Posted Thursday, December 2, 2004
When the webmaster's full-time attention is on publications on the Internet, and all full-time efforts are to increase public distribution of data posted in these publications, it is difficult not to over-concentrate. I believe most webmasters are aware of the existence of obsolescent post office mail advertising, or snail mail, but I do not believe much advertising effort is currently being channeled into anything except Internet related sources. Even magazines are now ezines and "personal contact" means e-mail. We still see individuals, sometimes dressed in weird costumes, standing alongside the road in a downtown area, waving a sign about a grand opening, or grand closing, or special car wash, or some such. But I have never seen anyone standing alongside the road waving a sign advertising a new website. "That isn't the way Internet sites are promoted". But why not? There is no law stating physical business sites must be promoted physically, and cyberspace sites promoted only in cyberspace.
Many, many people now have an electronic door that can be knocked on via email or notices in search engines or bannered in popular programs or on popular sites. But those same people still have a physical presence that can be reached. The excitement of all the new "dot.coms" is subsiding, but not necessarily the products they presented to an eager public. While many of the flood of e-businesses were little more than electronic pyramid letters, the online sales of durable goods has not decreased substantially with the expiration of the many get-rich-quick schemes. Like the days of the California Gold Rush many dot.coms did not pan out - but many e-businesses became online catalogs of what people had formerly driven their cars to a store to view, and satisfied customers of such catalogs are not going to readily relinquish the convenience of online shopping. However, non-satisfied customers of online shopping, and those yet to test the World of Internet shopping, are not likely to learn about it from the Internet. Literally millions of people have been hearing about the wonders and convenience of the Internet - but the only place they can find out about the Internet is from the Internet. And there is a lot of garbage on that Internet, as well as useful websites. The Internet is not really a very good atmosphere for presenting legitimate offers and products of value - unless the customer already knows their value and knows the location where they can be found. Separating the wheat from the chaff on the Internet requires someone well versed in Internet procedure. It is truly a "boot-strap" operation for someone to learn anything very useful from the Internet until they have already learned quite a bit from that Internet. Everywhere the uninitiated turn in cyberspace they encounter more confusion and deception.
Constructing and presenting useful e-business websites for skilled users is not going to reach or impress millions of potential customers who are not, and probably never will be, skilled users of browsers, email programs, and the Internet in general. However, these same users can read the signs being waved alongside the road, and follow the directions of pitchmen and women on TV. This does not mean that webmasters need put on a chicken suit and dancealong sidewalks waving a sign promoting their website. In fact just such a sign is not like providing the customer with a street address. Practically everyone can find a location with a street address. But a large number of people interested in whatever the sign might address, still have not the knowledge or sufficient interest in the Internet to be able to find a URL that may be shown them. The URL could be in a regular magazine or newspaper, or shown on TV or listed on a radio show, and still be in a mysterious, unattainable location for many, many people.
This leads to an unavoidable conclusion. Many products presented on the Internet are not available to a large proportion of the population. And the only way to make these products available to them is with person-to-person contact. Tell a friend about a desirable product and show them how to reach it online. Convince others to tell a friend about a desirable product and show them how to reach it online. This cannot be done online. No amount of website information and instructions will have a noticeable effect. The product catalogs need to be online but the information on how to reach them cannot be presented only online. The webmaster needs to physically meet the public and not depend on achieving success by just sitting at the computer and becoming proficient in programming.
About the Author
Todd Rockwell, webmaster for Arts & Crafts online. Visit this site at (http://artcrafts.home.att.net/)