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Episode 7: Creating a Winning Web Site

Air Date: June 11, 1998


If you build it, will they come? 

Toronto Fashion Incubator Logo

Executive Director Susan Langdon breathes a huge sigh of relief. The Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI) web site is up and running, the culmination of several weeks of hard work. However, Susan is not content to rest on her laurels, as there are many things she wants the web site to do for the TFI. But because she is unsure of how to proceed with the fine-tuning of the web site, she gives IBM's Tom Vassos a call. Tom drops in and after giving the new web site a once over, he makes several recommendations for creating the TFI's web site strategy:


1. Know who your stakeholders are and what content they want

Before the first page of a web site is put together, it is important to understand who will be accessing it and what they will be looking for. In the example of the TFI site, Susan wants to reach out and generate awareness for the TFI among the many fashion designers, designers-to-be, and fashion buyers. In terms of web content, this translates into the need to provide information on the success of the TFI in helping new designers, how to join the TFI, and how to contact the resident designers, respectively. Furthermore, Susan also wants the web site to be a central resource for her residents and outreach members, giving them quick access to external resources, such as apparel organizations, sources of financing, and fashion industry information. This need would translate into part of the web site being dedicated to providing links to these resources.

Knowing the stakeholders in your business is very important for determining the type of content on your web site. A web site that targets other businesses versus one that targets the general consumer will differ in design, language, and focus. Do your customers want to order on-line, or do they prefer to shop in a retail outlet? If the case is the former, your web site should be designed to facilitate on-line orders and payments, but if it is the latter, you may wish to link your site to the retailers carrying your product. Understanding who will be accessing your web site, and the types of things that are important to them are key to creating a winning web site-- a little research up front goes a long way.

2. Determine your objectives

Once you understand who the stakeholders are, it is important to understand what your objectives for the web site are. Susan has some very clear objectives for the TFI web site, which includes raising awareness for the TFI around the world, increasing the number of outreach members, and generating sales leads for the resident designers. Tom then suggests vehicles by which these objectives can be achieved, and how the success of each objective can be measured. For example, in order to increase the number of outreach members, Tom suggests that all the information and forms for becoming an outreach member be made available on the web site. In addition to simplifying the process of registration, the number of on-line memberships serves as a measure of the success of the web site in generating new memberships and creating awareness. By setting objectives and measuring the achievement of these objectives, you can experiment with different tactics. For example, if your on-line orders are lagging, try adding a 1-800 number. Or if the number of 'hits' on your web site are flat-lining, try listing your site on more search engines.

3. Determine your company's personality

The next step is to determine your brand image, or in other words, 'personality'. This decision, of course, will have bearing on the audience you are trying to reach. If your stakeholders are mostly business professionals, a conservative and trustworthy site with technical language and a results-oriented focus might be in order. On the other hand, if your stakeholders tend to be younger and hip, a more casual and fun site might be in order, featuring animations, cartoons, and conversational language. For example, the Saturn web site (www.saturncars.com/index.html) conveys the friendly, feel-good sentiments of their mission statement and advertising, with the use of soft colours, cartoon characters, and a nice at-home feel to it. Another example would be the web site NBC has set up for its television series "Homicide: Life on the Street" (www.nbc.com/homicide), which reflects the gritty look of the show, and offers goodies such as videoclips and on-line murder cases for the show's 'die-hard' fans.

One trap that is easy to fall into when creating a web site, especially if hiring someone else to do it for you, is to delegate all creative decisions away. The web site's personality should be consistent with your company and what it stands for, and not left to the whim of a web developer, or a cookie-cutter/template solution.


4. Determine who to link to

One of the great things about the World Wide Web is the hypertext link. By clicking on them, your browser is immediately taken to another web page, whether it is on your own web site, or somebody else's. When creating links on your web site, you must choose both the quantity and quality of these links, balancing the need to build traffic to your own web site and the potential for losing visitors to other web sites. In terms of effectiveness, research has shown that the two most effective link strategies are the Extensive Link Strategy and the Infrequent, Directed Link Strategy.

Using an Extensive Link Strategy turns your web site into a 'jumpstation', a central web site that provides access to numerous other sites. Pursuing this sort of a link strategy can help build your company's reputation in a particular field, may generate advertising dollars, and ultimately help your site gain both new and repeat traffic. Going back to Susan's wish of having the web site become a resource for TFI members and residents, a page could be set up with links to useful services and resources, as well as to all the major fashion sites on the web. Not only would this become a valuable resource within the TFI, but it could also create a reputation of the TFI as being a leading resource for the Canadian fashion industry. And hopefully, by creating links to these other sites, Susan can convince the other sites to create a link back to the TFI site, thereby increasing traffic flow back to the TFI.

