Weekly Wire
Gambit Weekly Creating an Effective Web Site

By Mike Perry

SEPTEMBER 15, 1997:  Many businesses that have rushed online with their own web sites -- and with visions of making "megabucks" quickly as a result -- are realizing that the World Wide Web is not quite the vision in the movie Field of Dreams. If you build your own site, they won't necessarily come. You can create the flashiest site in the world, showcase the most appealing products at the lowest prices, and still not succeed.

Why? For the same reason one might not succeed outside the Internet. It takes more than just a superficial attempt to create a successful venture. Many people seem to believe that just being on the Internet is adequate marketing. That's not true.

Whether your interest is to expand your business market, start your own company or promote a personal or hobby-oriented agenda, the same rules apply in making your web site successful. Here are a few:

Get online. First things first. If you don't already have an account with an Internet service provider, get one. They are relatively inexpensive, especially if you spend a lot of time online. If you want to put your own web page up, you'll have to pay for space on the company's server.

Develop a plan. If you already have a successful business, you're likely to appreciate the significance of planning. But even successful businesses underestimate the uniqueness of the Net. Don't approach it as you would print media, television or radio, which are not interactive. Many use the web as some sort of "online brochure," which is comparable to using the telephone as an alarm clock. A factor such as location, which is critical in many real-world ventures, is irrelevant on the Net. As a result, you have to compensate by being more competitive, creative and resourceful. Remember, you are not competing on a local/regional level. You are worldwide.

Go for substance and style. If your web site is one big advertisement, people will get bored quickly. It's important to balance an impressive appearance with a comprehensive amount of useful information. If you have to choose one, go for content. I've seen sites that were so "pretty" I didn't even realize they were selling anything. Others had all kinds of fancy "plug-ins" and big graphics that it didn't seem worth the inconvenience to stick around. Web users might be more affluent, but they use their keyboards just like couch potatoes use TV remotes -- and just as fast.

Promote your site. Don't underestimate the significance of this element. In the real world, location or exclusivity can give you freedom from constant marketing, but there is no such thing in cyberspace. More and more competitors appear every day, and those with the most aggressive promotions will win. Don't rely solely on third parties to do public relations for you (which is often impossible to qualify). Do it yourself and seek creative and innovative ways of directing traffic to your site.

One way to do that is through web partnerships. If yours is a brand new site or one that's not generating a lot of traffic, look for a compatible site that's generating tons of traffic and "partner" with it. For example, some local sites are establishing "links" or even leasing server space from Gambit Communications' popular "Best of New Orleans" web site to take advantage of the huge traffic stream the Gambit site generates. Search engines such as Yahoo! also offer advertising banners that can direct traffic to your site.

Above all, remember this: Your ultimate goal is to get the word out. Whatever your product or agenda, you can use the Internet to go global. .

Mike Perry is an author, programmer and president of InterCommerce Corporation, a leading provider of advanced web services and host to many local and international Internet-based businesses.

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