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Commentary for: 19 January 1997

Where is everyone?
award logo I'm going to be brutally honest and tell everyone some unpleasant facts.

New Zealand Internet users are not interested in local content.

That's right - they simply don't seem to care that there are a growing number of really good places to visit right here in Godzone.

How do I know that?

Well, although many are afraid to admit it, all but a few Web sites in this country are lucky to get more than 30-40 visits a day.

Even your favourite Web site, Aardvark, normally only scores 1,200-2,500 local visitors per day (although a growing overseas awareness means that total readership tends to vary from 3,000 to 12,000 per day depending on the day of the week and whether I'm running an "exclusive".

Indeed, if your site is getting more than a few hundred visitors per day I'd suggest that you're in the top 10%. Outside of ISP home pages, there are probably fewer than a handful of sites on the Web in NZ which get more than 800-1,000 visitors per day.

Just to clarify what I'm talking about - this is not "hits" or page-views which are simplistic measures of a site's performance that can easily be manipulated by either adding more graphical elements to a page or spreading the content over a greater number of pages. What I'm talking about are individual users - "PEOPLE"! This is the only way to really measure a site's popularity - we don't hear magazines and newspapers touting "page views" or "hits", they talk circulation and readership, so should those who publish on the Net.

Now compare these meagre figures to the 100,000-200,000 NZers who claim to have Internet access and you've got to wonder - where the hell is everyone going when they get online?

What's behind this poor performance?
Well first-up let me say that despite the credentials of the organisations doing the surveys, I find it hard to believe that there are more than about 40,000 regular Net users in NZ. Most of them would use the Net no more than once a week so on any given day we're probably seeing no more than 18,000-20,000 people logging on.

Still, if you're only getting 500 visitors to day you're probably going to be wondering where the other 17,500-19,500 Net users are going.

Let's take away another 5,000 who are probably only logging on to clear their email. They may be business users who rely on the Net solely as an alternative to fax or phone.

Now we're down to a figure which might be as low as 12,500 people per day - great news eh? Only 12,000 are missing in action!

The interesting thing about those 500 users you get to your site is that many of them are amongst the 500 that visit the other popular NZ sites. I know that many Aardvark readers also visit The Plug, @IDG, SODA and NetGuide NZ - and vice-versa.

Now you could say that Aardvark shouldn't expect more than a small percentage of the total audience because it's a "specialist" publication. The majority of new Net users aren't interested in the kind of stuff you find here any more than the average new-car buyer has any interest in subscribing to "auto-mechanics weekly" and you'd be right. This belief is reinforced by the level of traffic that the NZ Wires section of the 7am News site gets. It's well known that News is one of the most popular categories on the Net so you'd expect the NZ Wires page to get a pretty big chunk of that Net audience, but even so it only gets around 2,500-3,500 local visitors per day and a few hundred more from outside NZ (mainly ex-pat NZers).

I suspect that no matter how much we deny it, we're all guilty of believing (to a greater or lesser degree) that "if we build it, they will come" - and nothing could be further from the truth.

To be quite frank, when it comes to marketing, the NZ Internet industry sucks, and sucks hard!

Here's an example of what I mean. How many of the advertisers we see on TV bother to include their URL as part of their TV commercials? Do you remember how Cadbury NZ fought tooth and nail to wrestle their domain name away from the scalper who had grabbed it with a view to making a quick buck? After all that they even went to the effort of sticking up a Web Site - but do you see the URL in their TV ads or even on the wrappers for their products?

Why on earth not???? How stupid is that?

The same goes for Toyota, TV3, The Herald, Hallensteins, Sanyo and the raft of other big-name companies who have spent a small fortune building a Net presence, only to treat it as a well-kept secret.

Yes, we have a Web site but I'm not allowed to tell you about it!

How stupid is that?
What about the small guys?
The only excuse that the "big names" have for not promoting their Web sites through their existing advertising is stupidity - but what about the little guys.

How can the "little guys" with a near-zero ad-budget effectively market their Web sites to that (let's be generous and say) 50,000+ NZers who use the Net regularly but never seem to visit local sites?

I'm afraid I don't have an answer to this question. There's so much talk about how the Net creates a level playing field where the little guys can compete head-on with the mainstream publishers but those who say this seem to forget about the importance of marketing.

Sure, people such as myself can create publications such as Aardvark at a vastly lower cost than the INLs, NBRs or Wilson & Hortons of the world could ever hope to do but we're missing one key link - an effective marketing channel.

