NET.COLUMNS: Challenges Ahead

Recently, we at IndiaWorld launched a site on Indian history,
Itihaas. Reading about the India of
3,000 years ago, I was amazed at the richness and the glory that we had,
and saddened at the subsequent years of plundering and deprivation. Once
in a millennium there comes a force so overpowering that it can make or
break a civilisation.

Today, on the threshold of the next century, I cannot help
but think that India has one last opportunity to earn its rightful place
in the world.

The last force which united India was the British. Today,
the Internet is another such force, having the ability to raise India to
the next level, enabling India to compete in the world. The Internet is
the bridge — from our past to a glorious future. And yet, there is
little understanding of the challenges we face. I propose to outline
these, and suggest that we need to rise above our competitive instincts to
build the India of tomorrow — a networked India.

1. Infrastructure

India desperately needs a high-speed national network connecting its top
25 cities. The time-frame to have this ready is not the year 2000, but
now. While LAN speeds in India have kept pace with the rest of the world,
WAN speeds are at least 6 years behind that of the industrialised
countries. This is what needs to be immediately corrected. Building the
national Internet backbone is as important as building new highways and
power plants.

Also, to improve the end-user connectivity to the Net, technologies like
ISDN and cable modems must be used. In addition, ISPs (including VSNL)
should be allowed to setup telephone exchanges rapidly to meet growing
user demand. The local dial-up difficulties are what has given an
otherwise-excellent service a bad name. It is also the most visible part
of the service, and phone lines at the local level need to be made
available rapidly.

2. Networking

The next step is for companies to set up connectivity between their
offices. In India, where leased lines are still quite expensive, dial-up
ISDN can become quite a good alternative. Also, the sooner the Internet
backbone becomes available, the easier it will be for corporates to
interconnect offices within India. This is very important — the internal
departments of a company need to be well networked before it begins to
derive significant benefits from the use of Internet technologies.
Intranets and Extranets only become useful if the data network itself is
in place first.

3. Education

The level of awareness about the Internet in India is woefully
inadequate. Difficulties in connecting to the Net and the lack of
“Internet Call Offices” where the Net can be seen, have contributed to
this lack of understanding. The Internet today is a vital
business-to-business communication and commerce medium, and yet it is seen
as just another technology by most companies. National programs for
senior executives to understand the Net are needed. We have to start with
top management, since they are the ones who may have the vision to ensure
adoption across the organisation. Cybercafes need to become more common,
so that the Internet can be experienced easily and in one’s own
neighbourhood.

4. Content

Content is always the biggest attractor and the primary reason why a
person will use the Net. While Indian newspapers and magazines have made
rapid strides in creating a presence on the Net (newspapers like Deccan
Herald put up their Net editions as early as 2 am), most of the domestic
content available is still not interesting enough. India needs localised
and community-specific content.

The government can be a tremendous contributor in this respect. One
organisation which others can learn from is the Reserve Bank of India: its
site is a veritable treasure trove of information. At a smaller level,
companies too need to digitise their content and make it available on
local servers. Corporate databases and trade information from industry
associations also need to be made available and publicised on the
Internet.

5. Community

The Indian Internet also needs a feeling of community: an overpowering
reason to connect, share and communicate. Usenet newsgroups were one such
channel in the early days of the Net, and have been complemented by
various chat sites in the recent past. Topic-wise, demographics-wise,
and interest-wise communities need to be built to create a feeling of
togetherness in the vastness of cyberspace. People need online gatherings,
and these virtual communities can help give direction and meaning to the
Net presence for individuals. Publishers and managers of popular websites
should take the lead in coming together to create these virtual
communities for the Indian Internet.

6. Commerce

Finally, an electronic payments system needs to be evolved so that
producers and consumers can go the full distance: get the information,
and complete the transaction. Credit card companies should set-up
real-time verification systems over the Internet, and banks need to set
up debit systems. Contrary to popular perception, the Net is as
safe a medium as you can get: information is sent encrypted over the
network, and cannot be tampered or snooped upon. This will encourage the
small merchants to get online, since the Net will now offer a big plus
over traditional media: the ability to convert interest into commerce.

