INTRODUCTION OF THE TOPIC
In the emerging global economy, e-business have increasingly become a necessary component of business strategy and a strong catalyst for economic development. The integration of information and communications technology (ICT) in business has revolutionized relationships within organizations and those between and among organizations and individuals. Specifically, the use of ICT in business has enhanced productivity, encouraged greater customer participation, and enabled mass customization, besides reducing costs.
With developments in the Internet and Web-based technologies, distinctions be- tween traditional markets and the global electronic marketplace such as business capital size, among others-are gradually being narrowed down. The name of the game is strategic positioning, the ability of a company to determine emerging op- portunities and utilize the necessary human capital skills (such as intellectual re- sources) to make the most of these opportunities through an e-business strategy that is simple, workable and practicable within the context of global information and new economic environment. With its effect of leveling the playing field, e-commerce coupled with the appropriate strategy and policy approach enables Small and medium scale enterprises to compete with large and capital-rich businesses.
On another plane, developing countries are given increased access to the global Marketplace, where they compete with and complement the more developed economies. Most, if not all, developing countries are already participating in e-commerce, either as sellers or buyers. However, to facilitate e-commerce growth in these countries, the relatively underdeveloped information infrastructure must be improved.
HISTORY OF INTERNET
In the 50's and early 60's, prior to the widespread inter-networking that led to the Internet, most communication networks were limited by their nature to only allow communications between the stations on the network. Some networks had gateways or bridges between them, but these bridges were often limited or built specifically for a single use. One prevalent computer networking method was based on the central mainframe method, simply allowing its terminals to be connected via long leased lines. This method was used in the 1950s by Project RAND to support researchers such as Herbert Simon, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when collaborating across the continent with researchers in Santa Monica, California, on automated theorem proving and artificial intelligence. The Internet system was developed and ready in the Late 1980s, but The Cold War held up the progress. When it ended in 1992, the internet slowly became main stream. By the end of the decade, millions were using it for business, education and pleasure.
The Internet was designed in part to provide a communications network that would work even if some of the sites were destroyed by nuclear attack. If the most direct route was not available, routers would direct traffic around the network via alternate routes.
The early Internet was used by computer experts, engineers, scientists, and librarians. There was nothing friendly about it. There were no home or office personal computers in those days, and anyone who used it, whether a computer professional or an engineer or scientist or librarian, had to learn to use a very complex system.
WHAT MAKES THE INTERNET SO POWERFUL?
The Internet is the lowest cost system ever developed to communicate with a potential audience of hundreds of millions of people all over the world. Even locally, the cost of a simple Web site is usually less than the cost of a modest ad in a business telephone directory. A Web site can also give more information than a telephone directory ad, including color photos, detailed descriptions of products and services, and price information that can be changed at any moment, for any reason, instead of waiting for a printed directory's next publication cycle.
As a news medium, the Internet is faster and more flexible than a newspaper or magazine. A story can be added to a Web site instantly at any time of the day or night. There are no deadlines (except self-imposed ones) for Internet news. The "printing press" is always on, you might say. Even television news, aside from a few 24-hour news channels, must usually wait for scheduled news broadcast times instead of breaking into entertainment programming whenever a new story comes along. Television is also constrained by its necessarily linear information delivery format. It must tell a story, then another story, then take a break for advertising, then tell another story, and so on, in sequence. A viewer cannot choose to view only a few stories that he or she finds interesting, which may occupy only five minutes out of a 30-minute newscast. On the Internet, a reader is free not only to choose to view just those stories in which he or she is most interested, but also gets to choose the order in which he or she sees them. If sports scores are the highest item on today's agenda, click and there's the sports section, as easy as turning a newspaper page. Another click and there's the score from the game that just ended, possibly with video highlights only one more click away.
Corrections, changes, and updates to a story published on the Internet can be made as fast as they come in without waiting for a printing press to roll. Breaking news alerts can be sent instantly by email to subscribers who request this service, and a reader can instantly communicate with an online publication's editors via email or, if the publication has this facility, post his or her comments on a "message board" for other readers to see right away, without waiting for a fax or mail to get through and an editor to look the message over and perhaps include it in the "letters to the editor" section several days after the original story ran.
An online publication can also offer an advertiser something that is not available in any other medium: ads that link directly, with one click, to a Web page full of compelling reasons to buy the advertised product or service. Even if only a fraction of one percent of all people who see a Web ad click on it, that is still an infinitely higher percentage than can click on a magazine ad or TV spot for additional informationâ€”or even to buy a product directly from the advertiser right now. Even if few readers click on an individual online ad and buy right now, a Web ad still has the same branding and general "get the name out" effect as advertising in other media. If the cost of an online ad is similar to the cost of one in another medium, it represents a better value because of the ability it gives an advertiser to give an interested person an entire Web site full of information right away, only one click removed from the online publication in which that ad is running.
But the most direct way to make money online, no matter how a merchant gets traffic to his or her Web site, is to sell over the Internet. E-commerce has had its ups and downs, but the overall trend is upward, and it is likely to stay that way for many years to come. Putting up a "catalog" Web site is far less expensive than printing and mailing paper catalogs, and the Web site can have "instant" ordering and credit card acceptance built right into it, whereas a paper catalog can generate only phone orders that require a horde of (expensive) live operators to process or mail-in order forms that a customer must fill outAn
WHAT IS E-BUSINESS?
E-business (electronic business), derived from such terms as "e-mail" and "e-commerce," is the conduct of business on the Internet, not only buying and selling but also servicing customers and collaborating with business partners. One of the first to use the term was IBM, when, in October, 1997, it launched a thematic campaign built around the term. Today, major corporations are rethinking their businesses in terms of the Internet and its new culture and capabilities. Companies are using the Web to buy parts and supplies from other companies, to collaborate on sales promotions, and to do joint research. Exploiting the convenience, availability, and world-wide reach of the Internet, many companies, such as Amazon.com, the book sellers, have already discovered how to use the Internet successfully.
E-business is more than just having a web presence to facilitate buying and selling. Frank Jones, VP of IBM Corporation, provides this definition: "E-business is exploiting the combined power of the internet and information technology to fundamentally transform key business strategies and processes".
The most common implementation of E-business is as an additional, or in some cases primary, storefront. By selling products and services online, an e-business is able to reach a much wider consumer base than any traditional brick-and-mortar store could ever hope for. This function of E-business is referred to as ecommerce, and the terms are occasionally used interchangeably.
An E-Business may also use the Internet to acquire wholesale products or supplies for in-house production. This facet of E-Business is sometimes referred to as eprocurement, and may offer businesses the opportunity to cut their costs dramatically. Even many E-Businesses which operate without an electronic storefront now use eprocurement as a way to better track and manage their purchasing. revenue from 5% in 2000 to 10% in 2007 . Asia-Pacific e-commerce revenues are projected to increase from $76.8 billion atIn addition to buying and selling products, e-business may also handle other traditional business aspects. The use of electronic chat as a form of technical and customer support is an excellent example of this. An e-business which uses chat to supplement its traditional phone support finds a system which saves incredible amounts of time while providing opportunities unavailable through traditional support. By using virtual computer systems, for example, technical support operators can remotely access a customer's computer and assist them in correcting a problem. And with the download of a small program, all pertinent information about the hardware and software specifications for a user's computer may be relayed to the support operator directly, without having to walk a customer through personally collecting the data. In the past few years, virtually all businesses have become, to some degree or another, an e-business. The pervasiveness of Internet technology, readily available solutions, and the repeatedly demonstrated benefits of electronic technology have made e-business the obvious path. This trend continues with new technologies, such as Internet-enabled cell phones and PDAs, and the trend of e-business saturation will most likely continue for some time.
International Data Corp (IDC) estimates the value of global e-commerce in 2000 at US$350.38 billion. This is projected to climb to as high as US$3.14 trillion by 2007. IDC also predicts an increase in Asia's percentage share in worldwide e-commerce year-end of 2001 to $338.5 billion by the end of 2004. Asia-Pacific e-commerce revenues are projected to increase from $76.8 billion at year-end of 2001 to $338.5 billion by the end of 2004.
SOME OF THE WAYS I CAN INCORPORATE
E-BUSINESS INTO A COMPANY
The goal is to digitize transactions, which are simply defined as exchanges of information. The number of opportunities is limited only by your creativity, cost, and good business sense. The best advice is to determine the best opportunities for payback and address them first. Make sure the benefit will pay back or exceed the cost. The following is a summarized list of functions and activities where e-business applications are becoming embedded into the typical business model. Visualize, if you can, a business where each of these business activities is completely integrated with the others, to form a completely integrated e-business.
- After sales service; ie. billing, demand planning, engineering, inventory planning, purchasing, receivables
- Business analytics; ie. financial performance, marketing, workforce, production, enterprise management
- Consultant management
- Customer relationship management; ie. account management, customer self-service, contact management & communications, promotions, surveys, quality, help desk, field service
- E-store/e-exchange/product catalog; ie. delivering b2b and b2c e-commerce,
- Finance; ie. asset management, accounting, budgets, invoicing, payables & receivables, investments, government tax returns & payments, payroll administration
- Grant & donation management
- Human Resources Management; ie. resource planning, benefits administration, reward programs, recruiting & hiring, workforce management, pension administration
- Investor relations
- Marketing and sales activities; ie. products, technical information, sales support, product life cycle management, corporate resume, portfolio, customer lists, customer service
- Materials management
- Order management & customer fulfillment
- Project management
- Public Relations
- Strategic partner collaboration
HAVING TRADITIONAL BUSINESS :
WHAT DO ONLINE CUSTOMERS SEEK
Consumer attitudes of those who shop and purchase online are significantly different from the habits and preferences of consumers who visit stores. Their purchase decisions are driven and based on a different set of factors tied to the characteristics of the e-space environment. For an e-commerce business to survive, it is absolutely necessary to establish and maintain an intimate understanding of the customers, their behavior, and the factors that drive purchase decisions. In the current e-commerce environment, online consumers are highly sensitive to the following characteristics:
- Quick page download time, 8-10 seconds
- Fast navigation, 2-3 page views to get to the consumer's objective
- Logical and understandable first page view; purpose of site, company's mission, organization of site
- Quality user-friendly web site, easy to read and view with interesting graphics
- Immediate customer service, a human to contact to ask questions while browsing
- Complete product descriptions, price and other charges, and pictures
- Contact information, company address, store locations, telephone numbers, email address
- Confidentiality regarding use or sharing of consumer information
- Opt-out, or permission-given privacy policies for consumer data entered on the site
- Security arrangements for online transactions
- Convenient return policies and options
- Order acknowledgement & ability to check shipping status
- Site stability, similar look and feel for each successive visit
10 SUREFIRE IDEAS TO START YOUR OWN
ONLINE INTERNET BUSINESS
Become a freelancer - Do you have any specific skill? Sell it. Go to elance.com to find the job opportunities posted there. Start information website - Do you have a passion to research any niche topic? Gather it, process it, rewrite it and start a new informational website on the researched topic. Participate in affiliate marketing (sell others product) - Why don't you sell manufacturer's or marketer's product? To be precise, sell other's product. Sell an ad space - If you have a website or blog sell an ad space from it. If you don't have, try having one exclusively made for selling ad space.
Sell your own old stuffs through EBay - Start selling your product or your neighbor's or friend's product through EBay. Create a Niche blog - Do you Blog for Fun? No don't blog it. Blog to generate income out of it, get hired by companies to write blog for them. or create your own niche blog (this might over lap with any one of the above strategy). Sell your services - If you have a talent in any particular domain, and then sell it as a service. Be an Online service provider. Example: Online Brokers (this might also overlap) Create e-books on any subject of your interest and sell it across various channels like EBay, Amazon, etc
IS E-COMMERCE THE SAME AS E-BUSINESS?
While some use e-commerce and e-business interchangeably, they are distinct con- cepts. In e-commerce, information and communications technology (ICT) is used in inter-business or inter-organizational transactions (transactions between and among firms/organizations) and in business-to-consumer transactions (transactions between firms/organizations and individuals).
In e-business, on the other hand, ICT is used to enhance one's business. It includes any process that a business organization (either a for-profit, governmental or non-profit entity) conducts over a computer-mediated network. A more comprehensive definition of e-business is: "The transformation of an organization's processes to deliver additional customer value through the application of technologies, philosophies and computing paradigm of the new economy."
Three primary processes are enhanced in e-business :
- Production processes, which include procurement, ordering and replenish-ment of stocks; processing of payments; electronic links with suppliers; and production control processes, among others;
- Customer-focused processes, which include promotional and marketing ef-forts, selling over the Internet, processing of customers' purchase orders and
- Internal management processes, which include employee services, train-ing, internal information-sharing, video-conferencing, and recruiting. Electronic applications enhance information flow between production and sales forces to improve sales force productivity. Workgroup communications and elec- tronic publishing of internal business information are likewise made more efficient. payments, and customer support, among others; and
WHY ESTABLISH A BUSINESS ON THE INTERNET?
Fact versus Opinion
On techniques we have practised. We will be sharing with you the methods we have used to establish our own internet business rather than harping on about theories. You will be reading a real success story written by real people. Everything you will find here can be verified and put into practice by you. There is no denying that the internet has brought about a revolution. Never before have people been able to interact in such a cost effective and comfortable way. The Internet with its multiple communication channels also changes the world of business. Now it is possible for you to establish your own company with a very small financial investment or in some cases even without any start-up capital at all. The majority of people in any country in the world do not really like their regular jobs. Nevertheless they get up early every morning to go to work and when they return home tired and frustrated they switch on the TV to forget all about their problems. They often dream about a life that gives them the freedom to do what they really like with people who are friendly, intelligent, understanding and supportive.
When it comes to business, most people confuse their personal opinions with facts. They believe in fact that they know something when in reality they don't have all the data to support their beliefs.In this document section you will find factual information that is based on our experiences and our experiences Now with the Internet available in almost every household in any developed country, it is possible to achieve the type of lifestyle you have always dreamed about. The following facts will show why you really should consider establishing your
own internet company :
Downsizing: Let's face it â€” a computer is more productive than a human in business. areas such as accounting, administration, data management, calculating, statistics and many more activities. Whatever industry you name â€” new technologies increase productivity which, in turn, often leads to fewer jobs. To be sure new technologies also create new jobs but these require a much higher level of qualification and knowledge. A person who has been working in the same sort of job for several years is often not capable of acquiring all the skills and qualifications needed for a job in a new workplace.
Globalization: The world is becoming more and more interconnected. Even, or maybe especially after September 11, international travel activities have been increasing and this pattern will continue into the future. The number of companies that operate on a multinational scale is constantly rising because they need new market places. In Europe nations have agreed on a uniform single currency â€” the EURO, enabling the European Community to develop into a strong economic entity. The same sort of thing is taking place in Asia with China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan forming a powerful economic alliance.
Information: More than 500 million people worldwide are using the internet on a
regular basis, with email and search engines as the most popular services. Information is power. People are able to influence, direct, convince, educate and manipulate others through one single tool: The distribution of information. Email and discussion forums allow people to share their thoughts, ideas and experiences with other people from all corners of the world.
Cost Effectiveness : The internet is by far the most cost effective communication tool. If you want to send a letter via conventional or so-called snail mail it will cost at least around $1 (assuming you restrict yourself to two single sheets of paper). Sending the same amount of information via email will be up to 100 times cheaper with immediate delivery.
THE ADVANTAGES OF THE INTERNET
So, let's recap. Never have the chances for setting up and running your own successful business been easier than they are today:
- While traditional industries like manufacturing are shrinking, new industries are growing especially the «information industries
- You can use the internet to find your customers and business partners worldwide
- Your customers and partners can find you on the internet.
- You can use the internet to build a strong relationship with your customers especially via email.
- You can use the internet to market your products and services.
- You can use the internet to acquire all the information, training and qualifications you need for your business.
- You can set up a business with a very small marketing budget, something almost impossible in the real world.
You can certainly list even more reasons why it is possible for anybody with a computer and access to the Internet to establish their own business. At the same time the reality is that only a very small percentage of people who do have a computer and access to the Internet, establish and run their own business. Why is this? The answer is very simple. Most people anywhere in the world, spend too much time thinking about things they do not want, instead of thinking about things they do want. As a
result there are only a few people who have their own company and they usually earn more money than somebody with a regular job. Owners of comapines usually have more personal and financial freedom than people with regular jobs. But what exactly do you need in order to own a company? Money? A University degree? The right friends? Well, maybe some of these things can help you with your business but then they are not essential and are no guarantee of success. We have analyzed a number of successful online business people and here is a list of important characteristics all of them possessed. We know that the following qualities are essential for success as a businessperson so you should take the time to go through them and check whether or not you have them. All the information about how to set up a website, how to run an email newsletter, how to get a high ranking at Google, how to generate huge traffic to your website etc. will be worth nothing if you don't have most of the following skills and qualities.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN
Most people wait until someone else tells them what to do. That's the way our society is organized. You go to school and the teacher tells you what to do. You study at university and the professors tell you what to do. Your parents tell you what is right and wrong. You get a job and there you will have a boss and colleagues who tell you what to do. Now, we all have to learn from others clearly but we do have a choice about where we get advice. If you want to know how to establish your own business, would you ask your colleague who has been working in a regular 9 -5 job for 15
years or so? Think about your teachers at school or your University professors. Do you think they know how to set up a business and become an entrepreneur? If we examine truly successful people we will find that they have a high level of self-motivation. This applies to any calling in life.
