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Five Common Internet Marketing Mistakes To Avoid And What To Do About Them
by Jon Leland

Welcome to a new component of the Compaq Small/Medium Business website, "The Web Edge," a new monthly column dedicated to helping you use the Internet's World Wide Web to gain a competitive advantage for your business. I won't bore you with statistics about the amazing growth of the Internet (I assume you've read that elsewhere) and I'll save discussion of financial models for making money online for another month; but, as I will try to do as often as possible in this column, I will offer my recommendations for the best resources on the Internet (not a list of every resource I can think of). Here's my first offering: If you want more information or statistics on the growth of the web, I recommend that you check out www.cyberatlas.com.

As the Web's global cyber-marketplace continues to explode, the problem that I call "the Grand Canyon GapTM" between people and technology continues to widen. In business terms, this problem expresses itself on the Internet as a new kind of marketing environment that requires a "three-part" harmony of disciplines. In order to achieve online marketing success, you will need innovative thinking not only in terms of technological implementation (part one), but also in terms of communications and with interactive design. As the months ahead unfold at Internet speed, this column will help you address all of these needs.

However, for openers, let's take an overview. After all, all of these disciplines come together under the umbrella of online marketing.

I would like to start by trying to clear up five common misunderstandings about online marketing on the World Wide Web, so that all of your online efforts can be as productive as possible. Here are five of the most common pitfalls (or dare I say "pot holes") on the information superhighway. I wonder how many of you have believed any of the following five false statements?

  1. The Internet is over-hyped.
  2. We cannot afford our own high-speed connection and dedicated server.
  3. HTML is so easy that anyone can do it.
  4. If you build it they will come.
  5. We can wait.

1. THE INTERNET IS OVER-HYPED
I believe that the Internet is frequently misunderstood and over-simplified, but rarely over-hyped. I think that once we've crossed Father Time's bridge to the 21st century, we will think of the late '90's the way that TV historians think of the late forties when TV came of age. Don't forget that the Internet itself is still a "newbie." The enormous publicity that the Internet has already received is an artificial beginning, but there is also a real birth process underway that is undeniable and the impact of the Internet on the 21st century should not be underestimated.

In fact, what may be most revolutionary is the leveling of the competitive "playing field" for businesses. On the Web, even very small businesses can afford to do a Web site, and producers like myself who want to create new kinds of content can do so without the major expenses of distribution and large marketing budgets.

The result is a whole new medium, not just a new technology. The World Wide Web is a new medium (like television and radio were once new mediums) and global electronic communications will never be the same. New businesses will be created that could not have existed before. And existing businesses, who are smart enough to use the Web effectively, will gain valuable strategic advantages over their competition.

What to do:
Make a commitment to include the Web in your marketing mix. Balance it and integrate it with your existing programs. It's not a panacea, but a complement to conventional marketing like direct mail and telemarketing. However, unlike those other disciplines, online marketing is a moving target; so dedicate an appropriate amount of time and personnel resources to exploring this new frontier. By being part of the process of inventing a new medium, you can become a leader -- and that's leverage.

Resource:
See www.cyberatlas.com.

2. WE CANNOT AFFORD OUR OWN HIGH-SPEED CONNECTION AND DEDICATED SERVER.

Many small companies are intimidated by the installation and configuration costs of installing a server and the necessary high-bandwidth data connections. However, while servers like those offered by Compaq and other companies can do a professional job either for the Internet or for a corporate intranet (or as a WAN server), there are also many ISP's who use Compaq and other servers to take care of their customers at a fraction of the cost.

For small or medium size companies, it is frequently less expensive to simply rent space on a server at an Internet Service Provider (ISP). While many companies think that part of the start up cost of putting a website on the Internet is the expense of installing and maintaining a high-speed connection (like a T-1 line), this is not the case. Except for the largest and most complex websites, you do not need your own dedicated Internet server and high-speed connection. The fact is that putting your website on an Internet Service Provider's server is frequently cheaper, easier and safer.

In fact, it's not only cheaper, it's much cheaper. High-speed phone lines, the equipment to connect them to server computers (routers) and the servers themselves cost thousands of US dollars. Putting an average corporate website on an ISP's server can cost less than US$100 a month. That's a big difference.

And, of course, hosting it on a specialized company's server also makes it much easier because neither you nor your staff will need to deal with any of the installation or configuration hassles. Either you can simply transfer your files via FTP; or if you want to make it really easy, you can even sub-contract the graphic design, writing and programming services and treat your website like the out-sourcing of a printed marketing brochure or newsletter.

Finally, putting your website on an outside server can also be safer because it's off-site. In that way, there's no way that a computer hacker can violate the security of your company's information system. With a computer on your network connected to the Internet, there's a possible opening for an electronic intruder. With the Internet server somewhere else, that kind of connection just isn't possible.

What to do:
This kind of decision calls for strategic planning, both in terms of your short term needs and the evolution of your company's online strategies. Carefully consider your needs and budget your expenses including the time that will be required by your company's own departments and personnel. Make a comparative evaluation of the costs, advantages and disadvantages of each approach. Think about whether and when you may be planning to implement more complex online applications that may require integration with your internal MIS applications. This may include integration of web acquired data with your corporate database and online commerce. Even if you are planning more complex applications that go beyond simple HTML pages, can these services also be "virtualized?" For example, I'm considering an online commerce service that's operated on a different server than my website, but which will handle transactions transparently for my readers without requiring me to install and configure any new software. In this way, in many cases, the network can bring a third-party solution to you over the network.