Big industrial houses need to follow the example of GE’s Trading Network
to move purchases online: the domino effect will again ensure more
companies use the Net for business-to-business commerce.

With bated breadth, India awaits the new Internet policy. Regular reports
in the business papers have ensured little of it remains a secret. The
only unknown is when the announcement will be made. Yet, the Internet
policy and the entry of prospective ISPs will do little for the Indian
Internet industry.

The challenges are more fundamental, and require national and collective
action to ensure that India and the Internet have more in common than
just the first two letters.

Vande Mataram!

NET.COLUMNS: The Internet For Small Business – III

Every company setting up a Web site has a dream about the Internet: put
your home page on the Internet, and lo and behold, you are flooded
with orders from all over the world! The myth about the Net is that
small businesses have at last got a level playing field against their
bigger cousins. Life isn’t so simple, else no one would be running a
small business. But used intelligently, the Internet can
definitely help small businesses grow and reach out to markets and
companies they would otherwise not easily be able to. We’ll see how.

First, an anecdote. Recently, I was giving a seminar in Delhi. I had
just completed 2 hours of speaking about how the Internet was great for
business: standard textbook stuff, peppered with examples of some of
the success stories from India, and the world (Amazon, GE, Dell). When it was
time for questions, one gentleman got up and asked, “I am an auto parts
manufacturer. How can the Internet help me target buyers abroad?” The
question seemed simple enough; the answer wasn’t. And that was the
inspiration for this series.

The one thing we have to realise is that big companies have many
choices and a lot more resources. Distribution and reach are less of a
problem than they are for the smaller companies. The Internet,
definitely, can help smaller businesses a lot more than it can the
bigger players, simply because smaller companies have fewer
alternatives. Trade shows, personal visits, and international advertising
are expensive options. The Internet can become a viable complement to
present efforts. But, most companies we’ve talked to seem to look at
only part of the effort: putting up a home page and waiting for
inquiries, which are few and far between.

Here then is a 3-step strategy for your Web presence.

1. The Web site: a window to your world

Give as much importance to creating your Web site as you would to
opening a new office or a new division in your company. Content and
updates are the most important elements of the site. The visitor
should find something of value, besides your company profile, products,
services and financials. This “something” — which also works as an
attractor the second time around — could be an aggregation of
industry news, relevant links, policy information, etc. It does not
matter whether you are small or big; neither does it take a lot of
time to create this, but it helps broaden the profile of visitors to
your site and also ensures that there is a possibility of a repeat-visit.

A newsletter can be an inducement to get people to leave behind their
e-mail addresses, and allow you to stay in touch with them. Also, make
sure you have a contact form rather than just an e-mail address for
people to write back to you. This way, you can capture useful details
about the visitor’s background and interests.

2. Direct publicity

With little incremental cost, you can become your biggest
advertiser. Instead of going for (expensive) online advertising, you
can do your own publicity to the audience which probably has the most
use for it: your clients, suppliers, employees, investors. Make sure
that every communication sent out has the Web address (and if possible,
your personalised e-mail address): right from business cards and
letterheads to brochures and your print advertising. A letter or fax
to international clients is also a useful way to generate traffic, and
send a subtle message that you are also Internet-savvy. Also, by
ensuring that the Web site becomes your “electronic catalogue”, you can
reduce production and distribution costs.

3. Visiting other sites: do unto others…

Surprisingly, few companies think of this: just as you expect others
to visit your site and leave an inquiry behind, what stops you from
visiting their Web sites and doing the same? With an invitation to
stop by your Web site, of course. Spend time browsing the Web and identifying
companies who are on the Web and who might be interested in doing
business with you. Don’t wait for them to come to you: you go to
them. The Web is like on global round-the-year customisable
exhibition centre: make it work for you.

