By Paul Marshall
The Truth about Internet Malls
When Internet malls began showing up a year or two ago, the idea sounded great. However, the results that the mall customers receive today tell a different story. A recent survey of Internet mall customers prove that shows how unhappy Internet mall customers are with their Web sites. One company paid more than $5,000 for their site and still has not received any results. They are planning to take their case to their state's Attorney General. At the end of this article I will give you some tips for getting better results from Internet malls.
In real life, it is convenient to have many stores in one place. You can drive to one location, instead of all over town; this saves a lot of time. If you need a particular item and you do not know where to get it, however, you would probably use a phone book to find the nearest location to obtain the item. On the Internet, people use search engines like a phone book, to find the products and services they want. Since you can visit any Web site in a matter of seconds, it is more convenient to use a search engine to locate items than it is to visit a mall and wade through store after store.
Types of Internet Malls
There are three basic types of Internet malls. The first type of Internet mall is a category based collection of links to independent Web sites. A presence in one of these malls can be obtained for free or a nominal fee. The second type of Internet mall acts like a landlord and a construction company. They take your information, create a Web page, and host it on their servers. You pay a substantial fee up front and a monthly fee for each page you have. This can become expensive. The third type of Internet mall does not even sell Web sites directly. They sell a business opportunity. They travel the country putting on seminars that teach you how to be a representative for the mall. These representatives buy into the program for a few thousand dollars and are trained for one weekend to sell Internet mall sites. They basically sell a $500 Web site for $3,000.
The first type of Internet mall are good, because they bring additional traffic to your site for little to no money. The other benefit of the first type of Internet malls, is that you are not solely relying on their traffic or servers. The other two types of malls are not in the business of selling Internet services or Web sites. They are landlords. They are simply renting you a space. They attract you to their mall by telling you how much traffic they get or how many "hits" they receive. They often use contests and advertisements to bring traffic to their mall. When a mall uses a contest or promotion to bring traffic to their mall, most people enter the contest or promotion and never visit a store on the mall. The sales presentations and techniques that the malls use to sell space prey on the lack of knowledge that many people have about the Internet. People believe the mall, because they do not know any different.
Internet malls and their sales reps often use misleading terms like "hits" to attract you to their mall. Hits are an inflated sales tool. Since a hit is counted every time a file is accessed on a page, visiting a Web page with six images or graphics on it would not count as one hit, but seven hits; one hit for the page with the text and HTML and six hits for the images! As you can see, having several images on one page can generate many hits with only one visit. The malls also suggest that mall customers use "hits" to measure their results.
Internet Mall Customers Speak Out
Based on the results of the survey, the majority of Internet mall customers are very unhappy with the results of their Web sites. Ninety percent of the respondents had not received the results they had expected and were not receiving enough business from their site. More than half had not received any business at all. Most of the rest had only received a few orders or inquiries. Less than two percent of the respondents were satisfied with the results they had received. It is astonishing how a company can stay in business when nearly 90% of their customers are unhappy.
More than two-thirds of the businesses that were surveyed, promote and market their business off-line, but only 5% actively promote and market their Web site. Many of the respondents feel that having a Web site is valuable to their business, but they do not feel that they have received any value from their Internet mall site.
The main problems with the malls is their sales techniques and their level of customer service. Many customers feel that the mall "snowed" them with false promises. In some cases, the malls have promised the businesses that they would receive sales. Some customers have complained that it was several months after they had sent their information and money that their site was put online. Many have complained that the malls make it very difficult and costly to change any information on the site.
I have evaluated several sites on the Internet malls and most of them had numerous errors. With sites created by the mall, missing tags, extra tags, misuse of tags, and missing parameters were in abundance. A few of the sites I evaluated lacked even the most critical tags that denote a Web page, such as HTML, HEAD, TITLE, and BODY. One site was listed in the mall's directory as a "Clam Substation Specialist". The business was a research company; they were a "Claim Substantiation Specialist". This error was never corrected and remained on the mall for at least 1 year. Another mall customer brought the errors to the attention of the mall. Instead of fixing the errors, the mall denied that the errors existed. In some cases, the mall sites are doing their owners more harm than good by damaging their professional image.
What You Can Do For Your Internet Mall
If you are unhappy with the Web site you have on an Internet mall, you can explore several options. The first thing you need to do is take action; a Web site can not run it self. Here are several things you can do to improve the results from your Internet mall Web site.
- Read your contract.
Make sure that the mall is doing what they said they would do. If not, complain and remind them of the contract. Make sure you get your money's worth.
- Check your site for errors.
If your site contains errors, fix them. If you do not know if your site has errors, have a professional evaluate your site, or use an online HTML validator such as Dr. HTML. If the mall is to blame, They should fix the errors at no charge. If the mall says that they will fix the error and doesn't, follow up with them until it gets done. Check to see that every part of your site works the way it is supposed to.
- Evaluate your content.
Evaluate the content on your Web site to make sure that it is clear, compelling and concise. If you do not give people a good reason to be at your site, they will leave.
- Measure your results.
In order to determine the success or failure of your Web site you need a strategy for measuring your results. Ask the mall to provide the number of unique hosts that visit your site or how many page views you are receiving. A page view would only count the page that is loaded not all of the images. If the mall will only provide you with hits, look at the hits you receive for each page. You should also track your sales, leads and phone calls. When someone calls or emails you, ask how they found out about you.
- Promote your site.
As a business owner, you must be involved in the promotion of your Web site. There are many opportunities for promoting your Web site. Make sure you get your site listed in the main search engines. You should also develop relationships and links with other Web sites on the Internet. Make sure that all of your letterhead, business cards, flyers and other advertisements have your Web site address and email address on them.
While the malls started with a good idea, they are providing poor service to their customers. In order for the malls to improve their image, they are going to have to provide better service. However, businesses that have Web sites on Internet malls, need to get more involved with their sites. If you are not getting the results you desire, do something about it. Unfortunately, the only people making money with Internet malls are the malls themselves.
Paul Marshall is an Internet consultant with Thirteenth Floor Internet Services. He consults with businesses one-on-one to develop effective Internet strategies. Thirteenth Floor Internet Services offers comprehensive Web site solutions for businesses and specializes in Web site remodeling, Internet marketing, and Web site management.
Copyright © 1997 Thirteenth Floor Internet Services. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.