The Internet and Your Corporate Presence

Although the Internet may have been conceived as a network superhighway with the noble mission of sharing information worldwide, it seems that the Internet has become, particularly in the case of the WWW, an often- congested turnpike littered with thousands and thousands of billboards. Although this might seem a rather cynical view of the Web, I think most people would agree that many (if not most) of the thousands of Web sites on the Web serve as marketing, advertising, and sales media for businesses, both large and small.

Regardless of what you think of the Web, most businesses (again, the big and the small) feel compelled to have some sort of presence on the Web. Using the Web as another avenue for advertising or sales should definitely be a part of your business plan. How large of a role the Web should play in your business plan should be determined by the type of business you do.

For example, let's say you run a furniture company that has its own outlet. People travel from all over the region to buy your furniture. But would you like to expand your business range? You might take a look at the Web and say, "Wow, we can sell furniture right on the Web." Of course, upon further exploration, you realize that the shipping costs for delivering sectional sofa arrangements and oak armoires from your outlet to the customers buying online is roughly equivalent to the Gross National Product of many third-world countries . It might also dawn on you that people like to sit on furniture before they buy it.

So, rule number one for determining how you will use your Web site is to make the Web site fit into your overall business strategy, not turn it upside down. Many Web sites involving products that are difficult to ship (such as furniture and large appliances) have closed shop on the Web over the last couple of years .

Your use of the Web should be carefully analyzed the same way you analyze all the other potential sales and marketing avenues you use. If trying to sell directly on the Web requires a support infrastructure that costs a ton of money, you might be better off just using the Web as another advertising venue . The number of "dot coms" that have turned to "dot bombs " in the last couple of years proves that you can't sell just anything on the Web.

Although the Web isn't necessarily the end-all marketing tool or sales platform, it does provide you with the ability to reach very large audiences. Let's take a look at some of the marketing strategies that can be used on the Web and some of the issues related to selling on the Web.

Marketing on the Web

The Web provides a large number of content possibilities for marketing your business or company. Information can be presented in a variety of formats, including print, pictures, and even audio and video. All these different content types can then be presented in one placeyour Web site.

Here are some of the possibilities:

  • Company mission statement and product offerings . A business Web site should make it clear who you are and what type of service or product you sell.

  • Testimonials . Testimonials from satisfied customers can greatly enhance the marketing success of your Web site.

  • Online product lists . Even if you aren't selling your product on the Web, you can let potential customers know what you sell and why they should buy it from you.

  • White papers . A white paper allows you to provide a potential customer with background information and case studies related to the product or service that you sell.

  • Frequently asked questions (FAQ) . You can include a list of questions that are typically asked by your customers related to your product or service.

  • Contact information . Providing potential customers with the ability to ask you questions via email allows them to get answers to questions that are not covered by your FAQ.

  • Downloads . Downloads can include product catalogs, software demos, newsletters, or other material that will enhance the desirability of your service or product.

  • Video, audio, and interactive content . The Web offers you the ability to include video and audio content describing your product or service. You can also have interactive content that allows a prospective customer to become better acquainted with your product or service.

To make a long story short, the Web offers more avenues for the delivery of marketing information than any other advertising medium. The Web also provides a platform that can be quickly updated to meet business conditions. For instance, if you can no longer offer a particular service or product, you can remove it from the Web site. Removing a discontinued product or service from a printed catalog would be a lot more problematic than removing the same information from a Web site.

Selling on the Web

Selling on the Web is definitely not for everyone. Not only do you need to have a Web site that provides an up-to-date online catalog, but you also must have the ability to make secure transactions. Web sites that provide online transactions must have some way to track orders and inventory as well as validate customer purchases using various credit cards.

Providing an online store means setting up a fairly complex system of servers. First of all, your Web server will provide the communication interface, such as the catalog and the order form used by the customer. So, the front end for your online store is the Web server that hosts your Web site.