Resource:
Here's a well-written overview of what to look for in an ISP. It's appropriately called "How To Select an Internet Service Provider" written by an industry leader, Rick Adams, President & CEO of UUNET Technologies, Inc., one of the largest ISP's in the world.

3. HTML IS SO EASY THAT ANYONE CAN DO IT.
True, but only partially. The basic programming language of the Web, HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is about as simple as a programming language can get. My fifteen year old son is a better HTML programmer than I am. But I'm a better communicator, and that's the bottom line.

HTML authoring programs range from the relatively simple to the professional, and also include export filters from word processors and page layout programs. This means that some simple documents can be created almost automatically. But there's more to a website (sometimes mis-labeled as a "home page" when there may be dozens or hundreds or even thousands of pages on a site) than just cranking out HTML versions of documents.

Unfortunately, these early days on the Web publishing "frontier" have seen a recurrence of some of the same mistakes that were made in the early days of desktop publishing when the infamous "ransom note" graphic design style was introduced. These, of course, were the poorly designed documents that used way too many fonts and text style options. After all, just because you have page-layout software and a laser printer doesn't mean that you can do a good newsletter. Strong graphic design and writing skills are also required.

Interactive authoring is naturally more complex than any form of linear communication. In fact, in addition to professional design, writing and "authoring" skills, new disciplines like information architecture (the structuring of information to make it accessible) and interface design are essential. In future columns, we will also explore issues of audience involvement and virtual community building which really get to the heart of the Web.

What to do:
Start by considering communication basics such as defining your audience and stating your objectives. Then, remember that Web design takes more than just HTML code. When you plan your web project allow time and budget for the design of an overall information architecture, the creation of appealing graphic design, engaging writing and, of course, the expertise to handle the technical issues. Remember my Media Proverb, "It's always more complicated than you think it is."

Resources:
If you want to learn more about Web design, check out David Siegel's Creating Killer websites, the website. Yes, he wrote a book by the same name, but the website's free and has lots of useful information.

4. IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME.
The film "Field of Dreams" made this slogan famous. However, as with any other business, marketing does not happen by magic; especially not in such a "noisy" environment as the web where there are hundreds of thousands of other websites competing for attention.

No matter how many million users there are on the Internet. You need to plan on promoting your website if you want to build an audience. The good news is that promotion of your Web site can be very cost effective.

What to do:
First of all, once you have your own website, promote it in all of your printed publications including on your business cards, your company stationary, and, of course, on all of your print advertising. These are expenses that you will make anyway, so why not promote your website at no additional cost.

On the Internet, there are also several ways to get free promotion. The most important is to get your website listed on the various Web directories like Yahoo, Excite and so forth. See listing resource below.

Next, visit websites and newsgroups connected to your subject or product area. But remember, more and more, business is based on relationships, so act appropriately and mind your "Netiquette." Netiquette means learn good manners in cyberspace. You'll find lots of articles online about this subject. It's worth your while to learn the customs, just like its worthwhile to learn the customs of any country you might visit and especially of any place where you'd like to do business. In the same way, each subject area on the Internet (and the Internet itself) is a kind of community; and if you participate in a spirit of good will, the Web offers an array of opportunities to create strategic relationships including the possibility to trade hyperlinks with related sites. Another option is that you may want to consider buying hyperlink advertising in even more highly trafficked sites where you think attractive, new customer prospects can be found.

Finally, I believe that all good relationships are based on delivering value. Given that users of the World Wide Web have come to expect free information, it's usually not enough just to create an online marketing brochure. You need to do more. For example, you may want to consider offering a free article of substance as an attraction. Then, if readers find what you have to say valuable, they will be interested in the products or services that you have to offer. For example, just as I hope that by reading this article, you may find that what I have to say is valuable; and thus, you may want to contract some of my services. It works the same way on the Internet. The real money making opportunity is in the "ancillary" sales.

Resources:
There are many listing services. One of the most professional and popular is Submit It. If you have other recommendations, I'd like to hear from you.

5. WE CAN WAIT...
"If not now, when?" Perhaps after your competition has already made the Internet connection with your prospective customers? Like they say in the New York Lottery promotions: "You have to be in it to win it." In this case, waiting for the "kinks" to be worked out is a futile form of patience. This new communication channel is going to continue to grow and change and transform at an ever-accelerating rate. And that's the reason that the earlier your get involved, the more successful you will be. Those of us who are on the Web are learning at an almost mind-boggling pace. If you wait until later, there will be that much more catching up to do.

What to do:
Get in the game. Almost every business can benefit from online involvement, but this doesn't mean that you need a $100,000 dollar website. Plan on an evolving process. Start small, if you like, but actively experiment because there's no question that the Network is going to play an increasingly important role in business and your involvement will pay dividends down the road.

Until next month . . . stay tuned.

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Jon welcomes feedback and suggestions via e-mail at jon@combridges.com

 
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