Web Technology with E-Commerce
How To Tell Your Clients How They Can
Use the Internet to Make Income
By Jarvis F. Windom
(August 2000 )
What is E-commerce?
"... a system that includes not only transactions that center on buying and selling goods & services to directly generate revenue, but also those transactions that support revenue generation, such as generating demand..., offering sales support & customer service, or facilitating communications between business partners."
1. What is the Internet? The Internet is a world-wide network of tens of thousands of large computers, all connected to each other. Individuals and businesses get on the Internet by obtaining an Internet account through a local Internet Service Provider, offering access to e-mail (electronic mail) and the World Wide Web (an information access system). The "Web" allows potential customers to "visit" a business's storefront to the world, and view the company's on-line color brochure stored in "pages" or files which can be viewed in both text and pictures.
2. Does my computer need to be on all the time? No. You place your business's Web pages in your host computer's storage banks. The host computer needs to run 24 hours a day, not yours. There is no danger of hackers getting into your business computer.
3. Who pays for the long distance calls? Your only telephone charge is the cost of a local call to your Internet Service Provider. Messages then are relayed to other large host computers via leased, high-speed phone lines and satellite systems. Their phone costs come out of your flat monthly Internet Service Provider fee.
4. How do businesses use the Internet? This form of advertising is used to build a company's image, provide customer support, make available technical and troubleshooting information, develop a prospect list, conduct customer surveys, offer products, and take orders.
5. What kinds of businesses benefit from the Internet? Businesses with only a local market area don't benefit too much yet, though this is beginning to change. Regional and national businesses stand to gain the most, since 15 to 35 million Americans on the Internet now become potential customers, with that number growing by 10% each month. Mail order companies and import/export firms have special potential.
6. How do Web pages work? The World Wide Web provides you with a way to introduce your business to the world in a series of "pages" connected by "links." When customers see something that interests them, say a catalog of your product line, they "click" their computer mouse on the "link," the blue highlighted words "Acme Climate Control Product Line," and immediately they can view products in your on-line catalog. An organization might have several "pages," all linked to their main menu page or "home page." These pages typically include information about the company and its history, products or services, technical support information, and an order or feedback form. Potential customers can view as little or as much as interests them, and business owners can update prices and products at any time.
7. How do people find my business on the Internet? A dozen or so indexing systems are available on the Web called "search engines," known by strange names such as Yahoo, Lycos, HotBot, AltaVista, and Web Crawler. With the help of a Web page designer, you register your company's pages with these indexes. Then, when someone searches for key words such as "electronics," "air conditioning," or "thermostat" they find Acme Climate Control listed with similar firms. They "click" on your company's name and immediately begin to view your Web pages. You can also send an e-mail press release to services which track "what's new" on the Internet, and make people aware of your company's Web site by means of Internet mailing lists and news groups.
8. How do people pay for goods or services? Customers can order products directly typing their credit card number into an on-line form. However, they may be reluctant to do so unless the store owner offers what is known as a "SSL secure server" so that credit information can't be intercepted by hackers. In 1997, Web commerce will take a leap forward when consumers are offered the security of special encrypted IDs and credit card numbers. Of course, businesses can still offer to take orders via fax, phone, or what Internet users call "snail mail."
9. How does a business get started on the Internet? You can obtain access to the Internet through a local Internet Service Provider for about $20 per month. If you want to have your business Web pages "hosted" on the Internet, expect to pay another $30 or more per month. Also contact a professional Web page designer to help you prepare Web pages which will display your goods and services to the world. Expect to pay between $300 and $1500, depending on the complexity of your pages.
Thousands of new people are gaining access to the Internet each week, and businesses are constantly opening new Web sites to market products and services to them. For the right type of business, the Internet opens up a vast market at a price unheard of even a few years ago.
True eCommerce means a lot more than paying a bill over the Internet. It represents a new way of thinking about your business and how it interacts with customers and suppliers/partners as well as how it functions from within.
e-Commerce is a general concept covering any business transaction executed electronically between parties such as companies (business-to-business), companies and consumers (business-to-consumer), consumers and consumers, business and the public sector, and between consumers and the public sector. Electronic commerce comprises electronic trading of goods and services and falls into two categories:
Even though e-Commerce predates the Web for some time, it is the Web technology and its general access towards open network standards that today are the driving forces of e-Commerce and that have put it on the global agenda. Historically, before e-Commerce existed on the Internet, it was used mainly for business-to-business transactions in different forms of closed networks.
For the consumer, it is easy to appreciate the importance of e-Commerce. Why waste time fighting the very real crowds in supermarkets, when, from the comfort of home, one can shop on-line at any time in virtual internet shopping malls, and have the goods delivered home directly.
