In the emerging global economy, e-business have increasingly become a necessary component of business strategy and a strong catalyst for economic development. The integration of information and communications technology (ICT) in business has revolutionized relationships within organizations and those between and among organizations and individuals. Specifically, the use of ICT in business has enhanced productivity, encouraged greater customer participation, and enabled mass customization, besides reducing costs.
With developments in the Internet and Web-based technologies, distinctions be- tween traditional markets and the global electronic marketplace such as business capital size, among others-are gradually being narrowed down. The name of the game is strategic positioning, the ability of a company to determine emerging op- portunities and utilize the necessary human capital skills (such as intellectual re- sources) to make the most of these opportunities through an e-business strategy that is simple, workable and practicable within the context of global information and new economic environment. With its effect of leveling the playing field, e-commerce coupled with the appropriate strategy and policy approach enables Small and medium scale enterprises to compete with large and capital-rich businesses.
On another plane, developing countries are given increased access to the global Marketplace, where they compete with and complement the more developed economies. Most, if not all, developing countries are already participating in e-commerce, either as sellers or buyers. However, to facilitate e-commerce growth in these countries, the relatively underdeveloped information infrastructure must be improved.
In the 50’s and early 60’s, prior to the widespread inter-networking that led to the Internet, most communication networks were limited by their nature to only allow communications between the stations on the network. Some networks had gateways or bridges between them, but these bridges were often limited or built specifically for a single use. One prevalent computer networking method was based on the central mainframe method, simply allowing its terminals to be connected via long leased lines. This method was used in the 1950s by Project RAND to support researchers such as Herbert Simon, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when collaborating across the continent with researchers in Santa Monica, California, on automated theorem proving and artificial intelligence. The Internet system was developed and ready in the Late 1980s, but The Cold War held up the progress. When it ended in 1992, the internet slowly became main stream. By the end of the decade, millions were using it for business, education and pleasure.
The Internet was designed in part to provide a communications network that would work even if some of the sites were destroyed by nuclear attack. If the most direct route was not available, routers would direct traffic around the network via alternate routes.
The early Internet was used by computer experts, engineers, scientists, and librarians. There was nothing friendly about it. There were no home or office personal computers in those days, and anyone who used it, whether a computer professional or an engineer or scientist or librarian, had to learn to use a very complex system.
The Internet is the lowest cost system ever developed to communicate with a potential audience of hundreds of millions of people all over the world. Even locally, the cost of a simple Web site is usually less than the cost of a modest ad in a business telephone directory. A Web site can also give more information than a telephone directory ad, including color photos, detailed descriptions of products and services, and price information that can be changed at any moment, for any reason, instead of waiting for a printed directory’s next publication cycle.
As a news medium, the Internet is faster and more flexible than a newspaper or magazine. A story can be added to a Web site instantly at any time of the day or night. There are no deadlines (except self-imposed ones) for Internet news. The “printing press” is always on, you might say. Even television news, aside from a few 24-hour news channels, must usually wait for scheduled news broadcast times instead of breaking into entertainment programming whenever a new story comes along. Television is also constrained by its necessarily linear information delivery format. It must tell a story, then another story, then take a break for advertising, then tell another story, and so on, in sequence. A viewer cannot choose to view only a few stories that he or she finds interesting, which may occupy only five minutes out of a 30-minute newscast. On the Internet, a reader is free not only to choose to view just those stories in which he or she is most interested, but also gets to choose the order in which he or she sees them. If sports scores are the highest item on today’s agenda, click and there’s the sports section, as easy as turning a newspaper page. Another click and there’s the score from the game that just ended, possibly with video highlights only one more click away.
Corrections, changes, and updates to a story published on the Internet can be made as fast as they come in without waiting for a printing press to roll. Breaking news alerts can be sent instantly by email to subscribers who request this service, and a reader can instantly communicate with an online publication’s editors via email or, if the publication has this facility, post his or her comments on a “message board” for other readers to see right away, without waiting for a fax or mail to get through and an editor to look the message over and perhaps include it in the “letters to the editor” section several days after the original story ran.
An online publication can also offer an advertiser something that is not available in any other medium: ads that link directly, with one click, to a Web page full of compelling reasons to buy the advertised product or service. Even if only a fraction of one percent of all people who see a Web ad click on it, that is still an infinitely higher percentage than can click on a magazine ad or TV spot for additional information—or even to buy a product directly from the advertiser right now. Even if few readers click on an individual online ad and buy right now, a Web ad still has the same branding and general “get the name out” effect as advertising in other media. If the cost of an online ad is similar to the cost of one in another medium, it represents a better value because of the ability it gives an advertiser to give an interested person an entire Web site full of information right away, only one click removed from the online publication in which that ad is running.
But the most direct way to make money online, no matter how a merchant gets traffic to his or her Web site, is to sell over the Internet. E-commerce has had its ups and downs, but the overall trend is upward, and it is likely to stay that way for many years to come. Putting up a “catalog” Web site is far less expensive than printing and mailing paper catalogs, and the Web site can have “instant” ordering and credit card acceptance built right into it, whereas a paper catalog can generate only phone orders that require a horde of (expensive) live operators to process or mail-in order forms that a customer must fill outAn
E-business (electronic business), derived from such terms as “e-mail” and “e-commerce,” is the conduct of business on the Internet, not only buying and selling but also servicing customers and collaborating with business partners. One of the first to use the term was IBM, when, in October, 1997, it launched a thematic campaign built around the term. Today, major corporations are rethinking their businesses in terms of the Internet and its new culture and capabilities. Companies are using the Web to buy parts and supplies from other companies, to collaborate on sales promotions, and to do joint research. Exploiting the convenience, availability, and world-wide reach of the Internet, many companies, such as Amazon.com, the book sellers, have already discovered how to use the Internet successfully.
E-business is more than just having a web presence to facilitate buying and selling. Frank Jones, VP of IBM Corporation, provides this definition: “E-business is exploiting the combined power of the internet and information technology to fundamentally transform key business strategies and processes”.
The most common implementation of E-business is as an additional, or in some cases primary, storefront. By selling products and services online, an e-business is able to reach a much wider consumer base than any traditional brick-and-mortar store could ever hope for. This function of E-business is referred to as ecommerce, and the terms are occasionally used interchangeably.
An E-Business may also use the Internet to acquire wholesale products or supplies for in-house production. This facet of E-Business is sometimes referred to as eprocurement, and may offer businesses the opportunity to cut their costs dramatically. Even many E-Businesses which operate without an electronic storefront now use eprocurement as a way to better track and manage their purchasing. revenue from 5% in 2000 to 10% in 2007 . Asia-Pacific e-commerce revenues are projected to increase from $76.8 billion atIn addition to buying and selling products, e-business may also handle other traditional business aspects. The use of electronic chat as a form of technical and customer support is an excellent example of this. An e-business which uses chat to supplement its traditional phone support finds a system which saves incredible amounts of time while providing opportunities unavailable through traditional support. By using virtual computer systems, for example, technical support operators can remotely access a customer’s computer and assist them in correcting a problem. And with the download of a small program, all pertinent information about the hardware and software specifications for a user’s computer may be relayed to the support operator directly, without having to walk a customer through personally collecting the data. In the past few years, virtually all businesses have become, to some degree or another, an e-business. The pervasiveness of Internet technology, readily available solutions, and the repeatedly demonstrated benefits of electronic technology have made e-business the obvious path. This trend continues with new technologies, such as Internet-enabled cell phones and PDAs, and the trend of e-business saturation will most likely continue for some time.
International Data Corp (IDC) estimates the value of global e-commerce in 2000 at US$350.38 billion. This is projected to climb to as high as US$3.14 trillion by 2007. IDC also predicts an increase in Asia’s percentage share in worldwide e-commerce year-end of 2001 to $338.5 billion by the end of 2004. Asia-Pacific e-commerce revenues are projected to increase from $76.8 billion at year-end of 2001 to $338.5 billion by the end of 2004.
The goal is to digitize transactions, which are simply defined as exchanges of information. The number of opportunities is limited only by your creativity, cost, and good business sense. The best advice is to determine the best opportunities for payback and address them first. Make sure the benefit will pay back or exceed the cost. The following is a summarized list of functions and activities where e-business applications are becoming embedded into the typical business model. Visualize, if you can, a business where each of these business activities is completely integrated with the others, to form a completely integrated e-business.
Consumer attitudes of those who shop and purchase online are significantly different from the habits and preferences of consumers who visit stores. Their purchase decisions are driven and based on a different set of factors tied to the characteristics of the e-space environment. For an e-commerce business to survive, it is absolutely necessary to establish and maintain an intimate understanding of the customers, their behavior, and the factors that drive purchase decisions. In the current e-commerce environment, online consumers are highly sensitive to the following characteristics:
Become a freelancer – Do you have any specific skill? Sell it. Go to elance.com to find the job opportunities posted there. Start information website – Do you have a passion to research any niche topic? Gather it, process it, rewrite it and start a new informational website on the researched topic. Participate in affiliate marketing (sell others product) – Why don’t you sell manufacturer’s or marketer’s product? To be precise, sell other’s product. Sell an ad space – If you have a website or blog sell an ad space from it. If you don’t have, try having one exclusively made for selling ad space.
Sell your own old stuffs through EBay – Start selling your product or your neighbor’s or friend’s product through EBay. Create a Niche blog – Do you Blog for Fun? No don’t blog it. Blog to generate income out of it, get hired by companies to write blog for them. or create your own niche blog (this might over lap with any one of the above strategy). Sell your services – If you have a talent in any particular domain, and then sell it as a service. Be an Online service provider. Example: Online Brokers (this might also overlap) Create e-books on any subject of your interest and sell it across various channels like EBay, Amazon, etc
While some use e-commerce and e-business interchangeably, they are distinct con- cepts. In e-commerce, information and communications technology (ICT) is used in inter-business or inter-organizational transactions (transactions between and among firms/organizations) and in business-to-consumer transactions (transactions between firms/organizations and individuals).
In e-business, on the other hand, ICT is used to enhance one’s business. It includes any process that a business organization (either a for-profit, governmental or non-profit entity) conducts over a computer-mediated network. A more comprehensive definition of e-business is: “The transformation of an organization’s processes to deliver additional customer value through the application of technologies, philosophies and computing paradigm of the new economy.”
Three primary processes are enhanced in e-business :
On techniques we have practised. We will be sharing with you the methods we have used to establish our own internet business rather than harping on about theories. You will be reading a real success story written by real people. Everything you will find here can be verified and put into practice by you. There is no denying that the internet has brought about a revolution. Never before have people been able to interact in such a cost effective and comfortable way. The Internet with its multiple communication channels also changes the world of business. Now it is possible for you to establish your own company with a very small financial investment or in some cases even without any start-up capital at all. The majority of people in any country in the world do not really like their regular jobs. Nevertheless they get up early every morning to go to work and when they return home tired and frustrated they switch on the TV to forget all about their problems. They often dream about a life that gives them the freedom to do what they really like with people who are friendly, intelligent, understanding and supportive.
When it comes to business, most people confuse their personal opinions with facts. They believe in fact that they know something when in reality they don’t have all the data to support their beliefs.In this document section you will find factual information that is based on our experiences and our experiences Now with the Internet available in almost every household in any developed country, it is possible to achieve the type of lifestyle you have always dreamed about. The following facts will show why you really should consider establishing your
own internet company :
Downsizing: Let’s face it — a computer is more productive than a human in business. areas such as accounting, administration, data management, calculating, statistics and many more activities. Whatever industry you name — new technologies increase productivity which, in turn, often leads to fewer jobs. To be sure new technologies also create new jobs but these require a much higher level of qualification and knowledge. A person who has been working in the same sort of job for several years is often not capable of acquiring all the skills and qualifications needed for a job in a new workplace.
