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Getting Lost on the World Wide Web

August 2003 Marketing

The marketing reality is the World Wide Web has become a very crowded and intensely competitive place, and it gets more crowded by the minute. Such clutter makes the interactive world a difficult place to achieve visibility. The key to being seen on this medium is a function of one’s ability to talk to the gatekeepers – the search engines.

Like the Yellow Pages in the offline environment, a buyer seeking information will end the search as soon as he/she locates what he/she believe is a satisfactory solution. If that satisfactory source begins with the letter A, there is little chance the shopper will go further. When the shopper finds a phone number, makes the call and satisfied the need, the search ends.

The Web works the same way. We start with a key word or phrase, and the search engine gives you some choices – it may be as many 2,000 to 3,000 possible alternatives. Usually, the first 20-30 “hits” come very close to matching the key word or phrase. The deeper you go into the data base, the less exact the sites match your key word or phrase. Even though there might be 2,000 possible sites, most people browsing the Net won’t go beyond the first 50 “hits.”

That might be why few if any shoppers ever find your Web site, and you are “lost on the Web.”

The key to being seen and found is to be among the Top 50. If you are not getting the “hits” it’s usually because (1) people can’t locate what you’re offering; (2) your site has construction flaws. Where there are hundreds of search engines, a half dozen are responsible for more than 80 percent of the searches. Even people who know the Web site address (URL) often will go to the search engine to find it!

Your Web site can be a tremendously valuable piece of intellectual property for your company or organization. It is a modern window through which the world sees your business. But it can be a double-edged sword. Chances are if your Web site is not helping you it very well might be hurting you. Here’s why

  • Browsers looking to find a dysfunctional Web site are like supermarket shoppers trying to locate products without signs over the aisle.
  • Poor or outdated content insults your customers. They leave and never come back because they find what they are looking for elsewhere.
  • Incorrect coding and tagging will put you in the wrong neighborhood – like potato chips in the detergent aisle of the supermarket.
  • An out-of-date, shopworn appearance will downgrade your image and brand identity and you won’t look as good as your competitors.
  • Moreover, the Internet is very unforgiving – as Procter & Gamble has told “Head and Shoulders” buyers for years – “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

What’s even more chilling is the possibility of building two nearly identical sites with one being a hit the other being a dud. Why? The answer is “coding” and it’s part of the structure of the site that is invisible to the unsophisticated eye. Some graphic designers who have diversified into Web site development don’t have a clue on how to properly code and tag a site. Their basic knowledge and orientation is graphics, color and design – not Internet communications.

While the Internet is a new marketing communications medium, it makes use of the oldest of models – the communications process model. There is a sender who has a message and a receiver who is the target of that message. The sender first develops a creative approach, known as “encoding.” It is then transmitted to the receiver through some medium such as newspapers, TV or the Web. The receiver takes that encoded message and decodes so that it makes sense and creates value to the receiver.

The feedback loop simply is an assessment of the effectiveness of the process and how the receiver reacts to the message. In the case of advertising, feedback would be measured by product sales or an increase in market share. On the Internet, feedback would be measured by the number of “hits” or the amount of time spent by the viewer on the site.

Competing with the sender’s efforts is the “noise level” within the model. That noise level is every other sender who is trying to reach the same receiver. In the case of advertising, the noise level refers to the clutter on airwaves or within a magazine where many advertisers compete for the customer’s attention.

The Internet environment can be ever more unforgiving and competition is more cutthroat. While the noise level in off-line media may be high, at least there is a possibility of having the commercial message seen or heard. However, if you are “lost on the Web,” you are so far down in the search engine hierarchy, you are never seen or heard.

The Internet marketer who wants to be successful must be better than its competitors. The key to winning the game is knowing how to use the rules.



About the author

James T. Berger, Managing Editor of The Wiglaf Journal, through his Northbrook-based firm, James T. Berger/Market Strategies, offers a broad range of marketing communications, research and strategic planning consulting services. In addition, he provides expert services to intellectual property attorneys in the area of trademark infringement litigation. An adjunct professor of marketing at Roosevelt University, he previously has taught at Northwestern University, DePaul University, University of Illinois at Chicago and The Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan (BA), Northwestern University (MS) and the University of Chicago (MBA). Berger is an often-published free lance business writer who has developed more than 100 published articles in the last eight years. For more information, visit www.jamesberger.net or telephone him at (847) 328-9633.

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