Internet

How to advertise on the internet

"I want to run the IT department like a business. I want to sell something perceived to be of value to the customers."

—Mr Ole Elsaesser, the CIO for the Australian blue-chip company, CSR. (1)

"...the technology environment is the business environment - the network is the business. And so we now have very clearly articulated corporate goals, and an IT strategy that's lined up alongside it and continually tested to make sure that it remains alongside the corporate strategy."

—Mr Russell Scrimshaw, head of technology, operations and property at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. (2)

"Buying [or reading] something once [on the Internet] is good, but getting customers to come back for future shopping [or education] forays is the true mark of success."

—Rich Castagna (3)

How to advertise your web site/e-business

There are essentially two ways to advertise your presence online: (i) passively and (ii) actively. The passive approach involves adding META tags to your web pages and notifying search engines. The other approach involves getting out there and letting people know your web site exists and has something people want.

The passive approach is the cheapest form of advertising if you are on a budget. The active approach, if done properly, is usually the most expensive. Although if you do most of the work yourself and choose the right advertising campaigns, can still be relatively low-cost and yet considered highly effective.

In essence, the best form of advertising is doing both.

How to advertise your web site/e-business using the passive approach

One of the simplest and cheapest ways of advertising on the Internet is through the use of META tags (or META data elements) inside your web pages, choosing the right information to include in the META tags, and notifying as many of the major search engines as you can find on the Internet such as Yahoo.com, Altavista.com or Infoseek.com of your META-tag-rich pages. As Netregistry said on its web site as of May 2006:

"Where your site appears in search results can mean the difference between a few visitors and thousands of customers. NetRegistry has worked with thousands of businesses to optimise their websites to generate meaningful results on the search engines that ultimately translate into sales."

Why notify search engines of your web pages and why is it important to get in the top 10 list of search results? Because, according to NetRegistry:

  1. 80% to 90% of ALL website traffic originates from a search engine such as Google, Yahoo, MSN
  2. 70% to 80% of people using search engines DO NOT go past the 1st page of results (top 10)
  3. A 1st page position on Google will generate thousands of unique visitors to your website
  4. 'Natural' Search Engine results are twice as effective as Pay Per Click advertising
  5. Search Engine Optimisation offers the most cost effective method of promoting your business

In other words, getting on search engine listings is still one of the most popular and cheapest ways to promote your web site and help a web surfer (i.e. a potential customer) to find what they are looking for. It is claimed by some people that up to 90 per cent of all Internet traffic originates at one of the 10 major search engines sites like Yahoo.com.

To give you an indication of how powerful search engines can be for making or breaking an online business, those businesses that were able to enjoy a high ranking position (between 1 and 30) on the popular Google.com web site in early 2003 made up to a tenfold increase in sales. But when Google.com made significant changes to the way the search engines and spiders evaluate web pages, some businesses suddenly had their rankings dropped to 100 or below. Because the online businesses didn't know what had happened, many soon discovered a drop in sales while a few others were struggling to stay afloat until they realised their rankings on Google.com had changed quite literally overnight.

The moral of the story is clear: get your web site noticed on popular search engines by choosing the right keywords and write popular and valuable information or sell useful products and services through your web site, and keep checking your ranking every few days. Because, as you know, a high ranking position on a seach engine translates into higher traffic for your web site and that can only mean one thing for your business &# a bigger profit and an opportunity to succeed in this tough competitive world.

What are META tags?

A META tag is a tool for telling people something about your web page, who produced the page, when, how the page can be found using the right keywords and so on. A META tag can also tell a robot or spider of every search engine when and how often a web page should be revisited, checked and indexed (using the keywords and sometimes the page itself) so that people can quickly find it on a web search listing.

Think of a META tag as a kind of catalogue. But it isn't a true catalogue. A META tag contains information you don't see; whereas information in a catalogue is something you do see. A META tag is only useful for search engine tools (although META tags revealing the name of the software you use to make the web pages and/or the META tags help the software manufacturers determine whether businesses are doing the right thing by purchasing a legitimate copy of their software) designed to help people find the information they want in a web page when they type a keyword or keywords in a search field.

More on search engines

The people running search engine sites have realised since 2001 how many people actually use search engines to find lot of stuff online. As a result, Yahoo.com has been taking over other smaller independent search engine sites in 2003 and Microsoft is preparing to implement in 2004 its own search engine technology to rival and possibly exceed Yahoo.com and Google.com.

As of July 2004, the search engine market is divided up as follows:

  1. Google.com: 55 per cent of global usage share
  2. Yahoo.com: 20 per cent of global usage share
  3. MSN.com: 10 per cent of global usage share
  4. Others: 15 per cent of global usage share

Consequently, if you wish to be noticed on a search engine, try to get yourself a high ranking on Google.com, Yahoo.com and MSN.com. For further resources on search engines, try the following:

Search Engine News - http://www.searchengine-news.com/

Search Engine Guide - http://www.searchengineguide.com/searchengines.html

How do I add META tags into my web pages?

Incorporating META tags into your HTML documents (or web pages) is not difficult. You can obtain freely, or purchase for a low cost, several software utilities to help create and insert META tags into your Web pages (e.g. Metagenerator 1.3.1 and VSE Be Found 1.7.1) unless you wish to avoid the cost altogether, in which case you must type in the META tags yourself directly into your pages.

The most important META tags you must have in any Web page you want indexed by a standard search engine site are the description and keyword tags. The format for writing these tags are as follows:

META NAME="keywords" CONTENT="keyword(s) 1, keyword(s) 2, etc"

And when your Web site is found within a listing, a brief description of the site using the DESCRIPTION META tag will hopefully entice web surfers to look at your site.

The other kinds of META tags considered fairly important to include in your HTML pages are the following:

META NAME="copyright" CONTENT="Copyright © 2006 SUNRISE"
META NAME="author" CONTENT="Who wrote this rubbish?"
META NAME="publisher" CONTENT="SUNRISE"
META NAME="robots" CONTENT="all"

Once the META tags are ready and inserted into the header section (that is, between the HEAD and /HEAD) of your HTML documents, you must then upload your pages to your web site online; submit the Web address details for each of the pages you want indexed to a search engine (i.e. create an engine.htm containing the exact web address of each page you want indexed); and wait up to 6 months (especially for the more popular search engines like Yahoo, Altavista and others) for your pages to be properly indexed and to appear in search engine listings!

A good place to register your web site with search engines is to go to Register-It at http://www.register-it.com/free. The free version will submit your web site to the best 16 search engines available on the Net. Or alternatively try Submit-It! at http://siteowner.linkexchange.com/Free.cfm. To see if it worked and to check the status of your site submission, run a test at http://www.did-it.com/, known as the Did-It Detective.

How to make your META tags work for you

Here are our tips to make your META tags work for you:

  1. Make sure the critical web pages you want Internet users to see have the Keyword, Description and Title META tags inserted into your web pages. Some search engines may have an unfortunate habit of ignoring your "you beaut!" or "world's best" web pages if these META tags are not written in or made available in some way.
  2. Choose as many keywords relevant to your web pages and which are likely to be searched in any typical search engine by Internet users. For example, if you have free software to give away, make sure the keywords "free" and "free software" are typed into the Keyword META tag. Put in as many relevant keywords about the web page as you can. No need to be frugal about it as you have about 1,000 characters to fit it all in.
  3. Try choosing and registering your domain name in the web address for your web site such that it contains a keyword to describe everything about the site. For example, if you are selling cars online, try to have a web address for the site such as http://www.sellingcars.com/ or http://www.carsales.com/, or better still, http://www.cars.com/ (if it hasn't been taken up already by someone else).
  4. When using the Keyword META tag, make sure you avoid repeating a keyword more than 6 times. It is true the more often you use a keyword within this META tag the higher your web page will appear in a search engine listing. However, search engines are now sophisticated enough to check for keyword repetition because this is how many spammers use to achieve a high ranking. Now you can no longer do this. If you try, your web pages will be seen as spam and they may be rejected by search engine sites.