Globalization: The world is becoming more and more interconnected. Even, or maybe especially after September 11, international travel activities have been increasing and this pattern will continue into the future. The number of companies that operate on a multinational scale is constantly rising because they need new market places. In Europe nations have agreed on a uniform single currency — the EURO, enabling the European Community to develop into a strong economic entity. The same sort of thing is taking place in Asia with China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan forming a powerful economic alliance.
Information: More than 500 million people worldwide are using the internet on a
regular basis, with email and search engines as the most popular services. Information is power. People are able to influence, direct, convince, educate and manipulate others through one single tool: The distribution of information. Email and discussion forums allow people to share their thoughts, ideas and experiences with other people from all corners of the world.
Cost Effectiveness : The internet is by far the most cost effective communication tool. If you want to send a letter via conventional or so-called snail mail it will cost at least around $1 (assuming you restrict yourself to two single sheets of paper). Sending the same amount of information via email will be up to 100 times cheaper with immediate delivery.
So, let’s recap. Never have the chances for setting up and running your own successful business been easier than they are today:
You can certainly list even more reasons why it is possible for anybody with a computer and access to the Internet to establish their own business. At the same time the reality is that only a very small percentage of people who do have a computer and access to the Internet, establish and run their own business. Why is this? The answer is very simple. Most people anywhere in the world, spend too much time thinking about things they do not want, instead of thinking about things they do want. As a
result there are only a few people who have their own company and they usually earn more money than somebody with a regular job. Owners of comapines usually have more personal and financial freedom than people with regular jobs. But what exactly do you need in order to own a company? Money? A University degree? The right friends? Well, maybe some of these things can help you with your business but then they are not essential and are no guarantee of success. We have analyzed a number of successful online business people and here is a list of important characteristics all of them possessed. We know that the following qualities are essential for success as a businessperson so you should take the time to go through them and check whether or not you have them. All the information about how to set up a website, how to run an email newsletter, how to get a high ranking at Google, how to generate huge traffic to your website etc. will be worth nothing if you don’t have most of the following skills and qualities.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN
Most people wait until someone else tells them what to do. That’s the way our society is organized. You go to school and the teacher tells you what to do. You study at university and the professors tell you what to do. Your parents tell you what is right and wrong. You get a job and there you will have a boss and colleagues who tell you what to do. Now, we all have to learn from others clearly but we do have a choice about where we get advice. If you want to know how to establish your own business, would you ask your colleague who has been working in a regular 9 -5 job for 15
years or so? Think about your teachers at school or your University professors. Do you think they know how to set up a business and become an entrepreneur? If we examine truly successful people we will find that they have a high level of self-motivation. This applies to any calling in life.
Consistency, the ability to follow through
Many people who do have self-motivation, quickly get enthused and inspired by a new idea. Getting excited or even thrilled by an idea might be great for the moment. A business, however, requires constant activity. If you want to establish and develop a company you need a high level of consistency also known as stickability. Once you have made the decision to set up your business, you must follow through this decision
with consistency. Think about your life can you come up with an example where you have proved your consistency, your stickability? Did you ever want to learn to play an instrument or a sport or a learn a foreign language? How long did you stick to your plan? How much time did you spend on your project and what have you accomplished? Chances are that you started a lot of projects and half way through the course you quit because things got tough and you lacked stickability. If this is the case fear not. You are not alone. The truth is that most people quit as soon as things get more difficult. Making a long-term commitment is not easy for most people. This applies to personal relationships too
Are you the sort of person who tends to raise your voice when something doesn’t go your way? Or do you even have A tendency to shout at your spouse, children or colleagues when you are under pressure? Whenever you start shouting, swearing or using negative language you are wasting your energy energy better put to use on your business venture. Swearing and grumbling kills your creativity and blocks your mind. You must be strong enough to withstand any tendency to get angry or upset or else you will never succeed in your business.
It takes great courage to make decisions and set goals because this means you have to prove to yourself that you can follow your own words through to a conclusion. Look at your friends, family and colleagues. How often do you hear somebody make a promise like «I’ll call you next week.» or «I’ll look this information up for you.» or «Sure I’ll help you when you move house, just let me know when you need me.» Those are statements, offers, promises all based on words. Yet, how often are they followed by deeds? Do you make New Year’s Resolutions such as «Next year I’ll quit smoking», «Next year I’ll start this business course at night school», and «Next year I’ll go on a trip to Paris or Egypt with you»? How many of those resolutions and promises have you kept? How many of them did you simply forget two weeks into the New Year? It takes courage to make a real decision, as you will have to make a sacrifice to follow it through. Also, when you start up a business you will be alone, at least to begin with. There will be no-one to tell you what to do, nobody at first to motivate and support you. You will have to take responsibility for yourself and to a certain degree, for any possible partners and you can only lead others if you have your own fears under control and are willing to take risks. Many people do not set themselves goals because they are afraid of failing of admitting defeat and they think the best way to avoid defeat is to simply not set goals.
Willingness to learn and the ability to change habits
When you decide to start your own Internet business you are also deciding to go back to school again. Not in a real physical sense but mentally. You will have to trawl for every single bit of information that will get you closer to your goal. To learn means you’ll need to change your habits and habits are established patterns of behaviour and thinking that everyone acquires throughout their lives. However, most people are not aware of the fact that they have to learn something new every day and that in order to learn, in order to obtain new knowledge and new skills they have to change some of these habits. If you want to learn a foreign language you have to change your daily routine. For example the habit of listening to your favourite music on the radio. Instead you could be listening to audio recordings in the language you want to learn. We all
have a tendency to get used to things that are not only comfortable but also do not require much activity on our part. We get used to watching TV in the evening and eating convenience food at the same time because this is comfortable and doesn’t require any mental activity. IF you want to establish your business, you won’t have much time to watch TV for entertainment. You have to change your habit of absorbing information passively into one of actively searching for information in order to analyze, filter and reorganize it.
Establishing a business means creating a product, service or system that solves a specific problem or enhances a person’s life in one way or another. You can achieve this purpose when you create something new This doesn’t mean that you have to re-invent the wheel though. Examine any new product development that enters the market and you will see that this «new» creation is not entirely new but has been made up by combining existing elements in a novel way. This action of rethinking existing elements is the formula of creativity. So, in order to create something new you have first to analyze an existing product to find out how it can be improved, developed or enhanced in any way so it will do a better job. Take Google — its founders examined and analyzed existing search portals, in particular Yahoo and MSN. Based on their exhaustive studies they came up with an indexing and searching system that provides a higher search term relevancy. Study people’s behaviour — identify their latent needs and desires and you will tap into a never-ending supply of product ideas.
Vision is the ability to see things not as they are right now, but what they will be like in the future. Most people are so stuck in the moment, so preoccupied with their personal daily problems that they don’t have the time or energy to think about how a particular market can develop in the future. Look at any successful business venture and you will find that its founder was able to project into the future, to estimate how people’s behaviour will change. Your success in business is directly related to your vision capacity» and your vision capacity is determined by two factors: How far ahead are you able to see into the future and how precise are your predictions? When Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google in 1998, they could see well beyond the year 2003, in which they yielded A revenue of almost $ 1 billion. By 1998 Yahoo and MSN were operating worldwide known search services and no one would have thought that two students could take the lead in the industry within 5 years. Yet, Brin and Page had become excellent analysts of the web search market and they collected and recorded the necessary data to recognize a pattern in human behaviour. Based on their observations they then drew conclusions and made a prognosis. If you want to build your own business, you must be able to see into the future. You can develop «vision capability» just like you can develop any other skill. Your first step is to study and analyze human behaviour. Ask yourself this question: What are people looking for when they use the Internet?
ESSENTIALS OF E-BUSINESS
You can’t just open an online store and expect customers to flock to it. Find out if your niche market is one that you can reach through a website. How? Does your niche market have an identifiable need for your web offering? Do they have the wherewithal to pay for it? Is the niche group sizeable, i.e., will it provide enough business to produce the income you need? If the answers are yes, you have found a good niche. Now dig deep within that niche to understand the consumer behaviors that drive it. Every e-commerce operator should assume that his or her customers are sophisticated shoppers who demand prompt delivery of a product that is exactly as portrayed on their website. The most common mistake made by inexperienced web operators is to fail to be responsive to their customers’ order processing and fulfillment needs. But those services are the very underpinnings of all successful e-commerce ventures — neglect those areas and you have a business catastrophe.
To help in the follow-through, you and your customers must be able to track the status of each purchase. Most new e-commerce businesses, however, fail to integrate this necessary backend support. Another “must” is to make certain that your customers know that your web-based business will not only deliver a value online that cannot be found offline, but that it is just as responsive with customer service issues as the most well-regarded offline business.
By keeping customer service and product fulfillment as an immediate priority you can build a valuable relationship with your customer. In doing so, you earn that customer’s loyalty. That helps to stem the natural flow of attrition as customers who pursue the lowest price find that the trade-off is a void in the cut-rate business’s customer service department.
Another common problem for new e-commerce businesses is misinterpreting the power of the Web. Yes, a website with the right infrastructure can economically automate transactions. However, the real power of the Web is its role as a relationship-building magnet — through its ability to provide numerous opportunities for interactivity. If you are careless with automated processes — this very real advantage will vanish.
Use your website to provide not only useful and interesting information about your products/services, but also about your entire niche market. The group that makes up a niche market always yearns for more information. They will return time and again to your website if they are appealed to on the basis of their special interests — detailed articles and content-rich advertising specifically targeted to them.
The dot-com bust of 2000 was a failure of business plans; the concept itself has not failed. And while numerous news articles over the last few years detail how various websites lost sales and customer confidence due to inadequate prelaunch planning, there have also been many successes, especially in the small business arena.
Internet the way we do business today. It has broken physical boundaries and has provided each small, big and mega businesses a global business opportunity. Your online presence, your website provides you an equal opportunity to have your presence felt.
The irony those among the millions of websites ruling the internet world only thousands are successful. As they say you not only need a quality product or service, you need to package and most importantly sell it. That leads us to the question how to get successful online? Simple answer packages your website and makes people aware of it.
The basic rules of business apply here too with the difference that here you cater to a global market. The internet offers you with a variety of tools which applied correctly can make the winning difference.
So where do you start?
Your website needs a design and for this you need a web designer. Correct web design, colours and correct placement of web elements on your web page are important aspects for your site to succeed.
Remember to maintain a contact page which mentions your contact details on the site have a sitemap and design the site for users. It is of utmost importance that you keep web designer.
If you are in business retail or manufacturing a good idea is to have your site e-com enabled. You must have shopped on the internet, if not you are among the chosen few. If you have you must be aware of the shopping cart on the e-commerce site. The shopping cart enables your visitors to manage their shopping well. You will need a payment gateway and a merchant account to receive money for sales. To test out your site integrate it with Paypal and try out the shopping experience.
Are Indians buying online? As per IOAI forecasted estimates, e-commerce transactions will cross the Rs 2000 mark (2006-2007) which translates into an increase of over 300% from financial year 2004-05.
The relationship between the Internet and commerce has passed its nascence. According to the estimates by IOAI, online shopping crossed Rs 430 crores to Rs 570 crores in 2004-05. The turnover is further expected to increase to Rs 1180 crores in 2005-06.
The Internet offers an audience that will grow to a 100 million users by 2007-08, unlimited shelf space and isn’t bound by operational timings and geographical boundaries; with an opportunity to cater to country wide city markets (for consumers and suppliers alike) at a comparative miniscule cost.
This four fold population increase raises a pertinent question to many a business and enterprise ‘How should you embrace this medium?’ This research reports deals specifically with that premise and arms any reader with an arsenal of information to start/improve his online shop / enterprise in his core competitive area.
570 crores worth of E-commerce conducted online in 2004-2005 to grow to Rs 2300 crores by 2006-2007, an estimated 300%+ growth.
55% of visitors to ecommerce sites have adopted the Internet as a shopping medium.
Of the 55% of online shoppers [Base 1716] – 87%  of shoppers have shopped more than once and have been termed ‘as regular shoppers’. They form the ‘base’ for this report of users who have transacted online to buy products & services ‘more than once’.