Moreover

The obvious ideas are of course there: registering in search engines
is one of them (try khoj for India-specific
sites). Also, look for industry-specific directories:
if people were to look for your type of company on the Web, where
would they look? Many industry-specific trade directories work as
meeting points for buyers and sellers (some were mentioned in
last week’s article.

Also, once you receive an e-mail, make sure you reply promptly to it. A
tip: keep a standard reply ready, from where you can cut-and-paste,
with some customisation. This is fast, doesn’t require you to think
each time you need to reply, and therefore, ensures a coherent message
goes across.

A recent issue of the Economist had a story on an Asian directory
set-up by Asian Sources,
which is an example of how electronic commerce can be done in emerging
markets. Many small- and medium-sized businesses are able to get
inquiries via their presence on the Web site. We need a dynamic Indian
organisation to do something similar for our up-and-coming
companies. After all, if India’s exports have to triple in the next
3-5 years, the Internet’s going to have to play a very critical role
in this.

We hope this set of three articles have been useful to you. We would
also like to hear from you
if you have a small business and have benefited from the
Internet. Your story can definitely inspire others in India, and we
will be delighted to share it through this column.

NET.COLUMNS: The Internet for Small Business – II

In last week’s column, we saw how e-mail can play a vital role for communications. This week, we look at how the Internet
can be used as an information resource.

The information that companies look for can be broken down into three categories: news (broad business news, as well as trade-specific, from India and abroad), directories (to identify companies in different countries, given a product), and finally trade enquiries (what are the business opportunities for import/export).

1. News

Most Indian and international publications now have a website. For business news from India, the three major business dailies are on the Net:
The Economic Times
The Financial Express and
Business Line. You can also create your own customised newspaper at
SAMACHAR, a sister site of IndiaLine. For international business news, recommended sites are
International Business Week,
Fortune, and
Forbes.

2. Directories

Numerous Web sites are geared towards business directories in a particular category, country or region. Yahoo has country-specific directories (eg. for Canada, Britain, Japan) as well as sub-directories for most countries of the world.
Altavista and
InfoSeek, among others, are useful search engines which allow you to search for Web sites by company category or product; these require some skill and experience in handling due to the large volumes of hit rates. Traders may find more value in Web sites of trade information companies like Kompass and Dun Bradstreet.

Asian Web sites are well-catalogued on a Web site called
Access Asia. For a more India-focused search, khoj and
123India offer useful business directories.

3. Trade Enquiries

There are some services which go beyond listing potential trade partners, to actually allowing traders to post information about current import and export leads. In India, the
Federation of Indian Export Organisations, the National Centre for Trade Information, and the
Electronics and Computer Software Promotion Council are planning to launch trade promotion activities via e-mail and the Web. The Tata Donnelly exporters’ directory is also on the Web.

The European Business Information Centre already reports some successful trade enquiries between India and Belgium conducted via its Web site. Other useful sites include
TradePort, the
U.N. Trade Point Network, and
Trade Compass.

In next week’s column, we examine how small businesses can use the Web
for marketing, with their Website as a starting point.

NET.COLUMNS: An Internet Strategy for Small Businesses

The Internet is not just a luxury or an entertainment medium, it is a
business necessity, and more so, for small businesses. Bigger
organisations have many alternate ways of reaching out internationally
(trade shows, liaison offices, international trips,
tie-ups/collaborations), but for small businesses looking to grow and
expand, there aren’t too many choices. With limited resources and
pressures on time, small businesses are not just competing with their
bigger brothers locally but also with international
organisations. Today, as barriers between countries come down,
geography is increasingly irrelevant in doing business. In this
environment, the Internet offers an excellent medium for both
communications and commerce.