On the back end of your online store, an application server will have to provide databases, such as your inventory database, orders database, and customer database. The Web site will provide the interface for customer interaction with these different databases. Figure 16.1 provides a diagram of how different server types are used for online transactions.

Figure 16.1. Online transactions require communication between your Web server and an application server.


Transaction Security

Not only is the hardware and software infrastructure more intense for Web stores when compared to a simple Web site, your online store must also offer a high level of security for transactions. Having someone crack your marketing Web site and mess up some of your Web pages is a lot different from having a cracker break in and steal credit card numbers from your customer database. Secure communications on the Web is accomplished using methods such as encryption and digital certificates. A digital certificate is basically an electronic identification card. It is used to verify the identity of the sender of an encrypted message.



Although you should really research the ins and outs of deploying a Web-based store, software packages are available that you can use to quickly get a Web-based store up and running. In the case of small business owners who don't wish to operate their own Web server, you will find that many Web hosting services can quickly set up an online store for you with a variety of features. An excellent example of a hosting service that also provides you with the ability to choose some of the layout options and features on your site is Microsoft's bCentral at http://www. bcentral .com/. This online hosting service provides links that allow you to quickly create any number of different types of company Web siteseven online stores that are then hosted by Microsoft.

Here are three of the most popular security strategies for securing online transactions:

  • Secure Socket Layer (SSL) . SSL was developed by Netscape to secure online transactions. SSL uses a combination of encryption and digital certificates (the certificates are used to verify the merchant's identity) to secure the transfer of information from a Web browser to the Web site store. Popular Web browsers such as Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer support SSL.

  • Secure Electronic Transaction (SET) . SET is a new standard for securing credit card transactions on the Internet. SET was developed by Visa and MasterCard and provides very strong 128-bit encryption (the more bits, the better the encryption; therefore, 128-bit encryption is harder to decode than 64-bit encryption). SET also uses digital certificates to identify both the merchant and the buyer involved in the transaction. Because SET uses digital certificates (also known as digital signatures ) to identify a buyer, actual credit card numbers don't actually have to pass between the online merchant and buyer. SET has not been widely implemented because it requires Web shoppers to acquire a digital certificate, and SET requires more bandwidth overhead when compared to SSL.

  • Secure HTTP (SHTTP) . SHTTP is a superset of the HTTP protocol that provides mechanisms to secure online transactions. SHTTP was developed by Enterprise Integration Technologies and is now the property of Terisia Systems. SHTTP provides for the encryption of transmissions between server and clients . SHTTP also supports the use of digital certificates. Although SHTTP was submitted to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in 1995 in a request to have it named the standard for secure messaging on the Internet, SSL seems to actually be a more popular method for securing online communications.



Not only will you need a Web site designed for online transactions, but you will need a merchant account (which is a special type of bank account) that allows you to accept credit card orders on your Web site. There are a number of merchant status providers on the Web, such as InternetSecure at wwf . These online services can be used to set up your "merchant status." You will find that this is not cheap, however. You must pay an up-front fee and a per-transaction fee. A fairly consistent volume of business would be required to substantiate the expense of becoming an online merchant. An alternative is PayPal (at It provides a method of transferring funds from a buyer to seller. Ebay recently acquired PayPal and it is one of the preferred methods of payments for auctions held on the Ebay Web site (

Research and planning are important aspects of any network rollout, including a Web site that offers an online store. In the case of Web transactions, it might not be a bad idea to talk to a consultant or company that specializes in transaction security. Keeping customer information secure is a total must for any online sales endeavor.

Remember, also, that running an online store has some of the same pitfalls that you face running a storefront business. There are taxes, insurance, potential liability, and, of course, risks.

Absolute Beginner's Guide to Networking
Absolute Beginners Guide to Networking (4th Edition)
ISBN: 0789729113
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2002
Pages: 188
Authors: Joe Habraken © 2008-2017.
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