The Web opens up a whole new market for goods and services. It creates opportunity for a multifaceted arena that offers new efficiencies for sales, marketing, customer service, shipment tracking, inventory monitoring.Choice has always been the Holy Grail for consumers. Today’s consumers have a wide variety of commerce choices: traditional businesses, mega discount stores, catalogs or direct market mail, and the Web. The Web, taken as a whole, is a powerful medium where consumers browse, research, compare, and then buy online or, after doing their “window shopping” online, make the purchase at a brick-and-mortar business. Businesses that keep in mind the consumers’ desire for choice, and integrate into their website the appropriate means for customer interactions, will succeed.
This being said, the Web will not open vast new markets for every business. However, it can extend a significant degree of power to businesses that recognize how to leverage the efficiencies of this new arena. A good example is 3Com (www.3com.com) which, through its website:
In short, 3Com’s business and customer base didn’t change — the Web changed the way 3Com services its market it did not create a new market. Still, overall, 3Com’s business is enhanced by its web presence.Big companies with plenty of technical expertise and buckets of money have always been able to build their own e-commerce systems, complete with a secure server, a high-speed Internet connection, and custom software.
Creating a business model for e-commerce starts with the following basic challenge: Can you define your company? Next, can you state your goals for the company? Finally, — within the aforementioned context — can you state what role e-commerce can play in helping your company maintain or change its identity?
This table indicates, online sales are growing steadily along with the total number of Internet users (148,811,000 in August 2006 to 150,045,000 users in September 2007). Source: com-Score Media Metrix.
The Top 10 Website Categories as of September 2007
Unique Visitors as of August 2003
Unique Visitors as of September 2003
There are eight basic website models — ranging from the simple static pages of a brochureware site to richly interactive online gaming sites, to online stores chock full of products, to online auctions. Many websites combine several of these basic models. However, each model has unique characteristics that distinguish it from the other models and it is important to understand these differences.
A brochureware site is a marketing site that electronically aids in the buying and selling process. A traditional business often will build and maintain a brochureware site as a marketing tool with the objective of promoting the business and its products/services. A brochureware site is sometimes an adjunct to a business’ technical support division providing online documentation, software downloads and a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) section. Such a website can provide detailed information about the business’s products/services, contact information including the business’s address, telephone numbers, and email addresses. It can also be a tool to provide the public copies of a company’s annual reports, press releases, and employment opportunities. Revenue from this kind of site is generated indirectly by creating an awareness of the business’ products/services. All transactions occur offline.
Savvion develops business process management software that improves business performance and reduces costs within and across functional business units. Its website, www.savvion.com, is a good example of a high-quality brochureware site. It is clean, fast loading, and has all of the elements of a good website. To demonstrate the variety of businesses that take advantage of the Web to expand their business opportunities visit the following brochureware websites: Rolledsteel.com, Cohenhighley.com, Hayproperty.com.au, and Paulcato.com.
As you can see, you don’t need to be a corporate giant to benefit from a brochureware site.
An online store is a website where consumers buy products or services. This type of site is most commonly referred to as an e-commerce site or a “B2C” (Business to Consumer) site. In addition to most, if not all, of the content found in a brochureware site, an online store displays products/services along with detailed information (e.g. specifications and pricing) usually from a database with search features, and a method for online purchase. An online store must also provide extensive information about the products/services offered that not only aids in attracting consumers, but gives them enough confidence in the seller and the products/services to take the next step — making an online purchase.
One question the author is often asked is “what should an e-commerce site offer — online order processing, just a toll free number, or both?” The answer is: Offer both.
If you choose to take online payments, you must provide a secure, reliable, cost-effective system for authorizing payment and managing transactions. The best systems are based on the Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and/or Secure Electronic Transactions (SET) encryption technology, which provide the encryption of data and generate and display a “results page” to the customer following the transaction.
Further, a successful online store must be designed with the ability to store orders in a database or as tab-delimited text files so the data can be imported into an invoicing system. Then the website must be able to intelligently route encrypted email to the order fulfillment division.
A good example of a large online store is Healthtex.com. This is a great site in every respect. To see how a small brick-and-mortar business uses a web presence to enhance its bottom line, visit Parkaveliquor.com, where you will find an attractive, well-designed and fully functional e-commerce site that benefits both the storeowner and the customer. Other good online stores you might want to use as guides when designing your website include the Treliske Organic (www.nzsouth.co.nz/treliske), which offers “Certified Organic” Wool, Knitwear, Beef and Lamb; Badcataviation.com, a great toy airplane store; and Soccer Books Limited (www.soccer-books.co.uk) where you can find a huge selection of books, video and DVDs relating to the sport of soccer.
Another avenue that an entrepreneur might want to consider is to team with a large e-commerce site such as Amazon.com or e-bay.com to provide the e-commerce end while the entrepreneur provides the site’s “content.” Good examples of such a site are www.dolls-for-sale.com and www.politinfo.com.
A subscription site can process payments offline and provide via email a user’s name and password for access, or it can provide a secure, reliable, cost-effective online system for authorizing payment and managing transactions. Again, the best systems are based on Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and/or Secure Electronic Transactions (SET) technology to encrypt the data, and generate and display a “results page” to the customer following the transaction.
E-commerce technology continues to become more sophisticated, and with every advance the financial prognosis for a subscription site should improve. A good example of a subscription site is iEntertainment Network (www.iencentral.com). This worldwide game and entertainment site offers both free ad-supported and fee-based online game channels. The site also offers a variety of monthly subscription plans.
The website Content-wire.com offers another example of a good subscription site that uses both banner ads and subscriptions for its revenue stream. This website offers a niche editorial product that covers a narrow vertical technology sector — web-based commerce. As such, it provides up-to-date news articles, produces features on a variety of subjects, and offers a good bit of research material. Although this website could be better designed, it is functional and the average surfer will find it easy to use. Because the site does derive some of its revenue from banner ads, some information offered is free (use it!). Note that surfers who pony up $100 or $200 for a subscription, there is much more data available for your perusal.
A sub-model that increasingly is finding favor is the website that offers downloadable content — via a subscription account, a la carte basis, or a combination of both. The most popular website within this sub-model is the new Napster.com. Although this digital music destination bears the same name as the famous, but defunct, peer-to-peer file sharing website, that business model is in its past. The current Napster.com is a digital music catalog site that also offers many rich community features for its customers. The new Napster.com allows consumers to choose how they want to experience music, offering both an a la carte store and a premium subscription service.
Not all digital music sites follow the subscription model, however. Apple’s iTunes.com website, which at this writing offers more than 400,000 songs from a wide variety of musicians for less than a dollar per song, states that its iTune website offers music without the need to “agree” to complicated rules. There are no clubs to join, and no monthly fees if you like a song, you just buy a downloadable copy of it for 99.
Check these sites out; they might give you some ideas on how you can make money from your own website.
An advertising site is a content laden site, whose revenue base is the dollar amount derived from banners, sponsorships, ads, and other advertising methods. The traffic the site draws is the measure of its value. Recognized rating firms measure its value and then advertising rates are based upon that value. Important note: Very few sites can be supported entirely through advertising dollars.
Two good advertising sites are Cnet.com and Howstuffworks.com. Both are wonderful content laden advertising websites that every reader should bookmark. You should especially read the Howstuffworks website’s explanation of how a web server works, which can be found at https://computer.howstuffworks.com/web-server.htm.
Another great advertising site is Thekidzpage.com. Although this colorful site’s use of “pop-up” ads can be irritating, those ads allow this site to provide all of its great content for free. Children love to visit this site to play games and parents appreciate the more than 250 printable coloring books and learning activities.
But an advertising site needn’t be graphic intensive nor host a variety of pop-up ads to be successful. Cases in point are the low-tech websites HomePCnetwork.com and Hrmguide.co.uk. Although these text-driven sites don’t offer a lot of “bells and whistles,” they make up for their lack of “eye-appeal” by their informative, easy-to-use content.
A simple and easy way to sell products/services online is to open a shop in one of the many cyber malls on the Web. Online malls generally offer turnkey solutions for store creation, payment processing, and site management. For example, most cyber malls offer a template for implementing a catalog of products, a shopping cart application, and a form generator — allowing small businesses to quickly set up shop on the Web. The templated applications employed to set up a business’s catalog and the ease of payment processing are tempting to a novice. These cyber malls also provide a high level of “click traffic.” If you are new to the Web and would prefer to first “dip your toe in the water,” a cyber mall may be the answer.
A cyber mall’s biggest promise is to deliver more traffic to your “front door” than you would be able to do if you go it alone. Since you will be relying on the cyber mall’s marketing savvy, make sure you verify that it can deliver. But note that the only “front door” which is advertised is the cyber mall’s address, not your online store’s address.
Most cyber malls offer a purchasing system, which enables a web start-up to avoid up-front shopping cart software costs, but a fee is accessed on each purchase — that fee will eventually exceed the cost of the software.
You need to ensure that the cyber mall you choose is one in which your online store can flourish. Consider the pros and cons of establishing your online store in a cyber mall including the restrictions and costs that some cyber malls impose. Then consider the option of setting up your own purchasing system and independent identity. For, in reality, a cyber mall is just a list of links categorized by store and product type.
Any number of cyber malls can help you get your website up and running in record time. Yahoo! Store, probably the most popular cyber mall on the Web, includes an easy tool that lets you register your own domain name (https://www.ourname.com) or, if you already have a domain name, they will help you transfer it. You are also given the option of using stores.yahoo.com/yourname, which does not require an up front registration fee. Freemerchants.com offers an easy and inexpensive way to set up an e-commerce site. Of course, like many cyber malls, with Freemerchants.com you are required to design your new website using free servers.
All of the website models discussed in this book are built to serve either the individual consumer or the consumer and business customers. But a business-to-business site is built to serve other businesses; if the business also wants to serve its individual consumers, it usually builds a separate retail site to serve those customers. This book doesn’t deal with the minutiae of B2B sites, since B2B sites, while using some of the technology discussed in this book, often also need other technology to further their goals of providing products/services to other businesses rather than individual consumers.
The growth of B2B e-commerce is explosive. For some businesses, B2B e-commerce already influences value chains, distribution channels, customer service, and pricing strategies. Others look to B2B for ways to leverage this new technology to increase sales, profits, customer loyalty, and brand preference.
Auctions have been around for thousands of years. Traditionally, a person offers an item for sale and potential buyers bid on the item. The bidder willing to pay the highest price for the item wins the bid and takes the item home — the same with online auctions. The main difference between traditional auctions and web-based auctions is that the actual bidding and selling takes place over the Internet with interested buyers submitting bids electronically. The person with the highest bid at the timed close of the auction wins the bid and arranges to receive the item. The auction site acts as the middleman in the buying and selling transaction process.
There are a number of ways you can use the auction model. First, you could build an auction website and let that be your business model. Or you could add an auction component to another e-commerce model. Many auction sites are built or sponsored by major vendors who have an established website, and use their auction site either to attract customers, or to offer merchandise that is surplus, outdated, and/or seconds.
Many readers, however, will find established online auctions such as those offered by eBay, Ubid, Amazon auctions, and Yahoo auctions a way to build a credible e-commerce business. Using an established auction website to build a web-based business is inexpensive and allows you to begin making a profit immediately: There are none of the expenses of the typical e-commerce model — no advertising costs, no hosting costs, etc. Auction sites receive billions (yes billions) of visits daily.
If you use one of the online auction sites as a means to enter the world of e-commerce, understand that you are responsible for listing your items on the auction site, and you assume responsibility for all aspects of your auction listings, including product descriptions, identification of quantities, establishment of starting and maximum bid prices, and shipping. Once the auction closes, it is up to you and the buyer to make arrangements for payment and shipping.
