A business owner in your town may trust you enough to buy an ad on your Web site, but the owner may not understand the Internet enough to trust its effectiveness as an ad medium. The owner will write a check once a month for a 2x2 that hasn’t changed in years, but he won’t write a check very long if he isn’t convinced his Internet ad is working.

So you should use your stats to prove to every online advertiser, every month, that people are seeing his or her ad.

I did that with a written report generated by my ad-serving software. The report included total impressions, total clickthrus and the clickthru rate for the ad, both overall and by position since all my ads appeared in multiple locations on my site. It also included a glossary of the terms in the report and – I really liked this – a reproduction of the ad itself.

The stats took up only three-quarters of a page, so each month I prepared my own report for the bottom of the page. I included the total pages read online that month, the total number of visits and a listing of the top 10 pages read. I wrote a paragraph or two of positive news about Internet advertising, including a welcome to my new advertisers. I also invited advertisers to contact me if it was time to change their ad or the ad’s location on my site.

The personal touch came last. I looked at each advertiser’s stats for something positive to say. If I could find something – “No. 1 on our site!” “Great numbers!” “Much improved! – I handwrote it on the report.

We mailed this “online traffic report” with the advertiser’s bill. It’s even better to take it to the advertiser in person, ask him if he has any questions and thank him for his business. You’ll look like the Internet expert in your community, and your advertiser will gain confidence in the effectiveness of his online ad.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have something positive to say every month about every advertiser.

But if an advertiser’s stats are declining, or if they’re not doing as well as another advertiser selling the same product, suggest that it’s time to change the ad. It’s better for you to tweak an ad than for an advertiser to pull it.

A fresh ad will generate more traffic – online as well as in the newspaper.

And now you have the stats to prove it.

Gary Sosniecki is a regional sales manager for TownNews.com specializing in weekly newspapers. He has owned three weekly newspapers and published a small daily in Missouri during a 34-year newspaper career. He may be reached at gsosniecki@townnews.com.