The Jedi Master Speaks
The Jedi Master Speaks
Web surfers are fickle
September 19, 1999
To say that Web surfers are fickle is a real understatement. When we first went online in January, 1995, there were about 250,000 competing HTML pages. Currently, there are about 2,000,000,000, with the number doubling every four months. The short story is that with so many places to visit, so much to see, the average viewer spends as little time as possible on any single page. Should he or she be "grabbed" by something on the home page, the visit may be extended while the surfer investigates the entire site. On sites where content is constantly being added and/or updated (such as CNN or our very own How Can You Laugh at a Time Like This?) and where almost everything ever posted is archived, you may be able to "hold" the visitor longer, even enticing him or her to return another time or two to check everything out. But, chances are, after a couple of hours, or days at most, the guest is lost in the maze of information glut.
So, measures need to be taken to "remind" previous callers that you are still there and that your content has been enhanced. One way of doing this transparently, is to deposit a "cookie" in the visitor's browser. A cookie is a chunk of data that is written to a special cache in the browser which expires (vanishes) within a fixed period of time, usually about a month. That way, should that guest return, the server can read the cookie and determine what he or she has seen as well as when it was seen, so that new additions can be immediately brought to his or her attention.
This method, though simple and not dependent upon any particular action of the surfer, has the disadvantage that it is only useful if that person voluntarily returns to your site without prompting. What about promotion? How can people be urged to take another look, or, better yet, keep coming back regularly?
One method widely used is to advertise, usually in other media than the Web. The URL, those long unique addresses that identify the virtual location of each Web page, has saturated TV advertising. No company worth its salt posts a television ad without mentioning its site URL. Similarly, newspapers post URL's not only of the sites of advertisers, but also routinely mention them in articles concerning the company or an unusual Web offering.
However, not all Web sites have offline presence. So, it is important for the site owners to constantly remind people both of its presence and about any "hot" content it may contain. Advertising in the offline media tends to be quite expensive and of marginal utility unless the site is already "branded" (like Yahoo!, for example). That is, it already has become a household term. The vast majority of Web sites do not enjoy the advantage of either branding or large sums of disposable wealth. Here are some other ways to get and hold attention.
The bottom line is that you MUST endeavor to constantly promote your site in order to encourage people to come often and stay a long time. No Web host can afford to simply use the Field of Dreams metaphor ("Build it and they will come..."). Competition will keep this axiom important for a long time to come, perhaps forever.
- One way is to urge your visitors to "bookmark" your site. That is, if you can convince a guest that placing your site URL in his or her list of favorites, the odds that he or she will return is enhanced.
- A second method is to swap links with sites with similar content. Hyperlinks, those "hot" pieces of text or images which, when clicked, take the surfer to another Web page are the soul of the Web. It is a lot of work both to find sites and to convince the owners that it is worthwhile to place a link to your site on theirs in return for a like link on your site.
- A third way is via the many search engines on the Web. Once you post an HTML page, sooner or later, all search engines that "spider" the Web...that is, they traverse the entire Web extracting keywords and phrases that appear in prominent places on your site, such as in the TITLE tags or at the top of the page in headlines. Furthermore, you can enhance your chances of your site appearing at or near the top of a search return list by judicious choice of keywords placed in special invisible tags called META tags. As the search engines have evolved, the art of loading sites with data that will attract the desired audience has evolved with it. Whole books have already been written on this subject, but they become dated very rapidly.
- Finally there is email. This is a very touchy subject, however. The general public has become quite upset about the proliferation of unsolicited...and unwanted...email appearing in their mailboxes each day. Furthermore, a whole subculture of anti-spam vigilantes has arisen to "police" the Internet against persistent and egregious "spammers" (since unsolicited commercial email has been dubbed "spam"), especially those that concern controversial subjects like pornography and get-rich-quick-schemes (scams). They use various extralegal methods to "punish" those they consider violators. This author has discovered, through experience, that it is easy to outrage this band of cyber-thugs, and, once you have aroused their ire, they are very hard to get rid of. "Acceptable" types of mass emailing are subscriber lists (usually obtained through forms on your Web site), "membership" lists obtained from site visitors who have "joined" some organization you sponsor or simply visitors to your site who have somehow disclosed their email addresses.
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