Two Web Sites Are Better Than One

Companies that target many audiences are finding that one Web site just won't do

World Wide Web server software sales -- and revenues from related design work -- are being powered by a trend unthinkable just a few months ago. Experts say a company with multiple products needs multiple Web locales to promote each brand.

It is a trend, experts say, which is pushing interactivity to the next level -- a sophisticated segmentation of the on-line market into its multitude of consumers. Proctor & Gamble, Cincinnati, has created Web sites for Sunny Delight orange drink and olestra, the fluffy fat substitute that debuted earlier this year. Other companies are doing the same.

Can the federal government be far behind? Probably not. "Not only are multiple Web sites a good strategy, they are essential for companies or organizations that target a variety of different market segments," said Chris Clark, vice president of New York's GCI Group. "We even do multiple Web sites for the same brand. After all, Tide, Pampers and Pringles all have very separate messages, target audiences, advertising campaigns and package designs. Why shouldn't they be promoted separately on the Web?"

According to John J. Allan, president of the Integrity Center, Dallas, an employment screening service that sells itself on-line, computing and government professionals may wish to have sites for each brand or service offering, and for other market segments as well. One site should be targeted to retail, and another dedicated to wholesale efforts. Another site is needed for clients, while still another is required for employees.

What's more, publicists may want to have one site that is encrypted on a secure Netscape server, and one that is publicly available with full text and graphics.

"Clearly, one does not advertise the existence of all of them," said Allan. "And some of the features are melded among them."

Clark's company is developing multiple Web sites for a software client. "One is targeted to investors and decision-makers. The other is for actual users," he said. "The corporate site will be just the facts with less than scintillating information about the company, its founders, its mission, its finances. The product site will spotlight the features and benefits of products in an entertaining fashion -- something that may be off-putting to investors or to a [chief information officer]."

Clark said that each of the sites should have completely separate uniform resource locators, but should be hot-linked. The strategy enables the delivery of different messages to divergent audiences without alienating any of them.

Experts also emphasized many companies have separate divisions and different products produced in different locations. What's more, there are separate management structures and chains of command. "From a simple logistical standpoint, it is more convenient for a product group to have its own Web server," said Ryan Bernard, author of "Internet Business 500." A main corporate home page can serve as the anchor from which other sites can be linked.

There is a downside to the multiple server phenomenon, as well as an upside. It may be hard for Web surfers to find the URL when doing searches on conventional search engines for the World Wide Web. "Unless you're using a search engine that can share cross-server search indices such as Harvest, your organization's database of information is fragmented across Web sites, making it confusing to the reader if they are trying to locate information," said Greg Sherwin, co-founder of the American Red Cross National Public Web site. "With this new trend, one-stop shopping for information is dead."

Sherwin said Web publicists must do their homework when touting multiple Web sites, and must provide truly useful information to consumers and reporters. The phenomenon has parallels to the formation of Usenet newsgroups on the Internet. People are looking for specific information resources.

"Consumers don't want to waste time exploring pure ads," said Clark. "Frequently revise Web sites, making them very useful for short-term promotions, seasonal tie-ins, a new product launch or other publicity needs. Our goal is not to [overload] customers with labored product usage messages. We're trying to entertain them and get some brand awareness in the process."

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