I've known David Bolles as a client and friend for many years. He recently sent me some comments about his forays into his latest venture and I asked if I could publish them. Take it away, David.
Everyone is talking about businesses that make money selling over the Internet. I want to tell you about a tiny company called Cortix that I founded. It doesn't have any resident computer geniuses, didn't require any venture capitalists, and doesn't sell porn, books, or routers.
Cortix has a small niche business of selling small memory cards to users of digital cameras, handheld computers, and personal digital assistants. They have a web site at alix.com that has lists of cards and other helpful information for hand-held users. These cards are typically hard to find at your superstore, not to mention hard to find a clerk at the store who knows how to match the right card with the right device.
While our catalog is visible via the web, if you want to order anything, you still need to talk to a real human being via our 800 number. Interestingly, none of our customers have requested electronic ordering yet. We don't have any printed catalog and don't advertise in any print publication.
We don't need to advertise because we have created a series of web pages (PDApage.com, HPCpage.com, and DigiCAMpage.com) with helpful and freely available content that point people to Alix and other vendors. Each one of these three sites offers the readers content that saves the reader MONEY.
The lesson I learned was to attract visitors, you need good content on your site. As an example ask a random friend what kind of car they drive and what it is worth if they were to sell it today. Now surf on over to kbb.com and answer a few questions. When you price your car, watch your friend's reaction. This is the POWER of good content. Believe it or not, Kelly's Blue Book is not trying to sell you anything (at least at first), they simply provide an invaluable service of saving you a trip to your friendly SLOW bank manager with his drawer full of tiny blue books. Showing them the pretty certified copy of the value of their car, printing it out, handing it to them to take home makes an indelible impression on the value of good content. You just saved your friend a bunch of time.
That's what I found with my sites. Pdapage.com is the most popular (and longest running) of the three content sites that Cortix operates. The site's splash page contains six pictures of Personal Digital Assistants including the Pilot, Newton, and Zaurus computers. When you click on one of these devices, you are taken to a BEST PRICE COMPARISON table -- showing you where you can get the best deal on the handheld computer or accessory you're interested in. If you dig deeper on the site, you can find a table of distributors, accurate ordering and shipping costs, and even a feature comparison chart explaining which PDA offers what. This is what good content is all about -- saving customers time or money.
Good content is NOT about jazzy animated graphics, sophisticated CGI scripts, or expensive storefront web-o-shopping form submission. Good content is NOT about telling the world how wonderful your products are, reading the latest letter from the CEO, or displaying expensive advertisements that dazzle your readers. Nice graphics and a clean presentation certainly make a site more enjoyable to visit - and are important to the overall corporate image - but to really energize your site, you must provides a service to customers that saves them time or money.
As you might suspect, maintaining a data intensive site like PDApage is time consuming and Cortix has developed a small number of custom tools to make it easier. These tools include a Visual Basic program called "Pagebuilder" which accepts prices and vendor information, then sorts the data to create HTML tables used in creating the site. Without this tool, analyzing the constant stream of changing prices and keeping the site current would be an impossibly time consuming task
In conclusion, Cortix has developed one technique for successfully selling products on the web - and the company is currently profitable. The key to this company's success has been to offer CONTENT that saves a customer money in the form of best prices comparison charts for small electronic device products. Since Cortix ONLY sells memory and modem cards through the web, all sales generated by the Alix.com site are a direct result of visits to the "best-price" content charts Cortix maintains. Hopefully this example of a successful web based company will get you thinking about the power of really good content and how it can benefit you and your company.
And I just returned from an intensive week in New Orleans, putting up a series of Roving Reporter pages for Computer Associates' CA-World trade show. You can see the archive of my work here.
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entire contents copyright 1997 by David Strom, Inc.