As online auctions continue to grow in popularity, more and more, entrepreneurs, retailers, manufacturers, and other businesses see them as a beneficial way to sell surplus goods, while consumers see them as a great way to save money and get great deals.
The largest and best known auction site is eBay.com. For sellers, the ability to market your product to millions of daily visitors makes using eBay one of the most efficient ways to sell just about anything. Potential buyers search for items and place bids on those they are interested in purchasing. At the close of an auction the highest bidder is the winner. At that point, the buyer and seller make arrangements for payment and shipping.
All you need to become an eBay seller is to register, which is free and only takes a few moments. However, eBay requires sellers to provide a credit or debit card, as well as enough details for eBay to check their “bonafides,” i.e. the potential seller provides eBay with enough information for the auction site to establish his or her proof of identity by cross-checking against consumer and business databases. If everything is kosher, the seller obtains an “ID Verified” designation, which enables them to place items for sale on the auction site.
Yahoo! also offers an auction service. Its seller requirements are similar to eBay’s, i.e. there is a registration (free) and all sellers must provide credit or debit card information.
If you have products that are more niche oriented, you might want to use an auction site that caters to that niche crowd,
It’s difficult to define this type of website, mainly due to diversity of models adopted for individual weblogs (also known as “blogs”). But perhaps the Internet Librarian 2001 describes this interesting web-based genre the best: “A web page containing brief, chronologically arranged items of information. A weblog can take the form of a diary, journal, what’s new page, or links to other websites.”
Weblogs are to words what [the original] Napster was to music. (“Andrew Sullivan, Wired Magazine, May 2002”). In that same issue Sullivan says, “Twenty-one months ago, I rashly decided to set up a web page myself and used Blogger.com to publish some daily musings to a readership of a few hundred. Sure, I’m lucky to be an established writer [he also writes of The New Republic and The New York Times] in the first place. And I worked hard at the blog for months for free. But the upshot is that I’m now reaching almost a quarter million readers a month and making a profit. That kind of exposure rivals the audiences of traditional news and opinion magazines.”
To give you some ideas on how you can turn a profit with your blog, visit Sullivan’s weblog — Andrewsullivan.com. Also click on the “Info” button on the left side of the page and check out his Media Kit.
The key to the popularity of a weblog is the person or people producing it. Since weblog readers often develop relationships with the weblog author(s), interaction between reader and author is inevitable. Good weblog examples include Eatonweb.com, Scripting.com, Gizmodo.com, and Angst-identprone.org.
But you don’t necessarily need to establish a new website to attract a niche audience of readers. Since weblogs are ideally suited to interaction between people sharing special interests, some e-commerce businesses may want to consider adding a weblog to their website.
Some readers may be toying with the idea of sitting up a peer-to-peer (P2P) site. The way the Web was originally set up, the website owner posts content on a server (referred to as “web server”), and the audience connects to that server via a web browser to view the content. To interact live with other users, everyone connects to the same server at the same time. With P2P, however, the computers of individual users are connected together directly — no central server is necessary.
Still, a website is often used as an adjunct to a file sharing network to promote the network and to provide customer service. Peer-to-peer file sharing opens a whole new range of business opportunities. The original Napster (versus the new subscription-based Napster) brought P2P to the forefront, although the original Napster wasn’t a true P2P business model — it operated around a central server. However, it is noted that the old Napster’s central server concept also was the cause of the business’s eventual downfall. (At its peak, the old Napster was perhaps the most popular website ever created — in less than a year, it went from zero to 60 million visitors per month.)
There are many alternatives to the Napster P2P model. One of the more interesting of these alternatives is Gnutella. Unlike Napster, Gnutella and its variants aren’t software at all; rather they are communication protocols similar to the common gateway interface (CGI) used by most web servers. Any software that implements a Gnutella-like communication protocol can communicate with other Gnutella-enabled software applications.It may be difficult to come up with a viable, profit-making business model for this type of P2P network. However, visit sites such as Bearshare.com, Livewire.com and Swapper.com, for examples of how current P2P file-sharing networks use websites to produce income.
“Know your customer” is an oft-used but apt phrase — you must decide on your target market base before embarking on even the early design stage. Here are some reasons why. If your customers are located outside of North America, you will need to place a Comment Tag above the body of your website’s home page declaring your site as a public document. If you omit the Comment Tag your site probably will not be indexed as a public document and no one outside North America will be able to find it. If your niche market has an international base, you must consider how you will provide translations, how you will handle the monetary exchange problems, and how you will deal with shipment issues. After all, it’s the customers for whom you are building your website, right? This is just the tip of the iceberg — do your research so you’ll know the issues you need to address before designing your website.
What model will your site emulate — a brochureware site, an online store, an auction site, an advertising, or subscription site? It could even be a combination of one or more of the website models discussed in Chapter 1.
What will drive your potential customers to your website? Your website’s home page must clearly describe what you are offering and why your customers would want it. You must craft your online offering so that the products/services meet the wants and needs of your targeted customer base — just like a conventional business. And like a brick-and-mortar business, you must determine what price the market will bear and what your profit margin will be.
One of the most difficult parts of building a website is deciding exactly what to build. There are many e-businesses out there with ill-conceived concepts and laughable revenue models. To avoid these crippling mistakes, you need a clear vision of what you want to accomplish. To help, consider the following questions.
Your answers are the basis for the next step in building a successful website, which is the development of a comprehensive e-commerce business plan, that plan will serve as your website’s blueprint. Use that blueprint to lay out the strategy needed to implement the technology that is necessary to gain the most leverage within your current or planned business model. Each aspect needs to be carefully coordinated — technical issues, content, marketing, front-end design, infrastructure, software, and, of course, sales.
There are three essential elements to a website blueprint: a storyboard, a site description, and website content. Successful websites are the ones that manage, through the proper utilization of a blueprint, to combine content, communication and marketing features within a fast-loading, easy-to-use and interesting home page that runs on a robust and scalable infrastructure.
In addition, you must establish a realistic budget and a timeline, with milestones clearly defined. As you define your site through your blueprint always be aware of the compatibility issues which must be considered throughout the decision making process the extendibility and scalability of all the hardware, software, and connectivity decisions.
The E-Commerce Space. The inner circle contains your “back end” — the hardware, operating system, and most servers. The middle circle contains the applications and tools that give functionality to a website. The outer circle comprises the human elements.
This can’t be stressed enough — the same principles that apply to establishing a successful business in the traditional world also apply in the 24-hours a day, 7 days a week (24×7) e-commerce operation. Moreover, like conventional businesses, great websites can take months to plan and build. Defining exactly what to build, then deciding how to build and market the site is the difference between success and failure.
A storyboard is a tool used in the production of multimedia, video, and film projects to show a frame-by-frame picture sequence of the action. In this book, however, the term refers to a non-graphical representation of every web page — the screen elements and their operations — which, when taken as a whole, constitute your website. Just as an outline helps to organize your thoughts before you write a paper or report, storyboards help to organize a visual production such as a website. By using the storyboard process, you can design your website while clearly envisioning all the possible paths that a customer might take.
Thus, your storyboard is the visual representation of how your website will look to your customers. A good, well thought out storyboard will enable you to marry the goals and priorities for your website into a good design.
Here is how: With the proper storyboard, you can map out the progression and relationship between individual web pages. It lets you visualize how each page will work within your website before you start building it.
This is an example of a simple storyboard that might be used to design a small online store.
While tedious, creating a storyboard will save time, money, and many sleepless nights. Map out every step of your design process so that each detail can be tested, measured, and validated.
Very detailed storyboards might include an overall site diagram that shows the website on all levels: major areas of the site, secondary areas, etc.
All Storyboards should include a basic layout of each individual web page.
To begin the storyboard process, generate a visitor-centric navigational scheme that defines the type of pages and content needed to provide your website with the necessary design elements. Take your “home” page for example: Using a single sheet of paper, describe the buttons, links, and key components that your customer should see when he or she first opens the link to your website. Then every other web page should be constructed in a similar a manner. At each step of the process, incorporate your customers’ wants, needs, and perspectives. And remember that every layer of your website either precedes or supports specific choices a visitor makes, so your website’s design must make sense to your visitor so you can turn that person into a repeat customer.
As you lay out the storyboard, there is one essential question you should keep in mind: What’s the plot? In other words, why is the visitor here — what does your visitor want? Don’t forget that many times a visitor will not reach your website through the front door, i.e. your home page, so consider all contingencies. Determine as you outline each web page: What do I want my visitors to do at this point, what do I want them to feel right now, where do I want a potential customer to go next, and how do I make it easy for them to get there?
Here is a set of suggested guidelines to keep in mind as you create your storyboard.
Think in terms of who will see your web pages. Perhaps it will be a potential customer who has no idea who you are or what you have to offer. Thus, the best way to layout your storyboard is to track the path of a hypothetical customer, with branches at every decision point — including those made by the customers and those made by the system. Have a meeting with all of your staff — sales and marketing, customer service, public relations — not just the website staff. Get everyone’s input; cover all the possibilities. For example, in the purchasing process:
Decisions made at this point must not be rushed. Time is needed to study, absorb, and totally understand what’s required to implement the most creative ideas — the ideas that will make your website stand out from the crowd.
Use your storyboard as your guide throughout — design, build out, and beyond. Storyboarding helps not only to improve site navigability, but also to develop content and web copy. Furthermore, if you hire a web designer to design your web pages, or a web architect to oversee the entire build out phase, the storyboard will provide them with the details necessary to provide you with exactly what you want.
The author realizes that both layout and design are subjective topics, but to make the best first impression design a stylish page with your content laid out in a logical manner. Use a consistent theme in the colors, styles and fonts throughout your site.
If you are designing an extensive website, you need to provide a detailed explanation of workflow, data flow, and other items that may not be readily apparent in your storyboard. That’s where a site description comes into play. A site description explains how the site functions from web page to web page or section to section. This is a must for complex sites, such as websites that include an auction element or websites like 3Com.com or Healthtex.com. That is because oft-times such websites have people who are not intimately familiar with the website’s design elements and infrastructure doing the programming to support the website’s more complex elements.
Now is the time to begin thinking about exactly what content you want on your website. What digital art (e.g. photos of products) will be needed? Is there to be written content? If so, who is the author and how will the content be delivered — MS Word, Adobe Acrobat, ASCII text, etc.?
You should have the initial content ready for the designer(s) (which could be you) while the website is still in production mode. This is so you can be sure that your content will work perfectly with the overall design elements when it comes time to launch your website (and when subsequent design and content changes are made thereafter).
The successful website starts with a home page that is attractive, easy to understand, and fast loading. Think of your home page as the cover of a good book — it should entice the customer to look deeper into the site (book) and return to it often as a resource. Another way to put it is that your home page, the first page the online consumer will see, is like the window of a store. It is your showcase, storefront, and calling card — all rolled into one. Online, your competition is just a click away — careful design and targeted content are important guardians against customer defection.
Your website’s design and content will greatly influence your customers’ perception of your business, which will, in turn, affect their purchasing decisions. Your pages should be laid out in such a manner that navigation through your site is intuitive and stress-free — so much so that your customers develop a comfort level in doing business on your site. How do you manage that? Read on!
When designing your site, there are certain categories of rules or guidelines that you should follow. The acronym SPEC can be used to help you to remember the key categories:
A sticky website entices a visit to stay within its pages a bit longer than they otherwise might; over time that leads to a familiarity with your website. The more familiar someone is with a business — online or off — the more comfortable they are when it comes to making a purchase. Thus, a sticky website is one that keeps visitors not only within its web pages, but also keeps them coming back for more. This dynamic is created with a mix of good content and good design.
An important sales adage is — CONTENT IS KING. “Content” is your website’s offering — the product, the graphics, the marketing material, banner ads, i.e., everything that makes up the pages of a website. Good content gives a website a high “stickiness” rating. In other words, good content entices customers to stay within your website, and encourages them to return to your website time and time again.
