Hear and Now

More and more sound-savvy entrepreneurs are realizing that silence isn't always golden when it comes to their Web sites.

Shh. If you listen closely to the Net today, you can hear quirky noises, spoken instructions and background music. What's going on here?

Web sites are getting loud. Entrepreneurs have realized that adding audio is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to keep visitors more engaged with site content and to encourage them to come back for more.

In fact, three-fifths of the Web's top 75 sites feature audio, according to recent data from Jupiter Media Metrix. Jupiter also revealed the most popular uses of sound on the Web today: product/corporate description (73 percent), promotional information (27 percent), ambiance music (23 percent) and navigation instructions (7 percent). And although audio elements were once reserved for music-oriented destinations, a wider range of sites is now becoming interested in the idea.

In 2001, about
of kids asked mom and dad to buy stuff they'd seen on the Net, compared to 40% in 1998.
SOURCE: SpectraCom Inc.

Why are Web merchants turning up the volume-especially now, in a down economy? Entrepreneurs and experts say that adding audio to a site not only cultivates customer loyalty, but also creates an experience much like the one they'd expect in an actual store. Audio also helps customers cut through the clutter of text and graphics. Prerecorded messages-such as checkout directions or key privacy policies-tell customers how to find special products or how to complete a sale. And because more users have speedy Net access, the demand for souped-up Web pages is increasing.

Meanwhile, a growing number of Web users have broadband access, which enables a much faster Net connection. According to a November 2001 Nielsen/NetRatings study, the number of at-home broadband users in the United States is about 22 million, setting an all-time high. The study also revealed that one out of every five surfers accessed the Net through a broadband connection, reaching a record 20 percent of 106 million active Internet users.

"Now that more people have access to faster Internet connections," says T.S. Kelly, director and principal analyst of Nielsen/NetRatings in New York City, "sound can be a wonderful enhancement to many Web sites, including e-commerce sites."

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Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at mcampanelli@earthlink.net.

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This article was originally published in the April 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hear and Now.

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