MOM & POP STORES, SUPERSTORES AND MEGA-MALLS ON THE WWW
How to Optimize Your Advertising Dollars on the Internet
A SUMMARY FOR THOSE WHO ALREADY KNOW IT ALL
- THE GOOD AND THE BAD NEWS -
- Surfing the Internet World Wide Web is fun, but in attracting a potential customer's attention, your web site is competing with the sex stores, Paris museums, and the Jones' family album with pictures from last year's vacation in West Covina. Do you know how to get the customers to your site?
- HOW, WHAT AND WHY GET ON THE WEB? -
- The ability to post a great deal of information on the Internet for relatively little cost, provides an opportunity to both reduce the cost of, and shortening the time to deliver the information to current customers, in addition to potentially reaching a broader audience.
- SOME HIDDEN PITFALLS - 1 -
- Setting up a web page is the easy part, and it is only the beginning. In the three months it took to get your web site on-line, the technology you use will have become obsolete. And did you think that without heavy advertising anyone will come to look? These and few other pitfalls, may make effective web site maintenance a full time job.
- THE MEGA-MALL SOLUTION -
- A Mega-Mall is a group of similar stores on the Internet, sharing maintenance costs, and making it easier for potential customers to find individual storefronts.
- WHAT TO WATCH FOR -
- Select a Mega-Mall that you can trust like your personal consultant, providing a great deal of services, intended to bring visitors to your postings, relieving you from all the technical details.
- MORE PITFALLS - 2 -
- A Mega-Mall is like an industry directory -- the big ads get more attention than the single line listings. But on the Web even the smallest company can afford big ads like the big guys!
- TO MALL OR NOT TO MALL? -
- Wouldn't it be great if you published an industry directory with only your company listed in it? Now, if only everyone kept this directory on their shelf instead of that thick book with all your competitors...
- MORE HIDDEN PITFALLS - 3 -
- Some Mega-Malls erect barriers for visitors (you would not think this is true, would you?) or perhaps they consider themselves exclusive clubs.
- DECISIONS, DECISIONS, DECISIONS ... -
- Engage in strategic thinking. What else do you want to get out of Internet?
- THE TECHEXPO MEGA-MALL EXPERIENCE -
- TechExpo is a Mega-Mall serving the hi-tech community in the engineering and life sciences. And we just do it right!
- THE LEGAL STUFF --
- Copyright, etc., you can't live without it...
- ABOUT THE AUTHOR
THE FULL TEXT IN ALL THE EXCRUCIATING DETAILS
THE GOOD AND THE BAD NEWS
The Internet with its World Wide Web is an exciting environment. It is fun to surf, and it may be addicting. The WWW, in just a short time transformed the Internet from a medium of computer hackers and scientists to the domain of every day people. "Business" considered a taboo word yesterday, is now thriving on the Web, and every one wants to get in on the action.
The past year or so has seen an explosive growth in Web sites. Millions of home pages and URLs already exist and this number is fast growing. The web is filled with everything from commercial firms advertising their goods, to the home page of Jesse who describes his first week in college, his hobbies, and also a picture of "Pudding" his cat. Finding information requires the use of search engines. In fact, there are search engines that are dedicated to finding the other search engines, white- or yellow-cyberpages that can be used to find the information. Surfing the web for useful information is like walking the streets of New York City reading the signs over the doors, looking for a particular store whose address you do not know. In fact it is more like strolling Main Street Planet Earth. It may be a long walk.
Considering this state of the web, what are the ways businesses can maximize their return on investment in advertising on the Web? The number one truth about the web (that very few are willing to divulge) is that if you spend the money and open a new web site, very few will come to visit! There are many sites out there in cyberspace that see no more than ten visitors per month, and of those ten, nine may be the curious who stumble across the web site, but have no interest in the specific establishment!
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HOW, WHAT, AND WHY GET ON THE WEB?
In this total chaos, how is it possible to do business on the Web? This article considers the various options for businesses to take advantage of this new medium. What can, or should, small businesses do? What about medium and large size businesses?
