Untangling the Web: Time to get Online?

July 1, 2000
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For the sake of argument, let’s say you’ve spent the last 15 years in a cave and haven’t yet heard of the Internet.

Let’s further assume that the Internet will continue to grow, prosper, and become even more attractive as a marketing and selling vehicle. This is a good assumption, because the Internet has indeed revolutionized how people communicate — and how they purchase products and services.

E-commerce

Online selling, or e-commerce, has turned into the great leveler of the marketing playing field. Companies (like contracting firms) who previously couldn’t afford the time, money, and resources to create and maintain focused yet far-reaching marketing programs suddenly found themselves able to do so.

Even more, these firms came to enjoy a newfound ability to enhance the way they collect customer information, track response, perform market research, and basically get their message out — all for a fraction of the cost of previous marketing venues.

So with all this upside, you might ask why everyone isn’t online. Well, because increased accessibility alone may not be enough. There can be other reasons holding a company back from making the leap into cyberspace. Perhaps they simply don’t feel that the potential for online sales is adequate (yet) to justify the investment involved in creating and maintaining a website.

The problem is that this logic made sense earlier on — but not now. As each day passes, e-commerce will only continue its stranglehold on our market. It is the way of the future — and those who won’t (or can’t) embrace it will be left in the dust. So, that being the case, what else holds average contractors back from putting their companies online?

Well, I would submit that for many, the reluctance is caused by something as simple as not knowing how to create an online presence. I know it hampered me in the beginning.

So, to save you the same pain and set you on your way, I think it’s appropriate that we take a moment and examine the basics for creating your own Web page. After that, we’ll move on and explore even more ways to enliven your page and make it stand out from your competitor.

The Web page

By now I’m sure you’ve heard of web pages, the World Wide Web, and its now familiar “www” prefix. It would be hard not to.

Every day we’re bombarded with advertisers trumpeting their web addresses and imploring us to “find out more about us at www. sendmeallyourmoney.com” or another such hook.

This address tells the Internet user (surfer) where to locate that advertiser’s particular web page (their home page) while online. The website offers the surfer even more detailed promotional material about the advertiser’s company, product, services, and anything else deemed important, such as how to order products or reach a customer representative.

Pages can be structured to allow visitors to interact with company representatives via e-mail or other methods of communication.

Still scared to take the Web page plunge? Don’t be. With the advent of commercially available web page software programs (I use Corel® WebMaster Suite, but there are many good ones on the market), creating your own page is well within the skills of most people.

It’s no longer necessary to master such things as HTML (hypertext markup language, used to create documents on the World Wide Web) or be a computer wizard. The programs are as simple to use as conventional word-processing packages. They guide you step-by-step through the web page creation process and explain how you can incorporate colorful and decorative effects such as fonts, graphics, backgrounds, bullet pointing, and even photographs into your page.

In a short time, even a novice can create surprisingly professional-looking pages. And if I can do it, anybody can! Many of these packages also offer technical information on how to get online, link your page to other web pages, or incorporate a variety of interactive features into your page, such as a counter. The counter is a software mechanism that tells you how many people are accessing your page — clearly valuable information for anyone trying to determine future marketing plans.

Should you decide you still don’t want to tackle the job, independent companies are out there that can create and publish your page for a fee. Generally, the more information you wish to put on your page, the more the initial and often monthly service costs will be to create and maintain your site.

There are even sites online that offer free Web pages — but these often have conditions for doing so and features such as space might be limited. Now, depending on the software, you may need to purchase additional peripherals and/ or programs such as FTP (file transfer protocol) software that allows you to upload your pages to the Net, although this may be provided by your ISP (see next section).

Going cyber

Regardless of the method you choose to make your page(s), once created, it’s simply a matter of slapping them out on the Net — right? Not exactly. Before you can “live” in cyberspace, you’ll need a means of putting your page online.

Generally, there are two ways. You can provide your own file server (a computer and peripherals) large enough to power your site, but this can be costly and will likely require considerable time and commitment to make it work. Many businesses choose instead to contract with an ISP (Internet Service Provider) that runs the company’s site off of the ISP’s servers for a monthly fee, and possibly a cost for initial setup or other services.

There are many ISPs out there and a little investigation (perhaps through Internet Magazine or other computer magazines) is all it takes to get a list of good candidates from which to choose. If that doesn’t work, you can also find multitudes more by searching online.

Next, you’ll need to register your site with a name (known as your domain) through an organization such as InterNIC (the principal domain name registration authority for, among others, .com, .org, and .net site names). Inter- NIC can be located online at www. InterNIC.net. There are also many other companies like Websitehosts .com/domain.html, www.register-domain-name.co.uk, www.us-do main-name-registration.com, and more that can assist you.

Any search engine (I list some of these below) will take you to more of these companies than you can handle. Most of these basically act as domain name brokers to assist you with domain registration. They, too, will likely charge a fee for their services, but depending on your needs (and frustration level), it could be money well spent.

There are even sites like www. domain-name-auction.co.uk, that offer an auction system for buying and selling domain names. When choosing your name, don’t be too cute or abstract. Pick a label as close to your company name as possible (your first choices may already be taken). Then, customers who are searching for you won’t have to guess what you’re called and grow tired of looking.

Finders, seekers

Once your site is registered and online, you now want people to be able to find your page.

You can greatly enhance your chances of this happening by submitting your website to search engine companies such as Snap®, Hotbot®, AltaVista®, Lycos®, Yahoo®, and InfoSeek®. These companies offer search programs that allow surfers to navigate the Net and find the topics they desire.

Once again, your ISP may provide this submission service as part of its package, so be sure to ask. If you do have to register on your own, you can enlist a number of engines at one time through sources such as www.sub mit-it. com for one fee.

At the time of this writing, Submit-it® advertised up to 400 search engines with which you could register. Then, virtually anyone can find you.

After that, it’s a simply a matter of keeping fees paid, updating your page with fresh information, using the data gathered to best benefit your company — and doing all the other things that built your business in the first place.

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