    UPDATE
    July 2004

    You have to remember, search engine sites want to show to their customers unbiased listings. If there is any chance a marketer or spammer is deliberately abusing the META tags to gain greater favouritism for their web pages, the search engine sites will lose customers and the owners will be very upset.

    So do the right thing.

  5. Write your description in the Description META tag in such a way that it will include your keywords (or at least the ones relevant to the web page). Search engines will check for this to see the relevancy of the keywords to the web page. The description should be less than 200 characters in length to fit properly in the search engine listings.
  6. The most important check of all for search engines is whether you actually use the keywords in the main body of the web page. If the search engines fail to find at least one reference in your web page relating to your keywords, you will most likely score low in the search engine listings. For a good ranking in the search engine listings, try to use your keywords in the body of your web page at least 5 times where possible.
  7. Make sure your web pages contain a certain level of content-rich and useful information. If your web pages merely point to other web sites or pages for information, your web pages may not get you anywhere on the search engine listings.
  8. You will also need to place links on other people's web sites to get higher rankings on search engine listings. You can do this with people you don't know, or you can create multiple web addresses of your own all linking to each other (but with each site containing useful information about a particular topic or product of interest to people). This will raise your rankings on the search engine listings significantly.

    UPDATE
    July 2004

    As of July 2004, the algorithms used in search engines have got sophisticated enough to measure how many independent web pages are linked to your web pages and whether the independent sites are well-known and already have high traffic passing through them or not. Generally, the more people who visit an independent site and notice your link, the better your chances of appearing high up on the search engine listings. However, to ensure this technique isn't abused in any way by marketers and spammers, the search engines are smart enough to determine whether the independent web sites (or specific pages) have a lot in common with your web pages. So the search engines won't just measure the quantity of links to your web site, but will also check for relevancy as well as correct application of the META tags in yours and other people's web pages.

Need some tools to ensure you are complying with search engine sites?

Here is a list of tools you may find useful when getting yours and other people web pages to look well-behaved to search engines.

  1. Wordtracker - A useful online tool (especially the paid version) to help you select common keywords used by Internet users when searching for information relevant to the nature of your web pages. Actually, if you are looking for more information about marketing yourself and your products online, we recommend checking out http://www.marketingtip.com/ where Wordtracker is located. The information is extremely useful.
  2. Optilink - Another great tool designed to analyse the link reputation of a web site. Before you ask other web site owners to place your links on their sites, make sure the sites properly satisfy the requirements of the latest search engine rules.
  3. Webposition Gold - Another incredibly useful tool from http://www.marketingtip.com/. This one is designed to generate new Web pages with meta tags optimised for high placement on the major search engine listings. It will also analyse, give a likely ranking on different search engines, and generate a report suggesting how to improve your existing web pages.

Creating blogs on a website to improve your ranking

Another technique for increasing your ranking on search engine sites is to include an option for people to blog about anything, or perhaps a topic of interest to a reasonable number of people (and your business and/or personal interests).

The term blogging simply means allowing people to type their views online for everyone to read. Essentially a blog is an online electronic diary where people can express their views about something. Every submission made of a person's view is shown and organised by date and time, so everything flows sequentially.

Setting up a blog on your web site costs nothing. Just a little HTML on your side to make it happen. Adding information to a blog costs nothing. Only the time and effort for readers to express their views. Later, if your blog becomes popular and contains very useful information, you may consider turning this into a business by putting on a subscription service for US$10 or US$49 per month if you like. But that's another story. If you have products ready to sell, you might wish to make the blog free for users.

Whatever you do, remember that a blog may even give you ideas on how to improve your products. So use it as a tool to find your customers and hone in on the products people are looking for.

NOTE: You still have the problem of advertising the presence of your blog before it can do magic for your website. Read on!

The active approach to advertising - why is it so important?

Unfortunately, doing all of this work is no guarantee that your Web site (or e-business) will be noticed by others, let alone appear on the search engine listing at all.

Why?

Firstly, there are literally billions of web sites to be indexed by search engine spiders every week. The shear number of web sites now required to be processed is starting to consume a lot of time. If you want your pages to be indexed, (i) you may now have to wait up to 6 months for your web site to be properly indexed and available in search engine listings, (ii) you may have to meet very strict rules in your META tags as determined by the policies of various search engine sites; and/or (iii) your web site may have to be of a very high quality, or you could find yourself not on the listing at all.

Secondly, even if you are on the search engine listing, most internet users are not normally masochistic enough to look beyond the top 20 web sites. That is why paying for advertising on the more popular Web sites like Google.com is now big business. See the section What is the Internet used for? for further details.

UPDATE
15 July 2003

Yahoo, Inc. has spent big on the lucrative Internet advertising space with a US$1.63 billion stock and cash deal to buy Web advertising firm Overture Services. Yahoo's main focus in 2003 will be on delivering specially-targeted advertising on its popular search engine where most people visit and will be delivered based on the type of words people use to perform their search on Yahoo. Apparently the revenue earned in this type of search-based advertising has grown to US$2 billion and is expected to grow to US$5 billion by 2006 based on research conducted by the investment firm US Bancorp Piper Jaffray.

The deal has also seen Yahoo absorb several popular search engines including Altavista, Fast Search and Transfer, and Inktomi.

The word is out: Yahoo, Inc. wants to dominate the search-based advertising scene. Instead of going for internet portals and showing a directory of web sites and later try to advertise on them, Yahoo has gone back to its roots and realised the killer application on the Internet has always been search engines. So by advertising on these search engines, Yahoo is confident of making a huge profit!

Microsoft Corporation is not immuned by the major shake up in the Internet search engine industry after realising its own MSN search engine is based on Overture's technology. Why Microsoft did not buy Overture before Yahoo did is anyone's guess. However, one thing is certain: Microsoft is definitely not pleased by what has happened as this would mean paying money to a competitor while it has only just begun recently to reach profitability from its own MSN search engine service.

There are no immediate plans by Microsoft to ditch the Overture search engine technology at the moment. Microsoft is concentrating more on ramping up its efforts within the corporation to develop its own search engine technology to compete with Yahoo.

UPDATE
30 April 2004

Like a chess game, Google, Inc. has noticed the major move by Yahoo, Inc. in trying to checkmate all other major players in the search engine industry. So to remain a major player in this industry, Google, Inc. has announced the company will go public through a Dutch auction, selling over 24.6 million shares for US$108 to US$135 each. The move could see Google, Inc. acquire up to US$2.7 billion (A$3.75 billion) in cash after selling its stock to potential shareholders worldwide and will give the company a total market value of as much as US$27 billion (A$36 billion) as required to stay competitive with the other two major players.

However once it has the cash, Google will need to differentiate itself in some way from the competitors. How? So far, Yahoo.com is counting on its shear size and powerful search engine technology to take a reasonably big share of the online advertising profit, and doing it quite successfully too. As for Microsoft, the company is not only building a rival search engine technology but is also trying to take a step ahead in being able to display a more friendlier and simpler search engine site capable of understanding human language in the way people like to ask questions and to present intelligent search results.

What can Google, Inc. do to improve on this? The company must come up with something different. Maybe Google can develop a more powerful search engine capable of searching and presenting only the very best web sites throughout the entire Internet (including the latent or hidden part of the Internet that usually doesn't get searched by other competitors in the industry)?

Finding something different shouldn't be a problem. As the co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page said in an "owner's manual" for prospective investors:

"Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one." (4)

Whatever Google does, the simplicity of its search engine page should remain paramount. That's why it is popular with so many Internet users. Simplicity equates to Google in the minds of users. Therefore Google should try to use this proven marketing feature to its own advantage.

