Today's buzz is online marketing, and, certainly, some companies are scoring big sales on the World Wide Web. But many more are failing. What are the secrets to online success? For answers, we turned to Bruce Judson, author of Net Marketing (Wolf New Media) and a creator of Time Warner's much-praised Pathfinder Web site (http://www.pathfinder.com), which provides links to Time Warner's publications.
1. Have a clear objective. Don't create a Web site just because it's the thing to do. Decide why you're building your site, and design it with this in mind. But don't limit yourself--Web sites can serve a number of goals: You can advertise, sell, build prospect lists, or any one of 100 other ideas.
2. Start by experimenting. This is a new medium; learn through experience. It's far more important to get a site going than to spend months planning it.
3. Look for large cost savings. A toll-free number for order-taking or customer service costs about $1 per minute. If customers communicate with you through the Web, these costs are eliminated entirely, and the savings go directly to the bottom line.
4. Budget money upfront to build on what you learn. Interactive marketing is still so young, no one knows what will and will not work. As a result, you'll want to change your site (no matter how well-planned) based on what you learn from operating it.
5. Execute a promotion plan. More than 5,000 new commercial Web sites pop up every month. You are competing for an audience, so you need to develop a promotional plan. A "Field of Dreams" strategy (just build it, and they will come) doesn't work.
6. Promote your Web site everywhere. Include Web addresses on all packaging and in all print and broadcast advertising. Consider buying Web-based advertising that leads prospects directly to your site. Use "action" ads where one click on the ad transports the user to your Web site.
7. Register with Internet search engines. The Internet has many indexes that send people to sites related to particular topics. For instance, there's Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo.com), Lycos (http://www.lycos.com), and Excite (http://www.excite.com). Register your site with as many engines as you can find.
8. If you have a broad product line, offer a referral service. Ask visitors to your site to provide information about their needs so you can program your Web site to recommend appropriate products. By sorting through options and finding the right choice for each visitor, you provide value to these potential customers.
9. Ask if visitors want to be notified about new products and services or special sales. It's easy--and cheap--to gather the names and addresses of visitors who want to be notified by e-mail of specific new products or services.
10. Listen to your best salesperson pitch your product or service. The essence of what he or she says is the basis for a great Web site. The site should include lots of information about the benefits of your products or services.
11. Monitor competitors' Web sites. You may get ideas that will work for you as well.
For reprints and licensing questions, click here.