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Poor Richard 16

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Poor Richard
 · 5 Feb 2023


Geek-Free, Commonsense Advice on Building a Low-Cost Web Site

Editor: Peter Kent
Top Floor Publishing


  • Beginner's Column: Forget the Malls
  • Link For All Pages
  • 1,900 New Subscribers
  • Let Me Introduce Myself!
  • Web Cards - Promote Your Web Site Offline
  • Finding Newsletter Ad-swaps
  • Web Stores or Web Catalogs?
  • Ad Blocking -- Another Problem With Banner Ads
  • AltaVista's New Home - An Expensive Mistake
  • Poor Richard's Web Site in the Press
  • Reading Back Issues
  • In Future Issues


Beginner's Column: Forget the Malls

I thought the concept of the online mall was dying out, until I received an email press release the other day promoting a new Web site called The World Online Shoppes. The idea _should_ die out; it's a lousy idea, and in fact this new mall demonstrates why, because it's a caricature of an online mall, an exaggeration of the concept. This Web site even has _parking lots_! (See ).

The idea of an online mall simply makes no sense. In the real world malls are a good idea; everything located in one place so you can wander around, protected from the weather, do a little window shopping, get a bite to eat, even watch a movie at the end of the day. But on the Internet the weather is not a problem, and every other store on the Internet is just a URL away. You don't need parking, and you won't be watching a movie ... so there's no need for a mall.

Here's the secret about online malls. They generally work with inexperienced businesses that don't know any better. Big businesses, which in the early days of the Web sometimes did fall into the mall trap, no longer bother. They know it's a meaningless concept that won't do them any good.

Having a Web site hosted by a hosting company and putting a site in a mall are two very different things. The idea behind the mall is that people will visit your store because it's "in the mall." Because of that you'll probably pay more than you would if you went with a hosting company. People probably _won't_ visit your store because it's in the mall, though -- that's not the way people shop online. So forget the whole mall concept, save your money, and concentrate on promoting your Web site; don't expect to get any walk-by traffic!

Link For All Pages

A few weeks ago I wrote about Link-o-Matic, a service that automatically submits your URL to hundreds of free link pages (sometimes known as Links For All or Free For All pages). At the time I was a little skeptical, but said that having paid my $100 I'd run the course, submit all 16,000 times, and report back (see for the details).

I haven't yet submitted 16,000 times, but I think I've got enough information to update you. It really can push some traffic to a site. But it may not be worth the hassle. I just looked at my logs and found that about 200 people have visited my site over the past few weeks. I still have 13,088 submissions left, so once I've finished with them all I may have brought 1,000 to 1,100 people to my site. At a cost of $100, that's around 10 cents per visitor, which is reasonably cheap as far as advertising costs go.

At this point you've probably got two questions. First, why aren't I more enthusiastic?, and second, why haven't I used all 16,000 submissions?

Well, there are a few problems. Right now there are 500 link pages in the Link-o-Matic system. (There were around 450 when I started, a month ago.) Most of the sites don't accept duplicate URLs, so you can't use all 16,000 submissions at once; either you have to submit around 32 times, with about a week between submissions -- if you submit too soon, the link pages will simply reject your submissions -- or you have to set up a number of different URLs, then submit links for those different URLs. I could create 32 different URLs, then create 32 different submission sets, to 500 pages each, on the same day, I guess, but I decided that spreading them out, doing one set of 500 every week would be less hassle and probably more effective -- the links would be seen by far more people if spread out. So although this free-link scheme may be effective to some degree, it's a bit of a nuisance to use; there have to be easier ways to bring people to a site than this!

There's another problem. You'll get an awful lot of email back; when you register, many of the sites, perhaps most, send a message back to you thanking you for your submission ... and trying to promote their own products, from Internet marketing services to tongue cleaners (no, really). So if you're going to do this, you'd better set up an email address for just this purpose (I used, for instance), then use your email program's filtering system to filter all mail to that address into a folder, or perhaps have the filter delete it automatically. The problem is, though, now and then you'll get real messages; people who own the link sites want to contact you about something -- perhaps a broken link at your site -- and use the special email address you set up.