UPDATE
8 August 2004

Microsoft is seeing the benefits of keeping a web site looking simple and easy to use. As we speak, the company has decided to simplify its MSN search web site. Its longer term plan is to allow users to search a large number of big databases beyond the standard web site search and emails. A good move as it poises itself to introduce its own new powerful search engine technology to compete directly with Yahoo.com and Google.com.

UPDATE
Wednesday 18 August 2004

Google has gone public after selling 19.6 million shares valued at US$85 (A$117) each at the opening bid (raising over US$1.66 billion in immediate cash supplies for the six-year-old company) to just over US$100 (A$138) each at the end of Thursday 19 August 2004, or 18 per cent above where it started. Although the Google founders were hoping to attract shareholders looking for long-term investments in Google shares, some investors wanting to make a quick buck had entered the scene and made a handsome profit after selling their shares within 24 hours of buying them. This is what can be expected from a selling mechanism through a Dutch auction house considered unorthordox and allowing more jittery investors to trade. Traditionally it would have been investment bankers inviting the more long-term thinking investors from their list of favoured clients and friends to buy the shares before the rest are sold publicly to the lucky few.

Banner advertising is still a popular way of advertising on the Internet. Just remember, for banners to be effective they must be placed on the right (e.g. the most popular) web sites, are well-designed, and is of interest to the Web users. The standard banner advertisement display sizes vary, but the most common is 400 x 60 pixels.

SPECIAL NOTE

Annoyed by those banner ads on web sites? Try a piece of software called Guidescope designed to filter banners from view.

Pop-up ads have emerged from the banner ads to solve the problem of people overlooking the banners because they are used to it. In the early days, pop-up ads proved to be quite effective until only recently when too many web sites employed the technique and now in 2004 too many people are getting fed up of having ads popping up in their faces.

## SPECIAL NOTE ##

Netscape, Google, Alexa, AOL and Earthlink are now providing free software tools to block pop-up software. And rumours have it that the next version of Microsoft Internet Explorer will have a pop-up blocking feature installed.

Advertising on Google.com - the way of the future for online advertising?

As of June 2005, the head of the UK operations of Google.com, Mr Nikesh Arora, said:

"We let the consumers decide if they want to click on an ad and we don't demand payment until somebody clicks on an ad. That's an important innovation in the world of advertising — we are not going to thrust ourselves on anybody." (Burrell, Ian. Google searches for next raid: The Canberra Times (Panorama section). 11 June 2005, p.5 (pp.4-5).)

If this is true, you may wish to try advertising at Google.com.

Actually the auction-based advertising system works so good, it has turned Google.com into a multi-billion dollar business.

You see the critical thing is, you don't pay Google.com for advertising until you are happy in receiving customers, and the right ones only (i.e. they are looking for your products during their search), and only when the customers choose to see the products you have to offer by clicking on your web address (i.e. part of the text-based advert shown together with the search results for all relevant users).

This simple advertising consideration for people wanting to get noticed online has made Google.com an absolute motza!

The key to its success? The company did something others, including Yahoo.com, didn't, which was to let smaller advertisers participate at a lower advertising cost and to include state-of-the-art technology to quickly match search results with the right advertisements. To do this, nearly 100 computers work on the problem to present the right information in a matter of milliseconds.

The computers calculate not only on the type of advertisement it is and whether it relates to the search results for online users, but it also checks for things like the amount bid by advertisers for showing their advertisements (i.e. how regularly the advertisements will be shown) and the budget of the advertiser (i.e. how many clicks the advertiser will accept for the bid amount it has chosen).

So long as Google.com doesn't attempt to record the names of users and their exact locations and link them to specific advertisements and web sites based on the users' interests and behaviours, which could pose a serious privacy problem in itself (although from an advertisers point-of-view, this would be an absolute gold-mine of information), it is already a powerful way of advertising.

NOTE: Google believes it has improved its technology to the point where it can prevent a thing called click fraud from taking place. Click fraud is a process where a single user clicks on your web address many times, usually by your competitors or someone in Mongolia or an African country where people are understandably desperate to earn money, in an attempt to deplete your advertising dollar. Talk to Google.com to see how how far the company has come to minimise this potential problem.

Eventually such a system could become fully automated and soon it wouldn't be too outrageous to hear a Google CEO say to you, "Give me $1 million and your web site and we will give you $100 million in sales."

But suppose you are on a budget. Are there alternative forms of advertising?

Bulk email sending as a cheaper form of advertising

Alternatively, you may wish to do the advertising yourself through leaflets handed out to people in your local area (i.e. direct mail), attending industry fairs, talking to people in your field of expertise; or better still, try the increasingly more popular and cheaper bulk email sending method.

There is no reason why you must advertise in the local or national newspaper or create fancy television and radio commercials just to let everyone know about your e-business. You are better off using highly focused and specific marketing channels for your advertising such as placing a link on another person's more popular web site. Do this first, and then you will know where you stand in the marketplace. Later, if the demand is there, you may be able to afford the more expensive forms of advertising.

The bulk email sending method involves doing some research online, or paying someone else to do the work of compiling email addresses from a large number of potential customers online and then delivering to each of the customers a carefully-crafted electronic advertisement.

This is probably the best thing to getting quality advertising done on the Internet for little or no cost to yourself. The only thing you will have to do is spend the time searching and downloading a mailing listing and to use a free piece of software like Email XPress 1.5 (a FileMaker Pro database package for sending email messages, or try our SUNRISE Contacts 2003 software) to do the job of sending email to everyone in your listing.

How do you find the email address of someone? If the person you wish to send an email message belongs to a university or other organisation and which are full members of the Internet, try the netfind service at http://www.archie.au/. Use your telnet package to point to http://www.archie.au/ and log in as "netfind". Type the surname and part of the organisation or university name like so,

clinton white house

And click search to reveal a list of names that satisfy your criteria.

Is the person you are looking for posted an article on Usenet News over the past year? If so, this server may help you to find the person. The procedure of finding someone is quite simple:

  1. Send an email message to mail-server@rtfm.mit.edu;
  2. Don't enter anything in the subject line. Just keep it blank;
  3. Type in the body of the message a line of text formatted like so:

    send usenet-addresses/name

    where "name" is the name of the person (you can type just the surname if you wish); and

  4. Send the email.

You will receive an email message from Usenet News containing a list of names with their email addresses that match the one you've entered in your email.

As Alan Schwartz commented about the power of emails as an advertising tool:

"Email is the most powerful communication tool available on the Internet today, which makes mailing lists a prime marketing tool. Nearly everyone online receives email, and most people read it regularly. Messages are easy to create and inexpensive to deliver, even to people with low-bandwidth connections." (5)

Although there are some international laws restricting this form of advertising, the main thing you will need to remember in ensuring the legality of your advertisements via the bulk email sending approach is always place an option for your clients to have themselves removed from your listing (6). Beyond that, if your advertising is not obsene or anything that would contravene the standard advertising ethics, you should be legally okay to use this form of advertising.

And if nothing else, emails can save you and the planet lots of money and valuable resources according to an email we received from gowinaroo@mailpanda.com:

"Each year in the U.S. alone, the "postal" bulk mail industry consumes over 450 million trees just to make the paper used in sending their advertisements and promotions. Using email instead can significantly reduce this consumption, while at the same time decreasing the billions of tons of paper waste filling our landfills."

This quote may have originated from http://www.environmentaldefense.org/. But without a source, we cannot verify whether the figures are reputable. However, it does make sense to use email if you can save a sheet or two of paper each time you do so (unless the trees are being cut down to make the poles supporting the electricity lines for feeding the entire Internet network!).

This probably explains why some people are trying to make a positive impact on the environment by writing at the end of their emails:

"PLEASE NOTE: No trees were destroyed in the sending of this contaminant free message. We do concede, however, a signicant number of electrons may have been inconvenienced."