In this three-part series, we examine how small businesses in India
can successfully leverage the Internet for:

  1. Communications
  2. Information Access
  3. Marketing
  4. Electronic Commerce

The Humble Email: More than meets the Eye

Electronic Mail is the third major revolution in communications in the
last 20 years, following the fax machine and the revolution brought
about by the courier industry (overnight delivery). Email allows
near-instant communications with people anywhere: in that sense it is
just like a phone or fax. The differences lie in two areas: the cost
of communications (email, like the Net, is insensitive to distance
between the two endpoints) and the ability to multicast (send the same
message to multiple recipients, akin to a conference call).

One of the best things that VSNL has done in India is not charging
separately for email. Get an Internet account, and you are only paying
for connectivity, and not for sending or receiving emails
separately. Today’s email packages allow you to send complex documents
(MS-Word or MS-Excel files) as attachments via just
point-and-click. Most organisations internationally have email
access. So, by using the Net as the distributor, you can not only
dramatically cut down your communications costs, and also send
documents electronically much more rapidly. It will still be necessary
to use fax/courier where a hard copy is needed, of course, but that
will probably be only at the final stage.

Getting your own domain is a good idea. It gives your organisation a
unique identity. So, instead of being rajesh@a.b.c.d.e. , you can have
an email id of the form rajesh@companyName.com or
rajesh@companyName.co.in. In the absence of UUCP/POP, you can use
email forwarding by the ISP to have email routed into your mailbox (on
VSNL, Sprint, aXcess or Wipro BT). This way, the email address is much
easier to remember — for you and for your business partners.

If email is going to be so important, then how do multiple people in
an organisation get access to email? This is where there are no easy
solutions in India. If you want all addresses within your company to
have a .com or a co.in ending, you need technologies like UUCP or
POP. UUCP ensures that if you have a mail server set-up in the
company, you can give personal mailboxes to everyone. This way, email
can be routed to the individual person — automatically. If you
already have ccMail or Exchange installed, then you need an SMTP
gateway with UUCP. POP accounts ensure that even if you are
travelling, your email box is accessible from anywhere. The TCP/IP
account of VSNL is one such example (combined with the roaming
facility). A POP account works with your domain. UUCP is not yet
offered by VSNL in India.

An alternate mechanism to get multiple mailboxes is to use the free
email services offered by organisations like
HotMail. You still need the Web
access (via the VSNL TCP/IP account) to connect to them, but you can
set-up additional mailboxes within minutes.

Email also offers you a good way to stay in touch. There are mailing
lists and newsletters which send you — “push” — regular updates on
different topics. For example, c|Net’s
News.com offers a daily update of
developments in the computer/Internet world. The message comes into
your mailbox, with links to the Web for more details.

How much will email access cost? VSNL’s charges are Rs 15,000 for 500
hours, a domain name costs USD 100 (service providers in India charge
about Rs 5,000 for a .com address, along with limited number of
aliases).

So, the first step in leveraging the Net is to use email smartly: for
sending messages, for receiving updates, by having easy-to-remember
addresses and by ensuring that messages that come in are replied to
rapidly. Email is not just an alternate form of communications: it is
becoming the primary channel. For small businesses, it allows rapid
and cost-effective international communications.

The next step: finding people to communicate with. We will examine how
to get business and trade information, and organisations, via the Net
in next week’s column.

NET.COLUMNS: Extranets: Making Connections Across Companies

An Extranet enables communications across organisations using the Web and other Internet technologies as the common interface. It allows for the creation of a closed-user group between an organisation and its clients/suppliers. In India, since the domestic data network is still a missing component, the Extranet is what will come first.

A company can set up a Web site with restricted access (via logins and passwords, for example) on the Net. Its clients and/or suppliers need only have an Internet account to access the company’s information and interact with it. This distributed onus ensures that the set-up time can be much more rapid and the benefits immediate. In a way, companies like Microsoft and Netscape are already using the Net for distribution of some of their products: you make the call (and pay for it), and can download software and get access to technical information.

GE has built its own Extranet to take orders. Its Trading Process Network allows organisations to bid for GE’s contracts, irrespective of where they are located. Dell sells US$ 1 million of computers daily via the Internet. Who do you think is buying? Cisco expects to get 20% of its orders via the Net. Business-to-business commerce is a natural extension of integrating the information on the Extranet with the ordering system.