If I were NZ's largest daily newspaper and I built a Net presence, I could guarantee huge numbers of visitors simply by promoting that site or channel heavily in my print version. Since the Herald has (from memory) a circulation of around 250,000 copies per day you'd certainly expect to reach a fair percentage of those 12,500 daily Web-surfers who seem to have gone missing. The funny thing is that when I checked Saturday's Herald for any sign of them promoting their Net presence - there was NOTHING! Checking the "How To Contact Us" section listed phone numbers, postal addresses etc - but there wasn't even an email address to be seen let alone a URL.

To see how it should be done, take a look at the CNN Web site in the USA. This site is one of the few Net enterprises that is (apparently) running at a profit. It's not hard to figure out why either. Just watch the CNN News channel on TV and you'll see that they gratuitously plug the Web site every chance they get. You can't watch CNN's TV channel without being reminded that they're on the Net at least four or five times an hour.

I think sometimes we forget that Net users also watch TV and read magazines and newspapers. In fact, the average Net user (cybergeeks don't count) spend a lot more time watching TV than they do on the Net so where do you think is the best place to promote a Web site?

And don't forget that even NZ's leading Net-related magazine NetGuide has an audited circulation of around 20,000 copies. per month - vastly more than the number of unique visitors the average Web site is getting.

Are we victims of the hype?
Perhaps even those of us in the industry have fallen victim to the media-hype which keeps telling us how popular the Net is and how vast crowds of people, even in this country, are thronging to join it.

I wonder how many businesses are disappointed when they spend maybe $5,000 to put up a Web site, only to get a less than a couple of hundred visitors a month. For the same price they could have done a fairly significant mail-drop, a half-page newspaper ad, or even some radio and TV advertising. Any of these other options would have reached a much larger number of people for the same price.

The real problem is that we're short of people familiar with the "big picture". Your average Web designer may be an expert at designing a site's layout and creating great Web pages but what do they know about marketing and the effective use of other media?

The average advertising agency, as has been repeatedly proven and highlighted in this column, may understand the ins and outs of the ad business and the traditional media but most of them know diddly-squat about the Net as a medium and a culture.

What's needed are people who understand the whole thing - but they're conspicuous by their absence at this time.

In the meantime, if your Web site is getting more than a couple of hundred visitors per day - congratulations - you deserve a pat on the back!

If you don't have a Web site then why not expand your horizons a little and consider building one. There are plenty of places that will host your site for free if your ISP doesn't. Or.. you could enter the Win a Home On The Net Competition (shameless plug!).

Can you see the "big picture"?
Items of interest?
Odz and Sodz
Those of you who missed my response to Peter Belt's "expose" of bad HTML on the Web last week will find it stored here.

It looks as if there's a new Banner Exchange network starting up in New Zealand. This one's run by NZ Pages and might be another way to drive up those hits on your page. Good luck, I'm surprised it's taken this long for an indigenous network to get started.

I had to laugh last week when I saw this story with Microsoft ships small, fast, stable version of IE 4.0 appear on the @IDG Web site, followed the next day by this story with the headline Internet Explorer Bug Makes a Return Visit appear on the Wired site the very next day. So much for the best-laid plans of mice and Bill Gates!

It was also interesting to see that just a few days after I ran this story about the son of a probation officer attempting to commit fraud on the Net, the NZ Herald carried an article in which it reported that two Ministry of Justice employees had imported "tasteless and inappropriate material" into the ministry's computer system. Time to wipe that egg off your faces guys!

Oh yes, I finally got around to updating the archive indexes for Aardvark Daily and Aardvark Weekly. If it's a rainy day and you don't have a real life - you can now browse back through history at your leisure!

This Week's Featured "Aardvark Enabled" Site

The Bewildered People's Party of NZ

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and you too could appear here!

The I.C.B.I.T Award
I Can't Believe It's True!

What happens when you send someone to the DDH school of Web Design?

Well it would appear that you'd probably expect something like the offerings found at this site. Marvel at the incredible number of spelling mistakes - just check out the very first word on this page for a beauty example. Ready by October?? Which year?

See if you can spot the words "sofistication", "inforamtion" and "univercities" on this page

Actually, this site will keep you amused for hours - It's much like those puzzles where you're supposed to spot the obvious mistakes.

But would YOU hire them?

Oh yes, it'll probably come as no surprise that they're the organisation which designed the Master Builders Fereration [their spelling, not mine!] site as highlighted by SODA last week. What's that bit about "beware the cowboys?"

Right of Reply.

Last Week's ICBIT drew an interesting response from the Eastern Institute of Technology who were implicated as "apparently" hosting the site concerned. When I checked prior to publication, the DNS was definitely reporting EIT as being the host, however this was not the case. Here is the email received from EIT.

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