Another tip, in case you decide to use Free-Link pages. Make sure you write your link text like a mini advertisement. Don't simply give your Web site's title or even a plain description of your site. Give people a _reason_ to visit. I used links such as "Save Time, Save Money, Save Hassle Building a Web Site" and "It's been called the 'best investment in Web design'... ."

Well, I'm going to use all 16,000 registrations if it kills me. I've set my Schedule program to remind me every Monday morning to go to Link-o-Matic, so I'll get into the habit. It should only take until next March or so to use them all up.

1,900 New Subscribers

For a significant number of you, this is your first issue of the newsletter. And the story of how you came to sign up for this newsletter may be of interest to anyone who publishes an email newsletter, or who is thinking of starting one.

Two weeks ago I had 5188 active subscribers (that's how many copies of issue #15 were successfully delivered). Today I'm mailing to around 7,100, an increase of about 1,900 -- 37 percent or so. This is especially good considering that new subscriptions actually slowed down considerably for the first ten days; over the last four days I've had 1,700 new people sign up; I had 1,426 sign up on Tuesday and Wednesday alone.

What happened? How did I generate this fantastic response? Well, I can't claim the credit. It was due to a promotion planned by Dan Butler, the Editor of an excellent email newsletter called The Naked PC. He contacted me and Jack Teems, who has another useful little newsletter called Neat Net Tricks, and created some new subscription forms for us. Now, whenever someone visits our Web sites signs up to subscribe to one of these newsletters, he'll then see a form asking if he'd like to sign up for the other two.

That in itself was enough to boost subscriptions a little, though not a huge amount. Based on the first few days I estimated that it would increase my subscriptions by about 300 a month -- I'd been getting around 1,000 to 1,100 a month until recently, so 300 is still significant. But then quite suddenly, around mid-day on Tuesday, subscriptions started flooding in, several a minute. That day I had around a thousand subscriptions, and for a few hours none of us could figure out what was going on. Later that day, however, we discovered that The Naked PC had been recommended in a newsletter called Lockergnome. This publication is about Windows 95/98/NT, and has 300,000 subscribers.

Now, the 1,700 new subscriptions I received from this promotion were merely the fall-out I got when The Naked PC was mentioned in Lockergnome; The Naked PC, of course, got far more new subscriptions. We haven't figured out all the numbers yet, but it looks like perhaps one third of the people who subscribed to The Naked PC went on to subscribe to Poor Richard's Web Site, too. The Naked PC, which had about 1,000 fewer subscribers than this newsletter, now has 1,000 more.

Which raises an interesting point. While this sort of cross promotion may seem to make sense when the newsletters all have about the same number of subscribers, consider this. When we began, by far the largest newsletter was Neat Net Tricks, which had more than twice the number of Poor Richard's Web Site News subscribers. The smallest was The Naked PC. Yet it was The Naked PC that brought most of the benefits to the partnership (in the first week, that is ... things could change).

If you'd like to visit these other newsletters, here are their URLs:

The Naked PC:
Neat Net Tricks:

Let Me Introduce Myself!

As more than a third of you are new subscribers, I'd like to quickly introduce myself and this newsletter.

I'm Peter Kent, the author/editor of this newsletter, Poor Richard's Web Site News. The newsletter grew out of my work on a book called Poor Richard's Web Site: Geek-Free, Commonsense Advice on Building a Low-Cost Web Site. As you can see, I also cover subjects that are not directly related to Web sites ... but then, I believe a Web site has to be a lot more than just the site itself in order to be successful. Email newsletters are often used in conjunction with Web sites, as part of an overall Internet presence, so I also discuss email publishing a little.

If you'd like to read the back issues of Poor Richard's Web Site News -- for information on shopping-cart programs, managing large link directories, places to register an email newsletter, and many other subjects, visit this Web page:

For more information about the book, including sample chapters, a table of contents, reviews and testimonials, visit ...

