Greetings From Internet World

By: Steve Outing

Instead of trick-or-treating with my 3-year-old, I spent Halloween at the monstrous Internet World conference and exposition in Boston. My goodie bag was filled with brochures, free floppy disks and CD-ROMs. Oh well, at least I don't have to worry about too much candy ruining my teeth. ... Here's a quick rundown of some of the conference sessions I was able to attend.

Doomed to Failure: Unsuccessful Web Sites

Jim Sterne of Target Marketing launched through a list of publishing sins that are all too frequent on the World Wide Web. For instance, you've no doubt run across the sites with fuzzy, out-of-focus graphics, or images that have pixelized. Or the link within a Web site that points to a non-existent document. Such simple errors are inexcusable and make you look unprofessional, said Sterne. Sometimes, simple cosmetic mistakes are enough to turn off visitors so that they'll never comeback.

You'll doom your site to failure by not promoting it, so Sterne offered several pointers:

* Submit your information to the Web directories and search engines, using services such as Submit-It or The Postmaster, which automatically notify dozens or hundreds of site about your service.

* Promote your site aggressively through traditional channels: print advertising, flyers, putting free floppy disks in the Sunday paper, etc.

* Promote your site in the signature of all your email. Especially if you participate in Internet lists and newsgroups, your sig can be a subtle, often-seen "advertisement" for your site. And put the keywords to your site in the sig, so that if someone searches newsgroup archives your name and site will pop up.

* Make sure your primary keywords are on your Web pages. If they don't conveniently fit, place them in an invisible comments field. That way, Web search engines will catalog them appropriately so that more people will find your site when searching.

Most importantly, create content that people want. "It's about the customer saying, 'What do I want,' not what you want to tell the customer," Sterne said. Generally it's not a good idea to put up a Web site that tells visitors about the company. They want to know what you can do for them; they're not interested in seeing a picture of your CEO.

Publishing in the Digital Age

Dan Pelson of Icon International, which is responsible for the trendy Word site on the Web, spoke about the importance of creating compelling advertising messages and integrating advertising with the editorial content of Web sites. Web users are becoming more savvy and you cannot count on them to click on an advertiser's banner, he said. You have to establish a way to draw people into an advertiser's message; be creative and be interactive.

One technique that's useful is to let advertisers build services within the publisher's site. For example, an advertiser might create a live customer service area using Internet Relay Chat. Interact with the customer, don't preach to him.

Remember, it's in your best interest as a publisher to make sure that your advertiser's message is having an impact. Otherwise, your early advertisers will determine that online is not an effective ad buy.

Pricing and Practice

In this session, 3 online publishers discussed industry trends and offered practical advice on establishing new Web services:

* Patricia Sabosik, vice president of Linked Media for America Online's Internet Services Co., predicted that consumer online service pricing will be down to $1 per hour within a year. The current level of $2 an hour (this is for extra hours after an initial monthly allotment of 3 or 5) is down from $3 an hour a year ago.

* Matthew Shevach, market development manager for MecklerWeb's iWORLD Web service, said the next big development in the consumer market will be free email services supported by advertising. Companies such as Freemark are about to launch services that offer Internet newcomers free accounts to send and receive email, in exchange for being exposed to targeted advertising messages.

* Shevach predicted that today's static Web presentations will give way to more interactive content, with Web pages serving as query forms for databases on corporate networks, and compelling interactive features being created using Sun's Java language.

* Sabosik said the Macintosh probably will continue to hold onto its position in the Internet market, with 20-30% of Internet travelers using Macintoshes; however, she doesn't hold out much hope for the Mac to make further inroads into the server market. Tristan Louis, publisher of iWORLD, countered that the Mac's ease of use make it a compelling choice over Windows NT or Unix-based servers. The Mac has only an 8% share of the overall personal computing market, but is better represented among Internet users.

* Louis said iWORLD made the decision to make its content support 3 Web browsers (and not worry about the rest): Netscape, NCSA Mosaic and America Online's browser. Making sure your Web pages work on the AOL browser is important not only because of the large number of AOL subscribers, but because the browser used on its legacy service is the "lowest common denominator" for browsers, he said.

* The Internet market is evolving incredibly fast, Louis pointed out. One year ago, most people had never heard of today's headline makers: Netscape, Lycos, Yahoo!, etc. The lesson: You can't plan too far ahead. On the Internet, long-range planning means 9 months out.

More tomorrow

I'll report from Internet World again in tomorrow's column and try to find some other sessions that might be of interest to you.

Steve Got a tip? Let me know about it

If you have a newsworthy item about the newspaper new media business, please send me a note.

This column is written by Steve Outing and underwritten by Editor & Publisher magazine. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at

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