India’s first Extranet has been set up by
NFDC for Doordarshan. The system, termed NFDC Net, allows advertising agencies to book orders for Doordarshan programmes online. This is a process which is traditionally done by phone or fax. Now, the interactive system allows an agency to check various Doordarshan programmes and their television rating points (TRPs), make queries for programmes fulfilling specific criteria (category, broadcast time, TRP ratings), and finally complete the transaction by making a booking. It doesn’t matter where the agency is, as long as it has access to the system and an Internet account. NFDC has taken a leased line to VSNL in Mumbai, and unlike its brick-and-mortar offices, the Internet office can take orders 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Elbee is about to unveil a parcel tracking system for Indian customers: a first among the domestic courier companies. Go to Elbee’s site on the Internet, type in your Airway Bill number, and within seconds, you have all the information about your package. This is something for which Elbee has so far employed dozens of people in its various offices. Now, by moving it to the Net, Elbee allows us to make the queries and feel happy doing it. This is how information is transforming an industry: with all courier companies employing similar transportation techniques and subject to identical weather conditions, the business is not just about delivering the package but getting the information about the package on time to the end-user. In future, Elbee expects to also take orders through the Net, and provide customer-specific information pushed on to corporate networks.

These are just two examples of how Indian companies are leveraging the Internet to reach out. Air-India‘s recently launched Web site offers real-time information about its flights. Very soon, the Times of India group will be extending its Intranet to take online orders for classifieds and other ads. Many information service companies are already exploring the possibility of offering their bits-and-bytes via the Net. As electronic payment systems fall into place, the logical extension of an Extranet will be electronic commerce.

The Internet is not just for surfing. It can serve as a very useful business tool to communicate between organisations. Today, geographical and trade barriers amount to little in a world linked via the Net. The Internet knows no borders; why should your business?

NET.COLUMNS: Intranets In India: Where’s The Net And Where’s The Content?

The biggest buzzword in the Indian infotech industry (after, of course,
Y2K) is I-n-t-r-a-n-e-t. Every MIS manager wants to set one up, every
computer/networking company offers Intranet solutions. In the U.S., the
Intranet market has grown spectacularly over the last 12-18 months as
companies look to wire up everyone in sight. But in India, there are
two fundamental problems – not technology related – with respect to
Intranet deployment.

The first is the lack of a robust, cost-effective wide area
network infrastructure. Say, you have offices in Bombay, Delhi,
Bangalore and Madras. How do you inter-connect them? You have
three options: leased lines from the DoT, your own private VSAT
network, using the Internet to build a virtual private network by
taking leased lines to your Intranet.

In the U.S., companies have gravitated towards the third option, thus
saving them significant infrastructure expenses. Piggy-backing on the
Internet makes a lot of sense: you use a public network whose
bandwidth is constantly increasing and you only take leased lines to
the nearest available Internet Service Provider, thus saving you a lot
of network management headaches.

In India, if the costs of taking Internet leased lines can be brought
down along with the lead time to get these lines, many more Indian
organisations will begin to use Intranets. Perhaps, technologies like
frame-relay and ISDN can be explored to offer connectivity to
corporates to VSNL’s local GIAS nodes.

A related issue is the huge difference in local- and wide-area
speeds. According to a Bombay-based networking consultant, while
India is near state-of-the-art in LAN access (100 Mbps Ethernet, ATM
switching), we are still 5-6 years behind in the wide-area
technologies (64 Kbps to 2 Mpbs). Urgent attention needs to be given
to increasing the bandwidth available between cities (a National
Internet Infrastructure Project) to 155 Mbps or more, and permitting
corporate access to this network at speeds of 512 Kbps to 2 Mbps at
down-to-earth prices.