When sending email messages with attachments, make sure each message is less than say 1MB in size. A small message makes a lot of sense - not everyone will have time to download (unless you have a broadband connection) and read a large message (unless it is a picture), and also not everyone has enough space to store large email messages (Yahoo.com will allow up to 6MB for storing email messages, perhaps more if you ask really nicely and then pay a small monthly fee as well). So just keep it short, interesting and snappy.

Will bulk email sending as a form of advertising really work?

The key to the success of this bulk email sending approach is to target the right people and not to hassle the same people with the same message again and again especially in they are not interested. In other words, know your customers, understand what they want or need so you can determine whether they might be interested, and then send them the right advertisement to target that particular want or need via a good service and/or product. Do all of that, and there will be an excellent chance of you getting a favourable response from your customers.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to know what everyone on the Internet may want or need at any one particular moment in time. We only have general trends of what most people do and who they are likely to be while on the Internet. But on an individual basis, it is extremely difficult.

One way of addressing this problem is through the use of magic cookies. Magic cookies are simple files created by web site owners via a web browser for storing certain pieces of information about you, your habits and what you do while you are on the Internet.

Unfortunately, not everyone wants their personal information containing all their needs and wants stored in a browser's cookie file for everyone to read. And there are now enough freeware software utilities to eliminate cookie files from a person's hard disk altogether. So there has to be alternative ways of advertising.

Because of this difficulty in targeting people's needs and wants precisely at all times, there is a trend at the moment where people are spuriously sending out advertisements via bulk email technology to all the email addresses they can get their hands on from newsgroups, free software give-away offers etc. The consequence of this approach by some advertisers is the proliferation of junk emails littering people's email accounts.

And who are responsible for most of the junk email today? Chad Henderson, a reader of the Australian magazine titled Internet.au, wrote the following to the editor in December 2001:

"I am a pervert in need of a mortgage, a new credit and some illegal Viagra - or that's what the dozens of unsolicited emails I receive each day seem to think I am.

Do you remember when junk mail used to mean coupons or sweepstakes offers that made no reference to the size of your penis? And now the emails even refer to me by name. No longer is the mail addressed to "resident" or "Occupant," but rather "Chad, Welcome To Live Hot Casino Action!" Why hasn't anyone besides the pornographers, gamblers and debt financers caught on to the joys and rewards of junk emails?"

Also called spamming, these junk emails are now the major cause of work-related stress and wasted time online for people today. According to recent research from The User Group, the average worker now spends three hours each day processing and dealing with junk emails, compared to only 90 minutes two years ago. Over two million users had participated in the latest survey. (7)

Causes of email overload. Source: PCPlus: Users Bogged Down with E-Mail. September 2000, p.16.

Another survey has also confirmed that processing email has taken over telephone calls as the most stressful part of doing a job. The number of emails to process throughout the world has already reached 1000 million, and by 2005 it is expected to worsen to around 35,000 million based on current growth estimates.

If the trend continues, it is likely email accounts will be rendered useless, or people will have to use 100 per cent filtering on all emails and then open up the email address channel to only a few selected and highly trusted individuals and organisations.

Or perhaps legislation might be used to stop spammers sending unsolicited junk emails to everyone, such as extending the law restricting junk advertisements being sent by facsimile to include email accounts.

Or better still, use positive peer pressure to get advertisers to join a global coalition for responsible internet marketing. Show the benefits of joining such a group and you will see an amazing number of advertisers follow the lead (unless they are in survival mode and will do anything to make a buck).

What are people doing to deal with junk/spam email?

The critical thing to solving this "junk/spam email" problem is not to broadcast your name, email address and other personal information to the world. As Jacinta Thomler wrote in her article Spam jammers - Rid your mail box of uninvited guests, published in the December 2001 issue of Internet.au:

"Long ago, when the Net was something only academics used, it was safe to broadcast your name and email address to the world (after all, only about 500 people used it). Fast forward ten years, and broadcasting your name is one of the worst things you can do...

Anytime you post a message to a newsgroup, use a public chat room or instant messaging service, supply a company with a profile, or post a message to a mailing list, the spammers can find you." (8)

The United States, China, Korea and Brazil lead the way in the countries that produce the most spam.

So how do people deal with this problem in more practical terms? The most common way is to get a new, anonymous email account with a free ISP and use this to store all potential junk emails you receive from advertisers.

Another method of keeping junk emails to a manageable level is to enter bogus personal information in online order forms whenever web sites insist on getting your email address, your name and other personal information. This is perfectly legal as there is no international law requiring you to enter your correct personal information on web sites owned by strangers who you don't know personally.

Or to stop those really dedicated and annoying spammers searching through your web pages using special email address scavenging software, you can now use a simple piece of Javascript in your HTML pages to break up your email address into smaller parts. So when someone wants to click on a hyperlink to email you something, he/she can do so. The Javascript will simply combine the parts at the appropriate time and help the customer deliver a message to your email address. However spammers with their automatic email address searching tools won't find your email address in the usual format anywhere in your web site.

For two examples of this kind of technology, click here.

Or why not invest in a software tool called Mailwasher Pro? Apparently it has the uncanny ability of removing a huge range of junk emails and even those suspect emails having viruses attached to them. As one user named Cory M. wrote about the software:

"I invested in Mailwasher Pro about four months ago, and instantly found it was an awesome tool. For months I'd been copping about 10-15 junk emails a day — all caught by Mailwasher. I was surprised to see that recently I was a target for 51 emails, of which 47 were "possible" viruses. Mailwasher is working overtime and they all got zapped before they were downloaded into my REAL inbox." (9)

NOTE: We are sure Cory M. won't mind having his email address shared with everyone. Spammers simply won't have a chance with his Mailwasher!

Or better still, Governments should legislate all advertisers to write next to the subject of their emails a three-letter code such as "ADV" as a socially-responsible activity of informing people of the arrival of an advertisement. Then if people do not want to see another advert, their email filters can be made to filter out all emails with the "ADV" at the front of the subject, leaving behind the crucial and more important emails.

UPDATE
22 November 2003

With spam constituting approximately 32 per cent of the email volume sent daily in North America (up from 17 per cent in 2001), US Congress is on the verge of passing legislation to regulate unsolicited commercial email messages known as spam.

The latest revision of the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act from Montana Republican Senator Conrad Burns and Oregon Democrat Senator Ron Wyden was approved in the US House of Representatives on Saturday 22 November 2003 by a vote of 392-5. With the US Senate expecting to approve the wording of the legislation, it is likely the bill will get signed by US President George W. Bush before the end of 2003.

Mr Bill Gates of Microsoft Corp. praised the move saying it will significantly help in the fight against spam. As he said for The Washington Post:

"Microsoft particularly supports the strong enforcement provisions, and the ban on falsifying the origin of e-mail solicitations and illegally obtaining lists of e-mail addresses, both of which will help Internet service providers prosecute spammers."

In contrast, the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE) wants to see the Act made tougher against marketers. The main concern for the Coalition is the way the Act requires marketers to provide an "opt-out" method and for individuals to make the effort to notify the marketers of their wish to be removed from the marketers' email lists. The Coalition would prefer to see the bill introduce something like an "opt-in" method where individuals give consent to receive commercial advertisements from marketers.

Even if the bill is not modified in the way the Coalition wants, a number of states including California will still go ahead with enacting tougher anti-spam legislation on 1 January 2004.

When all US legislation on anti-spamming are fully activated in 2004, the minimum marketers will be required to do are as follows:

  • Always put a working "opt-out" at the end of all commercial email messages.
  • Do not falsify the origin and destination of the email message in the header information. This includes routing information as well.
  • Email addresses for sending spam should be obtained by legal means.
  • When a customer clicks on the opt-out link, the spammer should not sell the email address of the customer to other spammers.
  • Never hijack other people's email accounts to send spam.
  • Do not create email addresses or IP addresses specifically designed to send spam.
  • It is illegal to send spam to people who have requested to be removed from your list.
  • It is also illegal to use deceptive subject lines to trick people into opening the message.