Whatever your business is, you may post on the Web your product catalog, spec sheets, application notes, graphics, pictures, sound, video, computer code demos, or anything else that can make the products attractive to a potential customer. All this material is available for customers to view and download into their computers 24 hours, 7 days. Customers, world wide, do not need to wait to receive the material in the mail, and you save mailing and printing costs. On the down side, in general you wouldn't know exactly who looked at your material, depriving you of that follow-up call. (Although the technology allows your server to inquire and obtain the identity of the visitor to your Web information, the Internet tradition is very protective of anonymity and all you get is a Domain Name of the visitor -- i.e., generic organization name, which with some additional effort may be traced to a specific organization, not always to a specific individual).
There are three objectives a business may want to accomplish by establishing a presence on the web: (i) provide information to those customers already familiar with the establishment (i.e., help them select products), (ii) catch the attention of new potential customers, and (iii) establish a corporate image of leadership. Increased sales is, of course, the ultimate goal.
Suppose you are a mail-order establishment selling exotic lingerie, perfumes, and health food. Your customer base is nationwide, and you advertise in the "Mistress" and several other magazines. A full page ad in a single issue of a national magazine costs between $4,000 to $10,000 per month. At this rate you can't afford placing your complete catalog every month in half a dozen magazines, so you establish an Internet Web site and now your complete catalog, pictures, sound and video is posted for the world to see; if you can just get the world's attention for a minute.
Next, you take several smaller ads in the various magazines and publish the URL address of your Web site in the print ad. You tell your readers to visit your web site so that they can see actual pictures of models displaying the hottest lingerie, select styles, sizes, and even place an order. But not all your customers read "Mistress Magazine, so how do they find about you? Of course, you also buy ads in "Vigor & Spice" and related magazines. Hopefully, your faithful customers create a bookmark in their Web browser (or add to their list of Hot Places) with your URL address and revisit your site often and place orders.
Having your own Web site with a URL and a domain name registered in the company name looks good on stationary, business cards, and for corporate image. You still have to advertise in print media, and direct readers to your Web site.
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SOME HIDDEN PITFALLS - 1
By now you probably get the idea. Opening your store front in cyberspace on Main Street Planet Earth may not necessarily bring lots of business, at least not directly. Yet, a significant effort is required to present a polished image on the Web (by polished I do not mean slick colors and pictures, but effective operations of the site features). There are things you can do, however, to improve the situation.
- So far you have addressed the segment of your market base that can be reached via print media advertising. What about new customers who do not read (or do not pay attention to your costly ads in) the magazines? This is where the search engines on the web may (or may not) help. Suppose I'm looking for health food. So I access one or two of my favorite search services, type in key words such as "health" and "food," and click on the "SEARCH" button. Wow, I get about 700 returns to the query. Meticulously, I begin visiting each one starting at the top of the list. I may come across restaurants, cook books and recipes, Pudding's health food menu, etc. Now if I persist, perhaps, I'll get to your page which may be number 79 on the search results. More often, I'll see something that looks interesting, and divert my attention from the original search. Soon I find myself cruising the web reading about NASA astronauts and health food in space, never actually making it to your web site.
- If too much information is not frustrating enough, then consider too much of no-information. Most Web pages have no information in them other than lists of their owner's most favorite Web sites (and believe me, 90% of the web pages are just that). Follow these hot-link leads for long enough, and you'll find yourself in a circular pattern. Web site A points to B, which points to C, which points to .. which points back to A. And if like many cyberspace surfers, you pay for access by connect time, your anxiety level begins to rise.
- The communications technology for the Internet and the Web is in a continuous stage of change: New server workstations with better performance, new and faster communication lines, new server software, new browsers, and new text transfer protocols, new versions of HTML (hypertext mark up language -- the common language for all types of computers on the Internet), new versions of the scripting language (the language used to perform various duties on the server workstation), and the list goes on and on. An investment in any of those may become obsolete in a short time. This requires a business to dedicate full time attention to keep up with the shifting trends.