The Infrequent, Directed Link Strategy allows visitors to see content relevant to your company at other web sites. Using the example of the TFI, Susan could provide links on the web site to other sites mentioning the accolades bestowed on the TFI and its residents, as well as to the web sites of retailers carrying the designers' clothing lines. If your product got a favourable write-up in a newspaper, or generated positive comments on a Usenet newsgroup, link to it!

5. Be interactive

The Internet is an interactive medium, allowing two-way communication over long distances. Your web site should not be a one-way medium, only broadcasting your message-- give your customers the opportunity to talk back to you. This can be as simple as having your e-mail address handy on every web page, making it easy for your customers to ask questions or provide feedback, or as complicated as having on-line chat rooms, where visitors can give you real-time feedback on your products. One of the things that Susan wants to initiate is the test-marketing of new fashions over the Internet, where resident designers can illustrate new designs to buyers or consumers and get feedback on them.

The important thing to remember about Internet interactivity is that you must treat it like any other face-to-face interaction with your customers. Each e-mail correspondent is a potential customer, and if you are not in the habit of checking your e-mail regularly, make it a habit. You wouldn't go more than 24 hours without returning a call at your office, and the same rule should apply to all electronic correspondence. One web tool that some companies use is the infobot, which can be used to automatically acknowledge every e-mail you receive while providing additional information about your company, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. To see an example of an infobot in action, try sending an e-mail to the President of the United States (no really!). Not long after sending a message to president@whitehouse.gov, you will receive a response from the President's infobot, thanking you for your interest, and providing you with other sources of information that may answer your query. More advanced infobots are able to read simple commands in the e-mail message, and provide tailored responses to those commands, such as finding the name of a book in a library database.

Finally, keep in mind that without the presence of verbal cues in e-mail, the text you type will serve as your 'surrogate personality'. That in turn demands that your pay strict attention to your spelling and writing style-- would you hire someone to help write your business plan if they couldn't spell 'entrepreneur' properly in their e-mails to you?

6. Attract them and keep them

When a potential customer stumbles onto your site, either deliberately or by accident, it is important to give them a reason to want to return back to your site. Even reminding the visitor to 'bookmark' the site (filing away the web address for future reference) is not enough-- think of all the web addresses in your own bookmark list that you've only visited once or twice. In essence, you have to create a relationship with that customer on the spot, and there are several ways to do this.

Susan immediately thinks of a few 'outbound marketing' tactics the TFI web site can use:

In essence, the above strategies can help Susan create top-of-mind awareness for the TFI and its web site, or as Tom likes to call it, 'Internet Mindshare'. Most Internet users only have enough time to visit a few web sites on a regular basis, and by going out to them with free services and content, you secure your piece of 'real estate' on their browser. They may not buy anything from you today, but at least you'll have a better chance of selling them something tomorrow.

7. Form strategic alliances

Strategic alliances are another great way to increase your web presence. Think about partnering with your suppliers, customers, or other stakeholders to drive traffic to your site and reduce the cost of your web presence. For example, the TFI could form an alliance with one of the local fashion schools (such as Ryerson Polytechnic University), and create a joint web site to promote both their fashion-related programs. Such a joint web site would create a 'single point of contact' for the aspiring fashion designer-- a single web site that will give them a comprehensive look at a career path, from education to incorporation. The TFI would also reap the benefits of sharing web site maintenance costs with a partner.

There are numerous examples of companies teaming up to offer complementary products and services. Two good examples are Automall USA (www.automallusa.com) and Autobytel (www.autobytel.com), who have made strategic alliances on their web sites with automobile trade publications, insurance companies, banks, and others. These alliances make the sum greater than the parts because the consumer now has the opportunity to purchase, finance and insure his or her new/used vehicle the moment they decide to make the purchase. The convenience of one-stop shopping, coupled with the ease of execution, is the reason why it succeeds.


Constructing the Web Site

With the initial planning out of the way, the next step is to actually construct the web site. All web sites consist of a series of linked pages, written in a computing language called HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). Though it sounds arcane, you don't actually have to know HTML to create a web site. Many word processing applications, such as Microsoft Word, have the ability to create web pages (in fact, this is how this page was created!), and even convert some of your existing word processing documents into web pages. There are also many standalone software packages that are dedicated to creating web pages, such as Adobe Pagemill 2.0 (www.adobe.com/prodindex/pagemill/main.html). And if you don't have a lot of money to spend, there are even some free programs and services available, such as AOL Press (www.aolpress.com).