The second problem limiting the deployment of Intranets is the
lack of content. Internal data needs to be digitised – HTMLised – so
that this can be accessed from Web-based front-ends. Also, there needs
to be more Indian content relevant for a local audience which should
be “pushed” onto corporate networks.

There is a lot of content being put out by organisations in India:
more than 600 companies have home pages, and most publishing houses
have put up their own web sites. Today, most of this is being accessed
by non-resident Indians. We need people within this country who can
get access to this- not necessarily via a phone-call,
but right on their local network at high-speeds.

This is not to say that Intranets won’t be deployed in
India. Organisations are already putting in place extensive networks
using Internet technologies: the foremost being The Times of India
group, which has used leased lines to inter-connect its offices
nationwide. But a combination of cheaper and faster Internet access
for corporates along with relevant content for an Indian audience will
help in ensuring that Intranets become more widespread.

Related Stories:

  • On IndiaLine: Subra Venkat, Digital Asia Pacific Intranet Marketing Manager’s views on Indian Intranets
  • On IndiaLine: Madanmohan Rao’s
    editorial on Intranets
  • Osama Manzar on the Times of India Group Intranet and the I.I.M. Intranet

NET.COLUMNS: Do’s and Don’ts of Web Advertising

MUMBAI (June 25): Internet Advertising in India is beginning to take off. Most of the top Indian sites have ad banners animatedly beckoning with their “Click here” messages.

c|Net’s recent booklet on Online Advertising lays things out in perspective by saying “Do the Right Thing. Advertise Online” because: You can reach high quality customers You can place your ad in targeted content environments You can target your ad to specific audiences You can track and measure the effectiveness of your ad program

Make Your Ad Banners Attractive.
After all, they carry the message that will get people in. Be concise in your message (you have limited space, anyway). Use animation (2-3 frames) to make the ad stand out. Use words that initiate action from the surfer (a phrase like “Click Here” can be very effective).

Keep Your Ad Sizes Small.
The smaller the file size, the faster it loads. Not everyone has high-speed lines. Try and keep ad banner sizes to less than 10 KB in size.

Impressions v/s Click-Throughs.
The number of impressions (people who see your ad) does not matter as much the click-through rate (people who click on your ad and come into your page). A site giving you 1,000 impressions with a 2% click-through rate will send 20 people to your site, while a site giving you 200 impressions and a 10% click-through rate also sends 20 people to your site. If you are paying by CPM, you will end up paying 5 times more if you pick the first site.

Advertising Campaigns.
If you are planning a long campaign via the Internet across multiple sites, it is a good idea to try out the sites for a short initial period. Do not commit for long durations up-front. Try out for 1-2 weeks initially, measure the responses, and evaluate the feedback received before committing to long-term advertising on the Web.

Choosing the Right Advertiser.
Favour sites which tend to have only one advertiser per page: the last thing you want to do is to start competing with other advertisers on the same page! Also, if there is just a single advertiser, then the size of the banner ad also tends to be larger, giving the advertiser more space to get the message across. Sites like Yahoo! and Excite tend to give pride of place to the lone advertiser: after all that’s where the money comes in.

Change the Ad Frequently.
Ads are like hoardings: if the same hoarding is in the same place, then after a few days, you tend to ignore it. On the Net, it costs very little to change the ad. It is a good idea to change the ad every week (like the Amul topical). Having different messages on your banners and monitoring their responses also gives you information on what people tend to react to.

Evaluate the Site You Want to Advertise On.
What is the editorial content on the site? Do you visit it regularly? Do people you know visit it? Does your target audience visit it? Just because the print medium of a web site (if it has one) does well does not necessarily imply the web site is a success. Also check how often (and when) the site is updated. One approach is to serve the ad from your own site (where your server is) – this will give you statistics on page views and geographical distribution of the audience.

Which Products can be Effectively Targeted via the Net?
As of now, products and services which have an appeal for non-resident Indians (banking and finance-related, real estate, recruitment) tend to do better than ones which do not (export-oriented, joint venture/trade-related). This is likely to change as more business/trade sites come up.