If anyone does not comply to this legislation, the advertiser's email service and possibly their web sites could be banned or fines of up to US$250 per email capped at up to US$6 million could be enforced. The US Federal Trade Commission is likely to be one of a number of agencies to do the work of legally enforcing the legislation with marketers.

The only problem with this legislation is how difficult it will be to enforce it, especially the spam originating outside the US.

UPDATE
16 December 2003

US President George W. Bush has signed the bill controlling bulk commercial email activities of marketers known as SPAM. The CAN-SPAM Act 2003 takes effect on 1 January 2004.

UPDATE
24 May 2004

A 6-month review of the CAN-SPAM Act 2003 suggests the FBI needs more time to gather evidence of civil and criminal bulk emailer/spammers not abiding the federal spam law. Until the evidence is gathered, the number of spam emails has not reduced. On the contrary, the volume of spam has increased. As committee Chairman of Congress John McCain said after listening to the review from the FBI:

"Since our review of this issue last May, the volume of spam received by American consumers has risen unabatedly.

Spam now accounts for anywhere from 64 per cent to 83 per cent of all e-mail traffic on the Internet." (10)

What is happening in Australia?

Similar anti-spam legislation has been passed through the house of representatives in Australian Parliament in October 2003. The Spam Bill 2003 as it is known is designed to stop most email that is delivered without the permission of its recipients.

Firstly, Australian marketers are allowed to send commercial emails if they are designed around an opt-in approach where recipients give permission to receive the emails.

Secondly, Australian marketers should include a functioning unsubscribe facility for most commercial emails.

And thirdly, Australian marketers are banned from using special email address harvesting software and the lists it produces.

Any Australian marketer found to break these rules are likely to face a hefty fine of up to A$1.1 million.

The Bill is certainly not without its problems. The civil rights group known as Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) are concerned about at least one section of the Bill spelling out the exceptions to the rule. This section permits government bodies and agencies, registered political parties, religious organisations, charities and educational institutions to send unsolicited and "with no unsubscribe/opt-out facility" emails to anyone and to use address harvesting software to achieve the aims of these organisations and groups.

The feeling is that this exemption to the rule is considered too broad to be effective in stopping spam.

However, the biggest concern of all has to be the search and seizure provisions of the Bill. It is here where powers will be given to the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) under the Spam Bill to enter and search premises without a warrant. All it would require is to get the permission from one person on the premises (e.g. a landlord or one occupier) to conduct the search on another person's possessions on the premises. And if there are any passwords locking the information on a private computer system, the owner will be required to disclose those passwords or face a six-month jail sentence.

As EFA said in a paper on the Spam Bill:

"An [ACA] inspector could enter a home with the consent of the landlord and search the tenants' computers and other possessions. In the case of a residence shared by several people, an inspector could enter the home with the consent of one occupier and search possessions belonging to a different occupier." (11)

The controversial Bill has yet to pass the Senate before the legislation can be enacted.

UPDATE
February 2004

The Spam Bill 2003 for Australian spammers has gone through rigorous checks and balances and a final version has been approved and will be implemented from 10 April 2004. Fines of up to A$1.1 million per day will be imposed on Australian spammers for sending unsolicited commercial electronic messages. The Australian Communications Authority will be checking to see Australian spammers are doing the right thing.

## SPECIAL TIP 1 ##

Another annoying aspect of online advertising over the past few years are the pop-up ads on Internet browsers. It is like one moment you are looking at a web page, then the next moment you enter another web page and suddenly see another window pop-up on top of the main window containing the web page you want to see. To stop these pop-up ads, install a copy of either StopZilla, PopUpCop or Web Window Killer to name a few. Or you may wish to choose a different Internet browser capable of handling pop-up ads in a more socially-responsible manner.

## SPECIAL TIP 2 ##

Tired of receiving those spams through the standard mail? Visit the Do Not Contact Service from the Australian Direct Marketing Association (ADMA). This free website service for Australian users will allow you to opt-out of direct mail, telephone, email and SMS marketing campaigns from the members of ADMA. It won't quite eliminate all spam, but you should see a substantial reduction in the number of spam from Australian companies.

Is bulk email sending fast becoming an ineffective tool for advertising in 2004 and beyond?

Bulk email advertising may no longer be as effective as it once was because of the availability of software spam filters to many Internet users. For example, many software filters now automatically check the email subject line for the following symbols: $, !, #, *, pound signs. If these symbols exist in your email subject line, software filters are likely to delete them because they are common used by genuine "spam".

Also some software filters delete email addresses looking like jhgfrtk@yahoo.com. Why? Because the "jhgfrtk" is random enough to be considered a bogus email address and thus potentially spam.

Then there are the people themselves who act as filters by looking quickly through a list of email messages and deleting the ones that look dubious. This is done by quickly looking at the subject heading and the email address. If the email address looks random enough, unfamiliar or is missing the subject line is obscure or does not specifically address the person reading the emails (i.e. which is why you should try to know the person's name so you can personalise your email advertisements), the emails may be immediately deleted by the readers.

In other cases, the average person faced with enough spam may be malicious enough to inform his/her ISP of the offending emails and have the spammers blacklisted from the ISP systems. This is happening as we speak with hotmail users able to inform the company at abuse@hotmail.com of unwanted spam received from millions of email addresses.

As a result of all these spam filters being put to use by enough people, email sending now only succeeds in getting a response from 0.25 per cent of the customers. Hence you'll need to send off millions of emails to get a reasonable number of responses. And you have to make sure all your email addresses are up-to-date.

In the end you may be better off being selective by promoting to the target market and choosing a wider range of promotional tools. It is far better than spuriously sending emails to everyone and later getting into trouble with someone online.

Should I use email advertising at all?

Then again, you shouldn't be put off by the benefits of bulk email advertising. It still costs just a few cents to spuriously send off email advertisements to 1 million randomly selected people on the Internet and you will get a response within minutes from approximately 2,500 people. If you could sell a product worth say $50 to each one of those potential customers, you could earn $50 x 2,500 people=$125,000. So in one sense email advertising can be successful if you have enough email addresses to do the job.

Now compare this to sending 1000 advertising brochures on paper to 1000 people by standard mail. It will probably cost you $0.20 per brochure to print (i.e. $200), $0.50 to deliver by standard mail with the "Postage Paid" emblem on each brochure (i.e. $500), and wait 2 days for customers to receive the brochure and perhaps a few more days after that before you may get a response.

For a $700 investment in traditional advertising by mail, you may be lucky to elicit responses from 2 or 3 people (remember, people are themselves filters of advertising material). Even if we were optimistic and managed to get 10 people interested in buying your product, that's equivalent to $50 x 10 people - $500. So you've made a loss of $200!

You are definitely not running a business!

Clearly the benefits of email advertising outway the benefits of traditional advertising if you intend to spuriously send advertisements to anyone you can find. You would be looking at 1 million emails or more for this bulk email sending technology to work.

What's the best way to send email advertisements?

You should remember that sending email advertisements to anyone in a random and unsolicited way (known as spamming) can get you into trouble. In the case of the 2,500 responses you may get after sending email advertisements to 1 million email addresses as described above, perhaps as much as 60 per cent may complain about your email advertisement and you could lose your account with your local ISP.

Unless you don't mind going to your local library and sending lots of emails on the Internet machines (or using your own laptop connected to the library network) and so get someone else into trouble with spamming, our recommendation is that you be selective about who and what you want to advertise.

Begin by testing the marketplace. Start making an innocuous little advertisement in an appropriate area of the Internet where there is likely to be a high probability of finding the right customers for your product and/or service. For example, choose the right newsgroup where people are most likely to be interested in what you have to offer.

Then let the customers decide for themselves whether they want to receive regular emails from you by filling out a simple online form consisting of the person's email address and what they are interested in. In that way, it is virtually impossible for you to be sending out junk email to people who do not want to read your advertisements.