Consistency, the ability to follow through
Many people who do have self-motivation, quickly get enthused and inspired by a new idea. Getting excited or even thrilled by an idea might be great for the moment. A business, however, requires constant activity. If you want to establish and develop a company you need a high level of consistency also known as stickability. Once you have made the decision to set up your business, you must follow through this decision
with consistency. Think about your life can you come up with an example where you have proved your consistency, your stickability? Did you ever want to learn to play an instrument or a sport or a learn a foreign language? How long did you stick to your plan? How much time did you spend on your project and what have you accomplished? Chances are that you started a lot of projects and half way through the course you quit because things got tough and you lacked stickability. If this is the case fear not. You are not alone. The truth is that most people quit as soon as things get more difficult. Making a long-term commitment is not easy for most people. This applies to personal relationships too
Are you the sort of person who tends to raise your voice when something doesn't go your way? Or do you even have A tendency to shout at your spouse, children or colleagues when you are under pressure? Whenever you start shouting, swearing or using negative language you are wasting your energy energy better put to use on your business venture. Swearing and grumbling kills your creativity and blocks your mind. You must be strong enough to withstand any tendency to get angry or upset or else you will never succeed in your business.
It takes great courage to make decisions and set goals because this means you have to prove to yourself that you can follow your own words through to a conclusion. Look at your friends, family and colleagues. How often do you hear somebody make a promise like «I'll call you next week.» or «I'll look this information up for you.» or «Sure I'll help you when you move house, just let me know when you need me.» Those are statements, offers, promises all based on words. Yet, how often are they followed by deeds? Do you make New Year's Resolutions such as «Next year I'll quit smoking», «Next year I'll start this business course at night school», and «Next year I'll go on a trip to Paris or Egypt with you»? How many of those resolutions and promises have you kept? How many of them did you simply forget two weeks into the New Year? It takes courage to make a real decision, as you will have to make a sacrifice to follow it through. Also, when you start up a business you will be alone, at least to begin with. There will be no-one to tell you what to do, nobody at first to motivate and support you. You will have to take responsibility for yourself and to a certain degree, for any possible partners and you can only lead others if you have your own fears under control and are willing to take risks. Many people do not set themselves goals because they are afraid of failing of admitting defeat and they think the best way to avoid defeat is to simply not set goals.
Willingness to learn and the ability to change habits
When you decide to start your own Internet business you are also deciding to go back to school again. Not in a real physical sense but mentally. You will have to trawl for every single bit of information that will get you closer to your goal. To learn means you'll need to change your habits and habits are established patterns of behaviour and thinking that everyone acquires throughout their lives. However, most people are not aware of the fact that they have to learn something new every day and that in order to learn, in order to obtain new knowledge and new skills they have to change some of these habits. If you want to learn a foreign language you have to change your daily routine. For example the habit of listening to your favourite music on the radio. Instead you could be listening to audio recordings in the language you want to learn. We all
have a tendency to get used to things that are not only comfortable but also do not require much activity on our part. We get used to watching TV in the evening and eating convenience food at the same time because this is comfortable and doesn't require any mental activity. IF you want to establish your business, you won't have much time to watch TV for entertainment. You have to change your habit of absorbing information passively into one of actively searching for information in order to analyze, filter and reorganize it.
Establishing a business means creating a product, service or system that solves a specific problem or enhances a person's life in one way or another. You can achieve this purpose when you create something new This doesn't mean that you have to re-invent the wheel though. Examine any new product development that enters the market and you will see that this «new» creation is not entirely new but has been made up by combining existing elements in a novel way. This action of rethinking existing elements is the formula of creativity. So, in order to create something new you have first to analyze an existing product to find out how it can be improved, developed or enhanced in any way so it will do a better job. Take Google — its founders examined and analyzed existing search portals, in particular Yahoo and MSN. Based on their exhaustive studies they came up with an indexing and searching system that provides a higher search term relevancy. Study people's behaviour — identify their latent needs and desires and you will tap into a never-ending supply of product ideas.
Vision is the ability to see things not as they are right now, but what they will be like in the future. Most people are so stuck in the moment, so preoccupied with their personal daily problems that they don't have the time or energy to think about how a particular market can develop in the future. Look at any successful business venture and you will find that its founder was able to project into the future, to estimate how people's behaviour will change. Your success in business is directly related to your vision capacity» and your vision capacity is determined by two factors: How far ahead are you able to see into the future and how precise are your predictions? When Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google in 1998, they could see well beyond the year 2003, in which they yielded A revenue of almost $ 1 billion. By 1998 Yahoo and MSN were operating worldwide known search services and no one would have thought that two students could take the lead in the industry within 5 years. Yet, Brin and Page had become excellent analysts of the web search market and they collected and recorded the necessary data to recognize a pattern in human behaviour. Based on their observations they then drew conclusions and made a prognosis. If you want to build your own business, you must be able to see into the future. You can develop «vision capability» just like you can develop any other skill. Your first step is to study and analyze human behaviour. Ask yourself this question: What are people looking for when they use the Internet?
ESSENTIALS OF E-BUSINESS
You can't just open an online store and expect customers to flock to it. Find out if your niche market is one that you can reach through a website. How? Does your niche market have an identifiable need for your web offering? Do they have the wherewithal to pay for it? Is the niche group sizeable, i.e., will it provide enough business to produce the income you need? If the answers are yes, you have found a good niche. Now dig deep within that niche to understand the consumer behaviors that drive it. Every e-commerce operator should assume that his or her customers are sophisticated shoppers who demand prompt delivery of a product that is exactly as portrayed on their website. The most common mistake made by inexperienced web operators is to fail to be responsive to their customers' order processing and fulfillment needs. But those services are the very underpinnings of all successful e-commerce ventures — neglect those areas and you have a business catastrophe.
To help in the follow-through, you and your customers must be able to track the status of each purchase. Most new e-commerce businesses, however, fail to integrate this necessary backend support. Another “must” is to make certain that your customers know that your web-based business will not only deliver a value online that cannot be found offline, but that it is just as responsive with customer service issues as the most well-regarded offline business.
By keeping customer service and product fulfillment as an immediate priority you can build a valuable relationship with your customer. In doing so, you earn that customer's loyalty. That helps to stem the natural flow of attrition as customers who pursue the lowest price find that the trade-off is a void in the cut-rate business's customer service department.
Another common problem for new e-commerce businesses is misinterpreting the power of the Web. Yes, a website with the right infrastructure can economically automate transactions. However, the real power of the Web is its role as a relationship-building magnet — through its ability to provide numerous opportunities for interactivity. If you are careless with automated processes — this very real advantage will vanish.
Use your website to provide not only useful and interesting information about your products/services, but also about your entire niche market. The group that makes up a niche market always yearns for more information. They will return time and again to your website if they are appealed to on the basis of their special interests — detailed articles and content-rich advertising specifically targeted to them.
The dot-com bust of 2000 was a failure of business plans; the concept itself has not failed. And while numerous news articles over the last few years detail how various websites lost sales and customer confidence due to inadequate prelaunch planning, there have also been many successes, especially in the small business arena.
Internet the way we do business today. It has broken physical boundaries and has provided each small, big and mega businesses a global business opportunity. Your online presence, your website provides you an equal opportunity to have your presence felt.
The irony those among the millions of websites ruling the internet world only thousands are successful. As they say you not only need a quality product or service, you need to package and most importantly sell it. That leads us to the question how to get successful online? Simple answer packages your website and makes people aware of it.
The basic rules of business apply here too with the difference that here you cater to a global market. The internet offers you with a variety of tools which applied correctly can make the winning difference.
So where do you start?
Your website needs a design and for this you need a web designer. Correct web design, colours and correct placement of web elements on your web page are important aspects for your site to succeed.
Remember to maintain a contact page which mentions your contact details on the site have a sitemap and design the site for users. It is of utmost importance that you keep web designer.
If you are in business retail or manufacturing a good idea is to have your site e-com enabled. You must have shopped on the internet, if not you are among the chosen few. If you have you must be aware of the shopping cart on the e-commerce site. The shopping cart enables your visitors to manage their shopping well. You will need a payment gateway and a merchant account to receive money for sales. To test out your site integrate it with Paypal and try out the shopping experience.
- So your site seems to be ready now. Next step. Make your site presentable and make it known. So we are now into advertising and marketing of your website. Here note this that 95% of websites gets visitors from referred from search engines. These search sites work like a gateway to the internet world.
- Your next step towards making your site known to others is to follow the search engine optimisation tips offered by the search engines while making your site. You should look for the terms people use to search your type of service or product and create your site around it. As in the advertising world headings for your pages should be catchy. Internet visitors scan web pages for information instead of reading through them, so all the rules of advertising world which helps in writing the content for the advertisement apply here. Do it yourself, get to know what the inverted pyramid style of writing is or hire a web designer, see specialist to do it for you.
- With pay per click, the internet advertising world has revolutionized. It offers you advertising opportunities on the net for a few shillings. Check out Google Adsense or Overture PPC campaigns. These are offered by mostly the leading search engines and your advertisements are displayed on the search result pages of these sites for keywords you choose. If controlled optimally you can benefit from these. Use PPC to get visitors to your site during the launching period. Dual benefits. One you get visitors though your site is too new and second due to advertising, your site gets noticed. If you are not aware of this, use the services of a PPC management company to do this for you.
- So what else to look out for? Interaction. Give reasons to your visitors to come back to your site. Start a newsletter campaign. Offer your visitors something free. Give them tips. Start a blog. Make your visitors come back to your site.
- Give them options to sign up for your newsletter free. You get their emails and use a mailer program to send out regular mails to them.
ARE INDIANS BUYING ONLINE?
Are Indians buying online? As per IOAI forecasted estimates, e-commerce transactions will cross the Rs 2000 mark (2006-2007) which translates into an increase of over 300% from financial year 2004-05.
The relationship between the Internet and commerce has passed its nascence. According to the estimates by IOAI, online shopping crossed Rs 430 crores to Rs 570 crores in 2004-05. The turnover is further expected to increase to Rs 1180 crores in 2005-06.
The Internet offers an audience that will grow to a 100 million users by 2007-08, unlimited shelf space and isn't bound by operational timings and geographical boundaries; with an opportunity to cater to country wide city markets (for consumers and suppliers alike) at a comparative miniscule cost.
This four fold population increase raises a pertinent question to many a business and enterprise 'How should you embrace this medium?' This research reports deals specifically with that premise and arms any reader with an arsenal of information to start/improve his online shop / enterprise in his core competitive area.
The E-Commerce Industry:-
570 crores worth of E-commerce conducted online in 2004-2005 to grow to Rs 2300 crores by 2006-2007, an estimated 300%+ growth.
The E-Commerce Site Visitor:-
55% of visitors to ecommerce sites have adopted the Internet as a shopping medium.
The Regular Online Shopper:-
Of the 55% of online shoppers [Base 1716] - 87%  of shoppers have shopped more than once and have been termed 'as regular shoppers'. They form the ‘base' for this report of users who have transacted online to buy products & services ‘more than once'.
FEATURES OF SUCCESSFUL & TIGHTLY FOCUSED WEB SITES
- ONLINE CUSTOMER SUPPORT FROM INDIA -
- There is a company in Bangalore that has pioneered this idea. Aditi (www.aditi.com) provides email customer support for Real Media. The customer in America who needs support will have his problem solved via email by a team of Indians. The Internet has opened the door for this type of opportunity. It really is true that the geographic barriers are coming down.
- The Potential:- The business potential in this type venture is the cost savings of running a business in India. There is a huge labor pool of good quality English speakers who can easily handle customer support for web sites like RealMedia. The cost to hire someone to do this is about US $150-$200 per month. You can expect to hire a very nice English speaker who has had some computer training. Furthermore he or she will have a pleasant attitude, as most Indians are warm and friendly.
- The Downside:- The risk is that the customers will not be served well if the Indian staff is not trained properly. The staff needs to understand the mindset of the American customer. This can easily be overcome as long as the potential problem is recognized.
- E-COMMERCE EXPORT OPPORTUNITIES IN INDIA -
- There are plenty of things that can be purchased and exported. One young man has sought out unusual coffee and spices and now has an e-commerce site where he sells these items through the mail. Perhaps it is not even necessary to purchase and warehouse anything. Partnering and establishing joint ventures with Indian companies would give you the opportunity to handle a variety of products without the risk and cost. You could simply create a website that sells the products. This is not much different than Amazon.com. Do you realize they don't publish books? They just sell others'. Often they have the book sent to the customer directly from the publisher eliminating the shipping and storage.
- The Potential:- The potential is to find a niche market. Perhaps this could be in the area of health care products, herbs or plants that are only found in India. The Downside:- The risk is that the product may not sell. Fortunately the Internet can be used to test the market before taking much risk. It is much easier to find the demand for items and then meet that demand than to start with the product. India has plenty of products that can be tested on the market.
- Again this idea utilizes the skilled creative labor force in India. We have not been able to find a case study of a company doing this in India.
- The Potential:- The potential is to fill the huge demand for quality content that the web is creating.
- The Downside:- The downside is that it requires careful supervision to assure that the product communicates effectively to a Western audience. For example, a Westerner's taste for colors is different to that of an Indian.
- Any kind of outsourcing of data entry or data conversion is a good candidate for a successful start up business in India. The hottest thing these days in Bangalore is medical transcription. Doctors and hospitals in the USA send their audio transcriptions via the Internet to Bangalore, India. They send the audio file at 5:00pm which is around 5.00am in India. The workers can do their work so that the Doctor has the text document the next morning. In Bangalore you can find good examples of companies already doing this. Go to Yahoo and type in "data entry India" or "data conversion India". You will be startled by the amount of information that is available.
- The Potential: The potential for this type of business venture is great. Many of the Bangalore companies are growing and adding employees quickly. The reason there is such a global demand for this kind of work is because companies want to have their documents in a digital format. This conversion may include scanning the document into the computer and then going one-step further and tagging and indexing them in HTML SGML or XML so that it can be put on the Internet and easily retrieved. The entrepreneurs who are willing to joint venture with Indian partners to start up a business like this will not only make money but will be doing a great service for India by providing high quality skilled jobs.
- The Downside: The risk is in, not maintaining top quality work for the client. This has been a complaint of many clients.
- There is nothing new about this. There are plenty of success stories. Bangalore already has at least 600 software companies. Most of these are Indian owned and non-resident Indians have started a few of them. For a list of Bangalore software companies you can go to resource page. Government of India and especially Karnataka (the state in which Bangalore is), is encouraging foreign involvement and investment and has turned on the green light to hi-tech companies. They have even created some tax incentives for this industry.
- The Potential: The potential is for the development of quality software using the extremely intelligent labor force in India at a lower cost. Cost savings can be found in rent, insurance etc. High quality programmers can be hired for 25%-50% of the cost of the same software programmers in the West. For a good example look at gseindia.com and read the history of this high end Swedish/Indian Software Company.
- The Downside: The downside is that there are inefficiencies related to working in India i.e.: erratic power, government bureaucracy, poor Internet connections etc. Unless the cost saving is considerable, many of the problems related to doing business in India will offset the benefit.
WHY GO TO THE WEB?
The Web opens up a whole new market for goods and services. It creates opportunity for a multifaceted arena that offers new efficiencies for sales, marketing, customer service, shipment tracking, inventory monitoring.Choice has always been the Holy Grail for consumers. Today's consumers have a wide variety of commerce choices: traditional businesses, mega discount stores, catalogs or direct market mail, and the Web. The Web, taken as a whole, is a powerful medium where consumers browse, research, compare, and then buy online or, after doing their “window shopping” online, make the purchase at a brick-and-mortar business. Businesses that keep in mind the consumers' desire for choice, and integrate into their website the appropriate means for customer interactions, will succeed.
This being said, the Web will not open vast new markets for every business. However, it can extend a significant degree of power to businesses that recognize how to leverage the efficiencies of this new arena. A good example is 3Com (www.3com.com) which, through its website:
- Offers products and services to a global audience.
- Provides many different technical support features online.
- Offers software downloads including drivers, updates and fixes, which prior to the website would have been mailed to the customer.
- Offers an online store.
- Provides an educational center with online courses.
In short, 3Com's business and customer base didn't change — the Web changed the way 3Com services its market it did not create a new market. Still, overall, 3Com's business is enhanced by its web presence.Big companies with plenty of technical expertise and buckets of money have always been able to build their own e-commerce systems, complete with a secure server, a high-speed Internet connection, and custom software.
Creating a business model for e-commerce starts with the following basic challenge: Can you define your company? Next, can you state your goals for the company? Finally, — within the aforementioned context — can you state what role e-commerce can play in helping your company maintain or change its identity?
This table indicates, online sales are growing steadily along with the total number of Internet users (148,811,000 in August 2006 to 150,045,000 users in September 2007). Source: com-Score Media Metrix.
The Top 10 Website Categories as of September 2007
Unique Visitors as of August 2003
Unique Visitors as of September 2003
There are eight basic website models — ranging from the simple static pages of a brochureware site to richly interactive online gaming sites, to online stores chock full of products, to online auctions. Many websites combine several of these basic models. However, each model has unique characteristics that distinguish it from the other models and it is important to understand these differences.
A brochureware site is a marketing site that electronically aids in the buying and selling process. A traditional business often will build and maintain a brochureware site as a marketing tool with the objective of promoting the business and its products/services. A brochureware site is sometimes an adjunct to a business' technical support division providing online documentation, software downloads and a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) section. Such a website can provide detailed information about the business's products/services, contact information including the business's address, telephone numbers, and email addresses. It can also be a tool to provide the public copies of a company's annual reports, press releases, and employment opportunities. Revenue from this kind of site is generated indirectly by creating an awareness of the business' products/services. All transactions occur offline.
Savvion develops business process management software that improves business performance and reduces costs within and across functional business units. Its website, www.savvion.com, is a good example of a high-quality brochureware site. It is clean, fast loading, and has all of the elements of a good website. To demonstrate the variety of businesses that take advantage of the Web to expand their business opportunities visit the following brochureware websites: Rolledsteel.com, Cohenhighley.com, Hayproperty.com.au, and Paulcato.com.
