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Beyond the Hype -- Building Your Web Site
Enterprising Women magazine, May/June 1996.
by Paula Hendricks



The Internet. The World Wide Web. It's hot. It's easy. It's fast. It's the best, cheapest way to promote your business.

Have you heard this before? Are you afraid it's all hype? Are you a marketer, a business person -- and not a computer guru? There is a lot of talk these days about the World Wide Web (the graphical portion of the Internet) -- about its possibilities, and its shortcomings. You hear about hot sites - and not being able to make money off the Web.

It's not hype to state that having an Internet presence in today's competitive marketplace is important. The question isn't whether you'll have a web site, but what is the best way, for you, to build an effective one?

As with other, more traditional media, you need to plan your site in the context of your other business/ marketing/ advertising/ public relations efforts. While the Web can be thought of as simply another medium, another opportunity, to deliver your corporate message -- most importantly, you need to recognize the Web is an interactive, dynamic medium. The best sites take advantage of this.

Remember, the Web is still being built. It is not perfect. There is no "tried and true" here yet, there are no definitive books on how to do it right (by the time books are in print, they are often out-of-date). When the Web works well, it is fabulous, but often it isn't as fast or reliable as the hype might lead you to believe. Think of it as a frontier -- there are no paved roads and no traffic laws. There are no experts, only guides, and we all will be learning together as we go. Everyday, there are new ways to use the Web, new technologies, better and faster software, new ideas.

To avoid major pitfalls, find someone you trust to help you tame the Web -- someone who can walk with you in the worlds of business, design, and technology. Someone who can help you apply standard marketing techniques to your web site plans.

PURPOSE and GOALS:

Why do you want a web site? What is your purpose? What role, or roles,
will your site play in your company's business plan? Are you:

  • Going to have a storefront?
  • Sell products?
  • Handle customer service?>
  • Keep an up-to-date catalogue?
  • Interact with employees, customers, distributors, vendors?
  • Use your site for good will, to interact with your community?

If you're going to be selling products or services, do you want to handle financial transactions over the Net? Do you want to limit access to your company's own computer network? Positive answers to these questions will lead you toward technological solutions for increased security.

Do you know who your target audience is? It may be more than one, if you have several purposes for your web site. You might have employees as one target, and primary customers as another. Do you know much about them? About them demographically? The more you know about them, the more directed your message can be and the more you can design your site to communicate with them effectively.

On the Web, consumers have the opportunity to interact with your site and not just be passive receivers of your message. They have computers and are literate enough to use them. They have different capabilities regarding technology and setting their computer's configurations. They can turn the graphics off, or not even have a sound card. Most people still have 14.4 modems (and many have less powerful ones). Advanced technologies, beta software, scripting languages, and new programs can sometimes crash computers and scare potential customers away. These "glitches" will no doubt be worked out -- but if the Net retains its dynamic quality, these non-perfect advances may always be with us. Know who your market is and play to them.

What is the personality of your business, product, service? Do you convey in more traditional media that you are professional, conservative, dependable, valuable? Or are you high tech, adventurous, leading edge, cool? Be consistent in your message across media to enforce your message and to make your dollars work harder.

None of this is meant to scare you away. There is room to learn and grow and find out what works best for you.

CONTENT:

The most important part of your web site is the content. And it grows directly out of your goals and purpose. What, exactly, do you want to accomplish with this web site. If you want an online catalogue, that will lead content. If you want a hot, cool, site to build name recognition, that will lead content. This is not a linear process, even though this article lays it out that way.

Content of the site will balance with the environment of the whole World Wide Web, and with design. The underpinnings are the goals and objectives. The Web, compared to traditional media is a place for information. The history of the Net is one of information (text only on the old Internet) exchange. There is a vast amount of information out there, available to all. However, if you don't provide good information, or good entertainment, or some other perceived value, your visitor may very likely not read your whole message or will go somewhere else. And unlike TV or print, they actively choose whether or not to come back.