- Setting up an effective Web site is like publishing a newsletter, a magazine, or a book. You need to become a "producer" of the material, and the "publisher," and must be familiar with the nuances of WWW publishing. You also must have a working knowledge of subjects such as TCP/IP, WinSock, CGI scripting language, NCSA httpd, Perl, HTML 2.0+, HTML 3, PDF, browsers, JPG, GIF, creating HTML forms, Unix shells, managing access log files, FTP, Telnet, SLIP/PPP, SMTP, and a few other items.
- If you open the newspaper, you see all the sections, you can tell where is the top or bottom of the page, etc. A computer monitor, however, only shows a few lines of text. Viewing large volume of information on a monitor is like reading the Sunday paper via a keyhole. The reader can not tell if a page belongs to the Business or Entertainment Sections, whether a paragraph is near the the top or bottom of the article, and which way is the top. Site orientation is a tricky issue; if not done properly, the information posted becomes totally obscured to the visitors.
- Spend a few evenings a week to post messages in the various related USENET groups telling the alt.lingerie buffs about your on-line catalog.
- Develop an electronic mailing list of potential customers and keep sending them junk-e-mails (they might hate you after the third mailing).
- Ask other web site operators to place a hot-link to your site. But, why should your competitor do that?
- Submit your URL address on a routine basis to the hundreds of WWW search, yellow- and white-pages services
- Use gimmicks such as prizes, and games to attract visitors.
- Hire a consultant, or a full time computer wiz to take care of all the details.
So what did I tell you? It takes a full time effort to run an effective Web site. So perhaps it does not make you money, but its fun. But you are after making money via WWW, aren't you? That's a different story then. You are a manufacturer, a distributor, a VAR, OEM, or a retailer. You are not a producer, a publisher, a computer expert, or a programmer. You advertise in trade magazines, you use an ad agency to produce professional looking ads, so why did you think the WWW is going to be different?
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THE MEGA-MALL SOLUTION
One solution that begins to emerge in cyberspace comes in names such as mega-mall, cyber-mall, or superstore. No wonder. After all the concept of mega-malls and superstores is very successful and familiar to all outside cyberspace. Why shouldn't it work here as well? A mega-mall in cyberspace is a web site that serves, say, the clothing retail industry. In it you'll find a billboard with pointers to many individual stores, from shoes, to man's clothing, to lingerie, and much more. So now if you want to buy your wife a present, while avoiding Pudding's casual wear story, you go to the bookmark for the clothing mega-mall. Once in the mall, you activate the Mall Find (search engine) to search for "lingerie," and sure enough you find what you were looking for.
While at the mall you may also catch up on the latest news about childrens' apparel, or check on the Tuxedo sales, and watch the latest photos from the London and Paris Fashion Shows. The mall offers potential customer rapid and easy access to all stores, as long as they can find the mall in cyberspace. As we'll see shortly, that is much easier than finding a lone store.
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WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Here are a few things the mega-mall operator should provide to enhance your own Web presence via the mall:
- Give visitors all the required tools to easily find your store. This may include a billboard (or directory), alphabetic listing of the stores, search capability to locate a store by key words and equivalent terms (for example, if I search for lingerie, underwear, or babydoll, all should point me to your store) or other categories.
- Index all your information and incorporate into the search engine or database.
- Post information on the various USENET groups with broad interest in the field.
- Assure hot-links to the mega-mall from other web sites.
- Create high volume visitor traffic of highly focused audience (buyers, not just window shoppers) at the mall by offering additional services and useful information (for example, the equivalent to a food court in the mall).
- Provide you with a direct URL address to your pages to be used in your print advertising (typically this may look like http://megamall_name/your_business_name).
- Allow visitors to your pages to e-mail or fax messages directly to you.
- Provide all the needed support in preparing your pages, including creating HTML or PDF document, scanning graphics and pictures, etc.
- Routinely submit the complete mall contents to the various WWW search and indexing services.