As you can see, you don't need to be a corporate giant to benefit from a brochureware site.
An online store is a website where consumers buy products or services. This type of site is most commonly referred to as an e-commerce site or a “B2C” (Business to Consumer) site. In addition to most, if not all, of the content found in a brochureware site, an online store displays products/services along with detailed information (e.g. specifications and pricing) usually from a database with search features, and a method for online purchase. An online store must also provide extensive information about the products/services offered that not only aids in attracting consumers, but gives them enough confidence in the seller and the products/services to take the next step — making an online purchase.
One question the author is often asked is “what should an e-commerce site offer — online order processing, just a toll free number, or both?” The answer is: Offer both.
If you choose to take online payments, you must provide a secure, reliable, cost-effective system for authorizing payment and managing transactions. The best systems are based on the Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and/or Secure Electronic Transactions (SET) encryption technology, which provide the encryption of data and generate and display a “results page” to the customer following the transaction.
Further, a successful online store must be designed with the ability to store orders in a database or as tab-delimited text files so the data can be imported into an invoicing system. Then the website must be able to intelligently route encrypted email to the order fulfillment division.
A good example of a large online store is Healthtex.com. This is a great site in every respect. To see how a small brick-and-mortar business uses a web presence to enhance its bottom line, visit Parkaveliquor.com, where you will find an attractive, well-designed and fully functional e-commerce site that benefits both the storeowner and the customer. Other good online stores you might want to use as guides when designing your website include the Treliske Organic (www.nzsouth.co.nz/treliske), which offers “Certified Organic” Wool, Knitwear, Beef and Lamb; Badcataviation.com, a great toy airplane store; and Soccer Books Limited (www.soccer-books.co.uk) where you can find a huge selection of books, video and DVDs relating to the sport of soccer.
Another avenue that an entrepreneur might want to consider is to team with a large e-commerce site such as Amazon.com or e-bay.com to provide the e-commerce end while the entrepreneur provides the site's “content.” Good examples of such a site are www.dolls-for-sale.com and www.politinfo.com.
A subscription site can process payments offline and provide via email a user's name and password for access, or it can provide a secure, reliable, cost-effective online system for authorizing payment and managing transactions. Again, the best systems are based on Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and/or Secure Electronic Transactions (SET) technology to encrypt the data, and generate and display a “results page” to the customer following the transaction.
E-commerce technology continues to become more sophisticated, and with every advance the financial prognosis for a subscription site should improve. A good example of a subscription site is iEntertainment Network (www.iencentral.com). This worldwide game and entertainment site offers both free ad-supported and fee-based online game channels. The site also offers a variety of monthly subscription plans.
The website Content-wire.com offers another example of a good subscription site that uses both banner ads and subscriptions for its revenue stream. This website offers a niche editorial product that covers a narrow vertical technology sector — web-based commerce. As such, it provides up-to-date news articles, produces features on a variety of subjects, and offers a good bit of research material. Although this website could be better designed, it is functional and the average surfer will find it easy to use. Because the site does derive some of its revenue from banner ads, some information offered is free (use it!). Note that surfers who pony up $100 or $200 for a subscription, there is much more data available for your perusal.
A sub-model that increasingly is finding favor is the website that offers downloadable content — via a subscription account, a la carte basis, or a combination of both. The most popular website within this sub-model is the new Napster.com. Although this digital music destination bears the same name as the famous, but defunct, peer-to-peer file sharing website, that business model is in its past. The current Napster.com is a digital music catalog site that also offers many rich community features for its customers. The new Napster.com allows consumers to choose how they want to experience music, offering both an a la carte store and a premium subscription service.
Not all digital music sites follow the subscription model, however. Apple's iTunes.com website, which at this writing offers more than 400,000 songs from a wide variety of musicians for less than a dollar per song, states that its iTune website offers music without the need to “agree” to complicated rules. There are no clubs to join, and no monthly fees if you like a song, you just buy a downloadable copy of it for 99¢.
Check these sites out; they might give you some ideas on how you can make money from your own website.
An advertising site is a content laden site, whose revenue base is the dollar amount derived from banners, sponsorships, ads, and other advertising methods. The traffic the site draws is the measure of its value. Recognized rating firms measure its value and then advertising rates are based upon that value. Important note: Very few sites can be supported entirely through advertising dollars.
Two good advertising sites are Cnet.com and Howstuffworks.com. Both are wonderful content laden advertising websites that every reader should bookmark. You should especially read the Howstuffworks website's explanation of how a web server works, which can be found at http://computer.howstuffworks.com/web-server.htm.
Another great advertising site is Thekidzpage.com. Although this colorful site's use of “pop-up” ads can be irritating, those ads allow this site to provide all of its great content for free. Children love to visit this site to play games and parents appreciate the more than 250 printable coloring books and learning activities.
But an advertising site needn't be graphic intensive nor host a variety of pop-up ads to be successful. Cases in point are the low-tech websites HomePCnetwork.com and Hrmguide.co.uk. Although these text-driven sites don't offer a lot of “bells and whistles,” they make up for their lack of “eye-appeal” by their informative, easy-to-use content.
Online or Cyber Mall
A simple and easy way to sell products/services online is to open a shop in one of the many cyber malls on the Web. Online malls generally offer turnkey solutions for store creation, payment processing, and site management. For example, most cyber malls offer a template for implementing a catalog of products, a shopping cart application, and a form generator — allowing small businesses to quickly set up shop on the Web. The templated applications employed to set up a business's catalog and the ease of payment processing are tempting to a novice. These cyber malls also provide a high level of “click traffic.” If you are new to the Web and would prefer to first “dip your toe in the water,” a cyber mall may be the answer.
A cyber mall's biggest promise is to deliver more traffic to your “front door” than you would be able to do if you go it alone. Since you will be relying on the cyber mall's marketing savvy, make sure you verify that it can deliver. But note that the only “front door” which is advertised is the cyber mall's address, not your online store's address.
Most cyber malls offer a purchasing system, which enables a web start-up to avoid up-front shopping cart software costs, but a fee is accessed on each purchase — that fee will eventually exceed the cost of the software.
You need to ensure that the cyber mall you choose is one in which your online store can flourish. Consider the pros and cons of establishing your online store in a cyber mall including the restrictions and costs that some cyber malls impose. Then consider the option of setting up your own purchasing system and independent identity. For, in reality, a cyber mall is just a list of links categorized by store and product type.
Any number of cyber malls can help you get your website up and running in record time. Yahoo! Store, probably the most popular cyber mall on the Web, includes an easy tool that lets you register your own domain name (http://www.ourname.com) or, if you already have a domain name, they will help you transfer it. You are also given the option of using stores.yahoo.com/yourname, which does not require an up front registration fee. Freemerchants.com offers an easy and inexpensive way to set up an e-commerce site. Of course, like many cyber malls, with Freemerchants.com you are required to design your new website using free servers.
All of the website models discussed in this book are built to serve either the individual consumer or the consumer and business customers. But a business-to-business site is built to serve other businesses; if the business also wants to serve its individual consumers, it usually builds a separate retail site to serve those customers. This book doesn't deal with the minutiae of B2B sites, since B2B sites, while using some of the technology discussed in this book, often also need other technology to further their goals of providing products/services to other businesses rather than individual consumers.
The growth of B2B e-commerce is explosive. For some businesses, B2B e-commerce already influences value chains, distribution channels, customer service, and pricing strategies. Others look to B2B for ways to leverage this new technology to increase sales, profits, customer loyalty, and brand preference.
Auctions have been around for thousands of years. Traditionally, a person offers an item for sale and potential buyers bid on the item. The bidder willing to pay the highest price for the item wins the bid and takes the item home — the same with online auctions. The main difference between traditional auctions and web-based auctions is that the actual bidding and selling takes place over the Internet with interested buyers submitting bids electronically. The person with the highest bid at the timed close of the auction wins the bid and arranges to receive the item. The auction site acts as the middleman in the buying and selling transaction process.
There are a number of ways you can use the auction model. First, you could build an auction website and let that be your business model. Or you could add an auction component to another e-commerce model. Many auction sites are built or sponsored by major vendors who have an established website, and use their auction site either to attract customers, or to offer merchandise that is surplus, outdated, and/or seconds.
Many readers, however, will find established online auctions such as those offered by eBay, Ubid, Amazon auctions, and Yahoo auctions a way to build a credible e-commerce business. Using an established auction website to build a web-based business is inexpensive and allows you to begin making a profit immediately: There are none of the expenses of the typical e-commerce model — no advertising costs, no hosting costs, etc. Auction sites receive billions (yes billions) of visits daily.
If you use one of the online auction sites as a means to enter the world of e-commerce, understand that you are responsible for listing your items on the auction site, and you assume responsibility for all aspects of your auction listings, including product descriptions, identification of quantities, establishment of starting and maximum bid prices, and shipping. Once the auction closes, it is up to you and the buyer to make arrangements for payment and shipping.
As online auctions continue to grow in popularity, more and more, entrepreneurs, retailers, manufacturers, and other businesses see them as a beneficial way to sell surplus goods, while consumers see them as a great way to save money and get great deals.
The largest and best known auction site is eBay.com. For sellers, the ability to market your product to millions of daily visitors makes using eBay one of the most efficient ways to sell just about anything. Potential buyers search for items and place bids on those they are interested in purchasing. At the close of an auction the highest bidder is the winner. At that point, the buyer and seller make arrangements for payment and shipping.
All you need to become an eBay seller is to register, which is free and only takes a few moments. However, eBay requires sellers to provide a credit or debit card, as well as enough details for eBay to check their “bonafides,” i.e. the potential seller provides eBay with enough information for the auction site to establish his or her proof of identity by cross-checking against consumer and business databases. If everything is kosher, the seller obtains an “ID Verified” designation, which enables them to place items for sale on the auction site.
Yahoo! also offers an auction service. Its seller requirements are similar to eBay's, i.e. there is a registration (free) and all sellers must provide credit or debit card information.
If you have products that are more niche oriented, you might want to use an auction site that caters to that niche crowd,
It's difficult to define this type of website, mainly due to diversity of models adopted for individual weblogs (also known as “blogs”). But perhaps the Internet Librarian 2001 describes this interesting web-based genre the best: “A web page containing brief, chronologically arranged items of information. A weblog can take the form of a diary, journal, what's new page, or links to other websites.”
Weblogs are to words what [the original] Napster was to music. (“Andrew Sullivan, Wired Magazine, May 2002”). In that same issue Sullivan says, “Twenty-one months ago, I rashly decided to set up a web page myself and used Blogger.com to publish some daily musings to a readership of a few hundred. Sure, I'm lucky to be an established writer [he also writes of The New Republic and The New York Times] in the first place. And I worked hard at the blog for months for free. But the upshot is that I'm now reaching almost a quarter million readers a month and making a profit. That kind of exposure rivals the audiences of traditional news and opinion magazines.”
To give you some ideas on how you can turn a profit with your blog, visit Sullivan's weblog — Andrewsullivan.com. Also click on the “Info” button on the left side of the page and check out his Media Kit.
The key to the popularity of a weblog is the person or people producing it. Since weblog readers often develop relationships with the weblog author(s), interaction between reader and author is inevitable. Good weblog examples include Eatonweb.com, Scripting.com, Gizmodo.com, and Angst-identprone.org.
But you don't necessarily need to establish a new website to attract a niche audience of readers. Since weblogs are ideally suited to interaction between people sharing special interests, some e-commerce businesses may want to consider adding a weblog to their website.
Some readers may be toying with the idea of sitting up a peer-to-peer (P2P) site. The way the Web was originally set up, the website owner posts content on a server (referred to as “web server”), and the audience connects to that server via a web browser to view the content. To interact live with other users, everyone connects to the same server at the same time. With P2P, however, the computers of individual users are connected together directly — no central server is necessary.
Still, a website is often used as an adjunct to a file sharing network to promote the network and to provide customer service. Peer-to-peer file sharing opens a whole new range of business opportunities. The original Napster (versus the new subscription-based Napster) brought P2P to the forefront, although the original Napster wasn't a true P2P business model — it operated around a central server. However, it is noted that the old Napster's central server concept also was the cause of the business's eventual downfall. (At its peak, the old Napster was perhaps the most popular website ever created — in less than a year, it went from zero to 60 million visitors per month.)
There are many alternatives to the Napster P2P model. One of the more interesting of these alternatives is Gnutella. Unlike Napster, Gnutella and its variants aren't software at all; rather they are communication protocols similar to the common gateway interface (CGI) used by most web servers. Any software that implements a Gnutella-like communication protocol can communicate with other Gnutella-enabled software applications.It may be difficult to come up with a viable, profit-making business model for this type of P2P network. However, visit sites such as Bearshare.com, Livewire.com and Swapper.com, for examples of how current P2P file-sharing networks use websites to produce income.
TARGET “YOUR” CUSTOMERS
“Know your customer” is an oft-used but apt phrase — you must decide on your target market base before embarking on even the early design stage. Here are some reasons why. If your customers are located outside of North America, you will need to place a Comment Tag above the body of your website's home page declaring your site as a public document. If you omit the Comment Tag your site probably will not be indexed as a public document and no one outside North America will be able to find it. If your niche market has an international base, you must consider how you will provide translations, how you will handle the monetary exchange problems, and how you will deal with shipment issues. After all, it's the customers for whom you are building your website, right? This is just the tip of the iceberg — do your research so you'll know the issues you need to address before designing your website.
What model will your site emulate — a brochureware site, an online store, an auction site, an advertising, or subscription site? It could even be a combination of one or more of the website models discussed in Chapter 1.
What will drive your potential customers to your website? Your website's home page must clearly describe what you are offering and why your customers would want it. You must craft your online offering so that the products/services meet the wants and needs of your targeted customer base — just like a conventional business. And like a brick-and-mortar business, you must determine what price the market will bear and what your profit margin will be.
YOUR WEBSITE'S BLUEPRINT
One of the most difficult parts of building a website is deciding exactly what to build. There are many e-businesses out there with ill-conceived concepts and laughable revenue models. To avoid these crippling mistakes, you need a clear vision of what you want to accomplish. To help, consider the following questions.
- What are the objectives of your new website?
- How will the new website produce income?
- What makes your new website unique?
- How will you ensure on-time delivery?
- How will you manage and maintain your website?
- How will you convey your trustworthiness and the high quality of your product/services?
- If you have a brick-and-mortar business:
- How will you use your website to drive customers to your offline business and at the same time to provide an e-commerce alternative?
- How will you combine your dot-com seamlessly with your traditional business into a new incarnation called “click-and-mortar”?/
Your answers are the basis for the next step in building a successful website, which is the development of a comprehensive e-commerce business plan, that plan will serve as your website's blueprint. Use that blueprint to lay out the strategy needed to implement the technology that is necessary to gain the most leverage within your current or planned business model. Each aspect needs to be carefully coordinated — technical issues, content, marketing, front-end design, infrastructure, software, and, of course, sales.
There are three essential elements to a website blueprint: a storyboard, a site description, and website content. Successful websites are the ones that manage, through the proper utilization of a blueprint, to combine content, communication and marketing features within a fast-loading, easy-to-use and interesting home page that runs on a robust and scalable infrastructure.
In addition, you must establish a realistic budget and a timeline, with milestones clearly defined. As you define your site through your blueprint always be aware of the compatibility issues which must be considered throughout the decision making process the extendibility and scalability of all the hardware, software, and connectivity decisions.
The E-Commerce Space. The inner circle contains your “back end” — the hardware, operating system, and most servers. The middle circle contains the applications and tools that give functionality to a website. The outer circle comprises the human elements.
This can't be stressed enough — the same principles that apply to establishing a successful business in the traditional world also apply in the 24-hours a day, 7 days a week (24x7) e-commerce operation. Moreover, like conventional businesses, great websites can take months to plan and build. Defining exactly what to build, then deciding how to build and market the site is the difference between success and failure.
A storyboard is a tool used in the production of multimedia, video, and film projects to show a frame-by-frame picture sequence of the action. In this book, however, the term refers to a non-graphical representation of every web page — the screen elements and their operations — which, when taken as a whole, constitute your website. Just as an outline helps to organize your thoughts before you write a paper or report, storyboards help to organize a visual production such as a website. By using the storyboard process, you can design your website while clearly envisioning all the possible paths that a customer might take.
Thus, your storyboard is the visual representation of how your website will look to your customers. A good, well thought out storyboard will enable you to marry the goals and priorities for your website into a good design.
Here is how: With the proper storyboard, you can map out the progression and relationship between individual web pages. It lets you visualize how each page will work within your website before you start building it.
This is an example of a simple storyboard that might be used to design a small online store.
While tedious, creating a storyboard will save time, money, and many sleepless nights. Map out every step of your design process so that each detail can be tested, measured, and validated.
Very detailed storyboards might include an overall site diagram that shows the website on all levels: major areas of the site, secondary areas, etc.
All Storyboards should include a basic layout of each individual web page.
To begin the storyboard process, generate a visitor-centric navigational scheme that defines the type of pages and content needed to provide your website with the necessary design elements. Take your “home” page for example: Using a single sheet of paper, describe the buttons, links, and key components that your customer should see when he or she first opens the link to your website. Then every other web page should be constructed in a similar a manner. At each step of the process, incorporate your customers' wants, needs, and perspectives. And remember that every layer of your website either precedes or supports specific choices a visitor makes, so your website's design must make sense to your visitor so you can turn that person into a repeat customer.
