The invention of the World Wide Web made the Internet a viable advertising vehicle. It is an "open system," and therefore potentially available for anyone to use, which gives the Web tremendous reach. The Web allows the combination of sound, graphics, and text at one electronic location, which can be linked to other similar locations by "hyperlinks." The linked multimedia capabilities of the Web center around the creation of "homepages," which are Internet locations that provide information about a chosen subject. These "cyberstores," as they are often called, are used by many small businesses to advertise and sell their products and services.
Indeed, a homepage on the World Wide Web gives even the smallest business the ability to compete with large companies. Since small companies can establish an attractive presence on the Internet at relatively modest cost, say industry experts, the medium effectively eliminates the advantages of size and economic power which enable large companies to dominate other advertising media. "Many small-business users see the Internet as a way to increase their marketing power, reduce costs and do more things at once, so they're using it to find ways to do business smarter," remarked one analyst in Entrepreneur.
BROWSERS Small businesses seeking to establish a presence on the World Wide Web need to understand the importance of browsers, such as Netscape and Microsoft's Internet Explorer, to the Web and to Web advertising. These browsers are tools needed to read the HTML (hypertext mark-up language) documents that make up the World Wide Web. These documents are fairly easy to create, and many word processing programs and Web browsers can assist an advertiser in creating one. Since the Web could not exist without these browsers, advertisers needs to understand how they function and how to use them to their advantage.
Browsers locate information through search engines, such as Infoseek and Yahoo. Most search engines locate sites that contain a specific set of words, as specified by the logic chosen for the search (i.e. small business and media ). Browsers also need "plugins" to run certain sound and visual effects, so small business owners need to weigh the benefits of such features before adding such extra expenses to ads. After all, many potential customers that find their way to your homepage may not have the necessary "plugins" to experience those effects.
SEARCH ENGINES Search engines generate the largest percentage of new traffic to Web pages, followed by links from other sites, printed media, and word of mouth. For this reason, small businesses hoping to establish a presence on the Internet should make sure their Web sites are listed with a number of search engines. Advertising on some of the larger search engines, like Yahoo or AltaVista, tends to be expensive but also gives advertisers more options. For example, small businesses can buy space for a banner advertisement within a certain search category or even a specific search term. This way, if an Internet user searches for information on "canoeing," the banner advertisement for a canoe livery or riverside campground could appear on the screen with the search results.
HOMEPAGES In a 1997 Forbes article, writer William Davidow pointed out that advertising on the Internet "will be intimately tied to the sales process. Consumers will search out advertising sites when they want to gather information about products and services. They will purchase directly over the network." He and other industry observers note that homepages already function in a fashion similar to an advertisement in the yellow pages. A homepage, then, needs to provide potential consumers with the necessary information (phone numbers, addresses, and product information) for customers to follow through on desired purchases—or at least provide them with enough data to pique their interest and enable them to make a purchase or get additional information via more traditional (i.e., non-electronic) means. Of course, many people using the Internet are comfortable making purchases over the Web itself, so business homepages should also be equipped with the ability to take product orders directly.
When developing a homepage, a business needs to consider several relevant aspects of electronic text and presentation. First and foremost, a homepage should be easy to navigate both visually and physically. Key to creating an inviting homepage, other than subjective aesthetic concerns, are "hyperlinks," which allow the reader to move vertically through the text. Many experts claim that each level of a homepage should contain text on one topic, which should be clearly indicated by the headings or graphics there. A visually cluttered homepage will be ignored by Web users, who are notorious for quickly moving on to other sites when confronted with confusing or uninteresting homepages.
ADVERTISING BANNERS Banner advertisements are graphic advertisements that appear on a World Wide Web site and are intended to build brand awareness or generate traffic for the advertiser's Web site. Since the first advertisements appeared on the Web in 1993, Internet advertising has grown into a $4.62 billion industry. Banner advertisements are the leading form of Internet advertising, accounting for 56 percent of all online ads in 1999. "In the most basic terms, online advertising is the rectangular-shaped ad appearing at the top of many Web pages," Charles Dobres wrote in Marketing. "The advertiser's hope is to entice you to click on this 'banner' to be transported to its own Web site, where you feel the irresistible urge to buy something, or at least fill in lots of information about yourself."
Often banners are part of a "link exchange," or cooperative advertising arrangement, in which two businesses with complimentary products and services advertise each other on their respective sites in order to reach a large segment of a given market. However, some Web advertising agencies claim that few people access homepages through banners, and these agencies are now trying new motion and graphic technologies to make the banners more inviting. One new approach is to turn a banner into a mini homepage where the consumer can make purchases without leaving the current page they are viewing. PC/Computing recently published a Web study in which they found that there is "virtually no chance" that Web users will click on a banner they've seen more than four times. Because of this declining effectiveness, the editors of PC/Computing suggested businesses design a number of different banners for their homepages. Other experts suggest that businesses consider advertising banners as just one part of an online marketing mix.
E-MAIL ADVERTISING The use of "direct e-mail," in which businesses send unsolicited mail messages to a list of e-mail accounts, is currently being debated. The practice is sometimes referred to as SPAMing (even the use of the word SPAM for this practice is under legal scrutiny), and has been received negatively by Web users. To avoid alienating customers, increasing numbers of businesses have supplemented their general customer satisfaction surveys with queries concerning the customer's feelings about being put on a direct mailing list. In this way, businesses are developing lists they can use to keep in touch with the consumers both through traditional mail and e-mail. The key here is that these lists, and the subsequent advertising strategies created around them, be directed at the desires of the consumer, and not only toward the goals of the business.
Davidow, William. "Online Advertisers Must Beware." Forbes. April 7, 1997.
Dobres, Charles. "Unleash Your Ads' True Net Potential." Marketing. October 28, 1999.
Dowling, Paul J., Jr., et al. Web Advertising and Marketing. Rocklin, CA: Prima, 1996.
Fass, Allison. "Banner Ads Still Dominate." New York Times. August 15, 2000.
Page, Heather. "Surf's Up." Entrepreneur. November 1997.
Streitfeld, David. "Ads Fail to Click with Online Users." International Herald Tribune. October 31, 2000.
"Time to Set a Standard." Marketing. November 16, 2000.
"Web Advertising." PC/Computing. February 1997.
Williamson, Debra Aho. "Marketers Spend On Sites, but Not on Ads." Advertising Age . April 14, 1997.