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Stay Focused!
By Damian Bazadona   Printer Friendly Version

The Internet is booming and everybody is trying to ride the wave. With over 300 million web pages (New York Times, 9 April 1998) currently on the web and the number of web users rising, the Internet marketplace is in full steam. Businesses of all sizes are joining in this new advancement and are seeking to locate their niche in this tremendous market. What we are seeing right now, at least in terms of small business, is somewhat of a backlash against this new hype. The television and print campaigns for web search engines and related products, the increasing number of ISP's, and the development of the new "extranets" (e.g., Citibank on-line) has led many businesses to create high expectations in regard to the web. Unfortunately, at least for many small businesses, these expectations are not being met.

What is to blame for this backlash? Why are some small businesses cashing in, while others are not? I feel there are two major contributors to this backlash. First is a lack of research and education in this new technology (a lack of research in evaluating the Internet, with respect to their targeted markets, and a lack of education in the design and content of the site). Second is the lack of a clear objective or direction of their web presence.

First, let me explain 'lack of research.' There are many companies that do extremely well advertising their organization with the use of traditional media. But what many seem to misunderstand is the ways the Internet ties in with their marketing mix. Some view the Internet as a separate entity, separating it from their overall marketing strategy. Big mistake. Others view the Internet as a tool to embrace similar objectives to those in their traditional media. This can sometimes be even a bigger mistake. While there are many unique features that the Internet brings to the market, a web strategy must be in-line with the messages being expressed by the other marketing mediums but also have a distinct objective. This balance is what is oftentimes missing from the small business game plan.

While the web is "cost-effective" in many aspects, it does not necessarily come at a "low cost". This seems to be a foggy misconception about the Internet. The Internet, like all marketing, can be very costly. So before a business jumps to web, it must educate itself about doing business on the web. Yes, it is a new field in its growth stages and many of the rules are yet to be defined, but it is clear that the principles that drive traditional advertising do apply to the web (especially direct, or as some may say, relationship marketing). These laws, believe it or not, guide web marketing. The low barriers to entry have falsely persuaded people/businesses to engage in Internet activities prematurely. They see the various advantages of the Internet, including expanding their markets and cost-effectively contacting new business, but fail to see that the web, like traditional media, requires thorough research and know-how. These low barriers to entry have opened up the web market to many businesses that simply do not have the experience or knowledge to compete (although pornography sites have proved us all wrong).

I believe, at least with my initial contacts with clients, another major reason for the lack of success of small business sites lies in their failure to define a clear objective before entering the on-line community. They read the hype about the Internet and suddenly believe their company is in dire need of a web site. Well, as far as I'm concerned, if you have no direction or game plan for your web site, what is the reason to create one? The scary thing that I hear all too often is clients believing that by merely putting up a company web site thousands of people around the world are going to visit their site each day. My first reaction is quite simple, "Don't count on it." Simply putting a web site on-line and registering with search engines (which is very important) will help generate web traffic but will not prove effective in the long run. A company needs to clearly define its objective and reasoning for creating an on-line presence. Successful web sites often have the ability to generate "qualified traffic" through a marketing strategy, which will always mirror their on-line objective. Unfortunately, this lack of strategy is why most web sites are ineffective.

Let me give you an actual example I encountered with a local law firm. Through their traditional media vehicles (community newspapers and local television/cable networks) their objective was to build company awareness and, at the same time, generate business. Their message was clear in their promotions and, in all fairness, proved to be very successful for their business. When I came on board, they wanted to take that same approach of increasing awareness and lead generation and utilize it on the web. I strongly disagreed. Here's why: It should first be noted that their market is regional (they practice law in a localized region). With that said, if their local region is not a heavy Internet user area (which it was not) then how effective would a lead generation/awareness strategy be? Not very. What I proposed was to put a greater focus on servicing the current client base, with a secondary objective of creating overall awareness. I believed by offering their clients solid customer service through the web (up-to-date information and 24 hr on-line service) the company awareness level and client leads would increase (via word-of-mouth and local PR). This targeted objective resulted in stronger client relationships and increased business in a cost and time-effective manner. For this company, at this point and time, that was the Internet at its finest.

Small businesses are jumping to the web in droves. The big media push for E-commerce has begun to brainwash businesses into believing that their company has to be selling their products/services on the web. While there is some validity to that, there are too many other positive reasons that a company should be on the Internet. Whether it's providing product/service information, contact information, servicing current clients or providing company updates, there are many other reasons for a company to establish a web presence.

With that said, I would like to give some helpful advice to the small business web community. No matter what you decide to do on the Internet, always define your objective first. Whether you plan to sell your products over the Internet or offer superior on-line service to your customers, the opportunity for success is wide open if you plan accordingly. But before you start creating your new company web site, I have provided some design tips that are essential for small businesses entering the on-line world. They are free and proven effective.

  • Descriptive title (Approx. 6-8 words)
  • Use of meta tags
  • Use of HTML text within the document
  • Avoid frames when possible (unless you can navigate the site within one frame.)
  • Register with major seven search engines (Yahoo, Infoseek, Lycos, Hotbot, Excite, Webcrawler, AltaVista). If you don't register no one will know your site even exists. Also, search for trade directories covering your specific industry.
  • Analyze the site's download time, the content available on the site, and the user interface. These variables are a matter of life and death when it comes to satisfying the end user

The web will continue to grow and affect all markets across the world. Some companies have succeeded thus far and some have failed in terms of the Internet. For some web sites, only time will tell. But before you post your new web site, remember
. . . Stay Focused!

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