Spreading The Word
Click-throughs. Hyperlinks. Search engine registration. Banner ads. Companies taking their businesses on the Internet to get a share of the $1.4 billion in online revenues--or the projected $3.3 billion expected in online transaction revenues by 2000--are being forced to learn a whole new marketing vocabulary.
For many newbies on the Web, these terms sound more like a foreign language than marketing strategies. And talking the talk is only the beginning--to make a company's presence on the Internet profitable, it's got to learn to walk the walk and market aggressively on the Net.
Few Web site managers or small-business owners have the time to tackle the task of marketing on the Web, spelling disaster for many companies' Web sites. After spending thousands of dollars launching their sites, far too many companies sit back and wait for customers to rush in with orders. When that doesn't happen, they complain of low traffic and meager sales and declare the new medium a bust.
Charles Sayers, publisher of the online magazine Who's Marketing Online? (http://www.wmo.com), calls that strategy--or rather lack thereof--a recipe for disaster. "You can't just launch a Web site without a marketing plan specifically geared for the Web," he says. "You need to approach marketing on the Web the same way you would approach marketing an offline business."
Rushing to the aid of businesses such as these are a new crop of companies helping businesses with all aspects of Web marketing: designing sites, increasing traffic through site registration and links, tracking and analyzing hits, creating and placing banner ads, distributing press releases online and more.
Frances Huffman, a freelance writer in Pacific Palisades, California, is a former senior editor for Entrepreneur.
Sites For Sore Eyes
How do you make it as a marketing firm in the wide world of Webdom? According to Sayers, Internet marketers need many of the same things their clients need, including a killer Web site design that shows your company is on the cutting edge of Internet technology, a name that says what your company does, a site that clearly states what you are selling, presence on search engines, interaction with viewers, traffic analysis and a strategic marketing plan.
What you don't need? A server--Sayers says it's better to rent space on a host server than to buy your own at first. You may also be able to do without high-end computers with lots of bells and whistles--depending on what kind of Internet marketing company you operate, of course. You definitely don't need cushy office space--in fact, many Internet marketers work from home--or a big staff; many one-person firms manage to get the job done better than bigger operations.
With such minimal start-up requirements, this formula is striking a chord with upstart entrepreneurs nationwide. A few years ago, Internet marketing firms were few and far between. These days, as the number of new Web sites continues to skyrocket--10,000 new sites per day, according to some estimates--so does the number of Internet marketing companies that cater to them.
Judy Cannon, 39, owner of Acclaim Web Services in Paige, Texas, started her search engine registration company last July and has already noticed a tremendous amount of new competition. "When I started my company, there were only a handful of search engine registration companies; now there are hundreds," she says.
In spite of the additional competition, Cannon, who holds a degree in computer science and previously worked as a software programmer, still thinks there's room to grow in her business, which registers companies' Web sites on the major search engines, comes up with site titles, defines key words to emphasize and writes descriptions of sites. This year, she's hoping to build on her projected first-year sales of $70,000 by increasing her own marketing efforts on the Web. "Up until now, I've relied on search engines to direct customers to my site, but now I'm looking for opportunities to advertise and set up some reciprocal links."
Do Unto Others
These days, getting wired for profits as an Internet marketing firm takes practicing what you preach and using the same tactics to market your own site that you advise your clients to use.
That's exactly what Glen Boyd and Eli Shapira do. As co-founders of WebTrends Corp., a Portland, Oregon, firm that sells Web site management and traffic analysis software, the pair have a fail-proof way of testing their product: "We use our product to analyze our own site," says Boyd, 30. The software, which is priced from $299 to $1,499 depending on the features you want, allows site managers to track which pages get the most hits, the average time spent on the site, the Web site addresses of people viewing the site and more.
By helping customers better market their products and services on their sites, WebTrends has gained momentum: Boyd and Shapiro, 32, expect sales for 1998 to hit $8 million. Not bad for a company that debuted in 1994 as a network security software and tech support company and didn't add Web marketing software, which now accounts for a majority of its sales, until 1996. Like many Internet product vendors, WebTrends expects to turn existing customers into repeat buyers by updating its software on a regular basis.
The Internet is still a bit unwieldy. Although there is no definitive statistic on the number of Internet users in the United States, estimates range from 40 million to 47 million. There are no known statistics on the number of Internet-based companies or the number of companies selling on the Web.
These limitations make it difficult to research the industry and stay on top of all the changes. "It's kind of scary at times just how fast things change on the Web," says Steven Robiner, president and CEO of Ad-Up Corp., an Internet advertising firm specializing in banner ads. To stay up to date, Robiner and his two partners, Jeremy Grodberg and Barry Lozier, all 35, are adding audio and video capabilities to the banner ads they offer customers to make their company's offerings stand out from the pack. With these additions, the pair expect 1998 sales to top $400,000.
Robiner and his partners have been helping companies promote their sites and products on the Web since 1996 when they launched Ad-Up in Marina del Rey, California. The trio hopes to cash in on what Forrester Research Inc. says were $400 million in overall Web ad revenues in 1997. Forrester estimates Web ad revenues will continue to grow at close to 250 percent annually through 2000.
Hit Or Miss?
Getting the word out about your Internet marketing operation is key to making it. And what better place to market than the Internet itself?
Sayers suggests using all available tools on the Internet to jump-start your site. That includes banner advertising, setting up links from other sites and using e-mail to alert potential customers about your site and any sales or promotions you offer.
Many of the methods used in traditional marketing also have a place on the Internet: Personalized customer service is just as important on the Net as it is in offline businesses. Sure, customers may find out about your company through your Web site, but that doesn't mean they're comfortable purchasing your marketing services online or communicating entirely via computer.
Most Internet marketers say the majority of their clients find them through the Web, but there are some potential clients who are so mired in the daily operations of running their businesses that they don't have time to surf the Net for marketing firms. And, of course, there are companies that still need help getting online. To increase their chances of reaching these customers, some Internet marketers--especially those offering Internet access and Web design--are placing ads via more traditional media, such as tech publications and radio.
No matter how high-tech or low-tech the media you choose to find your customers is, you have to offer quality products, excellent service and follow-up after the sale to make it as an Internet marketer. Some people get so caught up in the high-tech aspect of an Internet business they forget about business basics. But if you can combine down-to-earth business values with some high-tech know-how, you can get wired for success.
The following opportunity companies offer entrepreneurs help getting started in Internet marketing.
Compiled by Liza Potter
1000 W. McNab Rd., #236
Pompano Beach, FL 33069
Internet marketing/electronic advertising
1000 John R. Rd., #208
Troy, MI 48083
Interactive Internet broadcasting
The Internet Yellow Pages
4 Haverhill Rd.
Chester, NH 03036
Internet Yellow Pages advertising
2630 Sand Lake Rd.
Longwood, FL 32779-5807
(888) 820-7283, (407) 774-1070
4616 W. Sahara Ave., #300
Las Vegas, NV 89102
1221 E. Dyer Rd., #285
Santa Ana, CA 92705-5635
(888) 708-8580, (714) 708-8580