NET.COLUMNS: Advertising on the Internet II: Where to Advertise and How Much to Pay

MUMBAI (June 18): Last week, we discussed the importance of creating attractive banners to ensure that people “click-through” to your home page. This week, we look at where to place these banners and how much you are likely to pay for advertising on the web.

Internationally, pricing of ad banners is based on the notion of CPM (cost per thousand). A CPM of US$ 20 means that you will pay 20 dollars for 1000 exposures of your ad banner. This means, that your ad will be shown 1000 times — it does not mean that these many people will actually visit your page. Click-through ratios being what they they are (typically 2-4 per cent), for a CPM of 20, you are paying about 50 cents to a dollar for each person who visits your page (20-40 visitors). So, by increasing the click-through rates, you effectively lower your cost per person.

The search engines like Yahoo, Excite, Lycos and news-oriented publications like c|Net’s News.com are examples of places where you will pay by the exposure. Their CPM rates are typically between US$ 20-40. So, if you are looking for 100,000 exposures, you can expect to pay between US$ 2,000 and US$ 4,000. On Yahoo, the higher rates apply if you want to link your ad to a specific page or a keyword that the user searches for (thus ensuring a higher relevance for your ad). For example, if a person is looking for hotels, then an ad from a hotel, airline or travel service has a greater probability of being clicked on.

The U.S.-based sites have an international readership and very high traffic, so it is not very difficult to achieve a high reach quickly. Remember that this comes at a price. Advertise on these only if your audience is international and you are one of the very best in your business. In general, the more focussed the audience a site has, the higher the CPM.

The popular Indian sites are not yet charging by the CPM. Instead, most tend to have weekly, monthly or even quarterly rates. In the absence of audit reports, it is quite difficult to estimate the real CPM. One way to do this would be to actually serve the ad from your server and then track the exposures on the ad, so at least you know what you are paying for. Rates on Indian sites tend to vary from Rs 10,000 per month to Rs 1,00,000 per month on the most popular ones. The top Indian sites for advertising include IndiaWorld (which publishes IndiaLine), Indian Express, Hindu Online, Rediff-on-the-Net, Deccan Herald and Times of India.

The Indian sites have a very high expatriate (NRI) component in their audience. This is ideal for banks, finance companies, real estate companies, publishers and recruitment. If you are looking for a long-term advertising campaign on the Net, you might want to place short-duration ads on some of the above sites, monitor the response from each site (you can get the click-throughs by checking your server’s referrer log which will tell you from which sites people have come), and then plan out a longer campaign. The leading Indian advertisers include ICICI Bank, Citibank and HLL.

An interesting variation of the CPM and fixed rate models is payment per click-through. Here, you only pay for the number of people who actually click on your ad and come into your page. These rates can be anywhere from Rs 5 to Rs 50 per click-through.

Whatever you do, make sure that you effectively track the ads that you put up. In advertising, they say, half your money is wasted — you don’t know which half. With the Net and its tracking mechanisms, you no longer have to guess!

Next week: Do’s and Dont’s of Web Advertising

NET.COLUMNS: Advertising on the Internet

MUMBAI (June 11): Home pages from India are growing rapidly. Traffic to most of these isn’t. Corporate home pages remain well-kept secrets: few companies tend to put the addressess of their sites on their letterheads, business cards, brochures and print/television advertising. Some notable exceptions: Amul, which has its URL on its India Today ads, and most recently, even its annual report, VIP Bags, and Air-India and Kingfisher, which painted their URLs on outdoor hoardings. It is time that companies started advertising their web sites through multiple channels: how else is traffic going to come in? Search engine registration means little and might account for the occasional visitor, but to ensure a steady flow of traffic, it is necessary to advertise directly on the Internet. How you do make it work?

Net advertising is largely in the form of banners or box ads like the ones below, which are hyperlinked to the company home pages. Internationally, most banners tend to be 468×60 pixels. In India, banners come in all sizes and are dictated by the web site where you advertise. So, be prepared to custom create banners to match the slot available. The ads on the left below are 300×60 pixels, while the one on the right is 100×100 pixels.

