1. Create some Web content: You need to produce one or more HTML files describing your products and/or services. This material is essentially what might otherwise be put into a promotional brochure. You can generate these files yourself or you can have somebody who does Web site development do it for you. Typically in addition to the text and formatting in the HTML files you will want to include some graphics to improve the appearance and contribute to the content of your Web material. There are many sources for such graphics. You can go to somebody who specializes in graphic design or if you have somebody do your Web site design, they will generally be able to help with your graphic design.

    You can easily go wild with additional multimedia material for your Web site, with animation, audio, 3-D virtual reality, video, etc. At Webstart we generally avoid such dynamic content as we feel it is often more of a distraction with little to contribute to content. However, we recognize that such material is appropriate in some circumstances. "When it concerns taste, it cannot be disputed."

  2. Find a Web presence provider to host your Web content: You will find significant variations in price and performance. Unfortunately, the market in this area, as with other aspects of the Web, is not very well developed (even as of this writing in January 1997). As an example, at Webstart we advertised for Web presence not long ago and received bids that ranged from $0 (a special case) to $4,000 for the SAME SERVICE (a virtual host with so much disk space, so much traffic, support for Server side includes, etc.). Most of the bids were between about $40/mo. to $500/mo. Even that is a factor of 10 price difference for the same putative service.

    Evaluation: It is not easy to effectively evaluate Web Presence providers. Most do not charge for traffic to a hosted site. The idea is that most hosted sites will require relatively little traffic. If too many hosted sites do generate high traffic loads then the provider may overload with relatively few hosted sites (and hence not enough income to cover costs). Still, pricing without traffic charges is attractive to customers for Web presence so the practice persists (much like pricing Internet access such as SLIP or PPP access with no time or traffic limits).

    Brown outs: A fairly common experience of hosted customers is what I like to call the rolling "brown out." Namely the presence provider keeps adding customers until some aspect of their system is overloaded. At that point the customers start having problems. The problem may be a CPU limit, I/O overload, limitations in some part of the upstream Internet access, etc. These problems generally show up as packet losses or some other form of poor performance. The best hosting sites will anticipate such problems and provide enough resources to avoid them. Naturally this costs somewhat more. How is a potential customer to know? Asking pointed questions about upstream Internet connectivity (redundancy, percentage loaded, etc.), disk and power backup facilities, processor loading, etc. and then checking with existing customers is the only way we know to check out presence providers. The pressure is always on the provider to load up more customers without adding capacity. One strategy is to try to get hosted with a provider who has recently upgraded ans will have excess capacity for a time.

    Mobility: One aspect of Web presence that must be carefully considered before putting up a site is whether it may be necessary to move to another provider in the future. It is important to try to consider where your URL will be listed and how difficult it will be to update those listings if you have to change the URL to your site (usually a consequence of moving to another DNS name). If you feel you may need to move your content and that it is important not to have to update your listed URLs then we suggest carefully considering purchasing a virtual host with your own DNS name. Such virtual hosting typically costs between $25 and $75 additional per month (at this time, Janurary 1975). Currently a DNS name is the only way to insure site mobility without a URL change. There is quite a lot of pressure on the DNS name space currently partially with people wanting DNS names for appearances and partially for mobility.

  3. Promote your Web site: Make it visible. If you do nothing but host your Web site then generally nobody will even know it exists to visit it. The site is useless. Typically the term "promotion" has been used on the Internet to refer to the process of getting a URL (which you will have after step 2 above) listed in as many directory sites (e.g. Yahoo) and search engines (e.g. Google) and other indexing sites as make sense. There are also companies who specialize in the service of Web site promotion (not all strictly Web promotion, check).

    Crawlers - You should note that many search engines populate their databases with a procedure known as Web crawling. With this process they start from some number of popular indexing sites and then fetch HTML files, scan them for additional links, visit those links, etc. Because they are going through this process, you typically need not promote yourself with the crawlers (e.g. Alta Vista, Lycon, Excite, Info Seek, WebCrawler, ...) - they will find you. Crawling cycles may be many months, but eventuly they will find you. It is wise of being skeptical of promotion services that tout getting your URL listed with the crawler search engines.

  4. Advertising: Even after you get your site effectively "promoted" (3 above) that only makes your URL available to people who are looking for it in one way or another. Even if potential customers are looking directly for your product or service, you may well be one of hundreds that are listed for your product or service in an index or available through a search engine. If you want to put your product or service in front of people who may not be looking for it on the chance that they may find it valuable, then you may want to do advertising. The idea of Web advertising is much like that in a magazine, radio, on a billboard, or on television. You put some information - hopefully information that will prove attractive to your intended audience - somewhere they will be likely to be looking anyway.

    Attractive content: Webstart (and many other sites) have attractive Web content that people are looking at. At Webstart we have content related to Computers and Communications that has a more technical focus. Other sites may have different sorts of focus (music, sports, family, etc.). Site content is one way to try to help direct or focus your advertising message. All you need in terms of visibility is as many impressions as you are willing to pay for. The biggest problem with advertising at the larger sites is that their prices tend to be higher and they often have higher minimum purchases. They also typically provide much less personal attention. Choosing a very popular site and only buying a few impressions is generally of no more benefit (perhaps less in some cases) than buying the same number of the impressions (a larger percentage) from a smaller site. The major problem with smaller sites is finding them and getting reliable and professional service from them.

