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A Wide World for Women

Women's use of the Internet is soaring. Savvy Web

sites are taking advantage of that and targeting female users.


by Anita Price

 It started as a trickle but now it's a torrent. Only 6% of Internet surfers were women when the Web began gaining widespread public acceptance in 1994. A year later, it was 10%.

Today, Jupiter Communications estimates the female Web population to be 45%; other analysts estimate the percentage of women online to be more than 50%. In 1998, the number of female America Online members surpassed the number of males on the nation's most popular online service by a ratio of 52 to 48%.

Forrester Research estimates that 39.6 million women, or 29% of the women in the United States, are online; and by 2003, roughly half of all women in the United States, or a projected 71.2 million, will have an Internet connection.

Considering women control or influence more than 80% of household purchase decisions (according to Advertising Age and U.S. News and World Report), the growth of the female Internet population is especially good news to e-commerce sites.

Analysts see big opportunities for Web sites aimed at women because it's such a fast-growing market. "Pink" sites targeted at women are proliferating like bunnies. Among the top women-oriented sites are Networks, iVillage and Oxygen Media. attracts more than 4 million visitors each month.'s membership consisted of approximately 2.1 million unique members as of June 30, 1999, an increase of 470% compared to the same date in 1998. Oxygen offers a hub of women's sites, including Moms Online, Thrive, and Electra, which draw roughly 57 million page views per month.


Audience Behavior

This phenomenal increase in female Web users represents a huge marketing opportunity for sites aimed at women, as well as sites that aren't gender specific but want to attract more women. But Web marketers should pay as much attention to what this audience does on the Web as who they are and the numbers they represent.

Said Shini Reddy, marketing director of PrimeLight, the e-commerce backbone behind such fashion, beauty and cosmetic brands as Smashbox Cosmetics and Bisou Bisou: "Men use the Internet for information on demand. Women use the Internet for shopping, career advice and to learn about experiences of other women. Women's lives are multi-faceted. They're driven by convenience. They like that they can use the Internet 24 hours a day. They mine for information."

While these comments may sound like generalizations, they mirror some of the published research on Web behavior. Understanding the differences in Web behavior between men and women is critical to attracting this growing segment of the Web market.

However, Web site producers should also recognize that women are people first and women second. They want a lot of the same things that men want from the Web–fast-loading pages, good values and security.

Web site producers can leverage the increasing numbers of women on the Net to boost their site traffic, build their online brand and increase customer loyalty by employing the following marketing strategies:


Creating Alliances

The Web is all about partnerships. Sites targeted at women and those broad audience sites that want to attract more women can build traffic through referrals. Building partnerships with other site producers that target women can benefit both sides of the partnership.

One such example is a partnership deal between and Good Housekeeping.

Understanding that conducting safe, secure e-commerce transactions is a concern among women, especially those new to the Web, and Good Housekeeping produced an online shopping guide for the 1999 holiday season. Research by Good Housekeeping revealed that their readers were very interested in e-commerce, but that they also had concerns about which sites they can depend upon and trust. In response to these concerns, the guide will not accept advertising from any site unless it passes the Good Housekeeping Institute's tests for reliability. There's something very reassuring to women about the Good Housekeeping name. For many women shopping online, the Good Housekeeping endorsement of e-commerce merchants might get them past the security issues.

In another female-focused partnership, iVillage joined Netpulse Communications to advertise to women while they work out. iVillage's name, banners and content appear on NetPulse Stations, devices connected to recumbent bicycles and stair-climbing machines in 300 gyms nationwide. iVillage is targeting a captive audience; women who work out, but who have limited time to do so.

Other partnership opportunities include content syndication and affiliate programs (see articles in October and November issues of WWWiz magazine for more about online syndication and affiliate programs).


Search Engine Positioning

Roughly 85 to 90% of new traffic arrives to a site via one of the major search engines. Consequently, Web marketers trying to reach those first-time female users should register with the major search engines, Yahoo, Excite, Alta Vista and AOL. For best positioning on these engines, keywords should be placed in both the title and heading of the Web page. Using specific keywords, rather than general ones, will also help to move the site to the top of the search engines.


Online Advertising

Although banner ads have been found to be less effective for increasing site traffic than traditional offline media and other online traffic-generating programs, they should not be overlooked as a means of increasing site traffic, especially when targeting women who are new to the Web. Many popular brands are using banner advertisements to bring new visitors to their sites, including Maybelline, which is running a series of banner ads on sites such as, and the Teen People site to attract younger women to its site.


Opt-in Newsletters/Ezines

Opt-in (or permission-based) email newsletters are very effective in building an online brand and increasing customer loyalty. These are newsletters sent in either graphical or text format to site visitors who sign up to receive them. Ezines can be informational, educational or entertaining. In order for them to be effective, they must offer some value to the recipient.

According to Reddy of PrimeLight, opt-in newsletters have been one of the most effective marketing tools for promoting the network's fashion and cosmetics brands. Knowing her audience's spending behavior has helped. She times the email newsletters to arrive a few days before the 15th of the month so that the recipients can allocate money from their upcoming paychecks accordingly.


Traditional media

Offline branding bridges traditional and online media to increase site traffic. Web site producers, especially those trying to attract new female Web users, should use traditional media to create awareness.

Nordstrom launched its women's footwear site this fall with a $15 million advertising campaign that ran in traditional media, including broadcast spots during primetime and cable programming aimed at women, outdoor ads in selected markets, and print ads in newspapers and fashion, entertainment and business magazines.

Sites lacking Nordstrom's behemoth marketing budget can still take advantage of traditional offline media by targeting key geographic markets with small-scale print, broadcast or direct mail campaigns to attract new women to their sites. Advertising on cable TV stations targeted specifically to women is a very affordable means for Web site producers with small budgets to create awareness and build their online brand.

All advertising in offline media should include the site's URL. Results can be tracked by utilizing a unique URL for each medium.


Customer Loyalty Programs, Contests and Promotions.

Customer loyalty programs and promotions are also an effective means of marketing to women online., an online destination for women professionals and business owners, recently launched a loyalty-building promotion that awards two weekly winners with 25,000 ClickMiles between now and Feb. 6. The awards are redeemable for frequent flyer miles from 10 major airlines.

In a fall campaign, Maybelline's site featured the familiar faces of Christy Turlington and Sarah Michelle Gellar inviting visitors to enter a contest to become the faces of Maybelline online for one year.

Women in droves are realizing that the Web is "their" medium. It thinks like they do. It's multi-faceted. And it's open 24 hours.

Women are a forceful segment of the Internet population. Serving them and marketing to them is crucial for Web site producers who want to capitalize on their growing presence on the Web.

Anita Price is public relations director at Schraff Group, a fully integrated Internet marketing communications firm with a successful 22-year history. The firm leverages its expertise in advertising, public relations, Internet application development and Internet business consulting to offer its clients truly integrated business and marketing support for Internet companies. Schraff PR is especially adept at executing PR campaigns for Pre-IPO Internet start-ups and established Internet ventures. Additional information can be accessed at


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