DESIGN:

In traditional media, you pay for design once and it's done. But design is an ongoing issue for web sites -- and it's inextricably linked to content and technology. Design here has many more practical facets than it does in TV or print. Good design in a web site will allow pages to load fast, provide easy navigation through the site, and handle technological, interactive, processes in a functional, appealing way.

Okay, what do I mean by that? Back to purpose and goals. What is the purpose of the web site? If it is to maintain an up-to-date catalogue for use by employees and distributors ... then hot flashy design elements are probably not needed ... but, easily used, easily updated, and easily navigated databases are. Sometimes, straight text pages are the best solution. Sometimes, large images or audio clips are the right answer. Sometimes using search engines and other forms of database management are needed.

What is a fast loading page and why should I care? Every time visitors comes to your site all the files from that page are downloaded into their computers. If you have big files (large graphics, image maps, long pages with many images), it's going to take some time to load. If that person has a standard 14.4 modem, it will take longer than if they have a faster one. Since many visitors pay for their internet connection by the hour (either out of their pocket or by using time on the corporate computer), they will not often hang around for slow-loading pages.

Design is still a tricky issue for web sites -- visitors see your pages through a browser, and not all browsers interpret the HTML coding the same way. It is only recently for example that the AOL browser recognized background texture and tables. This meant that if a designer built a nice looking page for Netscape, the people seeing it on AOL saw something completely different. I believe over the next year or two, common platform browsers will become more standard and this design issue will fade away. But at the moment, even the best designed web sites are not seen by everyone in the way they were originally designed.

Internet: Text only (grew out of Arpanet, government scientific research system, started around 1980)

World Wide Web (WWW or the Web): Graphical portion of Internet (new within last few years)

Browser: Software that allows individuals to see WWW pages on their own computers

HTML: Hyper text markup language - coding used to develop and design pages, to be interpreted by browsers

THE ENVIRONMENT OF THE WEB:

The history of the Internet and the Web is one of information dissemination. It has not been one of selling. There is resistance to the commercialization of the Web, and many smart businesses are providing more than just a dynamic ad. People use the Web to gather information. If you can provide greater depth of information, it might be to your advantage.

An example is Goodyear's web site. Yes, they have a catalogue of their tires and yes they have a listing of dealers near you, but they also have an extensive amount of general information about tires. About traction and tread and all kinds of things you might want to know about before you buy your next set of tires. They have interviews with Formula One drivers, and information about their company, including their annual report, and stuff about the blimp. They also have ways for consumers to contact them and a form designed to help them learn about visitors to their site. Their site is not flashy -- there's no audio, no video, no animated logo. But my guess is they are building a good reputation as a site to visit to get good solid information. And the next time someone wants to buy tires, they might very well be more inclined to remember Goodyear.

Okay, so now you have clear goals for your web site, and you have your site designed to deliver the right content and take advantage of web technology and environment. That's all you have to do, right? Load it up and let it run. Well, you can. Many do. But the Web is growing by leaps and bounds every day. You need to consider several other things before you leap. You need to consider promotion of your web site, maintenance, and where your site will be hosted.

Because the Web is dynamic and always changing and is dependent upon technology, your site must be hosted at a server that can handle the technology and the level of customer service you need. Your site needs to be maintained to ensure delivery of dependable interactivity and to update the pages as needed. And because visitors must choose to come to your site, you need to entice them there.

Promoting your web site effectively will take time and/or money. Time to list in directories, indexes, search engines, and to pursue guerrilla marketing tactics. Search engines and directories are very important because that's how most visitors are going to find you. As each engine/ directory searches or indexes your site differently, your pages need to be listed with them and incorporate coding "tricks" such as meta tags to help categorize your pages the way you want. Some of the newer directories charge for listings, also. And many sites charge for banners or sponsorships. These issues, however, deserve an article of their own and are only mentioned here so you can think about them and budget for them.