- Provide you full flexibility in tailoring and changing your pages based on customers feedback.
- Allow you to assess the effectiveness of posting your information at the mall by providing detailed data on access logs (visitors information) to the mall in general, and to pages on your Web site.
- Stay on top of technical development such as in server/client, communications technologies and upgrade the mega-mall web site to take advantage of the fast changing environment.
- Assure high bandwidth access to the mega-mall so that no potential visitor might get "busy" signal.
- Charge rates that are not outrageously high (rates will be proportional to visitors' traffic to the Mall).
Running an effective mall takes a dedicated and experienced operator. A well organized mall may expose your business more effectively than you could do yourself. Also, remember that many of the costs associated with operating the web site, such as developing custom scripts for indexing, search engines, databases, etc. are shared by all customers.
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MORE PITFALLS - 2
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- By now, there are thousands of mega-mall on the Web. Most, post a mix of anything from tire stores to pizza, flower shops and various consultants. DC-motor manufacturers may not be good neighborhood for a clothing store, yet a shoe store may be OK. Carefully select your mall; many of them do not focus on any particular industry, and the only advantage they provide is reduced cost, but your shop may still be lost in cyberspace. It isn't always the lower price that is the most effective.
- Just being listed in the mall directory may not be enough. Think of the mega-mall as a yellow pages service. When you search for something in the yellow pages, your attention is first focused on the large ads. Only if these do not meet your needs, you start reading the one-line listings. To be effective, it is not enough to just have your business' name on the mall's billboard. Considering describing your products with pictures, text, sound, or what ever is required.
TO MALL OR NOT TO MALL?
Look at this from the buyer's point of view. Here are several reasons why mega-malls work better than a single lone store.
Would you use a "yellow pages" directory that lists only one company in it? A huge stack of yellow pages will be needed to cover all the companies.
Do you keep a pile of each separate flyer that arrives in the mail from various stores or manufacturers? You probably keep in a handy location, the large merchandise catalog, or buyers guide that contains the information on all the establishments you may be interested in. Is a buyer likely to keep bookmarks for each store in cyberspace? Or for the few mega-malls?
Why should I set up my store in the same mega-mall where several of my competitors are? The answer is: you absolutely should! Because, this means that the mega-mall will attract a lots of visitors with interest in your product. So you really want to be there as well.
In spite of all the above discussion, you may feel that an independent, stand-alone, store front in cyberspace is what your business image needs. You can still place a part of your store in a mega-mall and point to your own web site. However,
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- (i) the information that is not posted at the mega-mall will not be indexed so that visitors to the mall are less likely to find you,
- (ii) as things are, sites with high visitor traffic such as mega-malls, that may generate a significant portion of the visitor traffic to your stand-alone web site, will probably charge you to place the link, and
- (iii) eventually you may have to take care of, and pay for, two web sites.
MORE HIDDEN PITFALLS - 3
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- Now, some mega-malls require visitors to establish a user ID and password to access their site. Personally, I find it useless. After surfing the Web for a few months, a typical user accumulates dozens of passwords and IDs, one for each mega-mall. Typical web surfers do not, however, keep this list in their shirt pocket. So they either tend to avoid such mega-malls, or they jam on the key board to fill the blanks in the user registration forms, or (if their Internet access is billed by the connect time) they simply click on to the next mega-mall.
- Other mega-malls require the use of their own software to access their site. And although the software is free to download, who needs the hassle?
DECISIONS, DECISIONS, DECISIONS ...
Before deciding how to go about placing your business out in cyberspace, consider other questions as well.
- Do you already have an internet e-mail address?
- Is a single e-mail address sufficient for your company, or do you need multiple addresses for various users?
- Can you live with a dial-up service and retrieve your mail a few times a day using a modem, or do you need to be on-line all the time?
- Do you need to run your own server, or can you lease space on another server?
- And, of course, what do you want to accomplish by setting your presence in cyberspace.
