BILOXI – What makes a Web page really pay off? How do you not only attract visitors, but get them to stay around long enough to get a good look at what you’re offering?
Key elements of a successful Web page include having artistic appeal in addition to being user friendly and easy to navigate, said Harry B. Joachim, executive director, Biloxi Chamber of Commerce.
“Our Web site has been incredibly successful for us,” Joachim said. “We closed out fiscal year 2000 with 450,000 hits. We were a little surprised at how high the numbers were. The other thing our statistics show is that people stay on our Web site an average of five minutes and 10 seconds, which means they are really looking around. The Web site has been a great opportunity for us to market the city and our members, as well.”
The Biloxi Chamber Web site, www.biloxi.org, was designed by Multimedia Services & Education (MUSE), a professional Web development company based in Gulfport. Joachim said MUSE provided not only the technical knowledge to create the chamber’s Web site, but also artistic appeal.
“Not all Web sites are pretty,” Joachim said. “Not all are visually appealing enough to make people stay with them. It is one thing to have technical knowledge to create a Web site, and Tom (Tom Parker, president and webmaster of MUSE) obviously has that. And he also has the artistic capabilities. Tom has a real feeling for what a Web surfer wants to see. One of the things he concentrated on was making the Web site easy to navigate.”
Parker also makes the Web sites easy for owners to update. Often when people want to update their Web site, they have to contact the webmaster. That’s costly both in term of money and time.
“It’s a drag,” Parker said. “It can take days or weeks to get the slightest amount of information changed on the Web site. We use database-driven Web site design so the owner with no technical knowledge whatsoever can go in and make changes without contacting the webmaster. The Web site is self-contained and easy to maintain. The only time our customers have to contact the webmaster for changes is when the changes are interface oriented.”
MUSE recently launched a new secure e-commerce shopping environment called the MUSE Secure E-Store, www.MUSE-USA.com. Their development efforts have been recognized as exemplary by the MIVA Corporation (www.miva.com) and will be highlighted as a feature e-store at the company’s corporate Web site. MUSE launched their own e-store to demonstrate the technology to other potential e-retailers in the area.
“We primarily built the store as a way to demonstrate our technical abilities mainly because there are not many people down here willing to take the dive into real e-commerce,” Parker said. “We have over 9,000 computer hardware and software products. We are a real store, and we do get orders. But we don’t advertise it as heavily as we should to get the kind of sales to make that our primary source of income. We are mainly a Web development company. ”
Parker said some customers are apprehensive about entering into credit card transactions on the Internet no matter how much they are reassured that it is safe. But a store on the Internet can show even online-sale leery customers what is available. Then they can place an order by phone.
Parker said he believes a lot more Mississippi businesses, including Mom-and-Pop establishments, could benefit from a Web site. While they aren’t likely to attract customers from across the world without spending a lot on advertising and offering a unique product, the site can be a way to increase sales in the local area.
“We believe there is more potential for Mississippi businesses to have e-tailing environments, especially if they are dealing with a wholesaler who provides product information in an electronic, database format,” Parker said. “It makes it easy to display thousands of products. You can display many more products than can be displayed in a physical storefront. And with the shipping infrastructure in the U.S., you can move things quickly into a customer’s hands after an order has been placed.”
Parker says while a local business owner shouldn’t believe the hype that their Web site will instantly make them rich by selling to a global market, there still is potential for Web sites that promote to local customers.
Parker believes credibility for Internet commerce is going to improve in the future. Right now he likens it to the Wild West: There is a lot of lawlessness going on. But like the Wild West, the lawman – the federal government – is coming in to regulate the Internet and stop
abuses and fraud.
Parker, 35, who got his first computer at the age of 12, said it has been fascinating to watch technology and the Internet grow from almost the very beginning.
“It is scary and cool all at the same time,” he said. “As Arthur C. Clarke said, ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ We’re not quite there yet. But, I believe that.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org or (228) 872-3457.