For business (and in particular for the SMEs) e-Commerce offers enormous opportunities, too. It allows to trade at a low cost world-wide and it offers enterprises the chance to enter a global market right from start-up.
Moreover, e-Commerce offers great opportunities for developing countries. It can help them to enter the prosperous global marketplace, and hence serve to reduce the gap between rich and poor countries.
However, the rapid development of e-Commerce presents great challenges to society. Even though e-Commerce will create new job opportunities, it could also result in a loss of employment in traditional job sectors: Many companies could fail to survive in the intense competitive environment of e-Commerce and could find themselves out of business before long. Therefore, it is vital that the opportunities and implications of e-Commerce are communicated world-wide.
It is generally accepted that e-Commerce is, and should continue to be, business-driven and it is vital that authorities limit their regulatory actions to only a necessary minimum in order to reduce the barriers to eCommerce, and to best encourage world trade. The barriers to e-Commerce are many and will be the subject of the next article.
1. If you are not on the Web, you are probably not in business--not in the year 2000 anyway, when there are now more than 1 Billion Web pages. Just a couple years ago, some established corporations snickered at the Web, dismissing it as a 90s edition of the CB radio or 8-track tapes, as just another fad that would surely pass. But it didnt--the Web kept growing, and now it looms as the biggest marketplace the world has ever seen.
2. Business Strategy in the Age of the E-Customer takes the focus off technology and puts it back where it belongs--on the customer. The Web gives customers what theyve always wanted: a chance to express themselves, to get honest answers to their questions, and to share their interests and passions with other customers. And it requires every company to behave differently--to let information flow freely, to participate in genuine conversations with customers, and to treat customers not as segments or categories or eyeballs, but as human beings.
3. The internet is not about incremental tactics; it is about entirely new strategies. Its not about keeping up with the Joness; its about thriving in a completely new world. about communications and relationships. Its not about transactions; it's about communications and relationships.
B. E-Commerce Changed Way We Do Business
1. In just a few years, the global connectivity of the Web has changed the way companies do business.
2. Internet Growing -- Doubling Every 18 Months
a. In the last two years alone, Intel has grown its own online commerce from zero to an average of $1 billion per month in orders transacted over the Web from customers in 46 countries--and has achieved the rank of number one in the world for overall e-Business revenue.
3. Majority of Internet Users Between 35-55 Years
a. The majority of Internet users are between the ages of 35-55 years old and have an average income of $63,000. 70% of them have a 4-year college education. A perfect target audience for accountants.
4. All Types of Businesses Jumping on Internet
a. All types of businesses are jumping on the Internet. 70,000 new web sites go online each week.
5. Internet Users Wish They Could Conduct More Business Over Web
a. 70% of internet users wish they could conduct more business over the Web.
6. E-commerce Fastest Growing Component on Web
a. E-commerce is the fastest growing component of the Web. It is estimated that 80% of all purchasing will be done on the Web by 2003.
A. Time Is Right To Market
1. Now is the time for you to get on the Web if you are not already on it, and take advantage of these business trends. The Internet is creating new ways to sell, to advertise and to communicate with clients.
2. If you dont have a web site, what excuse do you make when asked for your web site address--and you dont have one? Can you afford to appear behind the times to your clients, prospective clients, and colleagues? Or is it important to you to be perceived as successful, savvy, and in tune with the latest business trends?
B. Web Lucrative Playing Field -- Level Playing Field
1. The Web remains a lucrative playing field for newcomers, the little guys with little beyond a bright idea, lots of brains and an appetite for enormously competitive combat on a battlefield that--despite the potential riches go to the winners--claims many more losers than victors. Just ask the big corporations. Ones that get the Net remain scarce, while many continue to fumble, stumble and look plain foolish as they fail to mount effective Internet strategies. But their failures are good news for you, because the message is that on the Net, the playing field is level--and you could come out a winner if you play smart, stay smart and keep your eyes on the continuing evolution of this medium into the global marketplace.
A. Why E-Commerce Is Taking Over
1. Business leaders need to stop thinking about the Internet as a bunch of computers connected together. The Internet is millions of people connected together. We are in the midst of a customer-led revolution. Your customers are determined to find one another. Your only option is to encourage them to do so.
2. These days, just about everyone is becoming an e-customer. E-customers arent loyal to a brand, or to a product category, or to a supply chain. They are loyal to other customers and to company employees with whom theyve established relationships. The role of a Web site is to serve as a magnet for customers. And you cant create a magnet without the pull of open, honest conversation among customers.
3. I cant name a single company that wouldnt claim that its customers always come first--no matter what. But the reality is that most companies have an allegiance not to customers but to existing products and services.
4. Over the next five years, every company will have to answer two questions.
a. Who Are the Most Important Customers?
(1) Customers today are incredibly demanding. Theres no way that any company can serve more than five target groups well. So the best companies will be very particular about whom they want their customers to be. The customer is always right, but not all customers are always right for you.
