Integrating Infrastructure

Designing Your Website

Web Marketing


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21st Century Commerce: E-Commerce

These articles were published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on January 6, 1999. All rights reserved.

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Integrating Infrastructure

Listen up to Robert M. Worsley if you want to

succeed in electronic commerce. He founded the spectacularly successful

"catalog in the sky" Skymall Inc., the Phoenix, Arizona-based

catalog you find in your seat when you fly almost any airline. Worsley

was one of the many experts who gave advice on E-Commerce in 1998,

and there will be many more in ’99 (See page 6).

In 1999, says Worsley, every business will have to ask themselves

three questions:

1. Are we even going to play on the Internet? Your answer

can certainly be no, he says. "You could say I am going to wait

and maybe get involved in a year or two." But if your answer is yes,

then ask:

2. Are we going to integrate our web activities and our web

systems with our legacy systems?

3. Or shall we build an Internet infrastructure and system

and bag the legacy systems.

Saying yes to Question 2, Worsley says, is like putting cement

on your feet while you do a "value-waste activity." You will

be spending lots of money over the next 12 to 18 months to integrate

your old systems and become Y2K compliant.

"We spent over $1.5 million converting our entire system to a

webcentric system," says Worsley. He abandoned a client-server

system with a Sybase Powerbuilder application. "Instead of trying

to make the Internet talk to that one, we said, `Let’s have the Internet

talk to the Internet.’"

It’s working for him. Skymall’s sales soared from $300,000 in 1997

to $2.1 million in 1998 ( After

only two years of being on the World Wide Web, those sales are the

fastest growing segment of his business. The number of hits on the

Skymall website rose from 8 million in the fourth quarter of 1997

to 28 million in the last quarter of 1998. Fourth quarter Internet

sales tripled to $1 million.

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Designing Your Website

Design your website for a broad audience. A design that

is clear enough for a novice user will be basic and fundamentally

good. "I’m against designing whiz bang stuff for the sake of the

whiz bang stuff," says Ray Ingram.

Ingram and Mark Hakkinen co-founded the Trenton-based Productivity

Works ( They offer a non-visual browser,

and they do consulting for the disabled. Ingram and Hakkinen point

out that 90 percent of those who use computers are somehow disabled.

Some disabilities are obvious — blindness, colorblindness, dyslexia,

and nearsightedness — yet the most common problem is unfamiliarity.

"Spawning a new window isn’t bad if it has meaning," says

Ingram. "The key is quality, not showmanship. We don’t want people

to design for someone visually impaired but to design so people can

understand what they are trying to say."

The Internet is just a new vehicle for old principles, says Ingram:

"What matters is quality of interface, ease of use, accessibility

to everyone, and quality of content." His tips:

Use plain backgrounds and limit the flashy gizmos. "People

visit web sites to get information. It’s the same when you write.

You can use flashy words and lose the meaning."

Present self contained information without hypertext links

for their own sake. "You see web sites with two or three links

per sentence. Cross references should be meaningful. People won’t

follow the references, and if they do they won’t come back. Information

in context is more powerful."

Design a clear navigation structure. Make it easy for

the novice user to navigate and for the power user to find information

easily. Says Ingram: "You need to be able to follow your trail,

understand where you are, go down different paths, and get back to

where you were."

Use frequent links "to top of page." Ingram abhors

scrolling: "You need to have a way to get back to the table of

contents. Once they begin scrolling, you take away the ability to

jump around, and you want to give them a way to get back very simply."

Don’t let pictures tell the story. As Hakkinen points

out, "A picture may be worth a 1,000 words, but on the Internet

it’s just a file name to someone who is blind."

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Web Marketing

You don’t have to take credit card numbers to have an

effective marketing scheme on the World Wide Web, says Craig Broadbent,

manager of electronic marketing at Okidata. His firm has chosen not

to sell its products from the Internet but to use its website for

pre-purchase marketing and post-purchase technical support.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make on your website is to make

assumptions about what the visitors to your website find interesting.

"Find out what is really valuable to the user," says Broadbent.

Reports on "hit statistics" for each page are standard. The

Okidata site, for instance, has an overall "hit" record, for

each page view, of six figures on a monthly basis. But these statistics

can be used in innovative ways, he says. Ask your consultant for numbers

on what browsers are being used to access your site. "We know

a majority of people who come to our site are using a specific browser,

and we know what version they use, so we make sure we maximize the

experience for them — to use the latest and greatest things that

their browser provides."

Next find out where your visitors go when they get to the site. For

Okidata, site visitors’ three primary motives are to get information

on new products, to get support for existing products (probably with

user manuals) or to get a driver. "We make those very easy to

find and very easy to use," says Broadbent.

