The Internet universe literally grows more cluttered by the minute. According to Network Solutions, Inc., which registers the vast majority of Web addresses around the world, about 10,000 new addresses are registered each day. That means by the time you finish reading this case, about 60 new domain names will have been gobbled up. With all the clutter on the Web, how have some firms been able to stand out and attract millions of customers?
First, there are some basics to which online firms must attend. These cost little more than some time and a little creativity. The first is creating a good site name. The name should be memorable (yahoo.com), easy to spell (ebay.com), and/or descriptive (wine.com—a wine retailer). And, yes, ideally it will have a .com extension. This is the most popular extension for e-commerce, and browsers, as a default, will automatically add a .com onto any address that is typed without extension.
The second priority is to make sure the site comes up near the top of the list on any Web searches. If you use Lycos.com to perform a search for “used books,” you get a list of more than 2.6 million websites. Studies have shown that most people will look only at the top 30 sites on the list, at most. If you are a used-book retailer and you show up as website #1,865,404 on the search list, there is a very good chance you will not attract a lot of business. A 1999 Jupiter Research study reveals that “searching on the Internet” is the most important activity, and Internet users find the information they are looking for by using search engines and Web directories. A good Web designer can write code that matches up well with search engine algorithms and results in a site that ranks high on search lists.
Virtually all popular websites have those basics down pat. So the third step is to reach out proactively to potential customers and bring them to your site. Many companies have turned to traditional advertising to gain exposure. Television advertising can be an effective option—albeit an expensive one. In late January 1999, hotjobs.com spent $2 million—half of its 1998 revenues—on one 30-second ad during the Super Bowl. According to CEO Richard Johnson, so many people tried to visit the site that the company’s servers jammed. Johnson says the number of site hits was six times greater than in the month before. A quirky ad campaign may or may not help. Pets.com, now de-func, built its image around a wise-guy sock puppet. CNET, a hardware and software retailer, ran a series of television ads featuring cheesy music, low-budget sets, and unattractive actors. One such ad featured two men—one in a T-shirt that said ”you,” another in a T-shirt labeled “the right computer” – coming together and joining hands thanks to the efforts of another guy in a CNET T-shirt. The production quality was rudimentary enough that any sophomore film student could have produced it. The spots were so bad that they stood out from the slick, expensive commercials to which viewers were accustomed. Critics ripped the campaign to shreds, but CNET called it a success.
Other Internet firms have used sports sponsorships to increase visibility. CarsDirect.com, a highly rated site that allows consumers to purchase automobiles online, once purchased the naming rights to NASCAR auto race (the CarsDirect.com400). Lycos also has tried to make the most of NASCAR’s increasing popularity. It spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to have its name and logo plastered all over the car of popular driver Johnny Benson. Meanwhile, online computer retailer Insight and furniture seller galleryfurniture.com each targeted football fans by purchasing the naming rights to college bowl games.
Of course, if you can reach consumers while they are in front of their computers rather than their television sets, you may stand an even better chance of getting them to your site. However, typical banner ads are...