This document is a supplement to
Editing for Clear Communication
Copyright 1996-1999,
Thom Lieb.
No portion may be reused without the author's permission.

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Editing for the Web

The Three Types of Sites

"A rose is a rose is a rose," Gertrude Stein once wrote, but the same cannot be said for Web sites.

According to International Data Corp., as reported in the September 1996 Webmaster magazine, Web sites fall into three main categories.

First are promotional sites, which promote brands and customer loyalty. These cost an average of $304,000 to set up. My local power company, BGE has set up one of these sites. At the site, customers can find out about products and services, read recent news releases, get profiles of the firm and its subsidiaries, and so on. While the site is nicely done, it's not one I head to regularly.

Many companies realize that people don't spend their days sitting around thinking, "Gee, I wonder if the Acme Co. has any interesting news releases?" So those companies build content sites, which entertain or inform. (This is also the category that includes news media offerings.) Content sites cost an average of $1.3 million to set up and fall into two subtypes. The first are sites that provide information on a product. For example, Fidelity Investments hosts a site with a wealth of information about investing, retirement and related topics. Interactive features help visitors plot out investment strategies.

Other sites provide information on a product area. The Ragu company, for example, maintains a site that offers recipes, lessons in Italian, and other features related to the company's products — but with little direct information on the products themselves. Both of these sites are fun and interesting to visit. In a sense, they're doing what soap manufacturers did to reach a wide audience 40 years ago: Rather than showing half-hour infomercials on their products, the companies created and sponsored daily television shows, now known as soap operas.

Some sites have begun licensing content from other developers to attract visitors. Princeton Review, Hollywood Online and others are now providing customized versions of games from The Riddler. Since early 1995, the original Riddler site has given away hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes to contestants who won trivia, scavenger hunt and crossword games. (Site owners using such features aren't doing so out of the goodness of their hearts: They collect demographic data on players during a registration process, then that data is used to woo advertisers.)

The most expensive sites to set up are transaction sites, where visitors pay money and get something in return. These sites cost an average of $3.4 million. A good example is Playboy magazine; visitors, lured by he promise of free adult content, find that about all they can get on the site is the chance to buy merchandise.

As with any system of categories, this one is not perfect. Some sites overlap more than one category, and the evolution of Web publishing ensures that new categories will continue to appear. In the meantime, though, these categories serve as a good reminder that no site should try to do everything: Do one thing, and do it well.

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