(2) Which type of clients do you want? (Adapt this story to the accounting business.) The reason why so many companies are willing to do business with so many kinds of customers has nothing to do with wanting to provide good service. It has a lot more to do with locking up their physical distribution channels. Have you been to a big sporting goods store lately? There must be hundreds of models of Nike sneakers on the shelves. Why? Because Nike wants to dominate the shelves at such retailers.
(3) The logic is simple: By generating more products, a company can occupy more shelf space, thereby denying that space to its competitors. As the big physical retailers get even bigger, companies like Nike need to make even more products in order to maintain their power position. Its a business strategy thats completely distribution-driven, rather than customer-driven. Because the Web breaks the distribution bottleneck--it has unlimited shelf space, after all--it forces companies to think harder about what they can do to serve their customers better, rather than what they can do to dominate a particular distribution channel.
(4) You cant just automate your old-world sales process: You have to differentiate your customers, their needs, and their experience levels. Every customer group includes beginners who need support, intermediates who like to help one another, and experts who want your site to function their way.
(5) In the Internet Age, the most important thing you can make--and the most valuable--is a long-term, one-to-one customer relationship.
(6) Not only are the Internet and its related technologies elevating the benefits of cultivating a customer relationship, they are also making it extremely difficult to do business without such relationships. In the Internet Age, the customer is only a few clicks away from better pricing, on any product or service offered by any company.
2. How Do We Put Those Customers In Charge Of Our Company?
a. Once you figure out who your best customers are, those customers can lead your company in new directions--if you let them. But that will require you to rethink the very nature of your organization. You have to give your employees, and your customers a set of tools for working together, and then get out of the way. Thats the corporate culture of the future.
b. If you really care about customers, if you really want to put them in charge, then you have to reorganize your entire company around customers.
c. Perhaps the biggest difference between how we do business today and how well do business tomorrow is that in the future well all have to be better listeners. And that means that people will have to change the way that they define their jobs, their responsibilities, and whats important to them.
d. In a customer-led company, people should work themselves out of a job every 18 months. If youre doing what customers want you to do, theres no way that youll be working the same way 18 months from now. By then, customers will be on to the next thing, and youll need to be there with them. In a customer-led company, rank-and-file employees have more freedom than ever before. Theyre not just executing someone elses 10-month-old vision; theyre bringing customers into every process and every planning session. Theyre constantly trying out new ideas on their chosen customer group--starting fires and adding fuel to the ones that seem to be catching on. Any customer-led team that sees results will become that much more attached to its customers--and will be that much smarter the next time around.
e. Once you know who your customers are, you want to help them in every way that you can. That puts you in the business not of selling products but of solving problems.
B. Decision to Have Web Site
1. Fear Is Biggest Obstacle
a. Fear is the biggest obstacle--specifically, the fear of moving from an organization thats built around products, services, brands, and important executives to one thats built around customers. That is the critical transformation that business leaders must go through, and it is a transformation that most leaders are afraid to undergo.
2. Learning to Tell the Truth
a. The second biggest barrier is learning to tell the truth. Thanks to the Web, we now live in a truth economy. People are talking to one another all the time. Theyre telling one another the truth about whether a certain hotel in Bangkok is as good as its ads say it is, whether the food on one cruise line is as good as the food on a different line. In a world where customers are telling one another the truth, the old PR practice of spin and damage control are going to back-fire big time. Telling the truth is now the best defense for every situation, even when it feels uncomfortable to do so.
b. Today every customer that a company has is part salesperson and part watchdog for that company. Given that reality, you as a business leader needs to be hearing from dissatisfied customers before anyone else does. Either you work with them to make your company better, or they work together to tear your company down.
C. Competition on the Web
1. Now that you have decided that you need a Web site, you need a place to put it. You need something to put on it. You need people to look at it.
2. So what do you need to compete on the Net? Today we will give you a tool kit that covers the A-to-Z of mounting an effective business Web site. Everything is included--from building a site to managing it, marketing it and keeping it buffed, polished and compelling. We will give you plenty of tips, pointers and good ideas for launching a site, winning the battle for eyeballs and getting your very own cyber cash register to ring, ring, ring.
IV. What is the Best Way?
A. Making an E-Commerce Site --What Are the Best Web Pages
1. Make It Exciting & Challenging Experience
a. Setting up an online business can be one of the most exciting and challenging experiences todays entrepreneurs will ever have. While it might seem as though youre entering a brave new world, setting up an e-business is very much like starting a traditional business venture--meaning its important to plan before taking the plunge.