As Nic Healey, editor of Internet.au, wrote in the December 2001 issue of the Australian magazine about opt-in emails in preference over spamming:

"...most legitimate businesses have discovered that opt-in emails are far more efficient, target people that actually want to hear about the product or service and may actually generate some revenue."

This approach is known as responsible email advertising.

Direct-to-desktop RSS technology

A better way to advertise is to let people decide when they want to listen to what you have to say. When people are interested, let them download (i.e. subscribe to) a small customised newsreader application from your web site onto their computer for those interested in your products and general information. This avoids the legal problem of sending messages to people who don't want to receive it without their consent. And it also ensures the people subscribing to your web site are likely to be your target market.

With this application on the customers' desktop, you will have the opportunity to automatically download a message (i.e. a web page created in HTML) located in your web site straight to the application. The message can contain virtually anything you want. It can be in full colour, with sounds, pictures, movies, javascripts and more. It can be as simple as sending a picture of your product, a bit of text and a logo, or you can create a much more sophisticated animations and sounds (so long as it downloads quickly).

And the beauty is that all the information needed to delivery a spectacular advertisement is embedded in the message. No more broken links to pictures, sounds and movies. When a message is sent to the reader application, all the relevant information is sent.

You also don't have to send advertisements in your message. Why not send them tips, ideas and offers? Most customers tend to like that more than the simple fact of knowing you have a product for sale.

Furthermore, there is absolutely no worries about competition from other businesses. With this clever piece of software, you will have the opportunity to create a one-on-one communication channel with your subscriber. No more distractions from other spammers trying to compete for the attention of your subscribers. Only you provide the message of interest to the subscriber and nothing else.

This kind of "Win-Win" advertising is called RSS technology. RSS simply means "Really Simple Syndication" or "Rich Site Summary" depending on who you ask.

Spims

A slightly more invasive form of this RSS technology is a thing called spims. Unlike spams where messages go to your email accounts to annoy the hell out of you, spims are messages that pop-up unexpectedly while you are using your instant messaging (IM) systems. The spimmers can do this because they've realised how easy it is to get onto the users' IM address books and start chatting via the pop-up advertisements.

Marketing experts and spammers no longer see emails as an effective tool because of the number of email messages that have to be sent to get a response (perhaps 10,000 users to get five responses) and how the new legislation is restricting this form of advertising. Therefore, these people have seen an opportunity to get their message across through IMs.

IMs are seen as the ideal advertising delivery tool because of IM's increasing popularity, power and ease of strangers getting onto another users' address book and chat online.

As a result, the new spimmers are now able to get a response after sending 10 to 15 messages through IM.

With 10 million people using IM in 2002 and predicted to increase to 182 million by 2007 according to Ferris Research, the spammers are quickly catching on to spims with 1.2 billion spims sent out in 2004 compared to 400 million in 2003. But for how long will they last?

Yahoo is taking the problem seriously. It is monitoring unusually high amounts of messages through its Yahoo Messenger system and will suspend user IDs from suspect IM users. Other software companies are modifying their IM software to manage spims more effectively.

Spimmers' days could be numbered in the next couple of years.

Start an affiliate program or

Have you tried two of the most powerful ways to attract a crowd to your web site: (i) setting up an affiliate (or reseller) program; and (ii) providing a simple pay-per-click (PPC) approach?

In PPC, all you do is ask enough people to put a link on their web sites and everytime someone clicks on it to look at your products, you pay your helpers roughly $0.05 per click. The only problem with this approach is that even if you were to pay $0.05 per click for the person who successfully gets someone to click a link to your web site, there is no guarantee you will make a sale. With that in mind, you could be faced with paying up to $12,000 at the end of the month to everyone who put a link on their web site to yours and it is possible you have not sold one product.

PPC can work for you if you know your product is very popular and will sell like hot pancakes.

If you are going to try this approach, we recommend selecting 5 places to have the PPC set-up. Choose the ones that are popular and likely to interest people in your products. Or try placing an ad in the following popular shopping bots for a PPC approach plus a small fee (perhaps US$1) for each product sold through these places:

BizRate

PriceGrabber

Shopping.com

PriceGrabber

Froogle

Street Prices

Shopping bots are places where people are deliberately looking for a product or service to buy and want to find it fast and compare products from different companies. It is also an excellent place for you to check your competitors to see what's on offer and how competitively priced they are before you place your own ad.

Please note the Froogle.com web site is free because the makers of the site (i.e. Google.com) are ironing out a few bugs in their search engine.

The better way to getting your products out there (especially if it is new and you wish to test the marketplace first) is to use an affiliate program. This approach involves enlisting an army of helpers at virtually no cost to you (unless you need specialised software to manage and keep track of sales and payments for all your affiliates). All they have to do is find people who will buy the product from you through your online order form. If a customer does order your product and makes a payment, the affiliate simply fills in the online order form to let you know a sale was made. On receiving a message indicating a sale was made and a check of your bank account shows a transaction has occurred, you can quickly deliver the product (or registration number) to the customer. Then at the end of the month, you send your affiliate(s) a cheque for their agreed portion of the profits for the number of sales made.

The good thing about affiliate programs is that it can cost you nothing to set-up and enlist people. The only problem is deciding on a suitable percentage of the profits to motivate your affiliates to sell your products for you. In which case, you must provide an attractive commission and pay promptly (usually at the end of the month).

The only work you have to do is make sure your web site and order form is ready; you can provide your affiliates with banner advertisements, product images, text links, brochures etc to help them get started in promoting your products in the marketplace; and you can keep track of all sales and how much you owe to your affiliates.

If you intend to go this way in selling your products online, make sure you set up a separate account for each new affiliate (remember, there could be as many as 10,000 affiliates working for you); have a means of tracking the sale of the products (i.e. your online order form should have a way of letting you know a product has indeed been purchased); and can calculate the commissions based on referred sales.

Want a tried and tested software package to manage your affiliates and keep track of payments and sales? Try AssocTRAC. This program will cost a few hundred dollars, but you get a powerful package capable of handling 10,000 affiliates just as easy as one of them.

So don't go running off your feet and digging a hole in your pocket to promote your products and get them selling online. Consider putting in an innocuous little message in an appropriate online chat room or newsroom saying you are willing to pay people for their help, and all these people have to do is bring in the customers to you or sell your products on your behalf.

Creating your customer base...

Now that you have some people showing interest in your business. The next thing to do is to compile a list of all the people who actually buy your products. This list will form your customer base. The customer base is actually where you make your money and create repeat customers so long as your products are of good quality and you provide good customer service.

Once you have a customer base, it costs you virtually nothing to advertise similar products to the people in your list who you know will be interested in what you have to offer.

And you don't have to worry about getting into trouble with the law when advertising to the people in your customer base. Just so long as you have an "opt-out" option at the end of your advertisement, you will be perfectly safe and legal in sending email advertisements to your targeted list at any time.

NOTE: You don't always have to send advertisements to people in your customer base. Many of them would be happy receiving a free report showing helpful tips about how to use your products. It makes people who receive this information feel important to the business and thus more likely to come back and consider buying other products from you.

What's the alternative?

Otherwise, your only alternative advertising approach is to go for the big guns and start spending megabucks on television, newspaper and radio advertisements like many of the big Internet players do today. Or go for Google.com for advertising space. Or why not get a major player such as Reuters to do a story about your web site? It really shouldn't cost you anything except your time to answer a few questions.

For example, a 21-year-old first year university student named Alex Tew of Wiltshire, England, was seeking innovative ways to raise money to help pay for his hefty tuition and study fees (and so avoid amassing huge debts at the end of his university time) when he discovered a brilliantly simple way of giving other companies and individuals what they wanted (i.e. exposure of their products and/or web sites to potential customers) and in return received a handsome profit in the process. He decided to set up a single home web page, divided it up into 10,000 cyber real estate advertising spaces or boxes using the TABLE command and provided 100 pixels in size for each box to permit anyone to advertise. Companies or individuals were permitted to purchase a box for US$100 (or $1 per pixel) for a period of 5 years.

