Leaf through any newspaper, and you will notice that half the ads include an Internet address. When Homebase launched its Website in March, the DIY chain printed it on everything from receipts to shopping bags. And many more organisations are realising the need to promote their Net presence.
But with 130,000 new sites appearing every week, the challenge is to differentiate your Website from the rest. John Wilmott, interactive director at communication agency Siegel & Gale, believes most organisations are not doing enough.
“Many clients tend to treat Websites as TV advertising. They put up pages and expect people to go and see them,” says Wilmott. “You have to ask yourself why people should visit your site. People want content and community.”
Interactive media company Fahrenheit 451 asked this question on behalf of Shell and as a result increased the number of hits on the company’s Website from 3,000 per month to 250,000, following a relaunch in December 1996.
Fahrenheit 451 developed Shell’s site to provide a forum for debate on green issues. In the wake of the Brent Spar disposal controversy, Shell wanted to persuade the public of its environmental concerns. To launch the site, Shell targeted its PR campaign at mainstream media, including The Guardian.
“Shell wanted to show it had changed its internal attitude,” says Alison Stokes, content analyst at Fahrenheit 451. “The Website was the visible evidence of this.”
If there is not much you can say about your own product, Siegel & Gale’s Wilmott recommends you link up with someone else – a strategy which is particularly suitable for packaged goods. Snickers, for example, is sponsoring the World Cup, so the Snickers Website now offers football information.
Russell Sheffield, managing director of media agency Tableau, which designed airline easyJet’s site, suggests commercial Websites can be a perfect vehicle for promotions as they are cost-effective and flexible.
A memorable address for the site is the next hurdle. The names of most organisations offer the simplest solution, so we have railtrack.co.uk, halifax.co.uk and bosch.co.de. The same rule applies to brands better known than their manufacturers, as in snickers.com or tango.co.uk.
When surfers do not know an address, they may use search engines – the Internet directories that find sites matching criteria such as key words. Web designers must ensure their sites rank high up on search engine findings. Ross Sleight, strategy director at BMP DDP’s online subsidiary BMP interAction, says 20 per cent of site traffic is generated this way.
“You can even notice peaks if you feature in the What’s New? sections of search engines,” he says.
Different search engines work in different ways, however, so often come up with different results.
A search for World Cup France 98 on a selection of directories found Fifa’s site regularly came out above the official France 98 site, with those of USA Today or AOL not far behind. In the list generated by search engine Alta Vista, individual Fifa pages took the first ten positions.
Some directories rely on soft-ware, called “spiders”, which crawl through the Web, ranking sites on the frequency and prominence of keywords or the number of links to other sites. With other engines, human operators give categories to sites based on subject matter.
BMP interAction works with Sitelinks, a company which specialises in registering new sites, prompting search engines to check their pages for suitability, and designing pages that contain features attractive to spiders.
As searches depend on the key words that surfers type in, marketers should research how organisations already appear on the Internet and what words people connect with them. Advertising agency The Presentation Company hires firms to conduct Internet profiles for its clients, including Marks & Spencer, PowerGen and Homebase.
“We carry out an audit to find out what key words clients feel are important, then what words surfers on the Internet actually link with them,” says director Ewen Sturgeon.
Sitelinks also approaches news groups and user groups, where surfers chat in real time or post comments on electronic notice boards. For Reuters SportsWeb, Sitelinks sends selected headlines to sport-related news groups with an invitation to find out more.
Wendi Hedd, developer of the made-in-sheffield.co.uk site for the South Yorkshire city, employs Internet promoters. She trains people to visit user groups and talk about the site’s products. Hedd is aware this is a dangerous tactic. Surfers are sensitive about commercialism on the Internet, and there is no faux pas worse than “spamming” – bombarding individuals or news groups with virtual junk mail.
“We ‘send out’ experts to talk about issues important to people. We want to build relationships with them,” she says.
Research gained from these tactics enables developers to find areas of the Web suitable for creating links, so surfers can reach other sites at the click of a mouse.
Areas with high traffic are the first target. Two per cent of sites carry 98 per cent of Internet traffic. These include gateways or portals to the Internet, such as search engines and the pages of Internet service providers, which are generated by default when surfers open their browsers.
Then you can look for sites that already attract your target market. For the Website of optician chain Specsavers, due for launch in June, Fahrenheit 451 is finding links to news groups that discuss optical needs in a sensible way.
“Links are a powerful way of helping people move around the Internet and highly effective for new sites,” says Fahrenheit 451’s Stokes. “We have found that the environmental community do this type of thing particularly well.”
Some Websites charge to include pages in their dedicated link sections, such as personal finance site MoneyWeb. Many sites carry banner ads across the top of their pages that also include links.
A perfect site to place an ad has similar interests, attracts plenty of visitors and is non-competitive. UK-based skincare product retailer Applewoods has launched an Internet site to sell its products. Now director Robin Frost is seeking sites to advertise on, for example, the online book store – bookshop.co.uk – which includes a section on aromatherapy. “We sell aromatherapy products, but not books. It’s a perfect place to put a banner ad,” he says.
Online advertising is still in its infancy, with no equivalent of the Audit Bureau of Circulations yet in place. Although the Internet Advertising Bureau aims to fill that gap with quarterly figures. Clients have to rely on page owners to tell them how many people visit the sites they advertise on. Matthew Eccles, managing director of direct marketing agency WWAV Rapp Collins, still prefers traditional advertising media. “Our research shows even people online spend lots of time consuming traditional media where it is easier to discover the cost per sale,” he says.
BMP interAction’s Sleight believes it is more important to discover how many people visit a client’s site from a banner advertisement, which auditing software can achieve.
“As with any advertising campaign, clients must ensure they know what benefit they get from it,” he says. “It will be fantastic when we can have audited and standardised statistics. Until then, clients can work out how many people click on an ad.”
The Presentation Company’s Sturgeon advises clients to be cautious of online advertising, where cost per thousand is expensive. In comparison to traditional media, banner ads rank low for impact as they tend to occupy similar shapes in a small space.
Sturgeon says online advertising agencies need to place ads with enough impact where the target market will see them.
For the launch of the National Savings Website at the end of June, he is considering an ad that would ask premium bond holders to type in their bond numbers to find out if they have won that month. “This would work really well on the FT site, because a lot of City types invest in bonds,” he says.
To highlight the importance of promotion, Sleight turns to marketers in San Francisco, who often quote the 1:3:5 ratio.
He explains: “Whatever you spend on developing a Website, you need to spend three times as much updating it, and five times as much promoting it.”