2. Plan a Specific Budget
a. When starting out, plan a specific budget. Knowing ahead of time how much money you have to work with will dictate both design and Web hosting choices. It will also narrow your options among an over-whelming number of possibilities.
b. Web experts say there are three pricing categories that define most Web sites; less than $10,000; between $10,000 and $30,000; and $30,000 plus. There are high-end and low-end choices within each category, but this categorization is the first step toward sharpening your focus.
c. If your company falls in the $10,000 or less category--and sells a small volume of products--you can outsource the whole project to an Internet Service Provider (ISP), which will not only provide Internet access, but also host the Web site on a high-speed computer.
d. Many ISPs will help you create a simple yet functional Web site with pre-defined templates that may include shopping-cart and catalog features. ISPs also usually offer domain-name registration, security, transaction processing, payment processing and report generation.
e. Because these service providers base their fees on the size of the site (in terms of the total computer memory it requires and its number of visitors), they can maintain a small Web site for less than $100 per month, setup fees not included.
3. Make Effective Web Pages?
a. Site Structure
(1) Your web site may be a customers first glimpse of your company--and you have to make a good first impression. Business is about capturing someones attention.
(2) Determine how you want to be perceived. Do you want to come across as hip? Are you targeting an upscale, a technical or a fashion-conscious market?
(3) Telling people to order your products doesnt work. You must welcome them and make them feel at home in your site.
(1) An entry to your site tells people where they are without serving your whole smorgasbord of delights at once. More and more sites have front doors for just that purpose. A front door, also known as a splash screen, loads quickly and tells people whats going on inside. A good front door should be hard to walk away from, yet it should tell people what theyre getting into.
(2) Above, all, splash screens should load quickly. Your first screens should load quickly. Your first screen should take no more than 15 seconds to load at prevailing modem speeds--faster if possible. Present your visitors with a tedious download, and theyll be at Yahoo! before your access counter can tell you what happened.
c. Fish Food
(1) Baiting the hook means giving something away. With the commercialization of the Web, fish food can be found on many sites. Whether its Quick Time videos, screen savers, or a joke of the day, sites often reward surfers for coming back..
(2) As people wander by your site, hold out a basket of goodies to tempt them. Gossip, news, sports scores, weather information, stock quotes, promotional sales, package-tracking services, pictures of Marilyn Monroe, free software, recipes, and sound files routinely lure potential audience members to third-generation sites.
(3) This is what I call fish food. If you want to attract investors, put up either current stock prices or some lively, timely investment advice. If youre looking for dog, owners, put up The anatomy of the flea, or have a Name That Breed quiz. You want a gimmick that reaches out to the people you hope will form your community.
(4) The technical term for fish food on the Web is free stuff. Give new visitors free stuff and a percentage of them will wander into your site. Use your imagination. Think of something your crowd would like to hear about, tell each other about, and go see. When people send your URL to their friends, you know youre serving something they want. Not surprisingly, the more you give, the more people want, so be prepared to keep giving.
(5) As any advertiser knows, there are no rules for getting peoples attention. Use any means at your disposal, even Java. Put up games, stunts, live video feeds, soap operas, a club for lefthanders--anything that generates a buzz. Vandalize your own site, challenge another site to a contest, ask people to vote on something. Things like this work better than filling out forms and asking the search engines to list your site because of its great content.
d. Core Page
(1) The ultimate goal of many web sites is to create a community. A good site pays off when people return again and again to purchase or participate. Core pages make this process enjoyable.
(2) In contrast to the second-generation concept of a home page, third-generation sites can have either one or several core pages to organize and present the contents. Some third-generation sites have no core page at all. Core pages direct and guide the visitor by providing links to the various neighborhood pages. Core pages hold content while continuing to entice the visitor through the site.
(3) Dont be afraid to guide your audience. Give them choices, but also make suggestions. Give them lots of intra-site links and few external links. Put something interesting on every page.
(4) Traditional home pages easily degenerate into an endless vertical list of links. Core pages use content to lure and tantalize. Use details of images and excerpts of text to guide your visitor. Otherwise, your work remains buried behind flat, uninformative links.
(5) Take the example of a mail-order site, where the goal is to get your user to call an 800 number or fill out an order form. A direct link to that order form or the 800 number itself should be available on almost every page. Most people wont click the first time they see it, but clicks are a function of exposure. Put the links to these final action pages everywhere, and your audience will get there when they are ready.
(6) As accountants our goal is to have a client fill out an order form for us to do their taxes, financial planning, and bookkeeping.
(1) Color is an extraordinary attention grabber and has a great influence on us. To a large degree, color influences us both on a conscious and subconscious level. It influences our choice of foods, the clothes and cars we buy, even the amount of time we spend in fast-food restaurants. Color can excite us, calm us, grab our attention and influence how we act and feel.
(2) Adding color to your documents makes them more appealing, too. Your choice of colors and typefaces should, of course, be compatible with the message you are sending. Keeping in mind your companys logo color (if you use it) will help you select a compatible color.