Afterwards it is up to the companies to design an image to fit the cyber real estate and have it linked to a preferred web site.

But what made people notice his web site was partially through word-of-mouth advertising from family and friends and in his blog explaining his motive for doing so, but also when he succeeded in getting the attention of one of the world's biggest news agencies, Reuters. As Mr Tew wrote in his blog on Thursday 29 December 2005:

"Things have gone absolutely ballistic! There has been a massive upsurge in interest and traffic to the site as a result of one of the world's biggest news agencies, Reuters, picking up the story about my site.

Right now, as I type, 25,000 unique visitors are hitting the site every single hour. That means a projected 600,000 unique visitors by the end of Friday. Wow!" (The Sydney Morning Herald: Making a million dot com. 31 December 2005-1 January 2006, p.3.)

Since then, the few who initially signed up in August 2005 for a bit of fun (mainly by family and friends and a few businesses keen to see what happens) found themselves innundated with people coming to their businesses and web sites from Mr Tew's homepage. More businesses have signed up after discovering the little advertising gem through Reuters. And now his web site is attracting big business.

With a good catchy phrase like "Million Dollar Homepage", he is sure to pay his way through university, which admittedly is in business management. Makes you wonder why he needs to study business management if he is already well on his way to making a million dollars!

As you can see, it doesn't take much to advertise and achieve your objective.

But if you want to spend lots of money on advertising, try television, radio and newspapers. Come to think of it, isn't the use of television, radio and newspapers a form of spamming in itself, albeit in a more familiar and acceptable way (only because we don't complain about it because we get free-to-air television programs and music)?

Now there's an idea for Internet advertisers. Give us free access to the Internet, free software, free whatever-we-need, and so on in exchange for accepting a little spamming in our lives! Of course, we shouldn't ask the advertisers in the sex industry for something similar or we can hardly contain ourselves with excitement with whatever they might give away here!

SMS technology taking over unsolicited email sending advertisements?

Advertisers are never tired of finding new ways of getting the message across. Now that mobile phones are literally ubiquitous in nearly every country in the world, advertisers have caught on to another simple idea of sending advertisements to potential customers.

As the customer service staff of Software Exchange P/L in Singapore has conveniently stated in their email message:

"SMS is fast becoming the THE way for companies and business individuals to relay information, quickly and profitably. Restaurant, hotel and tour operators are using it to inform their guests of the latest packages available, and allowing them to make reservations through SMS. Professionals in the fields of financial planning, realty, and securities rely on SMS tools to broadcast information, provide info-on-demand services, and schedule birthday and holiday greetings to their clients. Shopping centre and retail outlet owners run SMS campaigns to attract customers to their sale events. Some research companies and institutions are even using SMS to collect feedback and conduct survey.

In fact, things that are traditionally done through fax, letter and email, are now being done via SMS. This is of little surprise as SMS overall offers the lowest in customer acquisition cost and the highest in value Ð it is cheaper than faxing, faster than sending a letter, and less restrictive than mass-emailing."

Yes we can now see the value of SMS technology considering that the customer service staff member had to send this message to SUNRISE by the standard email technology!

Seriously, will the technology work? It depends on how many people do have SMS technology and how much it will cost for the electronic box and software to send bulk messages to everyone. Certainly the number of mobile phones with SMS technology is there. This leaves us with the actual box itself and the software to send SMS messages.

Apparently the box nowadays is nothing more than your own advanced> mobile phone, a desktop PC or laptop, a cable or infra-red connection, together with a disk containing the key software tool for doing the "message sending" work. For example, Inspire-Tech Pty Ltd in Singapore claims to have developed the software to do the job on your home computer. Called COMgsm, it will deliver bulk SMS messages (limited only by the SMS quota that comes with your existing mobile phone subscription plan). In Singapore dollars, this is valued at $899.

Are there cheaper alternatives? Yes, but they will probably not have the same level of customer service and support as Inspire-Tech Pty Ltd can provide for customers who purchase COMgsm. Nevertheless, should price be a deciding factor in your life, you would be wise to see first what's available in the shareware and freeware market.

For example, you can now find a freeware software for the Macintosh called SMS Message Express Lite 0.9. Although the application itself (about 1.4MB) is designed to send one SMS message at a time, it is Apple-scriptable, meaning that you could in theory create an Apple script to tell the application to send multiple SMS messages to different phone numbers. Thus you would be left with nothing more than the cost of the cable to connect your computer to your mobile phone, or you may have to upgrade your mobile phone to one that will communicate with your computer in the infra-red region.

But will people really want to be bothered with lots of SMS advertisements? Click here to find out. Only you as an advertiser and customer can decide whether this is what you've been waiting for all your life!

But what if I don't want to spend any money and effort on advertising?

Well, if you want to get your Web site noticed by as many people as possible in the quickest way, then you must be prepared to fork out some money for advertising. Or else spend the time collating a quality email listing (preferably created by your customers) to help target the clients you want. This is particularly important for businesses.

But if time is not of the essence and you want to avoid the cost and effort in advertising, then consider the cheapest form of advertising in the world - that is, word-of-mouth. This type of advertising may be slow in the initial stages, but if your Web site is worth anything, and your products and/or services are good, you will eventually create an increasing amount of traffic to your site.

The way things are turning out at the moment, if people have to spend a lot of money on marketing and promotion, it is probably because (i) the products or services are mediocre; and/or (ii) their only bottom-line is profit. If you have a unique and good-looking, high-quality, low-cost and really useful product or service to offer to the community, you should not have to spend very much money or time on advertising and promotion because people will know whether the product or service is good. If you want to save money on advertising and promotion, concentrate on providing a quality product or service and use word-of-mouth technique and the presence of your business and the product or service to do the job on its own.

To start the ball rolling, why not go to various organisations, clubs and associations in your local area considered relevant to the content of your site and ask if they have a Web site of their own. If so, ask whether they would be interested in your Web site and if so, see if you can convince them to put a link to your Web site free-of-charge (well, it is worth a try anyway!). This approach to advertising is becoming increasingly popular and is known as link exchanges. Incidentally, if you ever wanted to know whether anyone has linked to your web site, go to Google, click the Advanced Search link, scroll down to Page Specific Search, type your home page address into the field marked Links. Click Search and see the results.

Or go to specific discussion groups online and make your presence felt there using a simple and rather innocuous little advert to let everyone know about your site.

Also talk to your friends and family. Perhaps they might put a good word or two about your site to their friends and colleagues at work or elsewhere.

Finally, include your web site address on all your official documentation and stationery such as business cards, letterheads and annual reports. And consider launching your web site by releasing a press release to your local newspaper or radio. Perhaps they might review your site and give their critical (hopefully positive) remarks to the wider market.

How to promote your web site really cheaply!