Your website has taken the first step towards being a success when you follow the Internet’s golden rule — Provide Useful Content. Independent of which e-commerce business model you adopt, the content must be presented in such a manner as to draw a visitor’s immediate interest and even more importantly, it must turn that visitor into a loyal customer. Your content should include all the information necessary for a customer to make intelligent purchases in an easily accessible way.
By keeping the content of your website fresh and new, your customers will be more likely to “bookmark” your website, or at least a specific page within your website. Curiosity is a powerful lure and customers will come back to your site repeatedly just to see what is new. It’s the useful and up-to-date information that will keep your customers coming back time and again.
Make a list of the top ten terms that your customers could use to search for your website when using a search engine. Then incorporate these words in your web page content, i.e. make sure your web pages include text relevant to those ten terms. The majority of search engines do not index by keyword submissions alone, they send out spiders to crawl your site to check that the keywords you submitted are relevant to the content contained within your website. Why? Because disreputable website owners, especially pornographic and gambling sites, submit numerous keywords that people use every day in their search criteria that have nothing to do with the content of the website. These same unscrupulous owners will also insert unrelated words and phrases into their meta tags. (See Chapter 15 for a full discussion on how to design your website to obtain optimal search engine ranking.)
Long download times are unnecessary and unprofitable. Making a potential customer wait for your website to download is a surefire way to increase your competitors’ bottom line, not yours.
There are many reasons why a page may load slowly, e.g. the size of the pipe to the Internet, the traffic hitting the web-hosting service and/or the server hosting your website, the robustness of the web server, etc. But at this juncture, you just need to ensure that your website’s design is not a contributing factor when a customer experiences a slow download. So keep your home page less than 200 KB in size. By doing this, your website will load in less than 20 seconds with a 56K modem.
If you must display graphics on your home page, keep in mind the different graphic formats that are available, each with its own qualities and capabilities, and what is best to use in specific situations. Web-based images consist of two basic types: those captured from nature and stored in digital format, and those created entirely on the computer.
Most web-based images use “indexed color” which is only 8 bits (one byte) of color per pixel. This means that the image can display only 256 colors. Don’t panic — it isn’t quite as bad as it sounds — you can choose your 256 colors from a huge palette of 24-bit colors. If you pick the right colors, even a color photo can be made to look presentable on your website. Many programs such as PhotoShop and Paint Shop Pro will let you reduce the number of colors (color depth) in an image, while selecting the colors closest to the original.
GIF and JPEG (also known as “JPG”) are the most commonly supported formats throughout the world. “GIF” stands for “Graphics Interchange (or Image) Format.” CompuServe developed the GIF format so that its subscribers could send image files to each other and the images could be viewed on different kinds of computers. A GIF is good for images that have solid colors, text, and line art. A GIF can be used to represent images generated by drawing programs used by computer artists. However, a GIF does not compress photos very well; especially images that have subtle texture or color gradations, or that are 16- or 24-bit color.
Using HTML tables on a web page allows the organized and specific arrangement of data. The data can be text, images, links, forms, form fields, other tables, etc., arranged into rows and columns of cells (individual units). Tables let you control the look of your website by breaking your pages into precise segments while controlling the placement of text and graphics. You can create columns and grids that can contain images and text. Cells can be utilized as templates or style sheets to give a uniform look and, through use of color, add visual contrast to your website. Be careful though, if you use colored cells in your table, some browsers might not display the cell in color unless there is text or an image in it. For example, older browsers can only see the background color described in the <BODY></BODY> tag. Also Netscape’s handling of empty table cells give web designers fits. That is because Netscape browsers have a well-known bug that prevents the browser from displaying empty table cells. There is a “work around,” but it means the designer is required to add a bunch of code to the table if you want your empty cells to display background colors when your website is accessed via a Netscape browser.
You also must deal with the fixed-width problem. When you add a variable width table, the horizontal dimensions readjust with the browser width. A fixed width guarantees the final appearance. But the variable width can take better advantage of the situation if the browser has a larger width setting to begin with. Use trial and error testing to find the optimal combination of fixed and variable widths for the different parts of the table.
Some WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) web page editors (this is software) have problems with tables. Be careful, if you are doing your own design work what your editor displays on the screen may vary greatly from what you see in a browser
A simple, easy-to-understand navigational design ensures your customers quick and effortless travel through the multiple pages on your website. Your customer should never be more than three clicks away from what they want to find. Without fast, intuitive, and simple navigation capabilities, your customers will not take the time and effort to navigate your site, regardless of how good your content, product and/or service might be.
Design your home page to allow customers access to all areas of your website from your home page. Consider using graphics and image maps — a clickable picture (when you place your cursor on it, the cursor turns into the “link select cursor”) — as an attractive means of navigation. But remember the users who surf the Web using text-only browsers by also inserting text links (a typewritten description not dependent on an image) at the top or bottom of each web page.
As you drill down into the site, continue a uniform navigation scheme, i.e., the customers can go to the same position on any page to perform a specific function. Don’t forget to institute “targeted” text links (i.e. text that you can click on and be transported to a specific section of the website), especially in pages that are long or divided into topics or resources. By doing so, you allow the customer more easily to find whatever they may be looking for. Targeted links can be an expedient form of navigation, supplementing the scroll bar.
Structure your site’s design to support future growth. But even when designing for future complexity (e.g. the addition of an auction section or adding a shopping cart), always keep the customer’s view in the forefront. For example, don’t make the mistake of asking your customer to remember a certain product ID or code when it comes to filling out the order form keep it simple.
Avoid orphan pages pages that although there is a link leading to the page, the page offers no link to leave the page. Such pages give a potential customer a choice that might lead out of your website, because to continue their search they must either hit the back button on their browser, or close the page and go elsewhere. To avoid this dilemma, always consider all possible navigational paths a visitor might take and then ensure that there is a series of relevant links available on each page providing your potential customer with some very good reasons for him or her to stay in your website.
Design your website so that it is technically accessible to the greatest number of people. Just as customers come in all shapes and sizes so do the equipment and the software that they use to access the Web.
Test your design with as many browsers (including their various versions) as you can find — Netscape, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Macintosh, Opera, AOL, and a text-only browser such as Lynx. Don’t forget the customers that surf with their browser’s “turn off graphics” option activated. In other words, make sure the technologies you select can accommodate the many browsing options your customers will be using.
Also called framesets, frames are a programming device that divides web pages into multiple, scrollable regions. This allows you to present information in a more flexible and useful fashion. Of course, frames have their own set of problems. A browser’s back button can produce unexpected results, particularly if the user is working with an old browser, such as Netscape prior to version 3.0.
Visitors who have problems with their sight or are otherwise physically impaired may be using text-to-speech software that reads aloud web pages. Frames confuse such software.
Even for the non-physically challenged, a cursor may not work with a framed site unless you actually click in the frame you want to scroll.
In addition, frames can make it more problematic to print. For example the Princeton Online website, which is designed around frames, actually has a web page devoted to helping its visitors print information available on that website (see Fig. 5). But, even worse, framed websites may be invisible to certain search engines and directors (such as Yahoo!). Frames increase the file size and the number of total words that make up the website, thereby decreasing keyword weight and perhaps causing an adverse effect on your website’s search engine listing. Also, when customers are brought to your website via a search engine, they sometimes won’t enter through the front door, i.e., home page, and therefore can’t see the frame that would normally be holding the page.
The Princeton Online website found that so many visitors experienced problems when trying to print information available on its frame-based website that it crafted a “print help” web page.
Exercise caution if you choose to offer links to other web pages within a framed page.
When advertising one particular aspect of your site in other media, simply providing a main URL address is no longer good enough. In the case of a framed site you must give the public additional instructions about how to find the frame and the page that they want. If you give out that page’s address alone, the rest of the frameset becomes inaccessible.
You’ve chosen your e-commerce model and found the perfect products/services to offer on your e-commerce site. You’ve also thoughtfully planned your website. Using your blueprint and storyboards you’ve completed the design of your website. It is now time to extend everything to the Web.
Web-hosting services are not equal. Although, at one level, all hosting services provide hard disk space on powerful computers (the servers) that have 24-hour connections to the Internet, there are many differences. By breaking this business group into different business models, the differences become clear.
Throughout the world, thousands of local and national ISPs provide dedicated permanent connections to the Internet backbone and allow individual users access to the Internet (for a fee) via their connections. Some ISPs also provide some type of ad hoc website hosting service. Many ISPs, however, don’t really understand the needs of a small web-based business. Nor are they quick to offer improved service because their bread-and-butter is dial-up access and that’s where they concentrate their focus and investment. Furthermore, although a few large ISPs have a separate division that specializes in website hosting, many ISPs just don’t have an adequate infrastructure for web-hosting. If possible, pass on ISPs and look elsewhere for your web-hosting services.
What 99% of you don’t need or want is the 4 or 5 MB of web space that you can get for a small monthly fee or even free from an ISP when you sign up for a regular Internet dial-up account. This type of service is referred to as a “sub-domain” or “non-virtual account.” It allows you to build a very small, simple website that can be accessed by a URL that looks something like www.mystupidsite.ISP.com or www.ISP.com/~mystupidsite/home page.html which means you have a directory on your ISP’s website in which you can build your site. The profound drawback to the option is not only do you have a hard-to-remember URL for your website, but if you ever move the site, you’ll have to change the site’s address. This type of web space is not something to use for a serious commercial website.
A dedicated web-hosting service provides you with server space (virtual, dedicated or co-location) for your website, although usually without Internet access. Their primarily business is offering server and rack space for businesses that do not want to manage their web-based servers in-house. While a few web-hosting services also might offer ISP service as a convenience to its core group of customers (e-commerce businesses); they probably are not going after the “casual surfer’s” business.
Thus, one advantage of a dedicated service is that your customers won’t be sharing valuable bandwidth (a big concern when choosing any type of hosting service) with the casual web surfer checking their email, downloading MP3 files, etc. What this means is that your customers will experience speedy access times, fast loading pages, and no shopping cart lag.
All large or enterprise websites should consider this type of web-hosting service. E-commerce sites that plan to incorporate streaming media or other types of services that require specialized servers should also turn to dedicated web-hosting services.
Since this market is over-supplied, to stand out in the crowd, some web-hosting services offer very nice (but expensive) high-end features. You will find that a good full-featured web-hosting service has a more “services” oriented approach — offering expertise in networking, or offering and managing complex software — as opposed to just selling space on its servers’ hard drives.
Check out the web-hosting services in your local community. These services can offer personalized attention and customized service, such as visiting your business in order to evaluate your hardware, examine your network, etc., and then making specific recommendations. For a small web-based business, a local web-hosting service will, in many instances, provide added services including, for example, helping you market your business by providing a link to your website on its local business directory. Therefore, many small- and mid-sized e-commerce operators may be willing to trade off certain features offered by a larger hosting service for the extendibility of a local service. Note though that a local web-hosting service is less likely to provide 24×7 technical support.
If you choose one of the small local hosting services, and your site becomes very active, don’t be surprised if the host asks you to move your website to another service. Why? Because a good hosting service, even if small, will look out for the welfare of its overall constituency and might be afraid that heavy traffic to a particularly popular website on its service will hurt the performance of the other websites that it hosts.
Using your website developer to host your e-commerce needs is another viable option for the small- to mid-sized e-business. Quite a few web developers have added web-hosting to their list of client services.
A web developer usually provides hosting services via a server with a small pipeline to the Internet (either DSL or some type of partial T-1/E-1 service). Many times an e-commerce business, especially one with a small niche market, will find that the great service provided by such a hosting arrangement is more important than a large pipe to the Internet.
A web developer’s business is, by nature, customer-centric and thus it will usually have the staff to help you with problems that might arise. However, there is a price to be paid: a slightly higher contract price, total dependence upon one service, and lack of 24×7 technical support.
