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Publishers push ‘Phase Three’ Web sites

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In Phase One of the Internet’s development, b-to-b publishers ambled online, merely transferring magazine content to a companion Web site. In Phase Two, many publishers joined the supposed online gold rush by sinking money into developing e-commerce Web sites, most of which have been abandoned. Now, in Phase Three, some b-to-b publishers are viewing the Web’s potential with a clearer eye.

In industries ranging from technology to agriculture to construction, they’re creating Web sites that focus on silos of carefully organized information. Ultimately, these sites fall somewhere between recapitulations of print publications and grand e-commerce portals.

Industry observers say that some of the best b-to-b Web sites developed by traditional publishing companies include Hanley-Wood’s ebuild, Successful Farming magazine’s Agriculture.com and CMP Media’s TechWeb.

These leading Phase Three Web sites were not designed as online magazines. Instead, they were developed for the way business people are actually using the Internet today.

"They’re not surfing the Web; they’re searching the Web," observed Amy Sklar, managing director of CMP’s TechWeb, describing how business people use the Internet. The best b-to-b Web sites are offering innovative ways for marketers to reach this audience through a variety of targeted methods, including microsites, keyword searches and white papers.

Media strategists agree that business people garner information from magazines differently than they digest data from the Web. "This didn’t originate with me, but we say that magazines are for the plane, the train and the john," said John Keck, global interactive media director at Foote, Cone and Belding Worldwide, San Francisco. Magazines are increasingly concentrating on features and general trends, while Web sites increasingly provide breaking news and extensive information about products and services.

"What people do online is a lot more research," said Brian Cronk, media supervisor at JWTandTonic, which handles Sun Microsystems’ interactive advertising. "Online provides an opportunity for an intense one-to-one experience."

But not all b-to-b publishers understand the different ways their target audience approaches different media. On the Web, "there’s a lot of mimicking what’s in the publication," said Maureen Orgel, communications manager at Saatchi & Saatchi Rowland, Fairport, N.Y.

Hanley-Wood’s quick move

Hanley-Wood, the Washington, D.C.-based publisher of Builder and other construction industry magazines, is seen as a company that has moved quickly into Phase Three of the Web.

The 2001 edition of a Hanley-Wood survey found that professionals in the building industry were using the Internet primarily to research products. The results were clear: 88% of builders, 93% of remodelers, 98% of residential architects and 89% of dealers/distributors researched products online. For Hanley-Wood, the survey’s results confirmed that the company was on the right track with its ebuild Web site, which is a database of appliances, plumbing fixtures, windows and other products used by builders.

When ebuild launched in February 2001, it attracted about 4,400 unique visitors a month. Now, it pulls in about 180,000, said John Oberg, ebuild’s senior VP-sales and marketing. The site contains data on about 100,000 building products and 500,000 SKUs.

"We expect to be profitable in 2003," Oberg said. The site has attracted several big-name marketers, who sponsor specific areas of the site. Whirlpool, for instance, is the chief sponsor of the appliance section of ebuild. The attraction is having the company name in front of builders who are getting ready to buy. "The [advertiser] renewal rate is over 85%," Oberg said.

While ebuild attracts users and advertisers in the residential construction industry, The McGraw-Hill Cos.’ Construction.com site is designed for use by contractors, architects and engineers in commercial, industrial and other heavy construction.

Construction.com uses content from Engineering News Record and Architectural Record magazines, but the heart of the site is material from the McGraw-Hill’s Sweets’ database (which provides detailed construction product information) and the F.W. Dodge database (which offers project news and plans). These databases normally charge for this information.

McGraw-Hill Construction wants Construction.com to be a complete, one-stop site for the industry, so it has partnered with competitors to provide online information it doesn’t own. For example, the site’s access to information about construction equipment is powered by Primedia Inc.’s construction equipment Web site Ironmax.

In addition to generating income from paying users of the site, Construction.com derives income from b-to-b marketers such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and from advertisers such as the partnership between the National Electrical Contractors Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. "We have sponsorships, banners, e-mail newsletters and keyword advertising," said Victoria Pao, VP-marketing and business development for McGraw-Hill Construction.

