Virtually every player in the cable industry has a Web presence, but Internet consultants and executives warn that without proper marketing and promotion, sites can quickly become white elephants in cyberspace.
"The now-cliché Web maxim — 'If you build it they will come'— has lulled many online marketers into a false sense of opportunity," said Charles Sayers, an Internet marketing consultant based in Acworth, Ga.
Building Web-site traffic also requires some public-relations strategies. Internet consultants advise companies to implement as many of the following aggressive, attention-getting Web marketing and promotion tactics as possible:
In an effort to make cruising the Web a little easier, businesses have packaged themselves in easy-to-use directories to help 'Net cruisers get to their sites more quickly. Cost: strictly in-house labor.
Probably the easiest, least expensive, and most effective way to promote a site is by linking your page with every other noncompetitive page on the Internet that shares the same interest. As Craig Settles, a senior strategist for Berkeley, Calif.-based Successful Marketing Strategists and author of Cybermarketing: Essentials for Success, said, "Link until you drop." Cost: in-house labor.
On The List:
Companies that use this technique rent exposure on the e-mail customer distribution list of a firm that has already established itself on the Web. Often, the list owner sends out an e-mail message recommending that its customers visit the list renter's site. Sometimes visitors receive a discount coupon for goods or services at the list renter's site. Cost: Varies widely, based on list size.
The Right Search:
Seasoned Web users turn to search engines like Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com) and Excite (www.excite.com) to find specific information quickly. Many Web-savvy firms have cropped up to help companies be among the first "links" that search engines return to information seekers.
For insights on these firms access SearchEngineWatch, (www.searchenginewatch.com). Cost: $50-$350 per month.
Other options along those lines include Web Site Traffic Builder, from Intelliquis (www.intelliquis.com), which automatically registers sites with more than 900 Internet search engines and can place your business in the appropriate category on each one.
Establish a virtual press center. Increasingly, journalists are turning to the Internet for story ideas, and there's no reason why any company with a Web site should pass up a chance for free media exposure, said Settles. Alaska United Fiber Optic Cable System (alaska.united.com), Mediacom Communications Corp. (www.mediacomcc.com) and RCN Corp. (www.rcn.com) are among the companies offering press releases at their sites.
The result: Mediacom's monthly Web site traffic averages some 50 million hits, said Walden. Cost: in-house labor.
Chat and Messages:
The chat room is the application that made America Online the leading Internet-service provider. Essentially, it's a place where 30 or so people can "congregate" and exchange live text messages with one another over the Net. For more information, type the keywords "chat room software" into any popular search engine.
For its part, the message board is the Internet's answer to the local coffee shop. It's where visitors can post messages to one another in a dedicated domain, and thus build a community centered around the sponsoring Web site. Cost: Most chat and bulletin-board software sells for $500 or less.
Start Spreading the News:
Company newsletters are a time-honored way to establish an ongoing relationship with current and prospective customers. Good industry models can be found in PAX TV (www.paxtv.com), which allows visitors to sign up for an e-mail delivered newsletter online, as does SBC Communications Inc. (www.sbc.com) and MSO Blue Ridge Communications (www.brctv.com).
According to PAX Internet president Karsten Amlie, the PAX Insider has a circulation of about 125,000, as the e-mail-delivered periodical touts programming, PAX store specials and sweepstakes offers. "We've had as many as 200,000 subscribers when the contests were especially good," he said.
Karsten estimated that Web-based sales of the t-shirts, videos and specialty items offset the operating costs of the PAX Web site. Cost: most e-newsletter software goes for under $500.
A new twist on word-of-mouth advertising is send-this-page options, which enable site visitors to send your home, or any other, page to a friend. Charter Communications (www.chartercomm.com) proffers such an option that rewards visitors with $25 for each friend they sign up using the e-alert service. Cost: in-house labor.