G. Internet Promotion
"It pays to advertise; but you pay first."

In this chapter we will discuss some issues that become relevant after an Internet communication effort has been developed. Both discussions focus primarily on Web-based communications activities, but some of the concepts could be applied to e-mail activities as well.

The issues include the promotion of an Internet communications effort and the measurement of an effort once it is under way. Promotion describes the act of telling somebody about something. In this case, we need to tell our targeted audiences about a Web communication effort in order to engage them.

Measurement involves reviewing data from different sources to analyze the status of our efforts. Data can include technical data and impersonal and personal information captured through our communications activities. A positive aspect of Internet communication is that the technology provides several methods for in-depth capturing, profiling, and reviewing of activities. This captured information can be used to improve presentations, engage audiences, and fulfill wants, needs, and desires.

Putting up a Web site is similar to building a billboard in your basement. It may look good, but unless somebody is searching for it, they will not see it. This lab introduces the primary options that are available to Webmasters planning to promote an Internet communications effort. The discussion centers on the promotion of Web-based communication efforts.

Promotion of an effort is important because it informs a current or potential audience member of your organization's efforts and provides an opportunity for end users to initiate communication with you. Since the Internet medium is driven by end-user motivation, it is necessary for your potential audiences to know how to communicate with your organization over the Internet.

The key to promotion, like everything else on the Internet, is targeting the correct audience. Promotion must be targeted at the audience the Internet effort is designed to reach. You must use the appropriate media to reach that audience and inform its members of the Web site and how it will fulfill their wants, needs, and desires.

Your existing audience may need notification of your organization's Internet communication efforts so they can begin transforming communication to this new method. Customers of a manufacturing company will need to be told they can seek product information and order status reports via the Web once those systems are set up. And if those same customers come onto the Web looking for a way to communicate with the company, it is important for the company to be listed in the various search engines and directories in use.

If your organization is seeking a new audience on the Internet, then it's necessary to promote your effort in a way that informs this new audience of your presence. A number of options are available to promote an Internet communications effort. These options fall into two categories: (1) efforts using traditional media and communication channels, and (2) activities that can be conducted on the Internet itself.

The first category includes any and all of the existing communication methods that are available off-line. These methods may or may not be in use for promotion or marketing activities by your organization. If they are in use, then the promotion of a Web site can be built into existing advertising and promotional activities.

If your organization is new or doesn't use traditional advertising methods, then it should consider promoting a Web communications effort. If you are operating a new business or other effort on the Internet, then traditional media channels can be used to drive end users onto a Web site.

Traditional media channels include the following options. Other methods exist as well, but these methods and their descriptions are a good place to begin promoting a Web communications effort.

Mail-based communication, including postcards, letters, self-mailers, and catalogs, is the first medium to consider. This medium is the basis for most original direct marketing and is still very effective for communication with both customers and a prospective audience. Highly targetable and cost effective, mail is an excellent tool for promotion. One technique could involve making special offers to end users that require a Web-based response. Others could involve special discounts to catalog customers that use a Web transaction site.

Broadcast media, including TV and radio, are very expensive but could be important if you need to reach a broad, mass-market audience. TV ads can easily carry Web addresses, and several large companies are including Web communication in national branding campaigns. Local TV ads are also available.

Radio promotion is easier to target than TV. Many business marketers use news radio ads to deliver offers to commuters during drive times. The use of this media could also be effective if a Web effort is targeted to this audience. Consumer marketers use radio promotion targeted at the demographics of the listening audiences of specific radio stations. Radio stations that have a young audience carry a lot of soft drink ads. Stations playing music for older listeners carry a lot of car advertisements. Web sites can be promoted using the same targeting criteria to reach specific audiences.

Public relations is an indirect promotion effort. Public relations efforts involve media releases and press conferences to inform the media of an issue. These activities involve professionals who build relationships with media representatives and journalists. The objective is to gain "free media" or publicity and be included in the editorial content of magazines, newspapers, and broadcast journalism. This is difficult to accomplish without professional help on a national level. But locally, gaining media coverage about a Web communications effort may not be as difficult. In addition, trade magazines, publications, and newsletters that reach your targeted audience my be good places to focus public relations activities.

Print media is driven by space advertising. This is another excellent method to promote an Internet communications effort. Promotion can be targeted at the readership of an appropriate publication. Specific space ads can be run carrying offers that drive readers onto a Web site. Addresses and e-mail can also be included as part of the ad's copy.

Packaging for products or even informational packets is another vehicle for promotion. Since these materials are a necessary part of communicating with audience members, it's a good idea to promote Internet communication as well. Since people receiving these kinds of materials already have a relationship with your organization, these are excellent vehicles to begin transforming traditional customer service activities to Internet communication.