As you lay out the storyboard, there is one essential question you should keep in mind: What's the plot? In other words, why is the visitor here — what does your visitor want? Don't forget that many times a visitor will not reach your website through the front door, i.e. your home page, so consider all contingencies. Determine as you outline each web page: What do I want my visitors to do at this point, what do I want them to feel right now, where do I want a potential customer to go next, and how do I make it easy for them to get there?
Here is a set of suggested guidelines to keep in mind as you create your storyboard.
- The storyboard should be legible. It can be created using pen and paper and does not have to be precise, but if using outside help for the design stage, it must be clearly understood by those people.
- The storyboard must be complete. Every page should be represented and every element on the page should be explained before actual design work is started or any of it programmed into HTML.
- Every design and layout element to be included on each page should be noted in the storyboard —
- Text objects/blocks
- Graphics images (photos and other arts).
- The typeface and print size of the headings should be exactly as they will appear on the final web pages.
- The number and the function of the buttons should be clearly indicated on each page.
- Links between pages should be clearly indicated using arrows.
- Each graphic image should be noted with a box identifying it as a graphic image with a short note describing the content.
- Web pages should be numbered for easy reference.
Think in terms of who will see your web pages. Perhaps it will be a potential customer who has no idea who you are or what you have to offer. Thus, the best way to layout your storyboard is to track the path of a hypothetical customer, with branches at every decision point — including those made by the customers and those made by the system. Have a meeting with all of your staff — sales and marketing, customer service, public relations — not just the website staff. Get everyone's input; cover all the possibilities. For example, in the purchasing process:
- Does the site require customer registration before the purchasing process can begin?
- Is there an option to skip registration but to allow the purchasing process to continue?
- If a customer wants to change or to remove an item from the shopping cart, is it easily done?
- At what point does the credit card authorization take place?
- Is there a confirmation page that also provides an order tracking number?
Decisions made at this point must not be rushed. Time is needed to study, absorb, and totally understand what's required to implement the most creative ideas — the ideas that will make your website stand out from the crowd.
Use your storyboard as your guide throughout — design, build out, and beyond. Storyboarding helps not only to improve site navigability, but also to develop content and web copy. Furthermore, if you hire a web designer to design your web pages, or a web architect to oversee the entire build out phase, the storyboard will provide them with the details necessary to provide you with exactly what you want.
The author realizes that both layout and design are subjective topics, but to make the best first impression design a stylish page with your content laid out in a logical manner. Use a consistent theme in the colors, styles and fonts throughout your site.
If you are designing an extensive website, you need to provide a detailed explanation of workflow, data flow, and other items that may not be readily apparent in your storyboard. That's where a site description comes into play. A site description explains how the site functions from web page to web page or section to section. This is a must for complex sites, such as websites that include an auction element or websites like 3Com.com or Healthtex.com. That is because oft-times such websites have people who are not intimately familiar with the website's design elements and infrastructure doing the programming to support the website's more complex elements.
Now is the time to begin thinking about exactly what content you want on your website. What digital art (e.g. photos of products) will be needed? Is there to be written content? If so, who is the author and how will the content be delivered — MS Word, Adobe Acrobat, ASCII text, etc.?
You should have the initial content ready for the designer(s) (which could be you) while the website is still in production mode. This is so you can be sure that your content will work perfectly with the overall design elements when it comes time to launch your website (and when subsequent design and content changes are made thereafter).
The successful website starts with a home page that is attractive, easy to understand, and fast loading. Think of your home page as the cover of a good book — it should entice the customer to look deeper into the site (book) and return to it often as a resource. Another way to put it is that your home page, the first page the online consumer will see, is like the window of a store. It is your showcase, storefront, and calling card — all rolled into one. Online, your competition is just a click away — careful design and targeted content are important guardians against customer defection.
Your website's design and content will greatly influence your customers' perception of your business, which will, in turn, affect their purchasing decisions. Your pages should be laid out in such a manner that navigation through your site is intuitive and stress-free — so much so that your customers develop a comfort level in doing business on your site. How do you manage that? Read on!
When designing your site, there are certain categories of rules or guidelines that you should follow. The acronym SPEC can be used to help you to remember the key categories:
- Stickiness and traffic generation
- Search engines
- Speedy downloads
- Ease of use
- Site Navigation
- Content visibility
- Viewable Site
Stickiness and Traffic Generation
A sticky website entices a visit to stay within its pages a bit longer than they otherwise might; over time that leads to a familiarity with your website. The more familiar someone is with a business — online or off — the more comfortable they are when it comes to making a purchase. Thus, a sticky website is one that keeps visitors not only within its web pages, but also keeps them coming back for more. This dynamic is created with a mix of good content and good design.
An important sales adage is — CONTENT IS KING. “Content” is your website's offering — the product, the graphics, the marketing material, banner ads, i.e., everything that makes up the pages of a website. Good content gives a website a high “stickiness” rating. In other words, good content entices customers to stay within your website, and encourages them to return to your website time and time again.
Your website has taken the first step towards being a success when you follow the Internet's golden rule — Provide Useful Content. Independent of which e-commerce business model you adopt, the content must be presented in such a manner as to draw a visitor's immediate interest and even more importantly, it must turn that visitor into a loyal customer. Your content should include all the information necessary for a customer to make intelligent purchases in an easily accessible way.
By keeping the content of your website fresh and new, your customers will be more likely to “bookmark” your website, or at least a specific page within your website. Curiosity is a powerful lure and customers will come back to your site repeatedly just to see what is new. It's the useful and up-to-date information that will keep your customers coming back time and again.
Make a list of the top ten terms that your customers could use to search for your website when using a search engine. Then incorporate these words in your web page content, i.e. make sure your web pages include text relevant to those ten terms. The majority of search engines do not index by keyword submissions alone, they send out spiders to crawl your site to check that the keywords you submitted are relevant to the content contained within your website. Why? Because disreputable website owners, especially pornographic and gambling sites, submit numerous keywords that people use every day in their search criteria that have nothing to do with the content of the website. These same unscrupulous owners will also insert unrelated words and phrases into their meta tags. (See Chapter 15 for a full discussion on how to design your website to obtain optimal search engine ranking.)
Long download times are unnecessary and unprofitable. Making a potential customer wait for your website to download is a surefire way to increase your competitors' bottom line, not yours.
There are many reasons why a page may load slowly, e.g. the size of the pipe to the Internet, the traffic hitting the web-hosting service and/or the server hosting your website, the robustness of the web server, etc. But at this juncture, you just need to ensure that your website's design is not a contributing factor when a customer experiences a slow download. So keep your home page less than 200 KB in size. By doing this, your website will load in less than 20 seconds with a 56K modem.
If you must display graphics on your home page, keep in mind the different graphic formats that are available, each with its own qualities and capabilities, and what is best to use in specific situations. Web-based images consist of two basic types: those captured from nature and stored in digital format, and those created entirely on the computer.
Most web-based images use “indexed color” which is only 8 bits (one byte) of color per pixel. This means that the image can display only 256 colors. Don't panic — it isn't quite as bad as it sounds — you can choose your 256 colors from a huge palette of 24-bit colors. If you pick the right colors, even a color photo can be made to look presentable on your website. Many programs such as PhotoShop and Paint Shop Pro will let you reduce the number of colors (color depth) in an image, while selecting the colors closest to the original.
GIF and JPEG (also known as “JPG”) are the most commonly supported formats throughout the world. “GIF” stands for “Graphics Interchange (or Image) Format.” CompuServe developed the GIF format so that its subscribers could send image files to each other and the images could be viewed on different kinds of computers. A GIF is good for images that have solid colors, text, and line art. A GIF can be used to represent images generated by drawing programs used by computer artists. However, a GIF does not compress photos very well; especially images that have subtle texture or color gradations, or that are 16- or 24-bit color.
Using HTML tables on a web page allows the organized and specific arrangement of data. The data can be text, images, links, forms, form fields, other tables, etc., arranged into rows and columns of cells (individual units). Tables let you control the look of your website by breaking your pages into precise segments while controlling the placement of text and graphics. You can create columns and grids that can contain images and text. Cells can be utilized as templates or style sheets to give a uniform look and, through use of color, add visual contrast to your website. Be careful though, if you use colored cells in your table, some browsers might not display the cell in color unless there is text or an image in it. For example, older browsers can only see the background color described in the <BODY></BODY> tag. Also Netscape's handling of empty table cells give web designers fits. That is because Netscape browsers have a well-known bug that prevents the browser from displaying empty table cells. There is a “work around,” but it means the designer is required to add a bunch of code to the table if you want your empty cells to display background colors when your website is accessed via a Netscape browser.
You also must deal with the fixed-width problem. When you add a variable width table, the horizontal dimensions readjust with the browser width. A fixed width guarantees the final appearance. But the variable width can take better advantage of the situation if the browser has a larger width setting to begin with. Use trial and error testing to find the optimal combination of fixed and variable widths for the different parts of the table.
Some WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) web page editors (this is software) have problems with tables. Be careful, if you are doing your own design work what your editor displays on the screen may vary greatly from what you see in a browser
A simple, easy-to-understand navigational design ensures your customers quick and effortless travel through the multiple pages on your website. Your customer should never be more than three clicks away from what they want to find. Without fast, intuitive, and simple navigation capabilities, your customers will not take the time and effort to navigate your site, regardless of how good your content, product and/or service might be.
Design your home page to allow customers access to all areas of your website from your home page. Consider using graphics and image maps — a clickable picture (when you place your cursor on it, the cursor turns into the “link select cursor”) — as an attractive means of navigation. But remember the users who surf the Web using text-only browsers by also inserting text links (a typewritten description not dependent on an image) at the top or bottom of each web page.
As you drill down into the site, continue a uniform navigation scheme, i.e., the customers can go to the same position on any page to perform a specific function. Don't forget to institute “targeted” text links (i.e. text that you can click on and be transported to a specific section of the website), especially in pages that are long or divided into topics or resources. By doing so, you allow the customer more easily to find whatever they may be looking for. Targeted links can be an expedient form of navigation, supplementing the scroll bar.
Structure your site's design to support future growth. But even when designing for future complexity (e.g. the addition of an auction section or adding a shopping cart), always keep the customer's view in the forefront. For example, don't make the mistake of asking your customer to remember a certain product ID or code when it comes to filling out the order form keep it simple.
Avoid orphan pages pages that although there is a link leading to the page, the page offers no link to leave the page. Such pages give a potential customer a choice that might lead out of your website, because to continue their search they must either hit the back button on their browser, or close the page and go elsewhere. To avoid this dilemma, always consider all possible navigational paths a visitor might take and then ensure that there is a series of relevant links available on each page providing your potential customer with some very good reasons for him or her to stay in your website.
Design your website so that it is technically accessible to the greatest number of people. Just as customers come in all shapes and sizes so do the equipment and the software that they use to access the Web.
Test your design with as many browsers (including their various versions) as you can find — Netscape, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Macintosh, Opera, AOL, and a text-only browser such as Lynx. Don't forget the customers that surf with their browser's “turn off graphics” option activated. In other words, make sure the technologies you select can accommodate the many browsing options your customers will be using.
Also called framesets, frames are a programming device that divides web pages into multiple, scrollable regions. This allows you to present information in a more flexible and useful fashion. Of course, frames have their own set of problems. A browser's back button can produce unexpected results, particularly if the user is working with an old browser, such as Netscape prior to version 3.0.
Visitors who have problems with their sight or are otherwise physically impaired may be using text-to-speech software that reads aloud web pages. Frames confuse such software.
Even for the non-physically challenged, a cursor may not work with a framed site unless you actually click in the frame you want to scroll.
In addition, frames can make it more problematic to print. For example the Princeton Online website, which is designed around frames, actually has a web page devoted to helping its visitors print information available on that website (see Fig. 5). But, even worse, framed websites may be invisible to certain search engines and directors (such as Yahoo!). Frames increase the file size and the number of total words that make up the website, thereby decreasing keyword weight and perhaps causing an adverse effect on your website's search engine listing. Also, when customers are brought to your website via a search engine, they sometimes won't enter through the front door, i.e., home page, and therefore can't see the frame that would normally be holding the page.
The Princeton Online website found that so many visitors experienced problems when trying to print information available on its frame-based website that it crafted a “print help” web page.
Exercise caution if you choose to offer links to other web pages within a framed page.
When advertising one particular aspect of your site in other media, simply providing a main URL address is no longer good enough. In the case of a framed site you must give the public additional instructions about how to find the frame and the page that they want. If you give out that page's address alone, the rest of the frameset becomes inaccessible.
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
You've chosen your e-commerce model and found the perfect products/services to offer on your e-commerce site. You've also thoughtfully planned your website. Using your blueprint and storyboards you've completed the design of your website. It is now time to extend everything to the Web.
The basic e-commerce website should :
- Store any number of products that have been selected by the customer prior to the actual processing of the purchase. This system is normally referred to as a “shopping cart,” processing is usually referred to as “check out.”
- Provide a secure server with SSL encryption for transactions, email transmission, and storage.
- Accept credit cards and offer automatic, real-time processing. But offline processing via an encrypted email form is also a viable option if you choose to forego the following options.
- Allow the customer to leave the site, return at a later time, and still find past items in their shopping cart.
- Allow cross selling, i.e.; offers a similar product to the one that the customer is interested in, if the chosen product is unavailable.
- Provide processing status though a numbered tracking system. Add to this list: acquiring a domain name, a merchant account, and a digital certificate, and you are in the e-commerce business.
THE WEB-HOSTING SERVICE MODELS
Web-hosting services are not equal. Although, at one level, all hosting services provide hard disk space on powerful computers (the servers) that have 24-hour connections to the Internet, there are many differences. By breaking this business group into different business models, the differences become clear.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
Throughout the world, thousands of local and national ISPs provide dedicated permanent connections to the Internet backbone and allow individual users access to the Internet (for a fee) via their connections. Some ISPs also provide some type of ad hoc website hosting service. Many ISPs, however, don't really understand the needs of a small web-based business. Nor are they quick to offer improved service because their bread-and-butter is dial-up access and that's where they concentrate their focus and investment. Furthermore, although a few large ISPs have a separate division that specializes in website hosting, many ISPs just don't have an adequate infrastructure for web-hosting. If possible, pass on ISPs and look elsewhere for your web-hosting services.
Sub-domain or Non-virtual Account
What 99% of you don't need or want is the 4 or 5 MB of web space that you can get for a small monthly fee or even free from an ISP when you sign up for a regular Internet dial-up account. This type of service is referred to as a “sub-domain” or “non-virtual account.” It allows you to build a very small, simple website that can be accessed by a URL that looks something like www.mystupidsite.ISP.com or www.ISP.com/~mystupidsite/home page.html which means you have a directory on your ISP's website in which you can build your site. The profound drawback to the option is not only do you have a hard-to-remember URL for your website, but if you ever move the site, you'll have to change the site's address. This type of web space is not something to use for a serious commercial website.
Dedicated Web-hosting Service
A dedicated web-hosting service provides you with server space (virtual, dedicated or co-location) for your website, although usually without Internet access. Their primarily business is offering server and rack space for businesses that do not want to manage their web-based servers in-house. While a few web-hosting services also might offer ISP service as a convenience to its core group of customers (e-commerce businesses); they probably are not going after the “casual surfer's” business.
Thus, one advantage of a dedicated service is that your customers won't be sharing valuable bandwidth (a big concern when choosing any type of hosting service) with the casual web surfer checking their email, downloading MP3 files, etc. What this means is that your customers will experience speedy access times, fast loading pages, and no shopping cart lag.
All large or enterprise websites should consider this type of web-hosting service. E-commerce sites that plan to incorporate streaming media or other types of services that require specialized servers should also turn to dedicated web-hosting services.
Since this market is over-supplied, to stand out in the crowd, some web-hosting services offer very nice (but expensive) high-end features. You will find that a good full-featured web-hosting service has a more “services” oriented approach — offering expertise in networking, or offering and managing complex software — as opposed to just selling space on its servers' hard drives.
Local Web-hosting Services
Check out the web-hosting services in your local community. These services can offer personalized attention and customized service, such as visiting your business in order to evaluate your hardware, examine your network, etc., and then making specific recommendations. For a small web-based business, a local web-hosting service will, in many instances, provide added services including, for example, helping you market your business by providing a link to your website on its local business directory. Therefore, many small- and mid-sized e-commerce operators may be willing to trade off certain features offered by a larger hosting service for the extendibility of a local service. Note though that a local web-hosting service is less likely to provide 24x7 technical support.
If you choose one of the small local hosting services, and your site becomes very active, don't be surprised if the host asks you to move your website to another service. Why? Because a good hosting service, even if small, will look out for the welfare of its overall constituency and might be afraid that heavy traffic to a particularly popular website on its service will hurt the performance of the other websites that it hosts.
Web Developer Hosting
Using your website developer to host your e-commerce needs is another viable option for the small- to mid-sized e-business. Quite a few web developers have added web-hosting to their list of client services.
A web developer usually provides hosting services via a server with a small pipeline to the Internet (either DSL or some type of partial T-1/E-1 service). Many times an e-commerce business, especially one with a small niche market, will find that the great service provided by such a hosting arrangement is more important than a large pipe to the Internet.
A web developer's business is, by nature, customer-centric and thus it will usually have the staff to help you with problems that might arise. However, there is a price to be paid: a slightly higher contract price, total dependence upon one service, and lack of 24x7 technical support.
One piece of advice: If you decide to go this route, be careful to ensure that your hosting contract does not lock you into using only the web developer's services (hosting or otherwise) for an extended period of time. Also, take the appropriate steps to ensure that the developer's name isn't listed as the “Administrative Contact” for your domain name. This identity confusion can cause problems and delays if you (at any time in the future) want to transfer your website and domain to another hosting service. You can find out who is currently listed as Administrative Contact for your domain name at www.accesswhois.com.
