Article by Sam Martin, PE, CVS, President of OfficeOnWeb, Technologies. 10/29/1999
The Internet is the fastest growing business tool in history. To put it in perspective, here are some points of comparison: it took 30 years for radio to attract 50 million listeners, TV 13 years, and the Internet 5 years. The number of users in the US alone this year is estimated at 77 million. While visiting web sites, about 2% of all browsers turn into buyers with many of the more well known sites showing much higher ratios.
Time Magazine once predicted that a web address would be as important to a business as a telephone number (April 1997). That time may be here. Many businesses find that their competitors have a web site. Indeed, many businesses are not considered to be a serious business unless they can give a valid web site address. With such circumstances, why doesn't every business have a successful e-commerce web site? Answer: Not understanding a web sites' advantages, fear of computers, and not finding appropriate solutions.
The main advantages for business web sites are gathering new customers, supporting existing ones, and reducing operating costs. Most businesses view their web site as only an advertising vehicle to gather new customers. However, a web site that also supports existing customers can generate more new customers and loyalty than any advertising web site. Putting commonly asked questions on your site so they can be available 24-hours a day can reduce staffing overhead and increase productivity. Fear of computers does not need to be a factor as a business does not even need to own one to have a web site and receive e-mail.
Appropriate solutions can be found by recognizing that success on the web is like a three legged chair. Remove any one of the three legs and the web site "falls over" and fails to meet its potential. The three legs are: marketing, hosting, and web site design.
Building a web site business is like placing your business on a dead end street. You must place signs out in traffic areas. The days of "build it and they will come" probably never existed, and if they did, have long ago disappeared. Marketing of a web site is more than registering the web site with search engine and listing services. This is only the first step. You must advertise its presence by placing its address on every advertisement and document you have. Presence of a web site address on an ad improves the productiveness of an ad program by as much as 30%. You can even turn checks into a marketing tool. Just put your web site address on them.
Hosting is the second key. If people see the "sign" and find the "street" blocked or difficult to pass, they will turn around and leave before they ever reach the business. To avoid this, make sure the hosting service is unencumbered with access requests, and is connected to the backbone with T3 or OC capabilities. Select a fully commercial hosting service that does not use access servers to host business web sites. The hosting service should also offer a CGI library, ability to operate your own PERL coding, real visitor logs, and secure POP mail service. If you want to take orders on your web site, it should offer encryption and secure server options too.
Once you have a visitor at your web site they need to find a useful site design. This would include useful content, quick ability to find what they are looking for, and contact information on every page. If you want to do your own web site, you can buy software and study how to market your site. If you don't want to spend your valuable time learning web site design, you should hire a web site designer. A successful web site is more than the coding itself. Pick a firm that knows web site design, marketing, business operations, and how to advertise your web site. A successful web site is one that fits within your entire business plan and begins with that in mind during its design.
Did you know that in 1998-2001 more than 95% of OfficeOnWeb's new customers made a profit from their web site within their first year of operation? This compares to less than 20% industry wide ever even breaking even. Sad, but it is true. Why? Professional and directed expertise. Some of the features that make up the level of success that our clients enjoy are:
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