In fact, here is our recommendation for promotion of a web site and its products and/or services on a budget of zero dollars:

  1. Make sure your web site is well-designed and has good content;
  2. Make sure your web site and its content is different or covers an old idea in an original way;
  3. Make sure your web pages are compact enough to download with ease;
  4. Make sure the information you really need to say to your potential customers are right at the beginning of the web site. Have you included all the relevant information in a concise and simple way?
  5. Check to see whether your web site is up and running properly at different times of the day or night. Change ISPs if you think you are not getting a good deal with your web site requirements;
  6. If selling a product on your web site, the order form should be no more than two clicks away with your mouse.
  7. Try to focus selling just one main product on the front page of your web site and choose a domain name best suited to your product and is easily remembered by your customers.
  8. Compile a list of contact email addresses of as many major broadcasters and publications as you can;
  9. Put together a press release promoting your web site. When writing the press release, look for something that will be of value to your contacts in your compiled list. Write that into your press release. Be prepared to provide something free (e.g. a demonstration copy) in the press release as a means of initiating lots of feedback and potential sales;
  10. Send the press release to all your contacts. For radio broadcasters, send it to them late in the afternoon; there is a good chance a radio announcer will broadcast a story about you and your web site that very evening. Then you can be almost guaranteed of say 1,000 hits to your web site from different users and one or two interviews with local newspaper reporters within 24 hours;
  11. Look for the smaller variety of local newspapers who may allow you to place a small advertisement in the papers for free. Be eager to attend interviews with reporters of larger newspaper agencies who may give you a free plug in their newspapers by writing a story about your web site;
  12. Talk to your friends and family members about your web site. If it is good, they will pass on the message to their friends for free;
  13. If you intend to self-promote your web site on relevant newsgroups, don't make it obvious this is what you are doing. Use different names to make it look like you are a different person promoting your web site;
  14. Provide an option on your web site to enable visitors to send the web site address to a friend. This will give good free advertising for your web site and may generate as much as 2,000 hits a day;
  15. Create relationships with other complementary web sites by "exchanging links". This means putting a link from your web site to another person's web site in exchange for that person doing the same thing. This is called strategic alliances;
  16. Place a link to your web site in the signature section of all your emails;
  17. Encourage people to bookmark and revisit sections of your web site. Try to do this by highlighting the latest news and developments in those sections;
  18. Register with all the search engines. Use the available search engines to find the top 5 web sites covering similar information you have and look at the meta tags of each site. Use the "View Source" command of your Internet browser to see the tags and copy the keywords they use to help get your web site near the top of the search engine listings;
  19. Fine-tune your web site to match the interests of people in discussion groups on your subject area;
  20. There are a wide range of interesting online web site promotion and internet marketing services to consider.

    For example, at http://www.advertyz.com/, you can pay US$50 to get 100,000 real visitors visiting your web site (i.e. you won't get a company that will click on your web site address 100,000 times!).

    There is also a targeted traffic approach at http://www.Submitpro.us/. Pay US$24.50 to buy 5,000 targeted full campaign unique visitors to your site.

  21. After exhausting all the above promotion techniques, try something radical. Why not take to the streets and carry a placard (or wear a T-shirt, or even place a sticker on the side of your car) containing the words of your business, what it is about, and the web address? Or better still, ask a simple and meaningful question to your audience which everyone can relate to and provide an answer through a simple web site address! You will catch the eye of the general public and even the press by doing this;
  22. Finally, keep the web site updated, useful and interesting. Nothing will lose you more customers than a stale web site with nothing interesting or useful to show. (12)

Keep your web site updated, useful and interesting!

But whatever you do, at the end of the day, if you want to keep people coming back to your site, you must change your site content and presentation on a regular basis. And only then, together with good advertising and a quality product and/or service, will you have an excellent chance of making your Web site or e-business a true success.

The recommended maximum time you can leave your web site unattended without updating it is roughly 6 months. The average time to update your web site is between 1 day and a month, depending on the changeable nature of your information. For example, if your web site involves publishing the latest current affairs, sports and other information, the site should be updated daily. If your web site publishes stock exchange information, it should be updated on an hourly basis. But if your web site is about selling flowers or CDs, you should look at updating every week, month or longer.

The future of commercial advertising on the Internet

So what is the future for Internet advertising? Is it starting to clutter the cables of the information superhighway? Or are we in for a real treat?

The future of electronic advertising suggests companies are now aiming towards designing enhanced banner ads that provide more than just basic animation and colour. Now the buzz word is "interactivity" using sounds and simple games within the advertisements (and vice versa with advertisements subtlely embedded to games or other products) to help people learn more about various products and services before buying them. As Lexi Dwyer reported in the June 2000 edition of Web Techniques, an American magazine for Web professionals:

"Marketers are starting to realize that if you build a banner with jerky GIF animation and some tiresome text, most people aren't going to bother checking it out. But if you add audio or maybe nine holes of virtual golf...people will come clicking." (13)

And Unicast CEO Richard Hopple said:

"The Internet for the first time affords agencies and advertisers the ability to create a two-way dialog. Instead of a marketer saying "you sit on the couch and I'm going to show you this commercial", for the first time users can interact with the ad itself." (14)

The current trend for Internet advertisers is to move away from supplying browser plug-ins in order to run sophisticated advertisements. The advertisers understand customers do not always have the time to download the latest plug-ins just to learn more about a company's products or services.

As we speak, the aim of advertisers is to supply all the required video and audio tools and files directly onto a standard Web server and then to have the tools activated and to playback the relevant files via a small Java applet inserted into the HTML pages and run by your Internet browser.

Apart from advertisers trying to increase the interactivity (and even the 3D nature) of advertisements on the Internet (just like the education market are doing right now) as the way to get consumers interested and curious to buy something, the future of Internet advertising seems to be one of where we either love it, or hate it.

For the advertisers and some consumers, they will love it because it either means they will have money in their pocket, or it will be an opportunity for them to be the first in buying something new. These people will see advertising as just another way of gaining a higher social status in the global community and/or a method of earning an income while arguing the activity is merely to inform consumers of what is available.

For other consumers, they will hate it because it means the boundary between advertising and non-advertising (i.e. more educational and entertaining) information will be getting harder to discern. Furthermore, the amount of advertisements for consumers to handle (despite efforts by advertisers to allow consumers to select their favourite products and services) may slowly get in the way of the consumers living a normal life.

To help you decide whether or not you should love it or hate it, here is what one person had to say about what the future of Internet advertising:

"Imagine that you're walking into your local shopping mall when your Web-enabled phone rings....You take the phone out of its Naugahyde belt hoister and glance at the screen, where you can see an ad for your favourite Doors album, complete with directions to the nearest CD shop. As you near the CD shop, your phone rings again, and this time you're presented with an ad from a competing record store and they're offering you a free NSync T-shirt with every purchase.

Now that's a dilemma. May the marriage of advertising and technology continue to provide us with such predicaments [for a long time]." (15)

Or should we be saying "divorce" instead of "marriage" in the above quote? As Kevin Awon of the UK wrote to the editor of PCPlus computer magazine:

"I find it very disturbing that all segments of the computer media espouse targeted advertising as an advantage of the latest WAP technology. It would be extremely annoying if my WAP phone went off every time I walked past a high street store, informing me of what I need to buy from that particular shop. Should we not be concentrating now, before it is too late, on strategies and legislation to curb the more intrusive aspects of digital advertising?" (16)

Whether we should embrace this future or start running away from it, let us hope a sense of balance reigns supreme in the advertising industry (16). Otherwise, we may have to start charging by the hour to advertisers for having our valuable time spent listening and watching their advertisements, let alone the possibility they may want every square inch of our body to be tattooed with commercial advertising if they had the chance. And with that money, surely we could at least afford to buy some places free of advertising like our own homes for the rest of our lives.

Or would that be asking too much?

So what's the ultimate aim in advertising?

One is to help deliver whatever message you want to people as quickly and effectively as possible. The other is profit. But if you are in for the long haul of maintaining your web site for decades to come, you need to build up a customer base.

How important is creating a customer base?

Very important. It is perhaps the goldmine to the success of your business. In fact, you should guard this list of customers with your life because these customers are your business. Without them and your business may not succeed at all.

So long as you have this list of people in your hands, your business has a chance to flourish even in the worst of times.

Is this the best kept secret on the Internet?

Others may call it that. Well, we think the idea has been around in the marketing world for donkey years. It is really up to you decide how you want to see this selective approach to advertising and creating a customer base.

But remember, avoid having to spend US$99 for a CD containing 1 million email addresses. For a start, you don't know whether the email addresses are truly up-to-date. And you still won't know whether the addresses will contain enough people who you want to target properly. Who knows? Perhaps you could be getting email addresses from radical fundamentalist groups? Now if you try selling something that could offend these people, you could start an online war between yourself and members of these groups.

So take the selective road to effective email advertising, and start recording a list of people who want to buy your products. It really is that simple!