One of the other most often asked question to the author is, how does one use Internet for economic advantage? Following three articles by Shri Rajesh Jain of Ravi Database Consultants Pvt. Ltd. Mumbai India, gives partial answer to this question. These articles are originally published in their webzine Indialine in the web.columns section. Rajesh has graciously given his permission to include these in this Users Guide. Many such articles of interest can be read at http://www.indialine.com in the net.columns.
Shri Rajesh Jain can be contacted at: email@example.com .
World Wide Web is a new medium to be used for many activities. One of it major use it has been put to is the advertising of the products, using it to promote ones business activities. Following are three to give you a jumpstart:
1) An Internet Strategy for Small Businesses
2) Advertising on the Internet
3) Web Site Creation and Management
H.1 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:
2. Information Access
4. Electronic Commerce
a. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. , 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 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.
b. The Internet as Library and Catalog
Finding people to communicate with. We will examine how to get business and trade information, and organisations, via the Net.
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).
Most Indian and international publications now have a website. For business news from India, the three major business dailies are on the Net:. You can also create your own customised newspaper at, a sister site of IndiaLine. For international business news, recommended sites are
Numerous Web sites are geared towards business directories in a particular category, country or region. has country-specific directories (eg. for Canada, Britain, Japan) as well as sub-directories for most countries of the world., 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.
Asian Web sites are well-catalogued on a Web site called. For a more India-focused search, offer useful business directories.
iii. 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, and the are planning to launch trade promotion activities via e-mail and the Web. The exporters' directory is also on the Web.
The already reports some successful trade enquiries between India and Belgium conducted via its Web site.
c. Leveraging Your Business with a Web Presence
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, 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.
i. 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.
ii. 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.
iii. 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.
The obvious ideas are of course there: registering in search engines is one of them (try 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 above.
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 article have been useful to you. We would also like to 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.
H 2 Advertising on the Internet
a Creating Interesting Banners
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 468x60 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 300x60 pixels, while the one on the right is 100x100 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 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. In a study of three ads for Khoj search engine at indiaworld. All are animated GIFs. The first two change from the ones to show Khoj banner.
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
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.
b. How much to Pay
Above, 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
c. Do's and Don'ts of Web Advertising
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.
Advertising lays things out in perspective by saying "Do the Right Thing. Advertise Online" because:
You can track and measure the
effectiveness of your ad program
i.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).
ii. 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.
Iii 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.
iv. 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.
v. 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.
vi. 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.
vii. 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.
vii. 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
H3. Web Site Creation and Management
One of the better kept secrets of the Indian corporate world: more than 100 of them are on the Web. With little publicity surrounding the presence of most Indian companies on the Web, it is little surprise that only a handful of these sites attract a reasonable level of traffic. The first steps taken by Indian companies on the Net have been slow, and silent. This is bound to change in the next year as the domestic audience on the Net grows, and the Internet emerges as a more mainstream medium.
There are three types of web sites: those on the Internet, directed at marketing, external communications and down the line, electronic commerce; those on the Intranets, aimed at the audience within the organisation; and those on Extranets, which seek to connect an organisation with its suppliers and customers. The first category is the most common, but real business applications start happening with Extranets.
A 7-point checklist for setting up Web sites is presented here. Ensure that when you think about creating web sites, you give it as much importance as you would to setting up a new office or a new business. Creating a successful online presence is as challenging as making sure that a business is profitable, and equally important.
You need to clearly identify the objectives of the web presence. Some questions you need to answer: who is the target audience, what products and services are you going to offer the visitors, can you sell to the visitors, which departments will be involved in setting up the web site, who is going to handle the responses that come in, what is the update plan. Too many companies get into creating the web site just because it seems a good idea, or because "everyone else seems to be doing it". That will not go far on the web.
Some tips: get an Internet TCP/IP connection and spend time browsing on the web before you decide, have the Marketing and Corporate Communications (and not Engineering and Finance) handle the project -- the web site is not a technology statement, remember that the main audience as of now is outside India, get top management involved in the process, and look for a 6-12 month timeframe for returns.
You need to identify an Internet Services Provider as a partner in your Web project. The Internet site is likely to be hosted from the US: hosting from India is not yet economical, but this is likely to change soon. Anyway, on the Internet, geography is irrelevant. Examine carefully the capabilities of the ISP from the point of view of the computers and communications resources that it has, the level of support it will be able to provide you in the exercise, and the understanding that it has of the Net and how it can help your business.