Free Web-hosting Services
Although free web-hosting services aren't as prevalent as in the past, you still want to avoid placing your web-based business in their hands. Here's why:
- You will be severely restricted in the things that you can do with your website.
- You won't be able to use your own domain name. You'll have to settle for something like www.freewebhosting.com/yourcompany.
- Although free web-hosting services normally give you between 2 and 10 megabytes of server space, many require you to display their advertising banners (or put up with annoying pop-up windows carrying their ads) and many won't allow you to display advertising from any other company.
- Most won't give you the easy-to-use FTP services to upload your web pages. This means you will have to find another way to put your changes on the web server.
- Few, if any, of them provide database access.
- Very few will give you CGI-bins.
- Few, if any, provide secure servers for credit card purchases.
- Forget about data backups.
- Search engines will normally take three to four times longer to list the submitted pages. Also search engines give more “weightage” to sites that have their own domain names.
- You won't get unlimited autoresponders, nor the POP email accounts you need.
- Most free web-hosting services will not give you access to your own server log files.
- You and your customers will experience frequent downtimes because of the heavy loads on the hosting company's servers.
- You will find that technical support is almost non-existent.
TYPES OF HOSTING ACCOUNTS
As you have noticed as you've read through this chapter, when it comes to web-hosting services, one size does not fit all. The same goes for the type of account you opt for with one of these services.
Most small e-commerce websites should consider “virtual serving.” This type of hosting service lets you run your website as if you had your own in-house web server but with the advantage of the web-hosting service's pipeline to the Internet. Virtual serving just divides a server's capacity into several distinct “virtual” web servers. With this set up a hosting service can host several sites on one computer. This type of service also allows you to load your own software, set up your own cgi-bin directories, etc.
Most Internet hosting companies offer several varieties of “virtual serving.” If you require a more powerful server or a server with a limited number of sites sharing it or a combination of both, you can get it (for an appropriate fee). You are only limited by what hardware configuration and bandwidth you can afford.
Your Own Dedicated Server
Another option for a small e-commerce site that has heavy traffic, needs high availability, or serves dynamically generated pages is to contract for a dedicated server. With a dedicated server contract, instead of sharing a server, you run your website on one of the web-host's servers, which is configured for, and dedicated to, your website's needs. This lets you take advantage of the web-hosting service's high-speed connection to the Internet, technical support, and redundancy systems, but allows you to have, at your command, the full capacity of an individual server.
A dedicated server is the right option if a virtual hosting service plan doesn't offer enough data transfer, disk space, CPU power, and/or flexibility. With a dedicated server your website has the whole server to itself. That means high data transfer limits, hard drives with gigabytes of free space, 100% of the CPU power, root access, and the ability to run whatever programs you wish.
Dedicated servers usually come preloaded with an operating system, web server software, control panel, and some basic services. Anything else to be loaded onto the server is up to you. Most dedicated servers are rented by the month and pricing usually includes a monthly bandwidth limit and at least one IP static address.
The downside of this choice is that the cost of running your website on a dedicated hosted server can be significantly higher than using a virtual server. Also, you need to know how to manage a server. That includes monitoring, installing and upgrading programs, configuring programs, dealing with hack attempts, troubleshooting and fixing problems, etc. Or you could hire an experienced system administrator to handle such tasks.
Another option is to let the web-hosting service provide your server management needs. For an extra fee you can get a managed dedicated server — many Internet hosting companies offer leases for individual computers with the same management options as a virtual hosting contract.
Co-hosting or Co-locating
A large website might go with co-hosting (which is also referred to as co-locating) since it provides the most freedom — but it is expensive. With co-hosting you rent space in an Internet hosting service's network server cabinet and pay to access the network that's connected to the Internet. In this situation you put your own computers in the server cabinet and service them yourself by obtaining access to the hosting facilities. This arrangement usually includes, for a fee, some kind of limited maintenance and back-up service.
Basic Server Farm
A basic server farm usually consists of several separate servers performing different functions — all residing in one server cabinet. A large website running various applications should separate the various server applications over different computers, some sharing tasks and others going it alone..
DIFFERENT HOSTING NEEDS
There is a big difference between the web requirements of a small- to mid-sized web-based business' hosting needs (even if it is a full-scale e-commerce site) and an established large- or enterprise-sized business moving to the Web with a huge catalog of products and heavy traffic.
Whichever category you fall into, shop around for your web-hosting service provider and thoroughly check references. Learn to differentiate between a pitch and a promise. The first step in this process is to ask yourself what do you want from a web-hosting service. Then determine your website's needs.
The Small- to Mid-size Website
It is important that strict attention be paid to how your hosting service and your web-based business will work together, including how your chosen hosting service can compliment your web-based business.
Shopping for the right web-hosting service for your web-based business is a difficult task at best. Look for a web-hosting service that offers a basic hosting package that includes:
- Unlimited data transfer.
- At least 15 MB of space (if email, log files and system programs are included in the amount of MB offered).
- The option of FrontPage extensions, since so many websites are designed with FrontPage.
Numerous hosting services offer small business-specific hosting services. To help you in the task, make a list similar to the one depicted in ,Use the list to start your comparisons of web-hosts.
A list can help you to determine what you want from a web-hosting service. The reason there are three columns is that what you want and need now won't be what you need a year or two down the road.
Your Website's Hosting Needs
Projected Needs at End of the
Services you want
- server space average small site needs 5MB)
- # of email boxes
- email forwarding
- traffic allowance
- ready-to-use CGI scripts
- tracking tools
- tools to register with search engines
- scheduled backups
Cost you can bear
Switching hosting services after your website is up and running is a headache. You can often avoid this pain by selecting, from the get-go, a hosting service that provides a full range of hosting packages — some of which you need now, and others that you will need in the future.
You will find in almost every hosting package a set number of email mailboxes, a predefined amount of server space for your files, and a traffic allowance (the number of megabytes downloaded when customers request one of your web pages). As with everything else, the more email boxes, file space, etc. you want, the more you pay. Unless your website is very well established and image-driven with, for example, a large product catalog, you can start with the one of the less expensive plans offered by your chosen web-hosting services.
Many web-hosting services also offer web design packages; but be advised that most of these packages leave a lot to be desired. If you do decide to use your hosting services' web design services, subject their in-house design team to the same scrutiny as you would a web design firm or a consultant. If you design your website yourself using your hosting service's web design solutions, scrutinize the proffered web design tools carefully before moving forward. Most of the time they are inadequate. Your best bet is to buy and to use your own design software.
For most small- to mid-size web-based businesses, contracting with a full-service web-hosting service makes the best sense. Paying a relatively small monthly fee to a service to host your website on its servers, which are maintained by its technical people, and connected to the Internet via its pipe, allows you to ameliorate hardware costs and avoid hiring expensive technical staff.
Top web-hosting services that a small- to mid-sized e-commerce site might consider include Globat.com, ICDSoft.com, iPowerWeb.com, Jumpline.com, Lunarpages.com, SpeedFox.com, and WebsiteSource.com,
The Large to Enterprise Websites
For some e-commerce businesses, a large, national web-hosting service is the only choice. These e-commerce sites typically have very high traffic, provide server intensive features such as chat rooms and large media content (e.g. graphic files in their product catalog, streaming media, etc.). These websites not only has a need for, but have the budget to pay for, a web-hosting service that offers, at a minimum:
We have discussed the possibility of hosting your own small website in Chapter 4. Don't try this with a large website. It would be a nightmare unless your company already operates servers on a 24x7 basis with a 24x7 technical staff on the premises. The cost of the large bandwidth connection (pipeline) to the Internet is daunting. So, please find a place to put your web servers that has engineers on site 24x7 to monitor them. This will provide a much less costly and less problematic website.
It is difficult for many of you to forego the opportunity for hands-on experience with your servers, but once everything is correctly configured and running, there's very little to do. What you might need to do can be managed remotely whether you are running UNIX or NT systems.
- OC3 or better connection to the Internet.
- Mirror sites.
- 24-hour staffing.
- Redundancy (including your connection to the Internet backbone).
- Robust security.
Expect to pay a substantial sum for 24-hour full service technical support since people cost more than computers. Yet, for most large websites, all high-traffic websites, and all enterprise sites, this type of service is mandatory. However, before you sign on the dotted line, be sure to checkout how much service you actually receive from the service's technical support. Determine:
- How many hours a day is technical support staff on the premises (it should be 24x7).
- How fast they respond to a request.
- Is there a response time guarantee?
- How much help will the technical staff actually provide under various contract terms?
An enterprise-class hosting service should provide a project leader and an enterprise management team to run your website's entire server infrastructure, including the firewall, on a 24x7 basis. This team should manage, support, and upgrade web applications, whether standard or proprietary, and add networking options, including a Virtual Private Network (VPN), Internet, frame relay, and dial services.
While the individual e-commerce client's enterprise-class hosting services will differ depending on the scope of the e-business, there are some features all have in common (in addition to what has previously been discussed), including:
- Dedicated, point-to-point, unshared T-1/E-1 or T-3/E-1 access to the Internet.
- Complete DNS services.
- End-to-end implementation management.
- Online network utilization statistics.
- Choice of customer premise equipment (CPE) solutions.
- A fully managed service.
- Redundancy, e.g. a T-3 or better connection to diverse Internet backbones, UPS and generator power backup, a redundant network operations center.
- High availability cluster multiprocessing consisting of a primary machine and a live standby. Data contained on the primary server is seamlessly mirrored on the standby machine. If the primary should fail, the standby server will immediately assume the role of the primary machine.
- Dedicated e-commerce that offers customized systems for purchases, services, and delivering order status and web application hosting.
- Web applications such as email, human resources, finance, and other operations to secure off-site servers with high-speed access and a single point of contact.
- Virtual Private Networking (VPN) and Virtual Private Dial-up Networking, enabling your company to connect its LANs, hosting sites, business partners, branch offices, telecommuters, and mobile employees in an integrated, secure, and simple manner.
- Managed software services enabling the enterprise IT organization to provide asset management, software distribution and management, network management, network performance tuning, and desktop management.
- Streaming media delivery through scalable, on-demand capability that distributes images to single and multiple locations to support videoconferencing, PC-to-PC conferencing, and video distribution services.
But that's just the beginning. The right enterprise-class hosting service will have trained system administrators, along with other qualified personnel, on site 24x7, monitoring your web servers along with the other web servers they host. The hosting service's technical personnel monitoring your site provide instant attention and follow pre-arranged instructions for any situation that arises. These instructions can be as varied as a call to a named technical person in your business, to handling the problem himself or herself, or anything in between.
It is well known in the industry that security is an entity that has a life of its own; therefore, leaving the matter to the security experts at a good hosting service is a wise choice. A top-notch hosting service is positioned to provide first class security through multi-staged access control and trained security personnel monitoring the equipment and the system, 24x7. Such hosting services also will provide a configured router and will offer front-line firewall solutions which you are advised to take advantage of since, they are neither easy nor cheap to set up.
Don't forget the mundane. An enterprise level hosting service should provide automatic backups of your data, and storage for the backups at an off-site storage location. Visit the physical plant. Is there sufficient air conditioning to keep the equipment cool? Is it clean and free of dust? Is it secure?
An enterprise-class service contract costs a pretty penny, but for some e-commerce sites, it is worth it. After all, what will it cost if your site goes down? The odds are that your website will suffer outages due to hardware failure, software glitches, outside attacks, and more. If you are self-hosting your site, this can be a huge problem. Do you know how you'll handle such situations? What will the cost be to your business when your site is down? Can you afford it?
The high-end web-hosting business is very competitive. These hosting companies offer sophisticated, large-scale, end-to-end solutions tailored not only to the enterprise customer's immediate needs, but engineered to respond to future demand..
The vast majority of search engines use spiders. These ingenious software programs have only one task — to crawl the Web 24 hours a day, finding and indexing web pages. These spiders (also called “bots” or “crawlers”) visit a web page, read it, and then follow links to other pages within the site. The spider revisits websites on a regular basis (e.g. every month or two) to look for changes.
Everything a spider finds is put in the search engine's index. The index, sometimes called the catalog, is a giant database that contains a copy of every web page that the spiders find. When a web page changes, the index is updated with the new information, but it doesn't happen immediately — it can take a while (as much as six weeks) for new pages or changes to be added to an index. So although a web page may have been “spidered” it may not have been “indexed,” and until such indexing occurs, that new page is not available to those searching with that search engine.
Search engines do not index the entire Web (although it may seem like they do). Most also don't include dynamically created web pages like library web catalogs or other data behind CGI-walls. And none index the entirety of every website, nor do they share a common search language (i.e. the algorithm used to determine what is searched and ranking of the searched item varies depending on the search engine). However, there are three important elements that are common to all search engines:
- The database operates on the same principles as your website's database. The database consists of indexed descriptions of web pages including a link list with a small description for each link. When a search request is received from a surfer, these databases utilize special search algorithms, using keywords, to find needed web pages.
- Search engines give each page they find a ranking as to the quality of the match to the surfer's search query. Relevant scores reflect the number of times a search term appears, if it appears in the title, if it appears at the beginning of the page or HTML tags, and if all the search terms are near each other. Some engines allow the user to control the relevance score by giving a different weight to each search word. A search term used too many times within a page can be considered web spamming (for which search engines penalize) so don't overdo the use of a keyword or phrase on a page (don't exceed the 15-25 count range).
Each search engine has its own peculiar ranking method. For example, if there are no links to other sites or pages within a website (a single page website) some search engines will not list that website.
A spider is an automated software program designed by search engines to follow hyperlinks throughout a website, retrieving and indexing pages in order to document the site for searching purposes. But what should concern a website designer is a spider's nuances — a spider determines relevancy, i.e. if someone searches for “beeswax candles,” the search results will be only those web pages that contain the words beeswax candles. That is simple enough, but suppose there are more than one website with the term “beeswax candles”? Search engine results are presented in descending order of relevancy to the search term that was used. Relevancy determines which results will be presented first, and which second, and on and on. The spider's job is to work out which page is most relevant to the term “beeswax candles” and which is the least relevant.
Spiders calculate relevancy based on four factors: repetition, prominence, emphasis, and link popularity. Let's examine each of these more closely.
Repetition. This is simply the number of times a word is repeated on the page. The more often it is repeated the greater is its relevancy to the page. But resist the temptation to simply repeat the “keyword” over and over again because spiders are programmed to de-list a web page if there are too many repetitions.
Prominence. This is where keywords appear within the website. Originally all a spider looked for was the “keyword” meta tag, but not any longer. Now they look in keyword meta tags, description meta tags, alternative text tags (on images), page titles, body text, and link text.
These services present both directory-based and crawler-based results, although most hybrid services favor one type of listing over another. MSN Search, for example, typically will present listings from the LookSmart directory before it presents crawler-based results provided by Inktomi. Yahoo! uses its own directory service, which is supplemented with crawler-based results provided by Google (that may have changed by the time you read this book).
Designing for Search Engines
But, you might ask, how do crawler-based search engines go about determining relevancy, when confronted with hundreds of millions of web pages to sort through? They use algorithms, i.e. a set of rules that govern their spiders' crawling techniques, indexing techniques and ranking within the list of returns of a specific search term. Although exactly how a search engine's algorithm works is a closely kept secret, all major search engines follow the same, general rules.
The remainder of this chapter, hopefully, will help you to understand how to design your web pages so that your website will get the proper search engine and directory rankings that it needs to be successful.
When someone queries a search engine for a keyword related to your site's products/services, does your web page appear in the top 20 matches, or does your competition's? If your web pages aren't listed within the first two or three pages of results, you lose. To avoid such a circumstance, when designing your new website, take into consideration the inner workings of search engines. If you ignore the criteria necessary for optimal placement by search engines, your website will miss out on traffic that it would otherwise have received if your website had been designed with search engine placement as one of its design criteria.
The three most popular search portals are Google, AlltheWeb, and Yahoo!. Trailing behind these giants are MSN Search, AOL Search, Askjeeves, and HotBot. All of these search portals in one way or another use spiders to crawl or search the Internet. Humans then search through the results in an effort to optimize the search engine's database.
Mergers and acquisitions are changing the search portal landscape. As of mid-October 2003, Yahoo! owns AltaVista, AlltheWeb, Inktomi, and Overture. At this writing, AltaVista and AlltheWeb continue to be available at their historic locations; however, they may share the same underlying database very soon. It is noted that Inktomi remains the back-end search engine at MSN Search and is still available at HotBot.
As discussed previously, a spider is a small program that gives weight to the placement and frequency of words, and uses ranking algorithms during the search process. And as explained in the “Spider” text box, while location and frequency of keywords on a web page is generally given the most weight, related words and word relevance along with other criteria, such as descriptive five word or so page titles, body copy, placement of keywords, and meta tags within your HTML code, etc. all play a role in how a search engine ranks your web pages.
Here is an illustration of how your website's design influences a web page's ranking:
Say that a potential customer types in “antiquarian books.” That customer wants to find websites that have content about and/or sell antiquarian books. Since the search engine assumes the same thing, the results will be top heavy with web pages having that search term appearing in their HTML title tag. It assumes those web pages are more relevant than those without the term in their title tag. But search engines don't stop there. They also check to see if the words “antiquarian books” appear near the top of a web page, such as in the headline or in the first few paragraphs of text because it is assumed that any page relevant to the topic will mention those words somewhere near the top of the page.
Now let's consider frequency using the same scenario. A search engine also analyzes how often the keywords “antiquarian” and “books” appear in relation to other words in a web page. Those with a higher frequency are often deemed more relevant than other web pages.
So even though search engines vary on how they rank websites, every web page should include:
- Page <TITLE> tag.
- Keyword meta tag which is more than one word.
- Description meta tag.
- <!— comments tags —>.
- First 25 words (or 255 characters) of text.