These ads have to be designed very attractively. When you put up an ad on a site, the two numbers which are very important are: the number of impressions (page-views), which counts the number of times the page, and therefore your ad, was seen, and the number of click-throughs, which tells you how many of the surfers actually clicked on the ad and came into your page. Typical click-through ratios are 2-4%, which means that 2-4 people out of every 100 actually click on an ad and visit the hyperlinked home page. Not bad if you can get 10,000 impressions, and therefore should get get between 200 and 400 people visiting your page.

Do remember, however, that the assumption made is that yours in the only ad on the page. If, as is the case with many sites, you are also competiting with other ads on the same page, click-through ratios are bound to drop further.

Quiz Time: Which of the following ads attracted the highest click-throughs?

The first ad attracted a click-through ratio of 25% on the first day, while the second ad (which is also a teaser) attracted a click-through of 10%. The third ad, a straight-forward statement, had a click-through ratio of only 3% on its first day. Moral of the story: Not all banner ads are born equal. Invite people to action, make the ad dramatic, topical and exciting; make it worthwhile for the to stop doing what they are doing (reading the article), and click on the ad. After all, if there is no click-through, there is no one one coming into your page, in which case impressions don’t really matter.

Also, give an incentive for the person to click on your ad. For example, the Motorola ad above offers visitors a chance to buy a modem at a discounted price. Monetary benefits are always a good attractor.

Next Week: Where to Advertise, and how much to pay?

NET.COLUMNS: In search of Profits on the Indian Internet

MUMBAI (May 21): If one were to look at the number of companies offering
(or at least claiming to offer) Internet services in India, one would definitely
feel that this is the gold rush of the 1990s. This herd mentality has
meant that the page creation and hosting business is becoming more of
a commodity. Many Indian businesses are getting on the Web. And yet,
the profits aren’t there for most companies. What’s wrong with the
picture?

The Internet business, like any other business, requires time to
mature. There is no proven successful business model. With entry
barriers very low to providing services, it is something that every
company (or in many cases, even an individual) feels can be done. So,
many companies get in. Result: falling prices, ineffective services,
confused customer. The same “home page” is offered for Rs 500 by one
organisation, and Rs 5,000 by another. At the low-end, it is almost
impossible to build a sustaining long-term business. And at the
high-end, the volumes are too small since most companies like to “test
out the waters” and therefore start small. Which leads to an obscure
presence, little traffic and disappointment.

Companies looking to build up content-based, advertiser-driven
businesses are in for a long race. Content is free, advertisers are
few. The domestic audience is not targeted directly by most Indian
sites. And the NRI is not going to easily part with his money, unless
you are a bank or offering him a nice house at a rock-bottom price. To
build up traffic and therefore advertising requires staying power,
implying time and money. Many sites start with a grandiose plan, and
not seeing the business or the traffic come in, get lethargic on the
updates. Which worsens the situation. The surfer today has plenty of
choice. Take newspapers, for example. Most Indian newspapers are up on
the web in the early hours of the morning to target the US
traffic. Are we getting US advertisers to reach out to this audience?
Not yet. Indian readers couldn’t care less: it is far cheaper to read
the hard copy than to spend time on the web.

Worldwide, the web business is one of changing models. 1996 was the
year of Content. 1997 is the year of Community. 1998 is likely to be
the year of Commerce. It is tough to evolve as fast as the Web. What
many companies and investors are realising is that things take time —
as in any normal business. Technology might make many things possible,
but customers are still old-fashioned, and slow to change. In this
scenario, it is very important to have a long-term perspective, with
an ability to look at what’s working on the Web and Indianise
it. Learning to harness the technology within the Indian constraints
is an ability few companies seem to have mastered. Thinking through
the future and challenging it everyday is what will make for
successful and profitable businesses on the Indian Internet.