Web Presence Do's & Don'ts
an essay by Smiley
There're a whole flock of people that want to sell you a "Web Presence" so you can flourish and prosper in the new "Internet E-Conomy". I know, I'm one of 'em. You'll hear stories of the Florida handicapped 12 year old that made millions of dollars from his wheelchair in a matter of months by putting up a website and selling computer parts. Some of these stories are true, but the reality is a lot more banal than the stories.



The reality is that American business has always operated from a base set of rules, and those rules apply today just as well as they did two hundred years ago. A Website isn't going to replace or refute any of those rules. You'll still need Accounting, Marketing, Merchandising, Responsible Response and Customer Service if you're going to have a successful business.
Admittedly, it's easier to have those things with a Web based business and the freedoms between those rules are *way* greater than in a brick&mortar business with 9/5 hours and ringing telephones, but the rules remain. You're internet domain is a vital and dynamic part of not only the obvious Marketing portion of your strategy, but also Merchandising, Responsible Response and Customer Service. With a tiny bit of imagination, it can take a big bite out of Accounting as well. That's a relatively amazing development when you consider what it was like to create a brick&mortar business 20 or 30 years ago.


What it isn't, however, is a magic spell to fabulous riches and heavenly relationships. Nor is it a shiny machine that eats nothing but bandwidth and defecates hundred dollar bills with no supervision. In order to create that kind of scenario, you'd have to violate one or several of the "old rules" that still apply today without regard for their age.

The word for their violation in America is "crime", you'd have to be willing to condone criminality to make a fast buck on the internet using your domain. Again, this is easier to accomplish in the new E-conomy because it's pretty cheap to set up an e-business. Don't mistake my statements as condolences, I absolutely won't condone criminality in any arena. Well, with the possible exception of politics.



The Confidence Game:
You could "become" a Ugandan Prime Minister and offer Americans a reward for setting up a bank account that you could transfer your millions into preparatory of your escape from the country. Given how long this scam has been floating around the internet, I'm very confident that someone is making money though its exploitation.

You could "sell" reports on how to make millions from unsuspecting newcomers to the internet. This mail fraud scheme even predates the internet, I remember running into it in 1980 when we had to ship out pieces of paper, and I'm quite confident it had been around before I ran into it judging by the condition of the photocopy that I got back then.

Penis enlargement, Breast enhancements, Herbal Viagra, Envelope stuffing, and a whole host of other schemes are being used every day to bilk honestly earned funds from naive folks that think it's okay to make a bunch of money for nothing. How is this different than the thug that steals your wallet at gunpoint, the thief that robs your car or home, the employee that embezzles money from your company, or the politician that siphons off tax money to fund drug runners in Bolivia? Not one whit. Not an iota. So just say no, if it sounds too good to be true, that's probably because it IS too good to be true or honest.

All of the above have SPAM as an attribute. Does this mean that SPAM is a crime? Not necessarily, rude, obnoxious, inconsiderate, anti-social, yes, but crime, no. And I'm vehemently opposed to making it such, being predominantly freedom oriented, I think we need more laws like we need another millstone around our necks, but does that mean we should condone such behavior, or even {shudder} engage in it ourselves. Absolutely not.
Link to readable image

Pornography:
Yeah baby! Here's a sure fire way to make a mint on the internet! Just charge someone's credit card $3.00 a month to give them access to a whole bunch of dirty pictures. Why not? You gotta know that the smut sites are the ones making a killing on the internet, just look at how many of them there are and more springing up every week.

Be that as it may, do you really want to saddle yourself with a passle of customers that are interested in that sort of thing? Back to the basics again. Your business is a RELATIONSHIP with vendors/suppliers and customers/clients. Porn may not be a crime, but do you really want to surround yourself with the kind of folks that pander to and for that crap?

I know I've spent an awful lot of time pounding on what you SHOULDN'T do with your web presence, and that's an occupational hazard. I field calls every day from excited clients that run into one of the above traps and are totally convinced they're going to retire to Cancun next week when their ship comes in. Or worse, I find out they've implemented one of the above without my counsel (usually because they know better and are afraid to ask me :) and I have to go through a bunch of contortions to get them fixed again. I didn't get into explaining the ramifications involved, some of them are pretty serious. The scale of potential consequences runs from losing your ISP (Internet Service Provider) on up to prison time.

But let's move on to the real reason I wrote this essay. . .

What SHOULD you do with an Internet Domain?

Your own domain is an amazing tool for enhancing your existing business, or just launching a bright idea you think could become a business.

E-Mail:


If you already have a brick&mortar business, just adding e-mail to/from your own domain is an amazing benefit. Today the internet is such a part of our everyday life that you add credibility to your business in the eyes of your existing customers and make it even easier for potential customers to communicate with you. It also makes it easier to communicate with them.
You should definitely maintain a database of e-mail @dresses for your customer base and you should send bulk mail to that database on at least a quarterly basis.
Why isn't that a violation of my SPAM tirade? Because these are folks that you have a professional relationship with and they are NOT going to resent you reminding them that you are still here to serve them. Quite the contrary, if you make your announcements personable and interesting, they will enjoy and appreciate hearing from you. Should you pull them off the list if they grumble? Absolutely, that only makes good business sense.
Should you be afraid to promote to them in case they might grumble? Absolutely not, no more than you should stop advertising in the Yellow Pages or the newspaper or send out paper bulk mail.
Just like any other tool, you have to work it to get the results.