(3) Your color choice depends on your service. They should also fit your personality. Web design should incorporate bright bold colors. Bright colors create a sense of excitement and playfulness. Conservative service providers like accounting firms should stick with subtle tones like deep greens, olives and burgundies. You can never go wrong with blue. Blue is most often selected as a favorite color. Its very easy on the eye. A light, cool blue creates a tranquil and ethereal mood. A darker blue projects an image of seriousness and organization. Navy blue is good because its a very trustworthy color. Subtle colors from the same family, such as two different shades of blue, create a more sophisticated and elegant look.
(1) Using Photographs--especially color photographs--is a great and professional way to get your message across and showcase you products or services. It gives a message of professionalism.
(1) The less information you cluster together, the more direct and powerful your message will be. In most cases, a minimum number of images, typefaces and colors used together works best.
(1) Too many objects crammed onto a page can make it look top or bottom heavy. Look at your work from a distance to see if your design is pleasantly balanced.
(1) Paradoxically, a well-marked exit entices visitors to stay. Showing visitors the door to an exit page or tunnel informs them that this is the way out of the site. If they come to an area that doesnt hold their interest, they shouldnt just type www.cirquedusoleil.com and surf on. They should visit any areas that might be interesting before taking the exit.
(2) Announcing the exit builds a sense of expectation, like announcing the names of the guests on the talk show at the beginning. Its worth your time to make an interesting exit. Cap their visit with a bang, but dont overadvertise it. Links to your exit should be subtle, without encouraging people to leave before seeing the rest of the show.
(3) The exit page is a good place to ask for something from your visitors. You might want to have them fill out a form, call your 800 number, make a purchase, sign your mailing list, give feedback, or take some other action. They are willing to work with you at this point, because youve rewarded their expectations.
(4) The big finish may be as simple as a list of related sites on the Web, or it may be as lucrative as a chance to enter a drawing for prizes.
j. Change Is Good
(1) You have a site. You want bookmarks. People dont need to bookmark the entrance to your site--they can probably remember that. But if you have a compelling core page, they just might bookmark it. The free stuff gets them there, but they come back regularly to the core of the site to see whats new.
(2) If your site changes every month, it might as well be static. If it changes weekly, people might bookmark the pages with interesting things going on. If it changes daily, you could be in for some big numbers on your access counters. Make sure to provide links from your active pages to more static areas, especially if you are trying to drive visitors to a particular page.
(3) How many sites have Whats New! on the front page? We dont need to know how to get to whats new. If its new, and its important, it should be in our faces. Put some content on your core page--dont bury it under a Whats New! link.
4. Choosing an ISP
a. When choosing an ISP, its vital you ask the right questions. [Youve got to find out] what its track record is for downtime, if it has a backup system in place and how it works, and if its filled to capacity, says Bernadette Tiernan, a consultant and author of E-Tailing (Dearborn Financial Publishing).
b. If the site requires custom services that arent found in simple templates, it may be necessary to enlist the e-commerce services of a Web hosting company. Basic services, which include what ISPs offer and higher levels of customized solutions, usually cost between $200 and $500 per month. A hosting company may also offer value-added design services to set up the site.
c. Do-it yourselfers have even more options, varying in technical complexity and the amount of time required, when it comes to designing a site. One possibility is to use e-commerce service provided by Internet portals like Yahoo! (www.store.yahoo.com), or e-commerce service companies like Intels iCat (www.icat.com). Both companies offer solutions for building a small online storefront. For a monthly price of between $100 and $300, they offer Web hosting; a secure server for credit-card transactions; data bases for fulfilling orders and tracking customers; advertising placement; and search engine registration.
5. Security Issues
a. You can beat credit-card fraud by using a merchant provider that performs address verifications, checking each customers information against what a credit-card processor has on file. The most important security mechanism is a secure Web server. A secure server offers encryption--the conversion of data into unreadable code--which allows customers to enter credit card data safely. Be sure to tell users that your site is a secure one, and explain that all customer info is encrypted.
B. How to Make the Internet Effective in Your Clients Business
1. Customer Service
a. Customer service includes a wide variety of functions, from tracking packages and answering questions to processing returns. As accountants, we can track the progress of a clients income tax return and answer questions. Letting a client know the status of their income tax return is at all times is critical in terms of establishing a relationship with them.
b. A quick note to let the client know that the tax return is on its way alleviates potential concern about delivery. The customer can now anticipate when the package will arrive. Once the package has been delivered send another quick e-mail to the client. That way it is easy for the client to contact you in the event the package arrived damaged or they have questions about their tax. It also gives you the opportunity to ask if the item arrived safely and answer any additional questions.
c. You can never go too far in providing customer service. You have to get into the mindset of your customers. You have to ask them questions, listen to them and follow up with them. You can never do enough.