- NO FRAMES tag.
- Hidden FORM tag.
- HTML tags.
- <ALT> tags.
Let's look a bit closer at each of these elements:
Title: The title you choose will be the most important decision you make affecting search engine ranking and listing. There is no specific science to it — just make it simple. Look at the web page and the first five or so descriptive words that come to mind can be the title. Another way to look it — think of your title as a catchy headline for an ad.
When it comes to the text of a submitted web page the search engines vary their indexing procedure. While some will index the text of a submitted page others will only take into account the first 25 words (or 255 characters) of a submitted page (25/255 rule). So, write the text of a submitted page using the important keywords more than once in the first 25 words.
Something else you can do is to create at the top of a submitted web page, a transparent gif image that is one pixel in size and inside the ALT tag insert a description of the page using the 25/255 rule.
Meta Tags: They are indispensable tools in your battle for search engine ranking. Put them, along with keywords relevant to each specific page, on each page of your website.
When we discuss meta tags in this chapter we are discussing only description and keyword tags. A description meta tag is exactly what it sounds like — it gives a description of a web page for the search engine summary. A keyword meta tag is again exactly what it states — it gives keywords (which should never be fewer than two words) for the search engine to associate with a specific web page. These meta tags, which go inside the header tags, are crucial for optimal search engine indexing. Your meta tags should reflect the content of the first couple of sentences of the main body. It is important that you make certain that the words you use in your keyword tags are words that someone would type in to find your website.
- Keywords are target words that will drive people to your website.
- When choosing your keywords, always use the plural of the word. Searching for “car” with find sites with “cars” in their keywords but searching for “cars” will not find sites with only the singular “car” in their keywords.
- Almost any site on the Web could use “web,” “internet,” “net,” or “services,” as a descriptive keyword. Don't! Using these and other like words to target potential customers is fruitless and most of the spiders actively ignore common words such as these.
- Include incorrect spellings of keywords that are routinely misspelled. For example, the word “accommodations” is commonly misspelled as “accomodations” so include both in your keywords.
<TITLE>Best Online Widget Store in the Universe</TITLE>
<META name=”description” content=”An online store with all the Widgets you would ever want.”>
<META name=”keywords” content=”widgets, widget accessories, widget howto, widget books, widget articles, widget technical papers, widget software, working with widgets, designing with widgets,”>
For guidelines on what you should do with meta tags, go to a search engine, say AlltheWeb, search for a term or word that you hope someone would use to find your website. Then go to the top ranked websites and use the “view source” feature of your browser to see what kind of meta tags each of these sites use. Study them and understand their relationship to the web page, then use this information when you are composing your own meta tags.
Link popularity. This refers both to the number of similar websites you've placed links to within your web pages and the number of websites that have links that point back to your e-commerce site. Your links to other websites must be on relevant pages — that is pages that have as much to do with the common theme of your website as possible, and that are not just a page full of links. Pages that are full of links are commonly referred to as “link farms” and are ignored by spiders.
Search engines view a website with a large number of incoming links (i.e. other websites that have links to your website) as an important or popular website. Thus, according to search engines, a website with lots of links leading to it generally implies that the website is a valued one and the search engine's database would not be complete without it. Link popularity is vital if your site is to achieve a high search engine placement ranking.
Use Optimization Tools
If your keyword density is too low, your page will not be rated high enough in relevancy and, conversely, if too high, then your site may be penalized for “keyword stuffing.” I know this sounds very complicated but there is a way to get help — keyword optimizing tools such as the GRSoftware's Keyword Density Analyzer (www.grsoftware.net) and the Webpositioning Gold at (www.website-promoters.com). Or check out Keyworddensity.com, which provides free online analysis of any web page. Another option is to use a service like Abalone Designs (www.abalone.ca), Dragonfly Design (http://dragonfly-design.com/special-offers.html.) or etrafficjams.com. All three provide free website analyses as a marketing tool.
Many of you will decide to purchase search engine optimization tools because such tools can help you to get the desired results from search engine submissions, by providing you with the means to tweak your website so that it works with visiting search engine spiders and their complex, math-based formulas used to rank websites. Here is what to look for when selecting a search engine optimization tool:
- Good documentation. You want a product that provides a clear overview of the different steps you need to take to prepare and then submit your website to the various search engines and directories.
- An intuitive interface that provides ease of use. When you buy a search engine optimization tool, you don't want to spend a lot of time learning how to use the program.
- Submission options. Look for a product that will let you choose the number of pages that can be submitted to the search engines. With most search engines, it is better to submit all of your web pages individually, but not all tools allow this type of submission.
- A viable search engine list. Watch out for search submission products that say they will submit your site to thousands of search engines. While this might help drive traffic to your website (there are thousands of micro search engines), only a small portion will help you increase the number of relevant visits to your website. Submitting your site to Lawcrawler, or some other specialty search engine unrelated to your website's content, will not have much value. The best search engine tools focus on the major search engines and directories. Then add regional and specialty engines.
- Keyword selection. Choose a tool that guarantees that its keyword selection tools are based on an analysis of millions of words and phrases entered in search queries daily.
- Page analysis. Look for a product that offers page analysis, i.e. there are tools to examine each web page from a search engine's viewpoint. The tool should check for standard techniques and elements that will improve your ranking for your selected keyword phrases. A list of problem areas and how to correct them should be presented after the analysis is complete.
- Select specific search engines and directories. Find an optimization tool that doesn't provide an “all-or-nothing” submission option. Instead, choose a search engine optimization product that allows you to select the search engines and directories to which you want to submit your website pages.
- Tracking and ongoing analysis. Look for a product that enables you to assess whether your web pages have been listed in the index of all submitted search engines and directories and how they are ranked in the various indexes. Products that provide tracking and ongoing analysis tools will allow you to perform such analysis.
- Money-back guarantee. Don't spend your money on a optimization tool that won't provide a money-back guarantee. Many search engines and directories are now very selective about automated submission sources (this is what all search engine optimization tools do). Find a product that guarantees listings in the search engines and directories on its list.
Most search engine optimization tools are relatively inexpensive. To give you a sampling of what's available, check out:
- Axandra/Voget Selbach Enterprises GmbH's Internet Business Promoter (IBP) product (www.axandra). The cost ranges from free to $350.00.
- Microsoft's bCentral (www.bcentral.com). The cost for the annual plan is $79.
- Netmechanic.com's search engine optimization tools are available on an annual plan basis. The cost per URL subscription is $49.
- Websiteceo.com offers four editions with different pricing options. The cost ranges from free to $495.
- A page that invites the customer to continue on to your website's home page (at the same time it provides the specific search engine with a page that it will find highly relevant).
- A page that is semi-invisible to the customer through the use of a Java script redirection technique. The page that is submitted to the search engines is stripped down to the minimum so that the search engine finds it highly relevant but a customer will only see the page as a “flash” before the real page is presented to the browser. There are two problems with this method: If your customers' browser is not enabled for Java script, they will see the unattractive
SUBMITTING YOUR WEB PAGES
The best practice (there are exceptions) is to submit each page of your website, individually, to all of the search engines and directories. You may think that submitting each and every page of your website is not necessary since some pages may have, for example, investor information or contact information. But every page that is listed is like an entry in a drawing — the more entries, the more chances you have.
Use a search engine optimization tool (previously discussed) for the submission process, you can submit some of your web pages by hand to specific search engines and automate the rest using web-positioning software such as Submitta.com, the previously mentioned Webpositioning Gold(www.website-promoters.com), or check out one of the many website promotion services available online.
If you want to try submitting your web pages yourself here is a guide:
- Submit your main URL (i.e. http://yourdomainname.com) after you have finished designing your website.
- Submit other important pages in weekly intervals and in very small batches (no more than 10 a day) since search engines are very sensitive to what they consider spamming.
- A large website should submit first its most important and customer-centric web pages, keyword-wise that is, since it is easy for a website with 200 or so pages to hit their page limit (usually 50 or so pages) with search engines.
- Once you have submitted all of your web pages, you need to not only re-submit each time you make substantial changes to a page but also, once every three or so months re-submit the pages following the procedure set out above.
- Pages that are generated “on the fly” usually will not be indexed so don't submit them.
- If you have pages with frames, don't submit them since most spiders will not crawl a page with frames (no matter what you might have read to the contrary).
- Test and check to see how your website rates with the search engines after your submission procedure is completed.
- Monitor your website listings regularly. Sometimes your listing can just disappear or some kind of error can cause the link to become bad, etc. When you find something wrong, re-submit that web page.
Pay attention to how your website is listed on a search engine. Does it identify what your website is and the products/services provided? To assure that your search engine listing provides the proper information needed by the surfing public, use your title tag (e.g. <title>Best Online Widget Store in the Universe </title>). Search engines then use as the descriptive paragraph one of the following, depending on the search engine: either your description tag (<META name=”description” content=”An online store with all the Widgets you would ever want.”>) or the first 250 words (or so) of visible text on your site.
Although it will take a little effort, it is important that you balance these tags. In other words, sometimes what you need to put in as a title or descriptive tag (to get a high ranking with a particular search engine) will not help you in your quest to have potential customers easily find your page through commonly used keyword searches.
THE MARKETING PLAN
Creating a good marketing plan is the best thing that you can do to help assure a new web-based business's growth. Your marketing plan should be your guide on which you base your marketing decisions and it will help to ensure that everyone involved in marketing your website works toward the same goals. A properly drawn up and instituted marketing plan not only provides a guide for the growth of your web-based business, but also how to spend your promotional dollars. Optimally a marketing plan and its budget (which is an integral part of your business's overall budget) should cover promotion and advertising for 6 to 12 months.
Don't forget to include in your plan's budget a sizable allotment for market research. What you know about your target market and the information gleaned from marketing research will give you the basis for your marketing strategy. Research is the only way you will know what is necessary to design your marketing plan to reach the 25-35% of your website's customers that are not brought to your site by search engines and directories. The plan should lay the groundwork for campaigns that will encourage customers to place an order, or to take some kind of action, that will allow you to respond — thereby establishing a relationship with another potential customer.
Develop market objectives that are realistic and specific. If possible, hire consultants to assist you in identifying the available market, to understand who will be competing with you for that market share, and to formulate a realistic projection for your share of that market. Most of this information can be gathered from:
- Your internal records.
- Published market information from government statistics, chambers of commerce, newspapers, magazines, trade journals, banks, utility companies, city and county planning organizations, colleges and universities.
- Surveys, mail responses, telephone and personal interviews, opinion polls, market testing, and customer feedback.
Analyze your site from a promotional point of view. Then, with your marketing hat on, look at your site with a fresh eye and consider:
- What would a visitor consider as the main purpose of your website?
- Who would be interested in your website?
- How does your website stand out from other websites?
Now look at the competition:
- Are potential customers using the Web now?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the competition?
- What can be done to make the campaign's overall message superior to your competition's message?
- What message would be most effective in drawing potential customers to your website?
- What would cinch the conversion of potential customer into an actual customer?
This research will give you a good idea as to how you should go about reaching your current and potential customers — in other words, where you should spend your advertising dollars: banner ads, targeted opt-in email, newsletters (online or email), surveys, traditional advertising methods (print, radio, television), and incentives such as discounts, gift certificates and contests.
Now you have a good starting point for your strategic marketing campaign.
As you formulate your marketing plan consider:
Competitive Forces: Who are your major competitors now and who is likely to be your major competitors in the future? What response can you expect from those competitors to any change in your marketing strategy? How does the structure of the industry affect competitive forces in the industry?
Economic Forces: What is the general economic condition of the country or region where the majority of your customers reside (demographic research)? Are your consumers optimistic or pessimistic about the economy? What is your target market's buying power (demographic research)? What are the current spending patterns of your target market? Are your customers buying less or more from your website and why?
Socio-cultural Forces: How are society's (and your targeted market's) demographics and values changing and how will these changes affect your web-based business? What is the general attitude of society regarding the Internet, your business, and its products/services? What ethical issues should you address?
Legal and Regulatory Forces: What changes in various government regulations (domestic and foreign) are being proposed that would affect the way you operate? What effect will global agreements such as NAFTA and GATT have on your web-based business?
Technological Forces: What impact will changing technology have on your target market, if any? What technological changes will affect the way you operate your website, sell your products/services, and conduct marketing activities?
Identify Target Market: What are the demographics of your target market, i.e., characteristics such as, sex, age, income, occupation, education, ethnic background, family life cycle, etc.? What are the geographic characteristics of this market, i.e. its location, accessibility, climate? What are the psychographics of your niche market, i.e., attitudes, opinions, interests, motives, lifestyles? What are the product-usage characteristics of this market?
Needs Analysis: What are the current needs of your target market? How well is your website and its products/services meeting these needs? How are your competitors' meeting these needs? How are the needs of your niche market expected to change in the near and distant futures?
Your website and its products/services cannot be all things to all people. Look at margarine or aspirin, for example, and the extremes that have been taken to create brand awareness and product differentiation. Marketing requires continual vigilance. Your marketing position must be able to change to keep up with the current conditions of the market. Constantly monitor what is happening in your “space” so that you always have up-to-date knowledge of your marketplace. After you accumulate accurate information about your customers, the segments they fit into, and the buying motives of those segments, you can select the marketing position that makes the most sense.
At this moment, how is your website performing in terms of sales volume, market share, and profitability? How does this compare to other websites in your “space”? What is the overall performance of your entire competitive marketplace? If your website's performance is improving, what actions can you take to ensure that it continues to improve? What are your web-based business' strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats? (In marketing circles these four terms are commonly lumped together into the acronym — SWOT.)
Once you have answered the above questions, you are ready to set out your marketing objectives. Define your current marketing objectives. Are your objectives consistent with recent changes in the marketing environment and/or needs of your target market? What is the specific and measurable outcome and time frame for completing each objective? How does each objective take advantage of a strength or opportunity and/or convert a weakness or threat? How is each objective consistent with your web-based business' goals and mission?
Next comes your marketing strategy. Once you have completed the research on your target market with specifics such as demographics, geographics, psychographics, product-usage characteristics, justifications for the selection of this target market, and your competitors in this market. Next consider your marketing mix (pricing, distribution and promotion strategies). How does this marketing mix give you a competitive advantage in your niche market? Is this competitive advantage sustainable? Why or why not?
Other Elements to Consider
Some other elements that fit within a good marketing plan are:
- Distribution channels.
- Pricing and terms of sale.
- Promotion and advertising plan.
- Marketing budget.
- Inventory selection and management.
- Visual merchandising.
- Customer relations.
When drawing up your marketing plan, think about where you want your business to be in three years and how you plan to get there — that's your marketing plan in a nutshell. Marketing your web-based business is a never-ending task. Once you have your information and your marketing plan in place, you must continuously revisit, revise, refine, and revamp it to accommodate changes in your marketplace.
With a marketing plan in place you have a considered strategy to outmaneuver your competition by capitalizing on their weaknesses and emphasize your web-based business's strengths. By increasing market awareness of the offerings of your website, you acquire new customers.
IMPLEMENTING YOUR MARKETING PLAN
Now it is time to implement your marketing plan. Identify a marketing team. This team can be formed from your business' internal personnel and consultants, and people who have intimate knowledge of the Web, web marketing and (if you are a click-and-mortar) how the Web can be integrated with current marketing plans. In addition, find graphic designers, copywriters, and illustrators. Once the team is in place, it should plan and focus on strategic revenue goals. Don't let the team focus on the number of hits your site receives due to an overall advertising, marketing and PR campaign while ignoring whether the campaign achieved the expected revenue goals. Make it clear as to who has the decision-making authority, who is responsible for what, and set out a clear timetable for each campaign's completion?
Don't forget to coordinate your marketing activities. What does this mean? Here are a few example: If you plan to unveil a campaign during the Super Bowl you must ensure your website and your web-hosting service and/or ISP have the facilities to handle the added traffic. If you are a brick-and-mortar, how do you coordinate special promotions? If you plan to offer a specific item as, let's say, a two-for-one promotion, take steps to assure that there is adequate inventory. Also additional contact center help is mandatory when launching any kind of new campaign.
Your marketing plan should include marketing through several venues, such as print media, banner ads, affiliates, television ads, radio ads, newsletters, email, etc. However, with the Web's extensive capabilities available for a reasonable cost, make it the cornerstone.
Create a consistent marketing message for your website that reflects its mission and goals. This theme will provide consistency to your presentation and continuity over time. The theme can remain constant, although the look and content will certainly change. Always keep the look and content focused on your potential customers' wants and needs and take advantage of any of your competitions shortcomings.
Your marketing plan should become the basis for analysis of whether customer needs are being met through analyzing sales trends, customer's comments, return numbers, requests for out-of-stock merchandise, repeat customers, surveys, etc. At some point consider offering new products — either related or unrelated to current ones — and go after new target markets or penetrate current markets more deeply.
If you have a brick-and-mortar business, make use of it. How? By making certain that your website information is prominent in all of the advertisements for your traditional business and check that your website's address is prominent on all your marketing and advertising material, business cards, letterhead, envelopes, brochures, shopping bags, giveaways such as hats and pens, etc. Also make your employees aware of the importance of promoting the online business.
If you are the owner of a successful brick-and-mortar brand, then you already possess a key advantage in you online venture — name-recognition. Just this fact alone will help make your website more valuable and allow it to obtain profitability more quickly.
Finally, institute a procedure to monitor the success or failure of your marketing activities. Will a formal marketing audit be performed? If so, what will be its scope? Will specialized audits be performed? If so, which marketing functions will be analyzed?
ON-SITE MARKETING TECHNIQUES
How do you keep your customers coming back for more? On-site marketing of your website involves search engine submissions, strategic links, optimizing your copy, banner ads, opt-in email, client retention services, affiliate programs, press releases, and much more. In other words, it's whatever will work to draw potential customers to your website then converting them into paying customers. You want to build brand awareness, foster relationships with your customers, encourage repeat business and return visits to your website.
