Internet David vs. Goliath

Originally published September 1999
By Ronald L. Burgess

“Did you here the one about the guy who decided to take on the Fortune 500 at home in his spare time? (It’s not a joke it’s a nightmare).”

How realistic is the notion that you can start up a new Internet business and take on the Fortune 500 and make it big?This is the focus of a new international ad campaign launched by Andersen Consulting last month (8/1999). Andersen Consulting, the huge international consulting firm, is also rated as the largest Internet Services Consulting Group, over IBM and other large consultants, by IDS researchers, with $425 million in Internet services revenue.

The implications of the “nightmare” represent huge opportunities for small businesses who make a concerted effort to take advantage of the largest change in marketing in the last 100 years. But with campaigns like the above, large business is carefully planning to take this medium for itself.

How realistic is the notion that you can start up a new Internet business and take on the Fortune 500 and make it big?

Internet entrepreneur Terry Dean encourages those interested in riches via the Internet with his site But he also carefully explains the pitfalls. In an article called “Do You Have The Right Stuff To Build A Successful Internet Business?” Dean outlines some of the characteristics necessary to make it happen. They include consistency, persistence, and rapid learning. “If you want to receive traffic at our site, you have to get out there an make deals every day. . . trade links, participate in online discussions, work on search engines, etc.” “The internet is NOT Get Rick Quick.”

If your site is to be used to market your business, traffic is the key to getting exposure. Dean lists the number one activity to build traffic as “Content.” Content, is e-commerce jargon for what we used to call articles, copy, data, charts, sound, and photographs. It should be relevant, original and timely information that can be accessed and used instantly.

Great content is not necessary just because it will bring visitors back to a site; it is also critical to for registration with several search engines. The online search king is “Yahoo.” Yahoo uses “people” reviewers who go to each site and evaluate each site that is to be listed. Dean says they only list 1 in 10 requests that are submitted. . . “so the only way you are going to be listed is by having unique content for their index.”

Techniques to increase search rankings include content (copy) that contains key words and phrases that might be used by those wishing to find more information. These key words should be included in the domain name, page name, description, metatags and page text. These steps can be learned, but the business owner is way ahead to use a webmaster to do these things, based on the learning curve cost.

Finally, additional “doorways” or “portal” pages can be developed to cater to each search engines’ particular criteria. These pages concentrate on specific key words, services or products. Each page functions as an alternative home page to collect traffic specific to its purpose.

Another way to create traffic on the Internet is to build a system of links to your site. Links (or hyperlinks) allow a user to click on a button or text string and transfer to a specific area of another site. This can be an extremely powerful way to channel visitors to your site and should not be overlooked in a long-term strategy. However, developing these links requires careful audit by someone who has intimate knowledge of your strategic marketing positioning. Building links to and from a site that does not share your company values or reputation can damage your customers’ perception of your company.

Building strategic links is not a one-time set up by your local ISP webmaster. Small businesses make the mistake of assuming a site is static and the cost will be up-front with a low monthly hosting fee. The Internet is not the Yellow Pages! All listings under your heading are not listed unless you work at it.

For the small entrepreneur with nothing but time to spend, after work and in the wee hours of the night, learning and experimenting with a site can be a fun and potentially money making hobby. But, for the established business making the unsettling but necessary transformation to the web, a realistic budget should be developed to maintain and grow your site. Be realistic about the cost for an employee to learn web and have authority to create content and links on your company’s behalf. Be sure to allow a specific amount of time (that fits your budget and expectations) to work on continuing web maintenance. Remember that the skills required to do this job are truly marketing skills: writing, editing, relationship, positioning, graphic and technical. Don’t make your secretary your webmaster just because someone needs to do it. Here is an area where professional marketing e-commerce firms can actually save you money.

The most common and cost efficient way to build traffic to your site, is by simply integrating it with your current promotional strategy. Don’t forget to publish your domain name (you must have a domain name!) on business cards, stationary, advertising and packaging. But, be sure that your web site is not disjointed or different from your current image. Sending a customer, vendor, prospect or future hire to a site that doesn’t match your overall marketing strategy can actually confuse the web visitor.

A common mistake is to contact a web hosting company that has grown up around the technical aspect of the web, but hasn’t seen the need to have a real designer on the staff. Today anyone can learn the mechanics of building a web site, but few really understand the holistic marketing approach. Business owners should not really expect to get this kind of expertise for the super low prices now being published. Find an e-marketing company that has a technical staff member, not a technical company that has a design staff member.

The two most important aspects of building traffic are content development and strategic link development. These first require the skills of marketing professionals and then technical skills. Having a grand piano does not make the owner a concert pianist, and even a concert pianist hires the a professional tuner.

Ronald L. Burgess is a Marketing Management Consultant in Redlands. His firm specializes in marketing management and technology implementation.

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