One piece of advice: If you decide to go this route, be careful to ensure that your hosting contract does not lock you into using only the web developer’s services (hosting or otherwise) for an extended period of time. Also, take the appropriate steps to ensure that the developer’s name isn’t listed as the “Administrative Contact” for your domain name. This identity confusion can cause problems and delays if you (at any time in the future) want to transfer your website and domain to another hosting service. You can find out who is currently listed as Administrative Contact for your domain name at www.accesswhois.com.
Although free web-hosting services aren’t as prevalent as in the past, you still want to avoid placing your web-based business in their hands. Here’s why:
As you have noticed as you’ve read through this chapter, when it comes to web-hosting services, one size does not fit all. The same goes for the type of account you opt for with one of these services.
Most small e-commerce websites should consider “virtual serving.” This type of hosting service lets you run your website as if you had your own in-house web server but with the advantage of the web-hosting service’s pipeline to the Internet. Virtual serving just divides a server’s capacity into several distinct “virtual” web servers. With this set up a hosting service can host several sites on one computer. This type of service also allows you to load your own software, set up your own cgi-bin directories, etc.
Most Internet hosting companies offer several varieties of “virtual serving.” If you require a more powerful server or a server with a limited number of sites sharing it or a combination of both, you can get it (for an appropriate fee). You are only limited by what hardware configuration and bandwidth you can afford.
Another option for a small e-commerce site that has heavy traffic, needs high availability, or serves dynamically generated pages is to contract for a dedicated server. With a dedicated server contract, instead of sharing a server, you run your website on one of the web-host’s servers, which is configured for, and dedicated to, your website’s needs. This lets you take advantage of the web-hosting service’s high-speed connection to the Internet, technical support, and redundancy systems, but allows you to have, at your command, the full capacity of an individual server.
A dedicated server is the right option if a virtual hosting service plan doesn’t offer enough data transfer, disk space, CPU power, and/or flexibility. With a dedicated server your website has the whole server to itself. That means high data transfer limits, hard drives with gigabytes of free space, 100% of the CPU power, root access, and the ability to run whatever programs you wish.
Dedicated servers usually come preloaded with an operating system, web server software, control panel, and some basic services. Anything else to be loaded onto the server is up to you. Most dedicated servers are rented by the month and pricing usually includes a monthly bandwidth limit and at least one IP static address.
The downside of this choice is that the cost of running your website on a dedicated hosted server can be significantly higher than using a virtual server. Also, you need to know how to manage a server. That includes monitoring, installing and upgrading programs, configuring programs, dealing with hack attempts, troubleshooting and fixing problems, etc. Or you could hire an experienced system administrator to handle such tasks.
Another option is to let the web-hosting service provide your server management needs. For an extra fee you can get a managed dedicated server — many Internet hosting companies offer leases for individual computers with the same management options as a virtual hosting contract.
A large website might go with co-hosting (which is also referred to as co-locating) since it provides the most freedom — but it is expensive. With co-hosting you rent space in an Internet hosting service’s network server cabinet and pay to access the network that’s connected to the Internet. In this situation you put your own computers in the server cabinet and service them yourself by obtaining access to the hosting facilities. This arrangement usually includes, for a fee, some kind of limited maintenance and back-up service.
A basic server farm usually consists of several separate servers performing different functions — all residing in one server cabinet. A large website running various applications should separate the various server applications over different computers, some sharing tasks and others going it alone..
There is a big difference between the web requirements of a small- to mid-sized web-based business’ hosting needs (even if it is a full-scale e-commerce site) and an established large- or enterprise-sized business moving to the Web with a huge catalog of products and heavy traffic.
Whichever category you fall into, shop around for your web-hosting service provider and thoroughly check references. Learn to differentiate between a pitch and a promise. The first step in this process is to ask yourself what do you want from a web-hosting service. Then determine your website’s needs.
It is important that strict attention be paid to how your hosting service and your web-based business will work together, including how your chosen hosting service can compliment your web-based business.
Shopping for the right web-hosting service for your web-based business is a difficult task at best. Look for a web-hosting service that offers a basic hosting package that includes:
Numerous hosting services offer small business-specific hosting services. To help you in the task, make a list similar to the one depicted in ,Use the list to start your comparisons of web-hosts.\\
Switching hosting services after your website is up and running is a headache. You can often avoid this pain by selecting, from the get-go, a hosting service that provides a full range of hosting packages — some of which you need now, and others that you will need in the future.
You will find in almost every hosting package a set number of email mailboxes, a predefined amount of server space for your files, and a traffic allowance (the number of megabytes downloaded when customers request one of your web pages). As with everything else, the more email boxes, file space, etc. you want, the more you pay. Unless your website is very well established and image-driven with, for example, a large product catalog, you can start with the one of the less expensive plans offered by your chosen web-hosting services.
Many web-hosting services also offer web design packages; but be advised that most of these packages leave a lot to be desired. If you do decide to use your hosting services’ web design services, subject their in-house design team to the same scrutiny as you would a web design firm or a consultant. If you design your website yourself using your hosting service’s web design solutions, scrutinize the proffered web design tools carefully before moving forward. Most of the time they are inadequate. Your best bet is to buy and to use your own design software.
For most small- to mid-size web-based businesses, contracting with a full-service web-hosting service makes the best sense. Paying a relatively small monthly fee to a service to host your website on its servers, which are maintained by its technical people, and connected to the Internet via its pipe, allows you to ameliorate hardware costs and avoid hiring expensive technical staff.
Top web-hosting services that a small- to mid-sized e-commerce site might consider include Globat.com, ICDSoft.com, iPowerWeb.com, Jumpline.com, Lunarpages.com, SpeedFox.com, and WebsiteSource.com,
For some e-commerce businesses, a large, national web-hosting service is the only choice. These e-commerce sites typically have very high traffic, provide server intensive features such as chat rooms and large media content (e.g. graphic files in their product catalog, streaming media, etc.). These websites not only has a need for, but have the budget to pay for, a web-hosting service that offers, at a minimum:
We have discussed the possibility of hosting your own small website in Chapter 4. Don’t try this with a large website. It would be a nightmare unless your company already operates servers on a 24×7 basis with a 24×7 technical staff on the premises. The cost of the large bandwidth connection (pipeline) to the Internet is daunting. So, please find a place to put your web servers that has engineers on site 24×7 to monitor them. This will provide a much less costly and less problematic website.
It is difficult for many of you to forego the opportunity for hands-on experience with your servers, but once everything is correctly configured and running, there’s very little to do. What you might need to do can be managed remotely whether you are running UNIX or NT systems.
Expect to pay a substantial sum for 24-hour full service technical support since people cost more than computers. Yet, for most large websites, all high-traffic websites, and all enterprise sites, this type of service is mandatory. However, before you sign on the dotted line, be sure to checkout how much service you actually receive from the service’s technical support. Determine:
An enterprise-class hosting service should provide a project leader and an enterprise management team to run your website’s entire server infrastructure, including the firewall, on a 24×7 basis. This team should manage, support, and upgrade web applications, whether standard or proprietary, and add networking options, including a Virtual Private Network (VPN), Internet, frame relay, and dial services.
While the individual e-commerce client’s enterprise-class hosting services will differ depending on the scope of the e-business, there are some features all have in common (in addition to what has previously been discussed), including:
But that’s just the beginning. The right enterprise-class hosting service will have trained system administrators, along with other qualified personnel, on site 24×7, monitoring your web servers along with the other web servers they host. The hosting service’s technical personnel monitoring your site provide instant attention and follow pre-arranged instructions for any situation that arises. These instructions can be as varied as a call to a named technical person in your business, to handling the problem himself or herself, or anything in between.
It is well known in the industry that security is an entity that has a life of its own; therefore, leaving the matter to the security experts at a good hosting service is a wise choice. A top-notch hosting service is positioned to provide first class security through multi-staged access control and trained security personnel monitoring the equipment and the system, 24×7. Such hosting services also will provide a configured router and will offer front-line firewall solutions which you are advised to take advantage of since, they are neither easy nor cheap to set up.
Don’t forget the mundane. An enterprise level hosting service should provide automatic backups of your data, and storage for the backups at an off-site storage location. Visit the physical plant. Is there sufficient air conditioning to keep the equipment cool? Is it clean and free of dust? Is it secure?
An enterprise-class service contract costs a pretty penny, but for some e-commerce sites, it is worth it. After all, what will it cost if your site goes down? The odds are that your website will suffer outages due to hardware failure, software glitches, outside attacks, and more. If you are self-hosting your site, this can be a huge problem. Do you know how you’ll handle such situations? What will the cost be to your business when your site is down? Can you afford it?
The high-end web-hosting business is very competitive. These hosting companies offer sophisticated, large-scale, end-to-end solutions tailored not only to the enterprise customer’s immediate needs, but engineered to respond to future demand..
The vast majority of search engines use spiders. These ingenious software programs have only one task — to crawl the Web 24 hours a day, finding and indexing web pages. These spiders (also called “bots” or “crawlers”) visit a web page, read it, and then follow links to other pages within the site. The spider revisits websites on a regular basis (e.g. every month or two) to look for changes.
Everything a spider finds is put in the search engine’s index. The index, sometimes called the catalog, is a giant database that contains a copy of every web page that the spiders find. When a web page changes, the index is updated with the new information, but it doesn’t happen immediately — it can take a while (as much as six weeks) for new pages or changes to be added to an index. So although a web page may have been “spidered” it may not have been “indexed,” and until such indexing occurs, that new page is not available to those searching with that search engine.
Search engines do not index the entire Web (although it may seem like they do). Most also don’t include dynamically created web pages like library web catalogs or other data behind CGI-walls. And none index the entirety of every website, nor do they share a common search language (i.e. the algorithm used to determine what is searched and ranking of the searched item varies depending on the search engine). However, there are three important elements that are common to all search engines:
Each search engine has its own peculiar ranking method. For example, if there are no links to other sites or pages within a website (a single page website) some search engines will not list that website.
A spider is an automated software program designed by search engines to follow hyperlinks throughout a website, retrieving and indexing pages in order to document the site for searching purposes. But what should concern a website designer is a spider’s nuances — a spider determines relevancy, i.e. if someone searches for “beeswax candles,” the search results will be only those web pages that contain the words beeswax candles. That is simple enough, but suppose there are more than one website with the term “beeswax candles”? Search engine results are presented in descending order of relevancy to the search term that was used. Relevancy determines which results will be presented first, and which second, and on and on. The spider’s job is to work out which page is most relevant to the term “beeswax candles” and which is the least relevant.
Spiders calculate relevancy based on four factors: repetition, prominence, emphasis, and link popularity. Let’s examine each of these more closely.
Repetition. This is simply the number of times a word is repeated on the page. The more often it is repeated the greater is its relevancy to the page. But resist the temptation to simply repeat the “keyword” over and over again because spiders are programmed to de-list a web page if there are too many repetitions.
Prominence. This is where keywords appear within the website. Originally all a spider looked for was the “keyword” meta tag, but not any longer. Now they look in keyword meta tags, description meta tags, alternative text tags (on images), page titles, body text, and link text.
These services present both directory-based and crawler-based results, although most hybrid services favor one type of listing over another. MSN Search, for example, typically will present listings from the LookSmart directory before it presents crawler-based results provided by Inktomi. Yahoo! uses its own directory service, which is supplemented with crawler-based results provided by Google (that may have changed by the time you read this book).
But, you might ask, how do crawler-based search engines go about determining relevancy, when confronted with hundreds of millions of web pages to sort through? They use algorithms, i.e. a set of rules that govern their spiders’ crawling techniques, indexing techniques and ranking within the list of returns of a specific search term. Although exactly how a search engine’s algorithm works is a closely kept secret, all major search engines follow the same, general rules.
The remainder of this chapter, hopefully, will help you to understand how to design your web pages so that your website will get the proper search engine and directory rankings that it needs to be successful.