Established brick-and-mortars that have moved their business (or elements of their business) online must take care to reflect the essence of the brick-and-mortar brand, work with the brand, and make sure that you take the brand online appropriately. In other words, don't jeopardize your product by using marketing gimmicks online that you would not do use for your traditional business.
To keep your customers coming back for more, include in your marketing plan strategies for:
- Targeted opt-in email, which means that the recipients have specifically requested email relating to a particular topic.
- Online newsletters.
- Content Updates.
- Incentives, contests, and surveys.
Some examples are a newsletter for registered visitors, a free gift for answering a questionnaire or for a referral, or a monthly drawing for one of your products. All of these suggestions (out of many that can be implemented) not only build traffic but also start you well on the road toward collecting data on your customers' demographics and offer the opportunity to amass your customers' email addresses for use in future marketing campaigns.
Solicit Customer Feedback
Aggressively solicit customer feedback. It's a great marketing tactic. Here's a suggestion on how to create a good customer feedback campaign:
Create a short, say 25-question, customer survey that has a prominent position on your website. When customers take time to fill-out the survey, thank them by issuing a $5 gift certificate or some other giveaway. Compile the information obtained from the survey and then use the results to fuel growth and change so that your site is always new and exciting. Surveys also can indicate what your customers like and dislike about your site.
Another benefit from using the survey method is acquiring your customer's information —name, email address and maybe even their snail mail address — all very useful for sending out future promotions. But be careful not to annoy your customers. It is advisable to mitigate the possible irritation caused by direct-mail (either email or snail mail) by including something your customers will appreciate such as a newsletter or a certificate for redemption of a small gift or gift certificate; which can, in turn, result in customer appreciation.
Another way to use your survey form is for testimonial feedback that you can then use as content on your website. For example, if you offer a certain brand of shoes, in one of your surveys you can ask for opinions or comments about that brand. Use those comments on your website, such as, “I didn't need these shoes but they reminded me of when I was a child,” or “I just wanted them because they were different.”
As mentioned earlier, numerous search engines use link popularity when ranking websites. Thus instituting a strategic linking program is a must for any new website. When a search service sees a website that has a lot of other websites linking to it, it naturally assumes this profusion of links means it is a site with compelling content and is well-regarded in the Web neighborhood.
Begin by negotiating reciprocal links, especially with websites that appear consistently in the “top twenty.” Having a good base of incoming links from other websites is as important as providing links to the “top twenty” on your website. Remember this can also include your competitors' sites. Why? If any of your competitors' sites are one the “top twenty” returns when a search is done for “shoes” leading customers to that site and they don't find what they are looking for on your competitor's site, but see your link, guess what — they will end up on your site. You will be surprised how many of your so-called competitors will be very glad to link to your site in return for a link back. Why? Because the next time your website may show up in the “top twenty” when a potential customer uses a different search criteria.
Work hard to develop link partnerships with websites that are popular with your customers. How can you know what's popular? Use those surveys!
Quality links — links that provide a valuable resource your customers will appreciate — are the only links you should consider when developing your links strategy. These links give you the opportunity to provide a useful service for a potential customer even if there is no sale made at that specific time. Customers remember the websites that enables them to accomplish their goal — even though they may have made their purchase on another website. But because you took the effort to provide your customers with a valuable service — links to quality websites that target the same niche market — they will come back. Eventually, they will make a purchase from your website.
There are many ways you can exchange links. Links can be banners, links can be placed in emails, links can be placed within informational text on yours and others websites, links can be an award, links can be provided within a buyer's guide or directory.
Okay, now you get the idea, so go for it. Try any variety of these links or all of them — just do them tastefully and don't let the links distract from the presentation of your products/services. Links not only help with search engine ranking, they feed traffic to your site directly, and they help to create name recognition. All good things!
Now, how to go about generating links? First decide:
- Which websites do you want as link partners?
- Which websites would be of value to your customers? For example ask your customers, in a survey,
- Where do they go for information and resources?
- Where do they shop in the traditional world?
- What other websites do they visit when seeking the same product/service?
- Which websites offer products/services that compliment your offerings?
- Which websites do they consider to be your competitors?
When vacillating on whether to establish a link relationship with a specific competitor, remember that if you offer a quality product that is competitively priced, a link to a competitor's site won't hurt you. It can actually help by providing your customers the information necessary to make a purchasing decision. Your customers aren't stupid; the Internet is a great venue for comparison-shopping, so customers will probably be visiting your competitors anyway. Make it easy for them; they'll appreciate it. Remember Miracle on 42nd Street — Gimbles referring customers to Macy's and vice versa — same theory here.
Before searching for link partners, consider what kind of partner you want and what you have to offer the potential partner. Be diligent, be open to opportunities, and always be on the lookout for a potential quality link relationship. If you are on a website that you think might have potential, act immediately, send an email, use their feedback form.
Banner ads are just small digital billboards that one website pays (in one way or another) to be placed on another website. When potential customers click on a banner placed within another website, they are sent to your website.
Various studies have shown that the most powerful word in a banner ad is “free,” that simplicity sells, and graphics enhance a message. If a banner is designed correctly, it doesn't distract from the message. Other elements you need for a good banner design include:
- An attention-getting element, but not one that is antagonistic.
- A call to action.
- A reason to click through.
- Content that ignites clicks, i.e., it tells them to give the banner a click.
- Placement of your website's logo somewhere within the ad.
When a potential customer clicks on your banner ad to visit your website, it is called a “click-through.” The ratio of impressions to click-throughs is called the CTR (click-through ratio). An effective banner ad design and astute placement on a compatible high traffic site contributes to the obtainment of a high CTR, which can double the click-through rate of your ad, thereby doubling your return on investment (ROI). A study by Doubleclick.com found that:
- After the fourth impression, response rates dropped from 2.7% to under 1% (banner burnout).
- You need to focus on four important issues (creativity, targeting, frequency, and content).
- The use of simple animation can increase response rates 25% — just be sure that the animation doesn't slow downloading of the ad.
- The use of cryptic messages can increase CRT by 18%, but probably do not attract potential customers or reinforce branding.
- The use of humor is very effective.
- Using a question within the ad can raise CRT by 16%.
- Using phrases such as “Click Here” tend to improve response by 15%.
- Offering free goods or services generally improves CRT.
- Using bright colors in the design is more effective.
- The use of a message that gives a sense of urgency actually decreases the CRT.
If you aren't careful, banner ads often fade into the digital woodwork — even if you use animation and other special effects. If not managed right, banner advertising can be expensive and ineffective. Be very careful with your ad placement and make certain that you do not overpay for ad placement on websites that do not produce real customers to your site. Place banner ads on websites that you know your target customers visit. Targeting equates to better-qualified customers, or potential customers that are more likely to complete the sale. How can you know — via your online surveys.
Note that a study by ZDNet found that animated ads generated CTR at least 15% higher than static ads, and in some cases as much as 40% higher. However, animation does not take the place of response-driven copy and a creative idea. Avoid animation that takes a long time to download and offers poor copy. But with simple, creative animation more potential customers notice and pay attention, even if they don't click on it. Also, potential customers are more likely to click for more information if the animation effectively emphasizes what product is about. However, the animated ad must have a strong, well-crafted message and a clear call to action.
Frequency (the number of times a viewer sees an ad) is an important factor when planning a banner campaign to build your brand awareness. In addition to maximizing your ad dollar, controlling ad frequency can open up new creative doors by allowing you to create a custom banner package for your branding campaign. The correct delivery frequency is necessary for banner ad success and will help determine how successful your branding campaign will be. The right frequency is usually crucial for getting your message across since too few impressions and your message just isn't seen by enough potential customers, and with too many your banners begin to fade into the woodwork. This is referred to as “banner burnout,” i.e., a banner no longer offers a good ROI. Several companies offer help in managing your banner ad frequency rate. One such company is the previously mentioned DoubleClick.com whose services allow you to control a sequence of banners that can be served to viewers in a specific order.
Banner ads on popular websites (especially those that service the same niche market) can run as low as $249 for 250,000 impressions. An “impression” is the number of times surfers see a page that your banner is situated on. Ad placement services such as BannerCell.com, Insidewire.com, Internet Advertising Solution (IAS) (http://iaswww.com), NarrowcastMedia.com, and ValueClick.com can assist you with specific, targeted placement of your banner ads.
The industry average of CTRs is between 1.5 and 2.5%. If you purchased 50,000 impressions and received a 2% CTR, your website would receive 1000 potential customers. It is possible that with a well-designed and effectively targeted banner ad campaign you could receive a higher CTR, which is why a good banner design is important. When using services such as the ones listed in the previous paragraph, you can easily rotate two or three banners during a campaign, which keeps a single banner from going stale. However, to receive the 1000 potential customers requires a substantial investment on your part. Therefore, for small websites, it would probably be more cost effective to use alternative marketing methods and then supplement that with a few well-placed banner ads.
Don't forget to factor in the costs of an agency to create the banner ad and another agency or consultant to place the banner ad and to plot your online strategy.
An economical approach is to develop reciprocal relationships with other websites that will cost you only your time (plus the cost of the banner itself). If you do pursue this method, follow these three rules:
- Create a banner ad with the criteria set out above.
- Partner with websites that complement your site.
- Keep your expectations low.
Almost all e-commerce websites can benefit from an effective banner advertising campaign. Here is how:
Stretches your ad budget. Banner ads cost less to create and place than other forms of advertising and they also often deliver a more targeted audience than more expensive advertising venues such as television, print ads, radio spots, and direct mail.
Gets your e-commerce's brand where you want it to be seen. It is easier to build a higher traffic volume by strategically placing banner ads on websites that relate to your product/service offerings. For example, an e-commerce site that offers trendy sunglasses can place ads on fashion sites, or a software vendor can advertise on tech sites such as ZDNet.com and Cnet.com. Online ads give users immediate satisfaction by allowing them to just “click” and they are at your website — instant gratification.
Provides quality traffic. When a person clicks on a banner, they are interested in what the banner has to say, and thus what your website offers. Since banners tend to deliver highly targeted sales leads, even ads with low response rates can be very effective.
Helps to establish your brand. If you use the same theme (look and feel) for your banners that you use for your website, the ad can serve to reinforce your brand. Even if a potential customer doesn't click on the banner, they have been exposed to your message, logo, and image. By consistently applying your business's colors, trademarks, and products in your banner ads, you help your brand's image stick in potential customers' minds.
To help drive quality traffic to your new website, consider setting up an affiliate program — sometimes called referral, associate, or partnership programs. No matter what term is used, these programs are attractive to many small websites that want to offset their costs by leasing space for a percentage of the sales made by sending traffic to other online businesses.
Affiliate programs are established by web-based businesses to drive quality traffic to their website. In exchange for a host site sending a customer to your website, you pay the host site a commission based on the sales you generate from the referred customer. These commissions are all over the place and can range from 1 to 30 percent and upwards.
If you decide to establish an affiliate program you should create a system that can do online tracking, so your host sites can count the sales they have generated plus their commissions. The higher you can make the commission, the more likely your host site will actually promote your website in some way so it can send paying customers your way and earn additional income.
It also can work in reverse. With an affiliate program you can make your website more valuable to your customers by offering them goods and services that are likely to interest them. You can earn additional revenue from your site through partnerships with websites that will compensate you for the traffic, leads, and sales you send them.
You can either develop your own affiliate program or contact a service that manages affiliate programs by giving websites access to their own network of affiliate sites and measuring the sales each affiliate generates.
For those that want to go the managed affiliate program path, here is a small sampling of the services you might find when you use your favorite search engine and the keywords “affiliate management”: Commission Junction (www.cj.com), FloppyBank.com, MyReferrer.com, Performics.com, and AffiliateNetwork.com.
Some readers will want to run their own affiliate program “in-house” so they can have total control over the way the program is ran, and avoid escrow fees, per-transaction fees and the like. There are two ways to go about this. Both methods enable you to avoid handing over your affiliate program to a third party.
The first method requires that you have the necessary skills to create your own affiliate program, e.g. craft the CGI script, and then place everything on your web server.
The second method to use a program such as the Ultimate Affiliate (www.groundbreak.com), which is a CGI script written in the Perl programming language that allows you to set up a fully featured affiliate program on your own web server. Ultimate Affiliate's CGI scripts are easy to install and intuitive to use for the average web developer. The resulting program lets you run a “pay-per-sale” or “pay-per-lead” program where you recruit affiliates to promote your website, then pay them a percentage (or a flat fee) for every sale or lead generated by their referrals. The Ultimate Affiliate program tracks referrals by both cookie and optional IP tracking - making it virtually foolproof for an affiliate to lose a commission. And for the hard-core developers, the script will also create replicated websites for your affiliates to ensure 100% guaranteed referral sales.
Newsletters (whether called eNewsletters, ezines, email newsletters or electronic newsletters) are an effective way to build goodwill and keep in touch with potential customers. Of course, you must provide a form for customers' opt-in (ask for you to email them the free newsletter on a regular basis). Through the combination of a little public relations, image-building and selling, you can provide your readers (customers and potential customers) with information they will appreciate and find useful. However, information is the key word here.
Through a newsletter (which can also be sent via snail mail) you can inform current and potential customers about different topics while subtly promoting your products/services. Your newsletter must contain a main story, which is informational, and then the secondary stories can target your products and services.
Newsletters, when used as an opt-in/opt-out program, are a great tool for bringing customers to your website, cultivating repeat business and building customer loyalty. A good newsletter is entertaining, while providing valuable, worthwhile information. It must be attractive, well written and relevant. Newsletters that are informative and rich in content can be just the reminder needed to remind customers to revisit your website.
Before taking on the task of writing a newsletter you should ask yourself — do I have the time, aptitude and resources or the staff necessary to write a regularly scheduled newsletter? If the answer is yes, start your research. Find other newsletters that have the style and content that you like; read and study them until you know why each particular newsletter is effective.
Write your newsletter to a target audience. If your website serves a specific niche market, then you have no problems. However, if you have a more generalized website, dig into your customer data to find a specific subject your customers will find of interest, and which provides enough material for a regularly scheduled newsletter. Once you have your target audience in mind and the niche subject matter, don't waiver. Stick to that particular subject matter; don't ramble. If your subject matter is collectible Barbie dolls, don't try to work in collectible Hot Wheels. That is another subject. What you could do is a survey and ask how many readers are also interested in other forms of collectibles, if you get a favorable response then start another newsletter for that niche market.
For example, you can review a new book and give links to sites with other reviews on the book and sites where you can purchase the book. Remember your readership wants a newsletter that informs, educates or helps them in their daily lives, not an “in your face” product brochure.
Create an easy-to-locate newsletter archive on your website so that your customers can find any back issue they might need. Have links to your archive pages throughout your website. In each new issue of your newsletter refer in some way or the other to a back issue; this will lead readers to your archive pages and conversely to your products/services. Additionally, these back issues can help build traffic to your site if you are diligent in registering each issue with the search engines.
A newsletter is a good tool, especially for the small web-based businesses. Incorporate your newsletter into your overall marketing plan. If you produce a high quality, informative newsletter, and let other websites know about it, they will happily provide a link to your newsletter pages. You can also trade your newsletter for links, especially to other websites serving the same niche market (this will help build readership and, in turn, traffic to your site).
Benefits of publishing a newsletter, other than the obvious ones set out above are:
- Your newsletter is distributed via the one item everyone on the Web has in common - an email address. Email is easy, free, and works without a hitch. Readers can look at it at their leisure, print it out, save it, file it, and refer to it when needed.
- You can send potential customers emails (the newsletter) chock-full of informative content about a subject the receiver has shown an interest in (along with a little promo for your website and its products/services).
- You promote not only your website but also its products/services. It is vital that you subtly, but relentlessly, reinforce your website and its products/services brand(s).
- You build trust since familiarity fuels the comfort index. Every time your readers receive your newsletter wherein you have shared valuable information, you build and reinforce their trust.
- A newsletter can become an additional source of revenue. You can sell ads in your newsletter, but you first must build your readership to at least 5000 to make ads attractive to other businesses.
Finally, ask your customers for feedback and always include an opt-out link in each newsletter.
Marketing, promotional materials, and methodology can be helpful in building a good customer base for your website, but be careful to not burn up your communication pathways. If used properly, email is one of the best ways for a web-based business to acquire new customers and grow and build long-lasting relationships with current customers.
Start with monthly emails then slowly increase the frequency and specialization of these emails by responding to your customer's requests — because you, as a responsible website operator, remembered to ask for feedback. Although the spam crisis continues to affect consumer behavior online, it does not necessarily cloud consumer receptiveness to legitimate marketers: an overwhelming majority of online consumers receive offers by email and have made a purchase online or offline as a result.
It is possible to set up a list quickly, by hand, if it is small or you can use specialized software (as discussed later). Surprisingly good response rates to target email campaigns are achieved because:
- Email hyperlinks allow recipients to go straight to your website.
- The recipient has proactively requested the information and, therefore, is interested in topic.
- The recipient can opt-out if no longer interested in receiving specific email.
With the right email tools, you can have a candid one-on-one audience to get customers to respond to an offer targeted to them. Check out iMailer (www.emailtools.co.uk), Mail Bomber (www.softheap.com) and, DoubleClick's (www.doubleclick.com) Dart-Mail. While on the DoubleClick website, check out the latest DoubleClick Consumer Email Survey.
One of the great values of a simple email offer is that it has many of the advantages of the over-hyped push technology minus all of its complications. To effectively use an email campaign you must request an email address with each order, each new account, and each inquiry your website receives. However, be sure to ask your customers if they would like to receive email messages with special sales information and news about any new offerings before bombarding them with email offers. If you forego this step, customers may feel that you are “spamming” them, and opt to go elsewhere, e.g. your competitors.