Billboards and other signage are used by some companies and organizations for advertising and branding activities. These same efforts can be used to promote Web sites to the localized, mass-market audiences they reach.

On-line promotion is available to Webmasters wishing to promote a Web site or engage an audience. It is only useful in reaching the Internet audience, but that audience is growing daily.

This chapter discusses four areas ways to promote a Web site on-line. The first two activities involve search engines and Web directories. The second two methods involve creating links to a Web site by paying for them or sharing them with another Web site.

Search engines and Web directories are very similar and have a similar interface for the end user. But they are different as well. Both consist of information about Web pages taken from the actual Web pages stored on Web servers worldwide. Both store and catalog information about Web pages store the information in a database. And both provide opportunities for end users to search these databases, looking for the information they seek.

The primary difference between these two resources is how the information is originally stored in the databases. A search engine is sometimes called a search bot, or spider, because it uses a software tool to catalog the entire World Wide Web, following every link to every public Web site available and cataloging the text information on each Web page.

This information is then stored in a database or index. A search of this database requires the use of key words, meaning words that represent the subject of the search. A search will turn up pages that carry these key words. It is similar to looking up a phone number in the white pages. Altavista.com is an excellent example of this type of resource.

A Web directory is similar in many ways except that the information it provides was submitted to the administrators of the directory. Web sites are reviewed and categorized by human reviewers based on the content of the site. Searches of a directory yield results from the content of the directory, not the whole Web. And searches yield categories of information listed in the directories in addition to the individual Web pages involved. Directories can also be examined manually, like looking up a subject in the yellow pages, where information is stored in hierarchical fashion.

Unfortunately, the searching and storage systems for both of these types of resources are text-based. Written words are not the best ways to identify an idea or concept. The word fly, for instance, has many meanings. To fly is a verb involving soaring through the air. A fly is a noun describing an insect. A computer only sees one word, not the context it is written in.

The text issue is very apparent when using search engines. Searching for a key word will provide every Web page that contains that word. This means that a lot of matches won't be appropriate. Combinations of key words yield better results in search engines because pages that are found with the same words are probably related to the subject involved-but not always.

To provide better searching ability, the administrators of search engines are constantly improving the systems used to search, catalog, and store information found on Web pages. In addition, Web communicators are constantly trying to determine how the search engines are operating. Web communicators want their Web pages to be presented at the top of the results seen by end users searching the databases.

I think of this as a type of game: the search engines game. Administrators of search engines are constantly changing the formulas and systems they use to catalog Web pages. And they are altering the ways the information is presented to end users to make searching more useful. Meanwhile, Web communicators are trying to keep up and build their presentations to suit the systems in use by the search engines. The winner gets to be first in the search results. This is called good or high positioning.

Web directories do not create such a high-pressure situation. Web pages are reviewed and categorized by humans after being submitted by Web communicators. In this situation, the best recourse for communicators is to create targeted presentations and then suggest to the directories how best to classify the information. Communicators can't really beat the game since the directory administrators make the final decisions. These listings are important, however, and should be used to promote a Web presence.

The other prevalent types of on-line promotion involve linking between sites. Linking is a function of the World Wide Web that makes it possible to link any two pages or presentations existing on any public Web server. Links between content on different pages were the original reason for development of the Web and is the basis for its name.

Links promote a Web site by providing a direct connection to the site. For this reason, links are usually placed on high-traffic sites, meaning sites that get a lot of visitors. These links provide a connection to the site seeking promotion.

In these situations links are usually paid for by the site receiving the link. A form of advertising has been developed using banners, or small space ads, on Web sites. The banner ads promote the company or product they are representing and serve as link to the Web presentation by that company or organization. These banners are created by the advertisers and targeted to audiences based on the visitors to specific Web sites. Companies and organizations promote their Web sites on other Web sites that engage similar audience members.

Banner advertising is very similar to space advertising in traditional media. Banner ads are placed on sites with content targeted at appropriate audiences, just as space ads are placed in targeted publications. The Web sites for search engines, directories, and large media companies are some of the most visited Web sites. These sites can therefore charge the most money for banner ads linking from their sites. Banner ads also provide a direct response device by offering immediate linking to the advertiser and engagement of that end user in the process.

Another linking technique involves sharing links between Web sites that are in some type of relationship. In this type of arrangement, links are swapped by Web sites that are trying to help promote each other. These types of links are prevalent for noncommercial entities that want to provide informational resources and communities on the Web. They are used less by commercial operations.

Links provide an exit from a Web presentation. An organization may have to spend money or other resources engaging an audience member. If a link off the Web site is provided, an engaged visitor has a way to leave the presentation immediately. This issue must be considered. Technical solutions using additional browser windows have also been developed to alleviate this issue.

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