Picking Portals

Research is against me on this one. But I’m going to foist an unpopular idea upon you anyway: Consider portals when you are devising your online marketing plan.

I’ve read the recent Jupiter Communications reports showing less than 5 percent of e-commerce executives are “highly likely to renew” their current agreements with portals. I know Jupiter also estimates only a 2 percent increase in online commerce driven by portals by the year 2002.

A jump from 18 to 20 percent. I’m not arguing with this information. However, it does make me wonder which portals are these e-commerce executives using? What are their expectations? And what are they paying?

When you hear the word portal you think Yahoo Excite. Lycos. Alta Vista. Maybe even newer players like GoTo and HotBot. These are the Studio 54s of portals. Everyone wants to be seen. Ideally as the number one query match, but at the very least as a click-through advertisement.

You laugh. But remember there was never a guarantee you’d get in the door at 54. There was the velvet rope to contend with. Similarly, larger portals are also dealing with throngs of people riding the Internet wave of success. You are competing in a huge arena. I urge you to also consider more targeted arenas, especially catalogers.

In the third annual survey by Catalog Age, more than 30 percent of participating catalogers said they spent more than $50,000 annually on their web site. And yet only 11 percent said online catalogs account for more than 10 percent of sales. So why the big investment? Nearly half say to better serve customers. Think one-to-one marketing. Think easier searches where the user doesn’t have to sift through reams of irrelevant information in hopes of finding something remotely related to his or her needs.

Why wouldn’t you place yourself in a single shopping search space, where customers can access many catalogs at once, rather than forcing shoppers to hunt and peck their way around the web? Plus, you get the added bonus of showing up on shoppers’ screens when you weren’t even a gleam in their eye.

Imagine Arthur in Maine looking for lawn furniture catalogs. On the search results page up pops your ad for an outdoor apparel catalog. “Hmmm,” says Arthur. “A new pair of boots would really ad to my woodsy appeal.” And to think, until now Arthur didn’t even know your company existed.

There are several portals devoted just to catalogs. From Brooks Brothers to Victoria’s Secret. Order them all in a single stop. For a listing alone, many of these sites are free. Remember, if you have diverse offerings, your catalog will show up on many searches within the portal — thanks to cross referencing. Plus, if you search some of the above-mentioned larger portals for “catalogs,” the top matches include these sites.

Best of all, your advertising has a better shot at reaching your targeted audience. Of course, catalogers aren’t the only ones who can benefit from these boutique portals. Publishers are getting in on the act with discount rates and bundled special offers at www.enews.com.

Still not buying? Take a look at 100hot.com, smartinternetguide.com and dreamscape.com. 100hot lists, as you might guess, 100 portals for each of nine categories, including entertainment, sports, news, technology, and of course, shopping. Dreamscape includes more than 1,000 specialized search engines in 50 different categories. Under Health, I found portals like Rx-List, an Internet drug index, and FuturCom in Psychiatry. Meanwhile, my inner chef was thrilled by epicurious.com and cookbook online database.

Of course, I knew I’d hit pay dirt — I was vindicated –when I found Aqueous.com, a water-related portal boasting searches for everything from plumbing to bikinis. Anyone interested in a great deal on floating pool chairs?

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