Securing Web Server Space

Once you've created your web pages, you'll need somewhere to display them. Many Internet Service Providers (ISP) will provide a certain amount of server space for their clients' web pages-- for example, every subscription to America On Line (www.aol.com) comes with 2 MB of free web space. That may sound like a lot, but if you plan to have a lot of graphics and content on your site, you may want to shop around for an ISP that provides you with at least 5 MB of space. And if your ISP doesn't offer you web space, or you find that the allotted amount is not enough, there are many companies offering web space. One such company is Geocities (www.geocities.com), which offers 6 MB of free web space for non-commercial use, and 20 MB of commercial web space for less than $5 a month-- all you need to register is an e-mail address.

Domain Names

Finally, one more thing you should consider before choosing your web space provider is the ability to create your own domain name. A domain name is simply the name by which your web site goes by, such as 'www.mysite.com'. With most ISPs, your domain name will come after the ISP's domain name, such as 'www.interlog.com/widgets', which would be the domain name for the 'Widgets' company that subscribes to the ISP named 'Interlog'. However, some ISPs offer you the ability to create a unique domain name, such as 'www.widgets.com', which would be more intuitive to someone looking for your site. Many companies do this, such as IBM (www.ibm.com). Other companies name their domains after the types of products they sell, such as JC Penny's gift registry service (www.gift.com), or after the uses of their products, such as Proctor & Gamble's appetizing domain names, such as www.diarrhea.com. Whatever domain name you choose, it should be easy for your customers to figure out and remember, and you may even want to register several variations, especially if your company name has different spellings or consists of more than one word.

Once you have chosen your domain name or names, you must determine if they are already in use, which can be done for free at www.4domainnames.com. Sometimes, you may find that the domain name you have chosen is already in use. For example, when Susan went to register the domain name for the TFI, 'TFI' was already in use. Toronto Dominion Bank had to settle on using www.tdbank.ca after learning that www.tdbank.com was already being used by the Total Disability Bank. And one enterprising individual registered www.mcdonalds.com before McDonalds could, and McDonalds had to pay the huckster off to use that domain name. If all goes well, and your chosen domain name is not already in use, you can register it with the InterNIC Global Domain Registration Service at rs.internic.net for a fee of $50 US and an annual renewal charge.

Of course, if you are still uncomfortable about doing all this yourself, many ISPs offer comprehensive web site creation services, from HTML programming to domain name registration.



As you can see, creating a web site involves a lot more than slapping a few pages of HTML code together. By understanding:

you too can create a winning web site!

However, these are just the first steps in creating a comprehensive Internet strategy. Tom Vassos has created a complete framework for exploiting the Internet as a marketing tool-- 30 easy steps to Strategic Internet Marketing. You can learn more about it in his book, "Strategic Internet Marketing" (Que Books, ISBN number 0-7897-0827-2), or visit his industry tour web site to see it applied to a number of different industries, such as the automotive industry. And check in next time when we show you how to increase traffic to your web site with both on-line and real world tactics.


Hot Links


Want to learn more about the topics covered this week? Then check out these great web sites and resources:


Web Page Creation Utilities


Carl Davis' HTML Editor Review Page


A page providing access and reviews to many HTML editors

AOL Press


Another free web page editor

Corel Web Designer



Adobe Pagemill 2.0



Internet Explorer 4.0 Page



Web Site Diagnostics




Several utilities that will double-check your work for proper HTML coding, dead links, spelling mistakes, and offer suggestions for how to correct them.


Web Space Providers




Find out how you can get a free 11MB 'homestead' on the Geocities server, or a 20MB block of commercial space for only $5 per month



Finding Internet Service Providers


The List



Online Connection



Yahoo Listing of ISPs





Domain Name Look-up and Registration


Domain Name Look-up Service


A free service

InterNIC Global Domain Registration


$50 annual fee

Asia Pacific Region Internet Registry






Mark Schneider		CTV - Host of "Digital Desktop"
Tom Vassos		IBM e-business Advisor and Host of "This New SoHo"
Susan Langdon		Executive Director, Toronto Fashion Incubator
Serena DeParis		Fashion Designer
Crystal Siemens		Fashion Designer


Production Credits


Anthony Steward		Camera
Anthony Leong		Senior Web Editor

All episode summaries and supplemental information written by Anthony Leong, with material and assistance from Tom Vassos, his book Strategic Internet Marketing, and Mark Schneider.

Click here for IBM e-business solutions

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