2. Tracking Visitors
a. You cant effectively maintain your site without tracking visitors. Once you know specific areas of the site most viewed by visitors and which search engines they are using to reach your site, you can modify your sites focus.
b. A common way to learn about your visitors is through log-analysis software. This software examines your servers log files, which include everything that people surfing your site do--such as clicking on a link or loading a graphic--and creates colorful charts and graphs summing up whats been happening on your site.
c. The software can let you know how often your pages are visited, as well as some basic information on your users, like which countries they are from or what kind of computers they use. It may analyze traffic patterns and long-term trends in Web site popularity. You can also determine the total page views (the number of pages accessed by each individual visitor) and unique page views, as well as the number of times a visitor has logged on to the site each week. It has the ability to tell whether you are getting a lot of hits from search engines or whether you are getting links from random pages out there.
d. Then you can change your site or your advertising strategy accordingly. Some believe success and failure could be determined by the companies that best monitor the online activities of their customers.
3. Legal Eagles
a. Covering your legal bases is one of the most important things to do for your e-business. If you dont pay enough attention to all the various legal aspects of your Web business, you could end up finding yourself engaged in litigation or even losing your most valuable assets, such as your logo, brand or even the site itself.
b. Doing business on the Web is fundamentally different from setting up shop in the real world, in that on the Web, all the assets you purchase, create, own and operate to generate business and revenue consist of intellectual property rights--such as copyrights, trademarks, patents and trade secrets. As a result, you will have to align yourself with a reputable lawyer, preferably one that understands intellectual property rights and the Internet.
c. Use your contacts to find one that is right for you, or try www.findlaw.com, a Web site that offers names of law firms organized by region that specialize in specific issues. You can also retrieve a large amount of legal information on the site.
C. Marketing On a Site -- Types of E-Commerce
1. Think Big -- Even International If You Want
a. Building Community
(1) Why settle for a dinky site with nothing but a shopping cart and a logo? Feed your site, Grow it big. Grow it strong. Even grow it international if you want. Its a big World Wide Web out there; take advantage of the whole thing.
(2) The Net originally evolved from virtual communities, where surfers posted comments and responded to each others messages on bulletin boards and mailing lists in cyberspace. Building a sense of community has become one of the most popular ways for businesses to increase Web traffic to their e-commerce sites.
(3) In order to get something, you have to give something. The owner of one company moderates his own newsletter distributed via an Internet mailing list. In the early days, sales were disappointing. But now he sees a flurry of orders after each newsletter goes out. He spends around $50 to mail to 45,000 people, so you can see these mailings certainly make more than they cost him.
b. Members Only
(1) While general admittance virtual communities like we just talked about work well for some businesses trying to promote their e-commerce sites, others have decided to take the concept to the next level. Many companies are now creating members only domains on their Web sites, where they can attempt to win the loyalty of a select audience by offering to provide special restricted access to premium tools and services.
c. Interactive Tools -- Killer Web Site
(1) We do not make web sites the way our parents did. The typical welcome-to-my-home-page, menu driven, icon-encrusted model is fast being replaced by a model some people call third-generation site architecture. Though third-generation sites rely heavily on todays browser technology, the difference is not technology per se--the difference is design.
(2) First generation sites were linear. They were bare-bones functional, so scientists around the world could share their findings.
(3) Second-generation sites are basically first-generation sites with icons replacing words, tiled images replacing the gray background, buttons with beveled edges, and banners replacing headlines. They use a top-down, bullet-list, menu-driven model to present a hierarchy of information.
(4) What is a third-generation web site? A third-generation site combines typographic and visual layout principles with creative design solutions to provide a complete experience to the visitor. Third-generation sites use metaphor and visual theme to entice and guide. They strive to make a site feel familiar and easy to navigate, with quality content and high production values. Third-generation site designers carefully specify the position and relationships of all elements on the page, retaining fine control of the layout.
(5) A third-generation site is wrought by design, not technological competence. Third-generation sites give visitors a complete experience, from entry to exit. The cleverness of third-generation designers is not technical but visual. Design is the difference. Creative people have made third-generation sites with all generations of graphical browsers.
(6) Third-generation sites pull visitors through using metaphor and well-known models of consumer psychology. Just as retailers spend a lot of time tuning their environments to the customers passing by, third-generation site designers spend hours and days making their pages enticing to the audience they seek. Rather than providing a list of out-and-back trips from the home page, third-generation sites are a complete experience--the more you explore, the more the entire picture of the site comes together. Third-generation design turns a site from a menu into a meal.
(7) Although more than a few e-commerce sites have invested heavily in graphic design, fewer have used the truly killer application of the medium: interactivity. Having a pretty Web site is one thing. Designing an interactive Web environment that will make it simple for customers to do business with you over the Internet is quite another.