For a variety of special reports -- including a list of 75 or so shopping-cart programs and services, see ...

And remember, if you find something in the newsletter that you think a friend or colleague may find useful, please feel free to forward the newsletter. Thanks for subscribing!

Web Cards - Promote Your Web Site Offline

If you focus solely on promoting your Web site online, you're missing many great opportunities. Most people pay far more attention to offline media than online media, so it's a mistake to think that you don't need offline media anymore.

I discovered a system that's designed to promote your site off the Internet, but does so by using an image of your Web site. Web Cards are postcards with a glossy picture of your site on one side, and text on the back. I've seen a few, and they really do look good. If you'd like free samples, visit the Web Card site and request some:

You can use these in all sorts of ways; mail them to people as postcards; insert them in information you are mailing to existing clients, so you can be absolutely sure they know about your Web site; pin them up on billboards, and so on. You design the card online -- you get to pick the font, type a message, specify how the card should be laid out, and so on. You'll actually see a picture of a card online, with your Web site on the card... at least, you will if the system's working properly, though sometimes it's not.

One caveat; if you need a large number of cards printed, you may find it cheaper to work with a full-service printer; there are a number that specialize in creating full-color postcards, and can probably do it cheaper. But in smaller quantities you may not be able to beat Web Cards, and it certainly is easy to use.

Finding Newsletter Ad-swaps

If you want to find other newsletter owners to swap ads with you, or do a promotion similar to the one I mentioned earlier, you might begin by searching newsletter directories for publications that are complementary to yours, but not directly competitive. Take a look at the newsletter directories I've mentioned in earlier issues of this newsletter; they're now listed in one of my special reports, Places to Register Your Email Newsletter, at ...

Find a newsletter you'd like to work with, then contact the editor.

Another way to track down these sorts of deals is using the Ad-Exchange mailing-list discussion group. To subscribe to this send email to, and put the following line in the body of the message:

subscribe ad-exchange

Make sure this is the first line in the message, and nothing else is in the message.

I'm not sure how busy this list is; there doesn't seem to be much traffic. But recently when I posted a message asking for newsletters that wanted to do ad swaps I got four responses.

+++-------- sponsor --------+++
The Naked PC -- What you need to know about all things PC. Free, friendly, accurate, to the point, no-nonsense computer advice from people you can trust. Hardware, software, tips, useful books, Web pages, products, and a listing of newsworthy news. Think of TNPC as your neighbor who just happens to be a computer consultant. Subscribe at:

+++-------- sponsor --------+++

Web Stores or Web Catalogs?

We hear a lot about Web stores. Companies set up shops or stores online, as if these sites are cyberspace versions of the real thing. But a better parallel with the real world may be catalogs. In two very important ways Web sites that sell things are very similar to real-world, mail-order catalogs. And changing the way you think about your Web site may help you refocus and find new ways to sell products.

The first parallel with catalog companies is that a Web site needs to reach a large number of people in order to make a sale. It may take 40, 50, 100, perhaps 200 or more visitors to a Web site for every sale. Many Web stores owned by large companies work with these sorts of numbers, so if you have been upset to find that you're not getting many sales even though you get a lot of visitors, don't think it's just your site ... that's the way the Web works. Conversion rates (converting visits to sales) of 60:1 or 100:1, for instance, are very common. But real-world stores are not like this. You can bet that out of every 100 people that walk into The Gap or Sears, far more than just one will buy. But catalogs _are_ like this. Catalog companies know they need to send out a huge number of catalogs in order to keep the sales coming in. I don't know the actual numbers, but conversion rates are certainly similar to Web sites.

The other major parallel between Web sites and catalogs is that catalog companies spend an awful lot of time, money, and energy "tweaking" things, and testing. Sure, stores do to some extent, as well. But it's nowhere near as important in the retail-store environment as it is in catalog sales. This is a natural outcome of the conversion ratio, which is a double-edged sword. Low conversion rates mean you have to find a lot of people before you can get one to buy, but they also mean that very small changes can make a very big difference. For instance, if you only get one person in a hundred to buy, that means if you can tweak things just very slightly, and convince one more person out of every 200 to buy, you've just increased your sales by 50%. The catalog business is a "mature" business; it's been around a long time, and long ago it learned that it had to tweak things, that small changes could produce large increases in sales. So catalog companies constantly experiment with new ways to present products, with special offers, colors, illustration and design, and so on.