Understanding what your goals and needs are will help you choose between simple pages and the use of high bandwidth technology that can deliver full audio, video, and telephony. Plan your web site. Allocate appropriate resources to do your site right. Hire people you trust to work with you. Be willing to roll with the inevitable glitches inherent in anything new. Decide what you want to do, stick with your decisions, and enjoy the opportunity to participate in a medium that could change the way you do business.



RESOURCES:

All of the resources listed here are available through the Internet. No traditional print sources are included because one of the best ways to learn how to do business well on the Internet is to use the Internet. This is by no means a complete list. Surf the Net, find your own favorite, helpful sites.

Web Design Resources:
  • Top 10 Ways to Tell if You Have a Sucky Home Page
    http://www.wintemet.com/~jmg/topten.html
    A humorous but enlightening description of the bad in web sites. Two related pages expand on the concept: Top 10 ways to improve your home page and Top 10 ways to improve your Netscape browsing experience.


  • What Makes a Great Web site?
    http://webreference.com/greatsite.html
    Easily understandable, concise article about the characteristics of a good web site.


  • Designing Accessible Web Sites
    http://www.trace.wisc.edu/world/web/index.html
    Resources on how to design pages to increase their accessibility to users with disabilities. Information on web design guidelines, model web sites, and more.


  • Sun on the Net: Guide to Web Style.
    http://www.sun.com/styleguide/
    Excellent guide to writing good web pages by a company consistently rated highly for thier web site.


  • Employee Computer Training Center Resources for Designing your own Web Pages.
    http://www.delta.edu/-emptrain/www_res.html
    Site has links to Web development resources, design considerations, guides for HTML authors, templates, color, graphics, forms, browser comparisons, and more.


Web Marketing Resources:
  • Electronic Marketing and Commerce Related Resources, by ENVision in the April 1996 issue of the Inet Marketing Report.
    http://@-w.envision.net/marketing/inet./i I 02/msites.html
    Annotated lists of Internet advertising and marketing, electronic commerce, and online credit card and payment resources.


  • The Internet Advertising Resources Guide.
    http://www.missouri.edu/intemet-advertising-guide.html
    Resources -- Internet Advertising Primer (covering publications, acceptable practices, Web measurement, select storefronts, research and teaching, associations, educational programs, search engines, and design guides).


Web Sites by Women for Women:

  • SBA's Office of Women's Business Ownership (OWBO)
    http://www.sbaonline.sba.gov/womeninbusiness/
    Information and resources that women need to start and grow their own businesses as well as participate in SBA and other government programs.


  • The ElectraPages, The Woman's Organization & Business Locator
    http://electrapages.com/
    Service lists more than 7,000 women-owned businesses and organizations from the database of the Woman's Information Exchange.


  • Engender Magazine.
    http://www.cadvision.com/ffap/engender/
    Online publication for women in small business has features, letters, events, calendars, and resources. Recent article on how women are making money on the Internet.


  • Minority and Women Business Enterprises
    http://www.mwbe.com/mwbe/mwbeinfo.htm
    Includes an employment center (database and links to other jobs databases), corporate directory with companies actively seeking MWBEs to provide goods or services, publications, doing business, event calendar, and more.


  • The Cybergrrl Webstation/ Webgrrls
    http://www.cybergirl.com/
    http://www.femina.com
    Loose association of women working in new media. Operates e-mail list for women in business. On-line resources for women, technology, business, women-owned businesses.


  • Women's Wire
    http://www.women.com/guide/
    Includes chat lines, profiles of business women. top companies to work for, health information, investment and financial information. and more.


  • National Association of Female Executives http://www.nafe.com/
    Their site includes membership information, the Seven Principles of Workplace Equity, Cafe NAFE (a place to chat), a sample of Female Executive magazine.


  • Biz Women
    http://www.bizwomen.com/
    Internet mailing lists, Entrepreneur's Corner, Business news, and more.


 – Original article co-authored by Paula Hendricks
and Terry Brainerd Chadwick



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