When someone queries a search engine for a keyword related to your site’s products/services, does your web page appear in the top 20 matches, or does your competition’s? If your web pages aren’t listed within the first two or three pages of results, you lose. To avoid such a circumstance, when designing your new website, take into consideration the inner workings of search engines. If you ignore the criteria necessary for optimal placement by search engines, your website will miss out on traffic that it would otherwise have received if your website had been designed with search engine placement as one of its design criteria.
The three most popular search portals are Google, AlltheWeb, and Yahoo!. Trailing behind these giants are MSN Search, AOL Search, Askjeeves, and HotBot. All of these search portals in one way or another use spiders to crawl or search the Internet. Humans then search through the results in an effort to optimize the search engine’s database.
Mergers and acquisitions are changing the search portal landscape. As of mid-October 2003, Yahoo! owns AltaVista, AlltheWeb, Inktomi, and Overture. At this writing, AltaVista and AlltheWeb continue to be available at their historic locations; however, they may share the same underlying database very soon. It is noted that Inktomi remains the back-end search engine at MSN Search and is still available at HotBot.
As discussed previously, a spider is a small program that gives weight to the placement and frequency of words, and uses ranking algorithms during the search process. And as explained in the “Spider” text box, while location and frequency of keywords on a web page is generally given the most weight, related words and word relevance along with other criteria, such as descriptive five word or so page titles, body copy, placement of keywords, and meta tags within your HTML code, etc. all play a role in how a search engine ranks your web pages.
Here is an illustration of how your website’s design influences a web page’s ranking:
Say that a potential customer types in “antiquarian books.” That customer wants to find websites that have content about and/or sell antiquarian books. Since the search engine assumes the same thing, the results will be top heavy with web pages having that search term appearing in their HTML title tag. It assumes those web pages are more relevant than those without the term in their title tag. But search engines don’t stop there. They also check to see if the words “antiquarian books” appear near the top of a web page, such as in the headline or in the first few paragraphs of text because it is assumed that any page relevant to the topic will mention those words somewhere near the top of the page.
Now let’s consider frequency using the same scenario. A search engine also analyzes how often the keywords “antiquarian” and “books” appear in relation to other words in a web page. Those with a higher frequency are often deemed more relevant than other web pages.
So even though search engines vary on how they rank websites, every web page should include:
Let’s look a bit closer at each of these elements:
Title: The title you choose will be the most important decision you make affecting search engine ranking and listing. There is no specific science to it — just make it simple. Look at the web page and the first five or so descriptive words that come to mind can be the title. Another way to look it — think of your title as a catchy headline for an ad.
When it comes to the text of a submitted web page the search engines vary their indexing procedure. While some will index the text of a submitted page others will only take into account the first 25 words (or 255 characters) of a submitted page (25/255 rule). So, write the text of a submitted page using the important keywords more than once in the first 25 words.
Something else you can do is to create at the top of a submitted web page, a transparent gif image that is one pixel in size and inside the ALT tag insert a description of the page using the 25/255 rule.
Meta Tags: They are indispensable tools in your battle for search engine ranking. Put them, along with keywords relevant to each specific page, on each page of your website.
When we discuss meta tags in this chapter we are discussing only description and keyword tags. A description meta tag is exactly what it sounds like — it gives a description of a web page for the search engine summary. A keyword meta tag is again exactly what it states — it gives keywords (which should never be fewer than two words) for the search engine to associate with a specific web page. These meta tags, which go inside the header tags, are crucial for optimal search engine indexing. Your meta tags should reflect the content of the first couple of sentences of the main body. It is important that you make certain that the words you use in your keyword tags are words that someone would type in to find your website.
<TITLE>Best Online Widget Store in the Universe</TITLE>
<META name=”description” content=”An online store with all the Widgets you would ever want.”>
<META name=”keywords” content=”widgets, widget accessories, widget howto, widget books, widget articles, widget technical papers, widget software, working with widgets, designing with widgets,”>
For guidelines on what you should do with meta tags, go to a search engine, say AlltheWeb, search for a term or word that you hope someone would use to find your website. Then go to the top ranked websites and use the “view source” feature of your browser to see what kind of meta tags each of these sites use. Study them and understand their relationship to the web page, then use this information when you are composing your own meta tags.
Link popularity. This refers both to the number of similar websites you’ve placed links to within your web pages and the number of websites that have links that point back to your e-commerce site. Your links to other websites must be on relevant pages — that is pages that have as much to do with the common theme of your website as possible, and that are not just a page full of links. Pages that are full of links are commonly referred to as “link farms” and are ignored by spiders.
Search engines view a website with a large number of incoming links (i.e. other websites that have links to your website) as an important or popular website. Thus, according to search engines, a website with lots of links leading to it generally implies that the website is a valued one and the search engine’s database would not be complete without it. Link popularity is vital if your site is to achieve a high search engine placement ranking.
If your keyword density is too low, your page will not be rated high enough in relevancy and, conversely, if too high, then your site may be penalized for “keyword stuffing.” I know this sounds very complicated but there is a way to get help — keyword optimizing tools such as the GRSoftware’s Keyword Density Analyzer (www.grsoftware.net) and the Webpositioning Gold at (www.website-promoters.com). Or check out Keyworddensity.com, which provides free online analysis of any web page. Another option is to use a service like Abalone Designs (www.abalone.ca), Dragonfly Design (https://dragonfly-design.com/special-offers.html.) or etrafficjams.com. All three provide free website analyses as a marketing tool.
Many of you will decide to purchase search engine optimization tools because such tools can help you to get the desired results from search engine submissions, by providing you with the means to tweak your website so that it works with visiting search engine spiders and their complex, math-based formulas used to rank websites. Here is what to look for when selecting a search engine optimization tool:
Most search engine optimization tools are relatively inexpensive. To give you a sampling of what’s available, check out:
The best practice (there are exceptions) is to submit each page of your website, individually, to all of the search engines and directories. You may think that submitting each and every page of your website is not necessary since some pages may have, for example, investor information or contact information. But every page that is listed is like an entry in a drawing — the more entries, the more chances you have.
Use a search engine optimization tool (previously discussed) for the submission process, you can submit some of your web pages by hand to specific search engines and automate the rest using web-positioning software such as Submitta.com, the previously mentioned Webpositioning Gold(www.website-promoters.com), or check out one of the many website promotion services available online.
If you want to try submitting your web pages yourself here is a guide:
Pay attention to how your website is listed on a search engine. Does it identify what your website is and the products/services provided? To assure that your search engine listing provides the proper information needed by the surfing public, use your title tag (e.g. <title>Best Online Widget Store in the Universe </title>). Search engines then use as the descriptive paragraph one of the following, depending on the search engine: either your description tag (<META name=”description” content=”An online store with all the Widgets you would ever want.”>) or the first 250 words (or so) of visible text on your site.
Although it will take a little effort, it is important that you balance these tags. In other words, sometimes what you need to put in as a title or descriptive tag (to get a high ranking with a particular search engine) will not help you in your quest to have potential customers easily find your page through commonly used keyword searches.
Creating a good marketing plan is the best thing that you can do to help assure a new web-based business’s growth. Your marketing plan should be your guide on which you base your marketing decisions and it will help to ensure that everyone involved in marketing your website works toward the same goals. A properly drawn up and instituted marketing plan not only provides a guide for the growth of your web-based business, but also how to spend your promotional dollars. Optimally a marketing plan and its budget (which is an integral part of your business’s overall budget) should cover promotion and advertising for 6 to 12 months.
Don’t forget to include in your plan’s budget a sizable allotment for market research. What you know about your target market and the information gleaned from marketing research will give you the basis for your marketing strategy. Research is the only way you will know what is necessary to design your marketing plan to reach the 25-35% of your website’s customers that are not brought to your site by search engines and directories. The plan should lay the groundwork for campaigns that will encourage customers to place an order, or to take some kind of action, that will allow you to respond — thereby establishing a relationship with another potential customer.
Develop market objectives that are realistic and specific. If possible, hire consultants to assist you in identifying the available market, to understand who will be competing with you for that market share, and to formulate a realistic projection for your share of that market. Most of this information can be gathered from:
Analyze your site from a promotional point of view. Then, with your marketing hat on, look at your site with a fresh eye and consider:
Now look at the competition:
This research will give you a good idea as to how you should go about reaching your current and potential customers — in other words, where you should spend your advertising dollars: banner ads, targeted opt-in email, newsletters (online or email), surveys, traditional advertising methods (print, radio, television), and incentives such as discounts, gift certificates and contests.
Now you have a good starting point for your strategic marketing campaign.
As you formulate your marketing plan consider:
Competitive Forces: Who are your major competitors now and who is likely to be your major competitors in the future? What response can you expect from those competitors to any change in your marketing strategy? How does the structure of the industry affect competitive forces in the industry?
Economic Forces: What is the general economic condition of the country or region where the majority of your customers reside (demographic research)? Are your consumers optimistic or pessimistic about the economy? What is your target market’s buying power (demographic research)? What are the current spending patterns of your target market? Are your customers buying less or more from your website and why?
Socio-cultural Forces: How are society’s (and your targeted market’s) demographics and values changing and how will these changes affect your web-based business? What is the general attitude of society regarding the Internet, your business, and its products/services? What ethical issues should you address?
Legal and Regulatory Forces: What changes in various government regulations (domestic and foreign) are being proposed that would affect the way you operate? What effect will global agreements such as NAFTA and GATT have on your web-based business?
Technological Forces: What impact will changing technology have on your target market, if any? What technological changes will affect the way you operate your website, sell your products/services, and conduct marketing activities?
Identify Target Market: What are the demographics of your target market, i.e., characteristics such as, sex, age, income, occupation, education, ethnic background, family life cycle, etc.? What are the geographic characteristics of this market, i.e. its location, accessibility, climate? What are the psychographics of your niche market, i.e., attitudes, opinions, interests, motives, lifestyles? What are the product-usage characteristics of this market?
Needs Analysis: What are the current needs of your target market? How well is your website and its products/services meeting these needs? How are your competitors’ meeting these needs? How are the needs of your niche market expected to change in the near and distant futures?
Your website and its products/services cannot be all things to all people. Look at margarine or aspirin, for example, and the extremes that have been taken to create brand awareness and product differentiation. Marketing requires continual vigilance. Your marketing position must be able to change to keep up with the current conditions of the market. Constantly monitor what is happening in your “space” so that you always have up-to-date knowledge of your marketplace. After you accumulate accurate information about your customers, the segments they fit into, and the buying motives of those segments, you can select the marketing position that makes the most sense.
At this moment, how is your website performing in terms of sales volume, market share, and profitability? How does this compare to other websites in your “space”? What is the overall performance of your entire competitive marketplace? If your website’s performance is improving, what actions can you take to ensure that it continues to improve? What are your web-based business’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats? (In marketing circles these four terms are commonly lumped together into the acronym — SWOT.)
Once you have answered the above questions, you are ready to set out your marketing objectives. Define your current marketing objectives. Are your objectives consistent with recent changes in the marketing environment and/or needs of your target market? What is the specific and measurable outcome and time frame for completing each objective? How does each objective take advantage of a strength or opportunity and/or convert a weakness or threat? How is each objective consistent with your web-based business’ goals and mission?
Next comes your marketing strategy. Once you have completed the research on your target market with specifics such as demographics, geographics, psychographics, product-usage characteristics, justifications for the selection of this target market, and your competitors in this market. Next consider your marketing mix (pricing, distribution and promotion strategies). How does this marketing mix give you a competitive advantage in your niche market? Is this competitive advantage sustainable? Why or why not?
Some other elements that fit within a good marketing plan are:
When drawing up your marketing plan, think about where you want your business to be in three years and how you plan to get there — that’s your marketing plan in a nutshell. Marketing your web-based business is a never-ending task. Once you have your information and your marketing plan in place, you must continuously revisit, revise, refine, and revamp it to accommodate changes in your marketplace.
With a marketing plan in place you have a considered strategy to outmaneuver your competition by capitalizing on their weaknesses and emphasize your web-based business’s strengths. By increasing market awareness of the offerings of your website, you acquire new customers.