Already some of the big players on the Web have recognized that they have to constantly experiment, in the same way that the catalogs do. Eventually, I believe, people running commercial Web sites will have to learn direct-mail skills, and will gradually come to realize that they're not really running stores at all.

Ad Blocking -- Another Problem With Banner Ads

As long term readers of this newsletter know, I'm rather skeptical about the benefits of banner advertising; I'd never say that banner-ad campaigns won't work for anyone in any situation, but I do think they probably don't work in most cases.

A couple of subscribers recently pointed out another weakness with banner ads; the growing use of ad blockers. These are programs that strip banner ads out of Web pages so the viewer doesn't have to see them. Why bother? To speed up page loading, because ads just clutter the page making it harder to read and find information, and because many animated ads are very irritating and distracting.

Is this a significant problem for banner-ad advertisers? I doubt it. Too few people are using ad blockers right now, so I doubt if it makes a great deal of difference yet. But it may be part of a growing movement; some reports say that click-through rates are dropping, as people get tired of banner ads and pay less attention to them.

If you'd like to learn more about ad blockers, here's an article from

And if you want to try an ad blocker, you can get one here (no Mac version, but it's available for most other operating systems):


AltaVista's New Home - An Expensive Mistake

Have you noticed that the AltaVista search engine has a new domain name? Until recently you had to type to get there. Now the URL is ... which actually means all you need to do is type altavista into the location bar of most browsers.

How much did the domain cost Digital? $3million.

This is reportedly the most ever paid for a domain name. What's the lesson here? To me, the lesson is that Digital should never have set up a site with a distinctive name, yet without being able to register the domain name. What did they think they were doing creating a major Web service called AltaVista, when someone else had the domain?

By the way, there are still many companies blindly going about their business, not realizing that domain names they'll one day need are still available. Admittedly in most cases it's the opposite situation; companies can't get the domains they want or need. But I can think of a couple of cases in which companies that don't yet have Web sites could grab the domain names for their products right now ... but haven't considered doing so.

Have you been thinking about getting a particular domain name? Perhaps it's time you went ahead and did it!

Poor Richard's Web Site in the Press

  • "We highly recommend this book." Peter Cook and Scott Manning, Philadelphia Inquirer
  • "Buy This Book! ... The lessons of just the first three chapters, alone, saved us thousands of dollars and many hours of work." David Garvey, The New England Nonprofit Quarterly
  • "One of the best books about Website creation." Christopher Sarson, Mindshare Update, Microsoft's User Group magazine
  • "Very well written." Library Journal
  • "We highly recommend that you get a copy." Marketing Technology

For many more reviews and testimonials, visit ...

Poor Richard's Web Site is in many bookstores, and can be ordered by others; it can also be ordered on-line, through the mail, by fax, or by phone.

See ...

Order direct from the publisher, and you'll get a 100%, 1-Year Guarantee. If the book doesn't help you set up a low-cost yet effective Web site, send it back for a refund!

Reading Back Issues

If you need to refer to back issues of this newsletter, you can find them at the following location:

In Future Issues ...

  • The Poor Richard Web Site Makeover
  • Getting the Word Out about your Web site
  • Setting up an email mailing list for newsletters, bulletins, product announcements, etc.
  • Processing orders while you're out of town
  • More on promoting newsletters
  • Secure servers: why you want one, how they work, who has them
  • Mail-merge programs and mailing list programs
  • A quick way to inform Web sites when you change your URL
  • Are people cheating at the award sites?
  • Charging purchases to the buyer's telephone numbers
  • Electronic press releases _do_ work!

(c) Copyright 1998, Top Floor Publishing
All Rights Reserved

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