IS THE INTERNET ECONOMY SYNONYMOUS WITH E-COMMERCE AND E-BUSINESS?
The Internet economy is a broader concept than e-commerce and e-business. It
includes e-commerce and e-business.
The Internet economy pertains to all economic activities using electronic networks
as a medium for commerce or those activities involved in both building the net-
works linked to the Internet and the purchase of application services7 such as the
provision of enabling hardware and software and network equipment for Web-based/
online retail and shopping malls (or “e-malls”). It is made up of three major segments:
physical (ICT) infrastructure, business infrastructure, and commerce.
The CREC (Center for Research and Electronic Commerce) at the University of Texas
has developed a conceptual framework for how the Internet economy works. The
framework shows four layers of the Internet economy-the three mentioned above and
a fourth called intermediaries
Based on Center for Research in Electronic Commerce, University of Texas, “Measuring the Internet Economy”, June
Layer 1 - Internet
Internet and for the
World Wide Web
Layer 4 - Internet
sell products or
to consumers or
PC and Server
Layer 2 -
Layer 3 -
that link e-
in which e-
HOW MUCH MONEY DO WEBSITES MAKE FROM ADSENSE & BLOGGING
Andrew Leyden of PodcastDirectory.com receives nearly a million hits and makes around $30,000 to $40,000. » Freeweblayouts.net owners make $100,000 a month from a site that provides readymade web design templates for MySpace.com » SeatGuru sites gets 700,000 visitors a month and makes about $10,000 to $20,000 a month from Adsense alone. OK, back to my numbers. I am not very comfortable revealing the exact earnings data in public but still I will try to share whatever possible: » Digital Inspiration blog gets around 1.25 million hits per month with a majority originating from Google followed by direct traffic (like bookmarks, rss feeds, etc) » The maximum site traffic comes from four countries - US, India, UK and Australia (in the same order) » A majority of monthly income is from Adsense but I do make some extra money from Chitika, Feedburner Ads, Direct Advertising and Blog Consulting [via paypal]. » Firefox referrals have also been a good source of revenue though I did not have much success with Picasa software. I never tried Adsense or Adwords referrals. » While it may be tough for me to write down the actual Adsense earnings data here, you can make some good guesses from the WashingtonPost story mentioned above. » Alexa Traffic Rank for this blog is 7,637. » Google Blogger Team added Digital Inspiration to Blogs of Note on July 25, 2006. » Technorati, which tracks 50 million blogs, rank this site at number 936 while the BlogPulse Rank is 233. Also, ~4500 users have subscribed to the XML Feeds [Feedburner+Atom].
HOW ORKUT MAKES MONEY
Orkut is an Internet social network service run by Google and named after its creator, Google employee Orkut Büyükkökten. It claims to be designed to help users meet new friends and maintain existing relationships. Similar to Facebook, Friendster and MySpace, Orkut goes a step further by permitting the creation of easy-to-set-up simple forums (called "communities") of users. Since October 2006, Orkut has permitted users to create accounts without an invitation.
Orkut is the most visited website in Brazil ,being more visited than Google Brazil, number 2 on the list. In total visits, Google is probably still more popular since it appears as the second (the Brazilian version) and seventh most visited site (the international version).
The initial target market for orkut was the United States, but the majority of its users are in Brazil.In fact, as of November 2007, 62.9% of the traffic come from Brazil, followed by 19.2% from India. In December 2007, Google dropped orkut from the drop-down menu of its international homepage.
How it makes Money
Orkut generates its income from the ads it displays on its site. The ads are a part of Google adsense.So for every view orkut gets paid. Even for every registration orkut gets paid.Because of its google advertisments
- This means Google has now a complete new offering for its advertisers….and target advertising is going to be like the icing on the cake
- Orkut as it is had linked its accounts to gmail's, now this would mean google will link picasa, google video's , google maps,and in two days the whole world would be connected to each other doing a lot more than just scrapping on orkut!!
- Considering the strong indian community on orkut, if Yahoo or msn or our Indian counterparts - rediff (with ilands) and indiatimes (with O3) dont do anything to build as strong a community as Orkut's, they can give up their dreams of trying to build a consumer base except for mail and messenger users .
Below you can see the Sponsored Links ,for which google gets Paid
TOP INTERNET GAINERS FOR THE YEAR 2007 E-Matrimony:
When it comes to matrimony sites, Bharatmatrimony and Shaadi have the highest preference among consumers and fight it out for the top position in that category. Shaadi.com and Bharatmatrimony.com are the two biggest websites in the online matrimonial space, each with 33 per cent user preference. They command an almost equal share of this classifieds vertical. Some 16 per cent of those who search for their significant others on the web head to Jeevansaathi.com. Interestingly, Jeevansaathi has entered the top three rung this year; last year, it did not even make it to the top five slots.
How big is the Online Matrimony market?
100 crores?According to Murugavel Janankiraman, Founder & CEO, BharatMatrimony.com, “matrimonial websites are continuing on the path of high trajectory growth garnering Rs. 58 crores in 2005-06 and expecting to cross Rs. 98 crores in 2006-07.”
‘Marriage portals still in knots despite wedding boom', says Financial Express.
According to industry insiders, of the 100-odd matrimonial websites in the country, only some are making money. The rest are either just able to break even or are running in losses. But promoters of marriage portals feel the present scenario may be tense, but the future is perfect.
Well let us take a closer look at the online matrimonial business…How does a prospective customer behave once he decides - it is the time to get married!How does he choose the best matrimonial site? Or does he simply put up his profile on all available sites? Does he pay for the service on all sites?What else is he looking out for in a matrimonial website?Do these websites remove a listing after the person gets married? Do they even care about that? Is there a term of ‘Active marriage-able profiles'?Are matrimonial websites safe? Are youngsters using it for dating?So how does one compare such sites? Does one use Alexa? But Alexa is all skewed up and can be manipulated! - Is that the thought running through your head? But Alexa does even out things while comparing sites to an extent, doesn't it?Alexa ratings are just a small piece of the bigger picture…I decided to carry out a little study and compared the four of the biggest matrimonial players in the country. Ie put myself in the shoes of the prospective customer of a matrimonial site…
1. Let us start with Shaadi.com
Reasons any other user will also start with Shaadi.com:
- The name is short and simple and most relevant.
- They are considered as Market Leaders, though some might disagree.
Who considers Shaadi as market leaders? We took a small sample of 20 people (Between the ages of 23-32) - asked them the first site which comes to their mind when we mention Online Matrimony websites? 13 mentioned Shaadi.com.
The sample might be small, but these are the real people who are looking to get married soon. Once you position yourself in the minds of the prospective customer - that is enough reason to be considered as a leader to some extent.
First thing I notice on their site:
Pretty simple. Without registering on their site I was able to view 50 pages of profiles.
Dynamic testimonials: i.e Asok Mehta in the above screen-shot changes to Nausheen Wadia on refreshing the page.
A simple registration link.
They want me to know that they are No. 1! I might not click on the link - but it does make an impression.
They got a number displaying the number of matches they've made (Not seen in above screenshot). Nice big number. The user obviously doesn't know what number to expect or what would be a great number - a six digit number has a nice feel to it
An array of regional options.
In your first visit to Shaadi.com you might not be able to find the Paid Membership page. You'll be able to find the link once you spend some more time on the site or register a free profile.
12 months (Platinum) for Rs. 4250 6 months (Diamond) for Rs. 2655 3 months (Gold) for Rs.1595 Bold Listing - for only Rs. 459
Is getting married a year long procedure? Buying a 3 months premium pack would definitely make more sense.
Registration is pretty detailed but doesn't go to the level of depths which some of the other sites do. They take around 24 hours to upload a profile. This might not go well with the impatient users, but the reason they do it is to supposedly screen a profile and check if it carries enough information to be listed.
They also run Shaaditimes.com - A Wedding Portal of sorts.
Next we move to BharatMatrimony:
Recently Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) asked Bharat Matrimony to stop its success ads. Which means they have either been highly successful in match fixing or at least in advertising about their ‘success'!
I had the pleasure of interacting with Mr. Murugavel Janankiraman (Founder) during the DMC (Mumbai - March) - surprisingly we spoke more about their Real Estate and Job Portal. An interesting fact is that Mr. Murugavel supposedly found his better half at BharatMatrimony!
Did ask him about them going offline like Shaadi Point - to which I didn't really get a satisfactory reply.
One of the elementary reasons why a prospect might visit Shaadi before BM is the name. The name is pretty long.
Longer the name = More the chances of a mistake while keying the site in + Online Laziness Factor (The laziness factor which creeps into the net surfer while keying in a really long URL. It is not the usual laziness, but more a mental sort of thing)
A reason why someone would visit BM before Shaadi is: - Good advertising by BM - Word of Mouth
Let's get to their site:
What do I see? An attractive girl! What are the chances that she's going to be my soul mate?
Even SimplyMarry has an attractive girl on the first page, but at least they've mentioned age, height, profession etc - to make it a little believable that she has her profile uploaded.
The Search is again simple and efficient. Displays results without having to register - registration mandatory if I'd like to contact my prospective bride though (This is a common feature in all sites).
I see a banner of an offline meet - Mega Swayamvaram. This drives the point through that users are more comfortable with offline activities - and I'm sure offline activities by all the matrimonial players will increase over the next year.
And then BM tries to convince me that they are #1. They talk about their Limca Book of Records entry and also being the most trusted and most visited matrimony portal!
Interesting thing is that they too quote Alexa statistics - and say they are way ahead of competition! But Alexa has a completely different story to say…
Shaadi, BM and SimplyMarry - all three of them quote JuxtConsult and JuxtConsult's User Friendliness Report and how well each of them fared. Shaadi and BM are clients of JuxtConsult too.
[Well the above report has received a fair share of criticism.
Quoting from the post - “The 6 usability aspects are ‘branding‘, ‘navigation structure and added features‘, ‘website design‘ ‘company and contact info‘, ‘contact responsiveness‘ and ‘technical parameters‘.” ‘The top item on their list of usability features is branding! Would anyone please tell me just how can branding be a part of website usability? Sure, branding can play a huge role in building website popularity and thus the user base, but surely not usability.] How important is it to me as prospective customer of BM to know that they are number 1? Would I shift to Shaadi if I realized BM was #2?
The same 20 people whom we asked about the ‘first matrimonial website which came to their mind' (By the way, 5 of them had said BharatMatrimony) - the same people said it didn't matter much to them who was No. 1, because they knew that a site being #1 or #2 does not guarantee the perfect groom or bride.
What about parents who do the spouse hunting for their sons and daughters? On asking few parents the same question, the unanimous reply was - what matters to us is the site with the largest number of profiles and the amount of replies we get.
Back to BM. They give a detailed section dedicated to interests and hobbies, making it a little more personalized and gives added information about the members, which in this case shall be quite valuable.
The registration process is highly detailed. It can be looked at from 2 sides, either as tedious or extensive. Since this is a marriage portal, more the information, better are the chances of getting a good match, hence, the extra information is welcome. It may take a little longer to register here, but should be worth it.
Also noticed their ISO 9001:2000 certification.
Far too many options…
Classic Super Package: 3 months - Rs 2290 6 months - Rs 3890 9 months - Rs 4990
Classic Plus Package: 3 months - Rs 1990 6 months - Rs 3390 9 months - Rs 4340
Classic Package: 3 months - Rs 1590 6 months - Rs 2690 9 months - Rs 3440
Far too many options for comfort. A user wants to get married and wants to see value. Classic Plus just doesn't make sense and I would be surprised if it gets many sales.
Matrimony Xpress: Their blogging platform. This acts as a gateway to share information on various topics ranging from marriage, anger management, family budgeting to love, and personal issues. This is not an open blog, one must be registered to be able to blog on the site. The posters don't appear to be users though. It's more like competition for Shaaditimes.com
Next is JeevanSathi:
JeevanSathi comes from the stable of InfoEdge, i.e. it is a Naukri.com group company. They are definitely not a distant 3rd in the Matrimonial race and in fact have really been pushing Shaadi and BharatMatrimony.
Surprisingly JeevanSathi doesn't command a strong brand-recall factor. I'm not sure if this could be because of the name?
A little off-topic - I feel sathi should be spelt with a double-a and I'm glad they know this too, JeevanSaathi.com auto forwards you to JeevanSathi.com.
Let's take a look at their site..
I was greeted with a pop-up. Which shows a snapshot of their TVC and asks me to register? Why would they do such a thing?
They too have a search spread right across the page.
Because of the colour scheme used in the top half of the page - the Live Help really stands out. This is a feature provided by all the sites but you might miss it in the other sites, unless you are specifically looking out for it.
They are concentrating heavily on testimonials. In fact this is the first thing which catches the eye of the user. There were 6 Marriage success stories on the first page. Do people actually read these?
We got interesting responses from people when we asked them how important are testimonials on a matrimonial site? 10 of the 20 said a simple NO. One of them actually took the pains of explaining the reason to us. ‘No, I don't read the testimonials - but the visual presence of such testimonials have a psychologically comforting impact in the mind of the user and are therefore necessary'.
Other answers varied from ‘Yes I read them' to ‘Might go through them when I'm rather bored'.
eRishta Membership, eClassifieds Membership, eValue Pack Membership 18 options! That is insane.
18 options! They actually want the customer to say no to 17 options!
How is a user to know, what is best for him?
A better method would be an interactive medium…
Ask the user what he wants? Do you want to write instant messages and initiate chat? Do you want to let other members view your contact details etc etc How many months are you looking at? (Or have this in a checkbox list with all options)
And then display the closest eRishta or eValue offering or suggest him some other.
Next comes SimplyMarry.com:
Last December TimesMatri switched to its current avatar of SimplyMarry.com. They started off with a nice bang - full paged ads almost everyday in all of Times Groups publications. Striking ads - with takes on Veerapan, a rockstar, a bhajan singer etc
Well it surely has gotten SimplyMarry more visitors than TimesMatri used to get.
Well Times of India is still the leading off-line matrimonial service - and if they start listing these on their website for free (I'm not sure if they already do this), they'll definitely never be short of fresh profiles. Simple tactic - show the benefit of a free listing on SimplyMarry.com when a person buys a listing for the matrimonial classified in the newspaper and later on try to convert him into a paid online customer.
Let us have a look at their site:
Take the top half of Shaadi.com and the bottom half of JeevanSathi.com and you have SimplyMarry.com
Not saying that this is a bad thing. ‘Study your competition and copy their best moves' is an age old practice.
I love the whole simplicity factor though. The simple search has just 3 categories to start off with.
Silver Membership- 3 months Rs 500 Gold Membership- 6 months Rs 1000 Diamond Membership- 12 months Rs 2500 Platinum Membership- 12 months Rs 3500
I don't quite understand the funda of limiting Diamond/Platinum to 12 months. I guess it's a nice sales tactic - even though a customer might not need the product for such a long time.
Well enough of reviewing, let us start with some hardcore comparisons:
Let us start off with some Alexa statistics:
The Top 100 rankings of India lists:
JeevanSathi - 27 Shaadi - 30 BharatMatrimony - 96 SimplyMarry - 240
Well, apparently JeevanSathi is the site which gets the most traffic from India.
Let us now look at the global reach over the last 6 months:
Shaadi leads currently and has been quite consistent. JeevanSathi and BharatMatrimony are almost on par. BharatMatrimony did see a sudden surge in Mid January.
Now let us use the parameter of Pageviews:
Now here's a surprise! JeevanSathi seems to be the site receiving the most Pageviews. I feel this is because of extensive Testimonial readership. BharatMatrimony does have a bit of Ajax, but they should still be commanding higher pageviews! Especially the sudden surge in reach wasn't complimented at all with any rise in pageviews.
How popular are these sites internationally and amidst NRI's?
Percentage Traffic From Various Countries
Traffic Rank in Various Countries
Well Shaadi seems to be the clear winner and they prove it via Compete.com statistics too - where they simply annihilate the competition:
Here are some figures from Compete:
No of People Visiting the Sites
Criteria & Change
Average Stay (Average no. of mins. On the Site per Visit)
So what does Ranking.com have to say about these sites?
Shaadi.com - 477 JeevanSathi.com - 1317 BharatMatrimony - 2215 SimplyMarry - 11701
(The lesser the rank - the better of course)
Some other comparisons:
Google PageRank - A rank awarded by Google. A score out of 10. The higher the better. Alexa Rank - The lesser the better Compete Rank - The lesser the better Quantcast Rank (Quantcast provides US base site visitor demographic statistics) - The lesser the better Technorati Links - The more the number of links, the better for a site.
1350 - 1900
1590 - 2290
2690 - 3890
3440 - 4990
2500 - 3500
Note: All figures mentioned are in Indian Rupees (INR)
Shaadi.com seems to be the site I would put my profile on. They've got the largest NRI audience. The site has a nice secure feel about it, but of course there is scope for improvement. Would be nice to track the performance of off-line Shaadi Points.
BharatMatrimony.com is extremely popular amidst South Indians and for other regional services too. Rather too aggressive while Marketing themselves - which might not be that good a tactic. A lot to work on to be No. 1.
JeevanSathi.com has been doing really well and according to statistics they get the most traffic at least in India. After speaking to a couple of parents (who were spouse hunting for their children) - they said they were most comfortable on JeevanSathi. They need to reduce the no. of paid membership options asap!
SimplyMarry.com started off with a bang - only because it belonged to the TimesGroup. The name of the website has received a lot of criticism. But I did like their advertising campaign. They are in a great position to be eventual leaders if they can utilise the newspaper matrimonial classifieds.
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