(8) Multimedia applications have transformed the Web from a publishing medium to an interactive medium. The word interactive has come to represent the most dramatic demonstrations of user control.
(9) Fortunately, one of the inspiring things about the Web is that innovative twists offering slicker and slicker e-commerce interactivity are emerging all the time. Ultimately, every e-commerce site worth its salt will create its own spin on interactivity to get the most from the technology. But as with most things, there will always be certain sites that will push the technology just a bit further and be just a tad more innovative than the rest.
2. Traffic Building
a. If you build it, they will come is not the case on the Web. How can you make your site one that surfers will rush to? Traditional marketing campaigns dont necessarily produce results for Web sites. Generally, television advertising for dotcoms, though expensive, has been very ineffective. Offline advertising hasnt worked like the dotcoms had hoped. They are ignoring the cardinal rule of marketing: Put your dollars where your customers will be. Doesnt that seem reasonable? The critical test is: Will my potential customers (not just the Web surfers in general) see the material?
b. Online advertising still offers some of the best opportunities to build traffic. For the small businesses, winning visitors becomes a matter of creative, persistent marketing.
c. For starters, dont neglect these low-cost traffic builders: Always put your URL on letterhead, business cards and in e-mail signatures--wherever potential visitors are likely to see it. Promote yourself.
d. Search Engines
(1) If your site is not listed on the major search engines, Web surfers wont be able to find it. But the problem is, with one billion pages on the Web, how do you win a high ranking in search engine results? Despite difficulties, nobody can afford to ignore the search engines; they are essential to a marketing plan.
(2) So how can you get the most out of search engines? For starters, most offer easy registration of new sites--just look for an Add URL or Add Site button, then follow the directions (ordinarily no more complex than typing in the address and hitting send). Focus on a handful of high-traffic engines such as Alta Vista, Excite, Google, InfoSeek, Lycos, Snap and WebCrawler. Get your site on those, and youll reach most surfers.
(3) Heres another secret: Pro Webmasters cleverly use meta-tags--something search engines read but surfers dont see. Use this tool wisely, and you can easily find your site climbing high in the ratings. When constructing any Web page, just insert simple meta-tags high on the page. Heres an example (for hypothetical computer discount site): <META name = description content=Discount prices on name-brand computers.> <META name=keywords content=discount, computers, computers for sale.>
(4) Yahoo and LookSmart arent search engines as such but directories compiled by human editors. Both are important in any marketing strategy, so by all means, submit your site to them. Good relevant content and good design are the secrets with the human edited directories. Build a good site and you will get better rankings.
b. Swapping Links
(1) Way back in the Webs infancy, the first tool that sites began using to build traffic was simple: They swapped links. Microsofts Link Exchange builds on that concept, but the downside is, you have no precise control over which banners run on your site.
(2) An easy way to get back that control is to create your own informal link exchange the old-fashioned way by asking sites complementary to yours (but that dont compete) to put your link on their pages and youll do likewise. It may be passe, but its still powerful.
(3) As you surf the Web, note which sites you like and that attract visitors who might be interested in your site, too. Keep links appropriate and--guess what?--youve created your own mini- yahoo!
c. Banner Exchanges
(1) Youre crazy to turn down free advertising for your Web site. Thats just what banner exchanges offer and, for the most part, the deal simply requires you to put a third-party banner on your site. With every two exposures, your banner shows on another site. The cost to you is nothing, other than the minute it takes to paste the banner exchanges code into your site. These programs can easily benefit a small business.
(2) Good banners are billboards on the internet. They are short, with just a few words, and offer a clear message. And youll increase your results if two of those words are Click Here.
(1) Want to generate cash from your Web site, right now? Even sites that arent e-commerce-enabled (meaning they dont sell anything) can put money in your pocket through the many affiliate programs that are now found on the Web. All you have to do is put their banner up on your site. For every click-through that results in a sale, you earn a commission, anywhere from 1 to 30 percent.
(2) Small Web sites want to monetize all their page views, and affiliate programs let you make money just like a big Web site would. Unfortunately, affiliate programs rarely generate big bucks for the owners of small Web sites. The companies usually pay between 5-15% commissions, and some companies do not pay commissions until they reach $100. Do the math. That does not mean affiliate programs are bad news.
(3) For some small Web sites, they genuinely produce cash, but before signing up, take out a calculator and do some realistic forecasting. When you are ready to move forward with affiliate links, rarely should there be more than a single affiliated link on any given page. And always explain why you are endorsing this particular merchant and their merchandise.