It is a good idea to get your domain registered: if the site is hosted from abroad, you will get a .com domain; if it is hosted from India, you will get a .co.in domain (this is for commercial organisations). The .com domains are registered with InterNIC (http://www.internic.net). Ensure that the domain is in your name. Internic charges USD 100 for the first two years, and USD 50 each year thereafter. You can register the domain yourself -- it is an entirely automated process. The .co.in domains are currently provided by NCST (you can apply through VSNL for these). There are two requirements: that you have a company in the name that you are applying for, and that you have a server in India. There is no charge as of now for domain registration in India.
Content is king on the web. It is the primary reason people will keep visiting your site. The goal is to get the visitor to "bookmark" you site so that he keeps coming back -- the challenge lies in not just getting the first visit, but ensuring that a person comes back for the second time. And the third time.
Tips: Do not take content straight out of the corporate brochure: the Net is an interactive medium, and this should be made use of. Present a mix of text and multimedia (images, animation, audio, video -- depending upon the objectives of the site). Have a "What's New" section so that a regular visitor can easily identify what has changed since the last visit. Look at having a section which talks about the industry your company is involved in: it helps broaden the profile of the visitors and can serve as a good attractor. Think about conducting occasional Question-and-Answer sessions with top management on the Web. Be careful about offering hyperlinks to other web sites: you do not want to lead a person out of your electronic shop!
Your site needs to be attractive. It is important to understand the limitations of the Web as a publishing medium, besides knowing its strengths. You do not have the same control over the way information is displayed as you have over the print medium. A reader can change the size of the browser window and even the font, thus dramatically altering the look of the page.
There is a trade-off between visual grandeur and the downloading time: as a rough thumbrule, on a 14.4 Kbps dial-up link (the slowest possible link for most people), about 60 KB can be downloaded in a minute. Use multimedia judiciously: audio and video will take a fair amount of time to download, and not everyone will have the patience. Either way, mention the file type and size for audio and video files so that the user can gauge the download time. For images, by using the HEIGHT and WIDTH tags in the HTML source, you can ensure that the page is streamed (the text comes up rapidly, so that the visitor has something to read while the images show up). Interactive forms should be used to present information dynamically.
There are a number of design packages which can assist in the creation of HTML pages: Adobe's PageMill, Softquad's HoTMetaL Pro, Netscape's Navigator Gold and Microsoft's FrontPage are among the best.
A very small percentage of sites on the Web are updated regularly. This is ironical considering the ease of the update process. The problem in most cases is that there is no update plan which has been thought out. You need to ensure that there is a reason for people to come back into your shop: they will not necessarily do business with you the first time they come in. Also, you do not see the visitors as they come in, but for them, your site is a mirror of your organisation. Prepare an update plan before you launch the site.
Aim for adding something new to your web site on daily. Some examples of the periodic updates that can be done: press releases, stock prices, company news, press clippings about your company, an industry-specific newsletter, industry reports and surveys, speeches, financials, commodity prices. Think about building an email-list of the visitors: ask them to give their email address, so that you can send out a periodic email informing them about the changes on the web site, and keeping them posted about the new developments in your company.
The Net is emerging as a critical medium for business. The Web is not just a one-way broadcast medium: its interactive nature means that is the only medium which supports the complete transaction cycle. Transactions on the Web are more secure than most other media. In India, the absence of electronic payment systems means you still cannot pay by credit card over the web. This will, hopefully, change in the next few months. Many companies are also working on digital cash systems to support microtransactions.
Think about moving bytes rather than atoms. If you do need to sell atoms, the courier company will serve as your distributor for the global market. Best-sellers on the Web in the US include books (check Amazon books at http://www.amozon.com , for an excellent example of how a community has been built), music CDs, airline tickets, and computer products. Business on the Web is expected to grow to USD 6.6 billion by the year 2000, from about USD 500 million in 1996. The future of the Web lies in electronic commerce: the content is an attractor, but money is made only when transactions are done.
Do not launch an incomplete site. Do not put a "Site under construction" page. If the site is not ready, it should not be accessible to anyone. When you are ready for launching it, make sure you publicise it well: send out press releases in India and internationally, let all your staff and clients know that you are now on the Web, advertise your site on the web and off the web (business cards, letterheads, brochures, print/TV ads). Go ahead and get the free listings in the various electronic directories and search engines. Also browse other sites and encourage potential business partners to visit your web site. Look at spending an equivalent amount of what you have spent on the site creation on advertising on the Web in the first 6 months: if you can ensure that the content and design can pull in the repeat traffic, you will probably not need to spend a lot after that. Also, ensure that you keep track of the access statistics so that you know the impact of the specific promotions that you do.