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Columns by Linda  Formichelli:

Self-Promotion with Emotion

Obedience School

Momma Always Said

Sweet Talk



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Why the Web Sucks

As a marketing tool, the Internet sometimes sucks.

There. I said it. Now I'll probably be horse-whipped by hackers and crackers and Al Gore, but let me explain what brought on that sentiment.

No One Can Tell You're a Dog

"There's a cartoon that shows two dogs in front of a computer," says Ned Barnett, partner at Firebaugh Communications, a PR and marketing firm in Corinth, Tx. "The caption is, 'On the Internet, no one can tell you're a dog.'"

Not only that, but no one can tell if you're a scammer, a fly-by night, a con or a Jim Jones redux offering potential clients a nice, refreshing cup of Kool-Aid. "Since anyone with a modicum of skills can create a Web site saying they do anything, there's no credibility attached to it," says Barnett.

Poor Prospects

My direct mail campaign gets an 11% response rate; my Web site has been known to attract crackpots with personal crusades and no green stuff. Clients I've gotten through mailings and phone calls pay actual paper money for my writing services; Web start-ups who visit my site invite me to write for a "portion of their potential profits." (An Internet company with profits? Alert the media!) "People are using the Web today to save money on something," says Richard Arfin, owner of Long Island Globalink, which builds, hosts, and markets Web sites. "The bottom line is that they're looking for a deal." How many IPs are looking for penny pinching prospects?

Billions and Billions...

By the time you read this, there will be something like six million zillion Web sites out there vying for a bit of your brain space. And by the time you read this, there will be seven million zillion. How does an IP with a ten-page site and an advertising budget that jingles hope to differentiate him- or herself on the Internet? "If you're in a given trade, you're going to have a few trade journal publications and things like that where you'll stand out. You'll go to a few conferences every year where you can be seen and make yourself known," says Barnett. "But just getting found on the Web is difficult."

Arfin agrees. "It used to be if you build it, they will come," he says. "Now the reality is if you build it, they will come -- if you bang them over the head with it for about six months steady." In the early days of the Web, he adds, there wasn't that much ad content, so surfers clicked on ad banners just to see what an online ad looked like. "Now nobody clicks on ad banners anymore."

Don't Fiddle with Your Meta Tags

One way to forge a path through the clutter is to get a top result on the search engines for your keywords. Unfortunately, the quest for high search engine placement is a Sisyphean task -- and nobody likes a sissy. To see how very complicated this chore is, just check out the excellent tutorial at The Art of Business Web Site Promotion. There you'll find page upon page of information detailing the use of meta tags, titles, tables, alt tags and special software, all in the pursuit of appearing above other sites on the search engines.

But you can fiddle with your meta tags until your palms grow hair, and a site on a completely unrelated topic will invariably beat you out for top search engine ratings for your keywords. Case in point: I recently visited SiteOwner to test my site's standings in the search engines. I typed in the phrase "marketing writer" and set the program loose. With all my carefully chosen meta tags, keywords planted throughout the text, and even the phrase "marketing writer" in my title, I still didn't come up on the first twenty pages of ANY search engine. On a crazed whim, I typed in the phrase "Linda Formichelli." Once again, my site was nowhere within the first twenty pages on any of the nine search engines.

Who the heck is getting better results on my name than I am? To find out, I plugged my name into AltaVista. The topmost result was "Contact Information for Credit Union Times," which is a trade mag that I write for occasionally. Other results that topped my own actual site included a post to the Linguist List in 1995 with the title "Instrumental Body Parts in Russian" and an ear-meltingly dirty joke I posted to a humor email list in 1994.

Research It and Weep

The Internet is invaluable for marketing research, you say? Read this anecdote and weep (or smirk and feel superior).

I once needed to find a print company owner to interview about color copying, so I fired up my trusty modem and headed down the cyber trail.

First I did a search for business discussion groups and posted a request for interviewees to all appropriate forums. Then I looked up "printers," clicked through to every site that came up, and emailed my request to those print companies that had email addresses. Finally, I checked out sites for printing industry magazines, hoping to find more discussion groups and links. Convinced that I'd exhausted every resource at my disposal, I congratulated myself on my ingenuity and thoroughness and moved on to my next task. Time elapsed (not including back-patting): two hours.

A few days later, in a state of panic (it's just north of Wyoming in case you're wondering) after getting no response from my emails and posts, I looked up "Printing" in the local Yellow Pages, called the first number listed and got my interview. Time elapsed: twenty minutes.

Even Dot Coms Go Offline Sometimes

The Internet is not the last word in marketing. Commercials from dot coms such as Amazon.com, Pets.com, and AskJeeves.com interrupt your Frasier viewing pleasure every ten minutes because the companies know that the best way to reach their audience is still offline. According to Arfin, Internet efforts should be ancillary marketing. And he follows his own advice: One of his clients advertises its Web site not just on the Web itself, but also on the sides of city buses.

This doesn't mean that you need to trash the Web site and burn the modem; it just means that IPs should bolster their Web marketing with offline efforts such as direct mail, boost credibility with references to verifiable offline credentials -- and remember that the real world is sometimes quicker and always more comprehensive than the Internet can ever be.

Whoops, gotta go... Al Gore's kicking down my office d--

We'd love to hear your feedback about this column, or put you in touch with Linda Formichelli if you like. You may also like to see her biography.

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