"We also do user surveys; we have asked people to register in

various areas, such as our small business resource center. We offer

a small promotional item such as a free CD-ROM with tips or a free

issue of a small business question." To get this the visitors,

perhaps surprisingly, are willing to fill out a form in great detail:

how many PCs they have installed and what they use their printer for,

for example. "We get a very good response," says Broadbent.

"For example, we’ve gotten 600 people registered over a six-month


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Most cybersurfers probably don’t use one-quarter of

the functionality of search engines. In fact, most don’t even know

what they don’t know.

Enter the second edition of Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner‘s

"Search Engines for the World Wide Web." Published by Peachpit

Press (274 pages, $17.99,, this

unassuming little book manages to put the hum back into search engines.

Editors at named it one of the top 10 Internet Books of

the year.

The Yardley-based authors reveal the quirks, idiosyncrasies, and innate

functionalities for each of the major search engines — Alta Vista,

Excite, HotBot, Infoseek, Lycos, and Yahoo!. Plus, they have tips

on how to find the right keyword, how to find legal resources, and

how to use Liszt (the mailing list directory) and other specialized

find-it sites like Argus Clearinghouse, and the Zip2 Yellow Pages.

Some Glossbrenner observations:

Alta Vista, ( uses a powerful

database created by a Web "spider" that explores 3 million

Web pages per day and is updated every 24 hours. It is almost too

powerful for the generalized search. "Unless you construct your

Alta Vista queries carefully, you’re likely to be overwhelmed with

far too many hits," they write. "You’ll need to spend some

time learning the rules of simple and advanced searches to take full


Excite ( uses "concept-based

searching" that intuitively assumes the searcher’s intention and

spits out lots of related sites onto the hit list. "Excite doesn’t

take your query literally as most search engines do," the Glossbrenners

write. It seeks out "not just what you asked for but also its

best guess as to what you really want to know."

Those familiar with the shocking green background of HotBot

( will probably have a strong opinion

about it, just like most people seem to have a strong opinion of its

parent company’s flagship publication, Wired magazine.

The most remarkable thing about HotBot, though, is its speed. HotBot

has the ability to deliver hits within the blink of an eye, with super

simple search syntaxes. "Instead of typing your queries with special

punctuations and Boolean operators, you can click on drop-drown menu

selections and radio buttons to conduct even the most complex searches."

Infoseek ( responds

to questions with zillions of hits. The Glossbrenners got hooked on

Infoseek shortly after it was introduced in 1995, when it helped

them get tickets for the 1996 Olympics. With 50 million pages in its

database, searches can be made for Web pages, E-mail addresses, company

profiles, frequently asked questions, and Usenet articles. There is

also a Yahoo!-like directory, arguably the Web’s largest.

The Glossbrenners like Infoseek for its set searches — the ability

to conduct a search within a search. "It’s a great way to zero

in on Web sites containing just what you need." However, a possible

drawback is that Infoseek does not permit the use of Boolean operators

(and, or, not, near).

Lycos (Latin for wolf spider) is one of the oldest search

engines, and is quickly becoming one of the most aggressive promoters,

say the Glossbrenners. While its help files for Boolean indicators

or search terms are buried deep, it is adept at finding multimedia

files — graphics, video, and sound files. "With a properly

equipped Web browser, you can even view or listen to the files as

they are being downloaded to your computer." The Glossbrenners

also adore Lycos’ "Top 5 Percent" directory. a system that

rates the hottest websites, per category. (Five percent is probably

an understatement: Lycos rates only 25 sites per category — compared

to thousands of possible websites, we’re probably talking .25 percent.)

The Lycos address is

Yahoo! As far as organization goes, the couple reserves

the most superlatives for ( "From

the very beginning, what has set Yahoo apart from other search engines

is its hierarchical approach to organizing the information on the

Internet and the World Wide Web," they write. While its database

of sites is far smaller than that of the other search engines and

it doesn’t index the full text of the Web pages, its classification

system is "second to none," they write.

But perhaps the most endearing aspect of Yahoo! is that is compiled

by reviews and recommendations from Web users "instead of relying

on automated search robots or spider programs."

The second edition quotes the research of NEC Research Institute’s

C. Lee Giles and Steve Lawrence, in an article published

in Science Magazine (U.S. 1, May 27, 1998). Giles and Lawrence showed

that Lycos indexes only 3 percent of the pages of the World Wide Web.

In ascending order, the record of the search engines is Infoseek (10

percent), Excite (14 percent), Northern Light (20 percent), AltaVista

(28 percent), and HotBot (34 percent).

Says Emily Glossbrenner: "That’s a good argument for using a couple

of different search engines."

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