    Banners: The most common form of current advertising on the Web is banners. You put a banner with a minimal description or teaser for your product or service on a popular Web page that might be likely to have your intended audience looking at it, and hope that enough viewers are attracted enough to the banner and have the time to click on it and visit your site. You can see some example banners at the Webstart Computer and Communication Pages or on the California Organizations pages. Banner design is much like designing for magazine advertising except that there is typically much less space available (banners 40x400 pixels in size are common - Webstart accepts banners up to 50x450). A "pixel" is the minimum picture element on a computer monitor or screen. Screen sizes typically are available in steps from 640x480 to 800x600 to 1024x768 to 1152x864 to 1280x1024 and 1600x1200. Most graphics software will report image sizes in pixels. Banners are typically developed by the same sorts of graphic design people who do graphics for Web site development. You can select any site from such lists.

    Other focusing options: On the Web there are a number of ways of ways to provide additional focus. One example is domain filtering. Advertisers (e.g. Webstart) can limit delivery of a banner to a specific country or set of countries (e.g. our National Focus advertising option - even with banners and click through locations in appropriate languages), or to an educational or government or military audience. With appropriate choices of domains you can even focus on specific geographic areas of countries (e.g. within the US). Additional focusing can be done with map gif advertising, key word advertising, and other approaches.

    Click Throughs: "Clicking" is where Web advertising begins to differ from advertising in traditional media. In traditional media you have to deliver enough information about your product to get people to make a telephone call, visit a store, or otherwise find out more. On the Web more information is just a click away and the information can be as deep as you want and even allow direct online purchases.

    Logs: Another aspect of the Web that is a bit different from advertising in traditional media is that you can see "who" (at least an IP address) is looking at your banner (or map gif or keyword search result or ...) or who is clicking on it. This information comes in the form of log entries that are made up of information delivered to the Web server from the viewers browser software. Impression logs tend to be rather voluminous and therefore not too interesting, but a sample may help you to decide if the audience is right for your product or service. Any time a banner is clicked on a log entry can also be generated. There are fewer of these "click through" log entries. Each represents a visitor to the sponsoring site, so they tend to be of somewhat more interest.

    Click through rates: From our experience and that of others we find that between about 1% and 3% of viewers will click through to a site from a banner ad. The fact that somebody doesn't click through doesn't mean that the ad was useless. There are no click throughs for magazine ads for example, but they can still be useful. Even without a click through a sponsor gets some visibility. However, the click through rate is some measure of success for an ad. If your business is very specialized (e.g. large equipment rental) then even a relatively low click through rate may be an indication of success. If you have a product targeted for a mass market with relativley tight margins then a high click through rate is important.

    Who is visiting: A click through log can give you an idea of what sort of people are interested enough in your banner to visit your site. You can also correlate a click through log from an advertising site with your own referer_log (a log of what page people were looking at before visiting your site). This correlation is not perfect. Some browsers don't supply referer information. Still, from our experience the correlation should be pretty good and can be used to validate an advertisers reported click throughs. At Webstart we have checked our click through logs against sponsors referrer_logs on many occasions.

  5. Pricing - Most sites charge by the impression (page view) for advertising. For example, 1, 2, or 3 cents (or fractions thereof) per "impression". This means that every time somebody looks at a page with your banner at the top (or wherever it is placed - this can be important) then you are effectively charged one to three cents. There are often volume discounts. There is a great deal of discussion about "click through" pricing. In this case a sponsor is not charged when somebody looks at a page with their banner on it, but only if the reader clicks through to the sponsor's site. Naturally rates are generally higher for "click through" pricing. They would have to be about 50 to 100 times higher (e.g. $.50 to $1.00 per click through) to be nearly revenue neutral with the largely impression based current advertising. Some sponsors offer to pay lower click through rates for low priority advertising to be delivered only when a site has inadequate sponsors paying by the page view. The market for Web advertising is fairly fractured at this time with generally inadequate data available to make informed purchasing decisions. Still, if you want to attract traffic to your site beyond what you get with Web site promotion, there is no alternative. It does work. You just have to work to get real value for your advertising dollars. Do not be overly impressed with sites that have long tables of various volume discounts. You may well find other sites where you can get the same or better services for 1/2 or even 1/10 the price. Also, do not be impressed with sites that charge by the time your banner will run and tout their high "hit" rates. The term "hit" simply refers to the number of http requests a site gets, one for every (!) graphic that they put on any page. "Hits" are an inflated number. If a site does not sell you advertising by the impression or click through, you should look very carefully at them before advertising there. There are many smaller content providers (like us) who discount their impression and click through advertising steeply to avoid paying high agent fees and because even steeply discounted impression rates are often better than commission fees (e.g. like Amazon) or click through rates available through brokers like valueclick or bannerad or others.

    At Webstart we recognize that the World Wide Web is a new advertising medium. We work with our sponsors to help them make the most of this new medium. We are flexible about most of our advertising methods and enjoy working with our sponsors to deliver their message.

    Thank You for your interest in advertising with Webstart Communications!

    Please send any further correspondence about advertising to advertising@webstart.com.

    Webstart Communications
    2835 Benvenue Avenue
    Berkeley, California
    (510) 548-4590