Designed for today’s users

Pure-play Internet company CNet Networks Inc. and b-to-b publisher Ziff-Davis Inc. (now Ziff Davis Media), which developed ZDNet, were among the first to understand that business people were using the Internet differently than they used magazines, said Seth Alpert, a former Ziff-Davis executive and now managing director of media investment bank AdMedia Partners. They translated this understanding to the design of their Web sites, which organized information into channels or silos.

CNet eventually acquired ZDNet in Softbank Corp.’s fire sale of Ziff-Davis. In March 2002, the combined properties attracted 26.2 million unique visitors, according to Jupiter MediaMetrix. Both sites still organize topics into channels. ZDNet, for example, has a "Tech at Work" silo that includes channels on Linux, e-business and security.

Organizing data by topics is now common practice among b-to-b tech publishers. International Data Group’s Computerworld recently launched a revamped version of its Web site. Since summer 2001, its Computerworld.com has employed knowledge centers exploring topics such as IT management, mobile and wireless communications and security.

"They’ve made it easier for buyers and decision-makers to get a large amount of information on specific topics," said Mike Paradiso, media director at Computer Associates, a Computerworld.com advertiser.

CMP Media’s TechWeb, which gathers information generated by InformationWeek and other CMP publications, takes a similar organizational approach. Its Technology in Depth silos include business applications, networking and e-business. Visitors to TechWeb can also visit the individual magazines’ sites, but generally they search by topic rather than by publication. "The vast majority of people search all of the site rather than just the InformationWeek site," said TechWeb’s Sklar. "They recognize what they want to find often transcends brand loyalty."

Business people use the Web to gather information from a variety of sources, including editorial matter, advertisements and peers. "We have seen in focus groups with our readers that they pay as much attention to the ads as they do to the editorial," said Computerworld Editor in Chief Maryfran Johnson.

Advertisers are eager to take advantage of this craving for information on the Internet. "We look at our job as getting information more efficiently in front of the right people," said Rob Middleton, national media director of SF Interactive, which handles Cisco’s online advertising.

One means that Cisco has employed to get information in front of potential customers is microsites on TechWeb. These sites mix information about Cisco products from a variety of sources, including CMP editorial, white papers and links to Cisco’s corporate Web site.

Technology specialists aren’t the only b-to-b publishers to adapt their Internet efforts to the ways business people use the Web.

Gardner Publications Inc.’s Modern Machine Shop has developed "emphasis zones" at its Modernmachineshop.com. These zones are silos that delve into specific elements of interest to the metalworking industry.

Similarly, Sensors magazine, an Advanstar Communications Inc. publication, has developed "Sensors Express," a weekly products e-newsletter. Subscribers can register at Sensorsmag.com. The newsletter is divided into product categories. Columbus, Ohio-based Sensotec sponsors the pressure sensor segment of the newsletter. "It seems to do very well as far as the quantity of leads," said Brent Hart, marketing communications specialist for Sensotec.

Sensorsmag.com recently bolstered the ability of users to get information from peers online. "Wish List" is a feature—formerly available only in the magazine—in which engineers share sensor-related problems and solicit advice from fellow readers. Earlier this year, Sensors magazine moved the feature entirely to the Web, where Editor Barbara Goode believed the interactive nature of the feature could be accelerated.

Successful Farming, which is owned by Des Moines, Iowa-based Meredith Corp., is also focusing on creating a community of readers through its Web site, Agriculture.com.

"We’ve tried to make our mark by playing off another element of this medium—its community nature—by bringing people together into a place where farmers can share information with each other," said John Walter, editor of Agriculture.com. The information discussed has ranged from "what to do in the market today to how to fix a broken combine," he said.

Walter’s Agriculture.com is thoroughly in the Internet’s Phase Three, but he knows Phase Four of the Web is coming. "We’re looking for the next generation of tools that are going to help people evolve that community," he said.

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