(4) Perhaps an affiliate link with QuickBooks Pro 2000 would work for accountants.
e. Stick-it-to Me
(1) Sticky--thats what every Web site builder wants his site to be, and its shorthand for a site that holds the attention of visitors. If a visitor clicks in one second and then clicks out the next, you wont build a relationship, sell products or capture a space in that visitors mind. But when a visitor spends 10 minutes or even longer, thats a platform for doing business.
(2) It is possible to build a sticky site. Good content and easy navigation will keep them coming back. A site needs to be easy to use and have fast response times. Another tip for creating a sticky site is to give something away. People love freebies. You can give away information. People are starved for information, and if you offer it, theyll stay.
f. Effective E-Mail
(1) Good old e-mail may be the surest and cheapest tool for building traffic. E-mail still gets results. Nobody reads unwanted and unsolicited spam, but a well-constructed 3-mail message is informative and personal, and people look forward to getting and reading it.
(2) A big key to making e-mail work for your business is to use opt-in sign-ups where Web visitors are asked if they want to receive e-mail from you. To get the sign-ups, offer a free newsletter. The key is really good information.
(3) The most effective newsletters mix news about trends in your field with tips, as well as notices about sales. Keep it short, about 600 words is probably the maximum length. Also include hyperlinks so interested readers can go directly to your site.
(4) You should mail enough to build a relationship, but not enough to become a pest. Monthly works for most mailing lists.
D. Keeping Site Buffed, Polished & Compelling
1. Turbo-charge Your Site
a. Any business with a Web site realizes it is not enough to simply plant a flag and hope for the best. It takes real effort to get people to drop what they are doing and take a look at what you have to offer.
b. There are a number of tried-and-true Web site promotion models you can use today to start stepping up traffic to your site. Some build customer bases by finding ways to create an online sense of community. Others create exclusive members-only tools and domains, creating the impression that they consider their customers special.
c. Other businesses have focused their attentions on leveraging Web interactivity ensuring that the journey through their sites from the thought to actual Web purchase is a short and pleasant one for the customer.
d. Every person in every company should spend at least 10 minutes a day answering customer email. Senior executives should spend more time doing that. You need to keep a finger on the pulse of your customers. Most executives have a hard time admitting that they dont know what their customers really want. Some of them even think that they create demand for their products! Responding to email is one of the best ways to listen and learn. Let your customers start the conversation.
e. You should also encourage your people to embrace the Web in the same way that 13-year olds embrace--as if it were no big deal. Thirteen-year-olds use the Web for the same reason that they use any reference tool: to find what theyre looking for and to enjoy the process. If they have questions, they get answers. But they also meet people. They collaborate. They communicate. All employees in a company should surf the Web for at least 20 minutes every day. They should look for new Web sites, discover new tools, assemble their own links, and share those links with their colleagues. That way, everybody is a scout. Everybody is a spy.
f. Dont treat the Web as this superserious, supersober, mission-critical technology that gets controlled by a small group called the Web team. Treat the Web as an everyday tool thats useful, fun and a great way to connect people. If it takes seven days to make a change to your Web site, then youre in trouble. How about putting a staff telephone directory on your site? How many companies do that? So many companies use the Web to put their product catalogs land marketing collateral on their customers desktops. Instead, they should be putting their employees on their customers desktops.
V. Conclusion -- Summary
A. In the first generation of e-Business, companies established a static presence on the Web, publishing HTML-based Web sites that served simply to promote products and services, and to entice investors.
B. In second-generation Internet business, Web-based customer interfaces are linked with order-management, fulfillment and inventory-control systems.
C. Third-Generation Internet Business extends the benefits of automation, integration and intelligence to the customer. Offering far more than just pricing and order information, Third Generation Internet Business companies deliver information in the context of rich interactive services that meet virtually any customer need. Enterprise and customer systems of all types interact programmatically, allowing enterprises to conduct business more effectively and economically than ever before. Sophisticated business rules can be automated to control high-level activities and cycles--from inventory and purchasing to order fulfillment and customer support. It frees each individual user from mundane chores and confers a new degree of control over business and personal life. Third Generation Internet Business allows people to establish the processes and make the decisions, but have their machines do all the busywork. It establishes a customer-centered environment--where anyone or any organization can be thought of as a customer.
D. One thing is certain: No one should underestimate the impact that Third-Generation solutions will have on business and the world economy. The dynamic interactions that these solutions create will revolutionize business practices and expectations. Within five years, customers will select vendors not just for price, service or quality, but for the ability of vendors to make their own companies more competitive.
E. In the Internet Age, the customer is only a few clicks away from better pricing, on any product or service offered by any company. The most important thing you can make--and the most valuable--is a long-term, one-to-one customer relationship.
F. The bottom line is that your employees must be passionate about coming to work every day, and your customers must be passionate about interacting with your company. But theres no way to force passion. The job of a leader is to create the kind of environment in which passion flourishes on its own--a customer-led environment that helps to keep the fires burning.