Here are some choices. For a single e-mail address, the most cost effective method may be a subscription to one of the on-line services (CompuServe, AOL, Microsoft Network, to name a few). Typically for less than $10 per month you get your e-mail address plus access to much of the Internet and the WWW. This is also by all means the easiest method in terms if configuring your computer and software for Internet access (unless of course you want to learn all about TCP/IP, WinSock, HTML 2.0+, HTML 3, PDF, browsers, JPG, GIF, graphics conversion tools, authoring tools, etc., and where to get them). The configuration is automatic at installation.
For multiple users with individual e-mail addresses, a dial-up access provider, one with a local phone numbers is your best bet. However, beware of those providers with a low bandwidth access. They can not accommodate all the traffic at one time and you'll get a lots of "busy" signals.
Running your own server implies an investment anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 in equipment, and additional costs for leased lines (again, anywhere from $500, to $10,000 per month, depending on bandwidth), plus, the cost of full time, round the clock system operator. And, you definitley will have to learn to deal with hackers and intruders trying to access your company computers. So add firewalls and computer security, to the list of things to learn.
Finally, and very important, you do not have to set up your Web presence on the same system that gives you Internet access and e-mail. This gives you the flexibility to select the best option for each service. When you click on a web site and view the information posted there, it doesn't matter whether the actual server on which the information resides, is located in the south pole or next door to your office. While web surfing, you may be hopping from one server to another, from one country to another, and from one continent to another. You can't tell the difference. The information that you want to post on your Web site may be transferred via e-mail, or other protocols. So don't worry where the server is located, just make sure it is the right one for you.
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THE TECHEXPO MEGA-MALL EXPERIENCE
TechExpo was conceived to serve the need of the hi-tech, engineering and life sciences communities. The main feature at TechExpo is the Directory of hi-tech companies with a brief description of products and services. This directory is fully indexed and searchable by a Boolean key-word search engine. A buyer may find all companies associated with a certain product by accessing this directory and performing the search. Basic listing is free of charge to qualified companies. Companies pay only for posting additional product information.
In order to attract potential buyers to the site, TechExpo provides several services that are popular with the hi-tech audience. These include reference material and news:
Other features that TechExpo implemented include:
- A calendar of science, engineering, and technology conferences (this is the largest calendar of its kind anywhere on the Internet).
- A directory of technical trade magazines, and the table of contents for upcoming issue of several magazines.
- A directory of science and engineering societies, and industry associations (again, this is the largest compilation of such data on the Internet).
- Technical Data Center that provides conversion tables to Metric units, table of physical constants and other features.
- Free posting of technology related press releases
Access to TechExpo is completely open, no user ID or password is needed. The URL address for TechExpo is: http://www.techexpo.com/
- Product "showcase" that provides the advertiser with immediate feedback by e-mail of the potential customer request.
- Visitor access statistics -- companies can view the number of visitors to their postings and the domain names of these visitors.
- A direct e-mail form which visitors may use to communicate with the posting company. The e-mail message get stamped with the TechExpo signature, so that the recipient knows that it was generated from within his/her posting at TechExpo.
- Free subscription list for direct mailing of press releases and technology news to subscribers based on specific area of technology (in service shortly).
- New implementation of a technology / industry classification code that includes specific categories for all areas of technology developed up to present times. This classification allows users to search for information at TechExpo based on fields of interest. (in draft mode now).
- Other features coming up shortly.
TechExpo is accessed by engineers, scientists, technical managers from over 70 countries. More than 1,200 companies are posted at the TechExpo mega-mall, and it is one of the most visited sites among science and technology web sites (of course it pales when comparing the visitors to the Penthouse Web site). Hot-links to TechExpo can be found at many WWW sites including colleges, libraries, government technical sites, military technical organizations, commercial organizations, and search engines (probably more links than Playboy has).
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This article may be copied, printed, or re-distributed electronically or in hardcopy, provided it is left complete and intact, with full credits to the source at TechExpo.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nahum Gat, Ph.D. is involved with the TechExpo mega-mall web site. He is an engineer by education, a practicing scientist for over 20 years, and a businessman.