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Net Results

Cast your net over the World Wide Web . . .and scoop up prospects.
December 1, 1996
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/13572

Asymetrix, 110 110th Ave. N.E., Bellevue, WA 98004, (800) 448-6543;

Ben Maxstadt, 79 Morehouse Rd., Ravena, NY 12143, (518) 756-8033;

Softcell Marketing Inc., (714) 825-4815, (212) 953-5234.

Weave Your Own Web Page

Until about a year ago, only specialists in Web page design had the tools and skills to create such an animal. Nowadays, however, several software companies offer do-it-yourself Web page programs. With names such as 3-D Website Builder, Adobe PageMill and Claris Home Page, they enable the average techno-Twinkie (me included) to put together a Web page using a wide range of attractive templates and other accoutrements. Besides allowing you to construct a site literally in a matter of minutes, these programs also enable you to regularly update and improve your page to keep it timely and effective.

I contacted the Asymetrix Co. of Bellevue, Washington, developers of another such program, WebPublisher, to help me show you how to transform a ho-hum effort into an electronic storefront that looks welcoming and professional. Mind you, you can spend a few thousand dollars having your page custom-designed using animation, video and other electronic eye candy. But even on a limited budget, you can still produce a page that gets the job done.

WebPublisher ($70) provides 20 basic Web page themes, designed by professional artists, that you can then enhance with text, graphics and hyperlinks, also called "hot links" (highlighted words that, when selected, send the viewer to another relevant screen for more information). As you can see in the Flower Shop example on the following page, you can even give your headline a 3-D effect to grab more attention.

This may be easy enough for the ambitious do-it-yourselfer, you say, but what if you're either a complete sloth or a hopeless computer incompetent, yet still recognize the business-building power of a Web page? In that case, there are a few thousand young, Web-designing part-timers out there who knock out pages for friends or do it to make some extra money on weekends.

I ran across one such kitchen-table Web whiz through an e-mail ad he placed and gave him a call just to see what he offers. Ben Maxstadt of Albany, New York, is 19 and a freshman majoring in computer science at local Columbia Green Community College. He designs Web pages using yet another such program called HTML Assistant Pro, charges between $100 and $300 for the job, and says he's got a lot of takers. But he agrees that today's Web publishing software makes it easy for just about anyone to produce a page.

I asked if he had any helpful hints for the first-timer, and here are his top four:

1. Don't use graphics that take a long time to load because impatient viewers may not wait around.

2. In lieu of a lot of slow-loading photos, insert hypertext links that give the prospect the option to view photos elsewhere.

3. Create a "guest book," and ask visitors to sign it and add their e-mail addresses. This helps you build a database of interested people you may want to contact later.

4. Use a good Web browser to view your page. Maxstadt recommends Netscape Navigator or Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Without one, the images on your page may look distorted or misaligned.

Look Ma, No PAPER

Apart from creating a Web page for your company, there's another do-it-yourself method of online advertising that, although controversial, has powerful potential. I'm speaking of bulk e-mail, a method of targeting appropriate online readers by the thousands or even millions and, with a simple click of your mouse, sending them your marketing letter via e-mail.

Bulk e-mail requires special software that orchestrates the process, but you can imagine the opportunities. Purveyors of the technology (Email Works by Softcell Marketing Inc. is one of several such outfits that I contacted online) claim you can effortlessly mail from 500 to as many as 13,000 letters per hour without ever buying a mailing list, sealing an envelope or forking over postage.

However, I call this approach controversial because it is a form of junk e-mail (or "spam" mail, as some people derisively refer to it) that's raising the hackles of more than a few users who don't want their online mailboxes cluttered with electronic sales pitches. Responding to this concern, America Online recently went to court to try to block a few electronic mailers from routinely "stripping" the e-mail addresses of AOL subscribers to send them marketing letters. As of press time, the courts had granted the request in the case of one very aggresive mailer. AOL now also offers members a feature that allows them to selectively block e-mail themselves. Other online services are likely to follow suit.

That said, this fledgling technology is too powerful not to be harnessed and used in some way recipients would find acceptable. It's the form of solicitation Ben Maxstadt used to promote his services, and I found his letter short but sweet, disarming and effective. That's the key, say the experts.

Limit your letter to 20 lines or less to generate a lead, then send the rest of your message only to those who request it. Or, alternately, attach the bulk of your pitch as a ride-along electronic enclosure readers can open and read, at their option, after being intrigued by your letter.

As in any direct-mail program, it's wise to BODY a few different approaches to your letter, sending each version to a different small segment of your audience (perhaps 1,000 prospects each) to see which pulls the most responses. The winning letter would then become the one you send out to a much larger audience.

As someone who receives a number of e-mail marketing letters each week, I can tell you that many are indeed intrusive. This can be a major turnoff, especially when you might never have retrieved your e-mail in the first place had you known it was an advertisement.

Morever, bulk e-mail letters are pretty homely to look at. At this stage, you can only write and send them in plain computer text. Plus, there are always about 10 lines of mind-numbing computer routing codes preceding the letter's message--all the more reason to feel like trashing it. This is still an evolving tool. Yet I think you'll agree its potential power to transform the face of direct marketing is nothing short of nuclear. Stay tuned.

Contact Sources

Asymetrix, 110 110th Ave. N.E., Bellevue, WA 98004, (800) 448-6543;

Ben Maxstadt, 79 Morehouse Rd., Ravena, NY 12143, (518) 756-8033;

Softcell Marketing Inc., (714) 825-4815, (212) 953-5234.