Now it is time to implement your marketing plan. Identify a marketing team. This team can be formed from your business’ internal personnel and consultants, and people who have intimate knowledge of the Web, web marketing and (if you are a click-and-mortar) how the Web can be integrated with current marketing plans. In addition, find graphic designers, copywriters, and illustrators. Once the team is in place, it should plan and focus on strategic revenue goals. Don’t let the team focus on the number of hits your site receives due to an overall advertising, marketing and PR campaign while ignoring whether the campaign achieved the expected revenue goals. Make it clear as to who has the decision-making authority, who is responsible for what, and set out a clear timetable for each campaign’s completion?
Don’t forget to coordinate your marketing activities. What does this mean? Here are a few example: If you plan to unveil a campaign during the Super Bowl you must ensure your website and your web-hosting service and/or ISP have the facilities to handle the added traffic. If you are a brick-and-mortar, how do you coordinate special promotions? If you plan to offer a specific item as, let’s say, a two-for-one promotion, take steps to assure that there is adequate inventory. Also additional contact center help is mandatory when launching any kind of new campaign.
Your marketing plan should include marketing through several venues, such as print media, banner ads, affiliates, television ads, radio ads, newsletters, email, etc. However, with the Web’s extensive capabilities available for a reasonable cost, make it the cornerstone.
Create a consistent marketing message for your website that reflects its mission and goals. This theme will provide consistency to your presentation and continuity over time. The theme can remain constant, although the look and content will certainly change. Always keep the look and content focused on your potential customers’ wants and needs and take advantage of any of your competitions shortcomings.
Your marketing plan should become the basis for analysis of whether customer needs are being met through analyzing sales trends, customer’s comments, return numbers, requests for out-of-stock merchandise, repeat customers, surveys, etc. At some point consider offering new products — either related or unrelated to current ones — and go after new target markets or penetrate current markets more deeply.
If you have a brick-and-mortar business, make use of it. How? By making certain that your website information is prominent in all of the advertisements for your traditional business and check that your website’s address is prominent on all your marketing and advertising material, business cards, letterhead, envelopes, brochures, shopping bags, giveaways such as hats and pens, etc. Also make your employees aware of the importance of promoting the online business.
If you are the owner of a successful brick-and-mortar brand, then you already possess a key advantage in you online venture — name-recognition. Just this fact alone will help make your website more valuable and allow it to obtain profitability more quickly.
Finally, institute a procedure to monitor the success or failure of your marketing activities. Will a formal marketing audit be performed? If so, what will be its scope? Will specialized audits be performed? If so, which marketing functions will be analyzed?
How do you keep your customers coming back for more? On-site marketing of your website involves search engine submissions, strategic links, optimizing your copy, banner ads, opt-in email, client retention services, affiliate programs, press releases, and much more. In other words, it’s whatever will work to draw potential customers to your website then converting them into paying customers. You want to build brand awareness, foster relationships with your customers, encourage repeat business and return visits to your website.
Established brick-and-mortars that have moved their business (or elements of their business) online must take care to reflect the essence of the brick-and-mortar brand, work with the brand, and make sure that you take the brand online appropriately. In other words, don’t jeopardize your product by using marketing gimmicks online that you would not do use for your traditional business.
To keep your customers coming back for more, include in your marketing plan strategies for:
Some examples are a newsletter for registered visitors, a free gift for answering a questionnaire or for a referral, or a monthly drawing for one of your products. All of these suggestions (out of many that can be implemented) not only build traffic but also start you well on the road toward collecting data on your customers’ demographics and offer the opportunity to amass your customers’ email addresses for use in future marketing campaigns.
Aggressively solicit customer feedback. It’s a great marketing tactic. Here’s a suggestion on how to create a good customer feedback campaign:
Create a short, say 25-question, customer survey that has a prominent position on your website. When customers take time to fill-out the survey, thank them by issuing a $5 gift certificate or some other giveaway. Compile the information obtained from the survey and then use the results to fuel growth and change so that your site is always new and exciting. Surveys also can indicate what your customers like and dislike about your site.
Another benefit from using the survey method is acquiring your customer’s information —name, email address and maybe even their snail mail address — all very useful for sending out future promotions. But be careful not to annoy your customers. It is advisable to mitigate the possible irritation caused by direct-mail (either email or snail mail) by including something your customers will appreciate such as a newsletter or a certificate for redemption of a small gift or gift certificate; which can, in turn, result in customer appreciation.
Another way to use your survey form is for testimonial feedback that you can then use as content on your website. For example, if you offer a certain brand of shoes, in one of your surveys you can ask for opinions or comments about that brand. Use those comments on your website, such as, “I didn’t need these shoes but they reminded me of when I was a child,” or “I just wanted them because they were different.”
As mentioned earlier, numerous search engines use link popularity when ranking websites. Thus instituting a strategic linking program is a must for any new website. When a search service sees a website that has a lot of other websites linking to it, it naturally assumes this profusion of links means it is a site with compelling content and is well-regarded in the Web neighborhood.
Begin by negotiating reciprocal links, especially with websites that appear consistently in the “top twenty.” Having a good base of incoming links from other websites is as important as providing links to the “top twenty” on your website. Remember this can also include your competitors’ sites. Why? If any of your competitors’ sites are one the “top twenty” returns when a search is done for “shoes” leading customers to that site and they don’t find what they are looking for on your competitor’s site, but see your link, guess what — they will end up on your site. You will be surprised how many of your so-called competitors will be very glad to link to your site in return for a link back. Why? Because the next time your website may show up in the “top twenty” when a potential customer uses a different search criteria.
Work hard to develop link partnerships with websites that are popular with your customers. How can you know what’s popular? Use those surveys!
Quality links — links that provide a valuable resource your customers will appreciate — are the only links you should consider when developing your links strategy. These links give you the opportunity to provide a useful service for a potential customer even if there is no sale made at that specific time. Customers remember the websites that enables them to accomplish their goal — even though they may have made their purchase on another website. But because you took the effort to provide your customers with a valuable service — links to quality websites that target the same niche market — they will come back. Eventually, they will make a purchase from your website.
There are many ways you can exchange links. Links can be banners, links can be placed in emails, links can be placed within informational text on yours and others websites, links can be an award, links can be provided within a buyer’s guide or directory.
Okay, now you get the idea, so go for it. Try any variety of these links or all of them — just do them tastefully and don’t let the links distract from the presentation of your products/services. Links not only help with search engine ranking, they feed traffic to your site directly, and they help to create name recognition. All good things!
Now, how to go about generating links? First decide:
When vacillating on whether to establish a link relationship with a specific competitor, remember that if you offer a quality product that is competitively priced, a link to a competitor’s site won’t hurt you. It can actually help by providing your customers the information necessary to make a purchasing decision. Your customers aren’t stupid; the Internet is a great venue for comparison-shopping, so customers will probably be visiting your competitors anyway. Make it easy for them; they’ll appreciate it. Remember Miracle on 42nd Street — Gimbles referring customers to Macy’s and vice versa — same theory here.
Before searching for link partners, consider what kind of partner you want and what you have to offer the potential partner. Be diligent, be open to opportunities, and always be on the lookout for a potential quality link relationship. If you are on a website that you think might have potential, act immediately, send an email, use their feedback form.
Banner ads are just small digital billboards that one website pays (in one way or another) to be placed on another website. When potential customers click on a banner placed within another website, they are sent to your website.
Various studies have shown that the most powerful word in a banner ad is “free,” that simplicity sells, and graphics enhance a message. If a banner is designed correctly, it doesn’t distract from the message. Other elements you need for a good banner design include:
When a potential customer clicks on your banner ad to visit your website, it is called a “click-through.” The ratio of impressions to click-throughs is called the CTR (click-through ratio). An effective banner ad design and astute placement on a compatible high traffic site contributes to the obtainment of a high CTR, which can double the click-through rate of your ad, thereby doubling your return on investment (ROI). A study by Doubleclick.com found that:
If you aren’t careful, banner ads often fade into the digital woodwork — even if you use animation and other special effects. If not managed right, banner advertising can be expensive and ineffective. Be very careful with your ad placement and make certain that you do not overpay for ad placement on websites that do not produce real customers to your site. Place banner ads on websites that you know your target customers visit. Targeting equates to better-qualified customers, or potential customers that are more likely to complete the sale. How can you know — via your online surveys.
Note that a study by ZDNet found that animated ads generated CTR at least 15% higher than static ads, and in some cases as much as 40% higher. However, animation does not take the place of response-driven copy and a creative idea. Avoid animation that takes a long time to download and offers poor copy. But with simple, creative animation more potential customers notice and pay attention, even if they don’t click on it. Also, potential customers are more likely to click for more information if the animation effectively emphasizes what product is about. However, the animated ad must have a strong, well-crafted message and a clear call to action.
Frequency (the number of times a viewer sees an ad) is an important factor when planning a banner campaign to build your brand awareness. In addition to maximizing your ad dollar, controlling ad frequency can open up new creative doors by allowing you to create a custom banner package for your branding campaign. The correct delivery frequency is necessary for banner ad success and will help determine how successful your branding campaign will be. The right frequency is usually crucial for getting your message across since too few impressions and your message just isn’t seen by enough potential customers, and with too many your banners begin to fade into the woodwork. This is referred to as “banner burnout,” i.e., a banner no longer offers a good ROI. Several companies offer help in managing your banner ad frequency rate. One such company is the previously mentioned DoubleClick.com whose services allow you to control a sequence of banners that can be served to viewers in a specific order.
Banner ads on popular websites (especially those that service the same niche market) can run as low as $249 for 250,000 impressions. An “impression” is the number of times surfers see a page that your banner is situated on. Ad placement services such as BannerCell.com, Insidewire.com, Internet Advertising Solution (IAS) (https://iaswww.com), NarrowcastMedia.com, and ValueClick.com can assist you with specific, targeted placement of your banner ads.
The industry average of CTRs is between 1.5 and 2.5%. If you purchased 50,000 impressions and received a 2% CTR, your website would receive 1000 potential customers. It is possible that with a well-designed and effectively targeted banner ad campaign you could receive a higher CTR, which is why a good banner design is important. When using services such as the ones listed in the previous paragraph, you can easily rotate two or three banners during a campaign, which keeps a single banner from going stale. However, to receive the 1000 potential customers requires a substantial investment on your part. Therefore, for small websites, it would probably be more cost effective to use alternative marketing methods and then supplement that with a few well-placed banner ads.
Don’t forget to factor in the costs of an agency to create the banner ad and another agency or consultant to place the banner ad and to plot your online strategy.
An economical approach is to develop reciprocal relationships with other websites that will cost you only your time (plus the cost of the banner itself). If you do pursue this method, follow these three rules:
Almost all e-commerce websites can benefit from an effective banner advertising campaign. Here is how:
Stretches your ad budget. Banner ads cost less to create and place than other forms of advertising and they also often deliver a more targeted audience than more expensive advertising venues such as television, print ads, radio spots, and direct mail.
Gets your e-commerce’s brand where you want it to be seen. It is easier to build a higher traffic volume by strategically placing banner ads on websites that relate to your product/service offerings. For example, an e-commerce site that offers trendy sunglasses can place ads on fashion sites, or a software vendor can advertise on tech sites such as ZDNet.com and Cnet.com. Online ads give users immediate satisfaction by allowing them to just “click” and they are at your website — instant gratification.
Provides quality traffic. When a person clicks on a banner, they are interested in what the banner has to say, and thus what your website offers. Since banners tend to deliver highly targeted sales leads, even ads with low response rates can be very effective.
Helps to establish your brand. If you use the same theme (look and feel) for your banners that you use for your website, the ad can serve to reinforce your brand. Even if a potential customer doesn’t click on the banner, they have been exposed to your message, logo, and image. By consistently applying your business’s colors, trademarks, and products in your banner ads, you help your brand’s image stick in potential customers’ minds.
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