Replace the Printing Press:

Not a chance, no way, no how. Your website cannot replace envelopes, letterhead, business cards or brochures. How to get to your website should definitely be printed on all of those items, but you're still going to have to maintain adequate stocks of printed materials and continue all of the other successful marketing ploys you've discovered. Billboards, bulk mail, radio and TV spots, Bus ads, newspaper inserts, whatever you've been doing before you should continue doing, just add your website's URL (Universal Resource Locator) to all of them.
The signature line on your outgoing e-mail should contain a link to your website too.

Information on the Internet:

Your website should be informative. The reason we go to the internet is to find out about something. When done right, a prospective or existing customer/client can find out everything they need to know about doing business with you from your website at any hour of the day or night. It's kind of like a Yellow Pages ad on steroids.
Who are you?
What do you do?
Why do you do it better than your competitors?
How easy is it to do it with you?
How much does it cost?
All of these questions should be answered somewhere on your site, and it shoudn't be a horrible chore to extract these data from it.






Part of the "horrible chore" category would include:

Having to download and install Flash or a movie player.
Or having to load up a different browser (on another computer with a different Operating System) because your favorite isn't supported.
AnyBrowser Campaign

Extravagant use of huge graphic files, or using an HTML editor that writes horribly bloated code, thus making modem users wait minutes for the pages to load.
Website Speed by PMA Consulting

Complicated, confusing or *worse* non-existent navigation aids (links around the website).
Navigation Tricks by BigNoseBird.com


Magnetize your website:

Once you've made it effective, attractive and easy, you still need some eyeballs. This is the marketing challenge every business faces. How do I get people to find and see me.
You can't use the classic; Location, location, location ploy on the internet because the internet is everywhere and easily accessible from anywhere. You have to get discovered by the Search Engines.

Which fortunately, isn't THAT much of a challenge.
MetaTags & Search Engines by PMA Consulting


With your metatags in place so the Spyders can find and index you, you still need to do some more work to get the internauts coming by. The most powerful way (which is also the most work) is to join and contribute to UseNet newsgroups that are interested in your subject. By doing that you "become" an expert in your field and gain respect among your peers. Ensuring that your website's URL is in your signature line for each article that you post to the UseNet will dramatically increase the amount of traffic that comes to your site. In this practice you'll also find yourself answering the same questions to new members of the newsgroup, once you have to do it twice, you'll discover the value of immortalizing your words on your website and just sending a link to that page in the newsgroup.
Google (by far and away the most respected of all the Search Engines today) indexes Usenet articles and someone looking for information that you covered in your's will find the link to your website for years after you make that submission.

What's so magic about links?

Speciifically, Google thrives on links. The developers at Google decided that the best guage of a website's popularity would be the number of independent links there are on the internet into your site. That's how you "float" to the top of their searches, and it's also the way you get "word of mouth" in the new E-conomy. Contact your vendors' webmasters and arrange for reciprocal links on their website, reciprocal means you'll put a link on your site to them as well. Cultivate connections from your Usenet contacts and get reciprocal links going with the folks you find there. Get creative, pretend you're in a Virtual Community and meet other folks that you can link to and from, have fun with it.


Copyright Considerations:

All the fun of swapping links with other webmasters is going to bring you head-on into this whole copyright infringement arena. When it comes to websites, content is king. The longer you play this game, the truer this statement will become. Just as an example, I've got over six hours invested in this page, and I'm just getting started on a very important part of this essay. I'm writing this for you, in the hopes that you'll be able to glean some value from it. Please accept that value with my heartfelt gratitude, it justifies all the energy I've put into this work. Absolutely share this link with others that would find value in it.

Do not, however, take this work and put it on your website with your name on it. I consider that theft, and I'm pretty confident that feeling is universal among writers because there's a huge volume of pontification, presidence, and legislation wrapped around this concept of "Intellectual Property" as a result. Play nice. Give credit where it's due. It's not really that hard, most writers--and that includes webmasters--have a "Legal Stuff" page on their site explaining how they want their content to be respected. Each copyrighted page will have a link to that page, just read it. If you don't find a "Legal Stuff" page, simply send e-mail to "webmaster@site-I-happen-to-be-browsing-right-now" and ask if you can reprint his/her stuff. As a matter of fact, it's a very courteous habit to drop the author a line when you run into something that has helped you anyway. We all love to hear from the folks that are reading our work and enjoying it.

Personally, I give permission for reprint all the time, my only requirements being that I be given credit for the work and that a link to my site (the original work being quoted) be included to prevent "Out of context" misunderstandings from cropping up. When I reprint other's work, I print out the e-mail response from the author on paper and file it. I also cut and paste that e-mail permission text into a comment line in my HTML that makes up the page. And, of course, I put in a link to the author's original work on their site. Don't be afraid to give it a try, you'll find that with the exception of large soulless mega-corporations, the response will be surprisingly pleasant.
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