- Brochureware Sites
"Brochureware" sites are the
most common types of web sites on the Internet. They are made up of HTML pages
e-mail and/or forms. Brochureware sites are not "database-driven" so
only limited interactivity with visitors is possible.
This page has three sections: :
Each section outlines techniques which
will allow you to automate aspects of your brochureware site and extend your
otherwise "e-mail only" extranet. The implications of
"random" web site visitors rather than known clients is also
Making the most out of
e-mail links on Brochureware web sites
When visitors click on an e-mail link
on a web page it they normally start up their e-mail client ready to send an
e-mail message. Although this is a very easy technique to use there are two
- The message is typically not
secure i.e. it is not encrypted
- The person sending the e-mail can
change the message contents so you have little control over the format of
Despite these drawbacks:
- You can easily embed a Subject Line into the e-mail
message so you can tell which product or
page the visitor was interested in when they clicked on the e-mail link.
format the contents of the e-mail message in a standard way
AutoResponders are another way to
leverage e-mail messaging from a brochureware web site.
Whether these techniques are available
to you depends on whether your ISP lets you use an
unlimited number of e-mail "aliases" on your web site - for example
one e-mail address per page or per product.
If you can use unlimited e-mail
"aliases", you can assign a
specific e-mail address to a specific page and on that specific page (or
pages) link a specific e-mail address to a specific offer or user action.
any e-mail coming to a specific e-mail address (assuming you have set up your
e-mail system correctly) means only one thing - for example - send a specific
file to the person that sent the e-mail.
This simple technique is the
cornerstone of "AutoResponders" - a VERY useful technique for
handling targeted promotions and offers.
You can also use the same idea to
provide specific documents to specific customers (whether or not you have a web
For example you could use this technique to let
specific documents - e.g. an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
could mean that the sender wants you to send them a copy of their current
financial situation. (To automate this you would need to link the e-mail
address to the customer via an external system. You would need some kind of
password protection and probably an encryption process).
Although e-mail is an
easy way to link to customers from a Brochureware web site, the downsides are:
a) the message is not secure unless
being sent from a secure server
b) each non-standard e-mail has to be processed manually
c) there are limits to what standard e-mail messages can do
To summarise, beware of the built-in limitations of "random" e-mail
when thinking about automating "Brochureware" web sites - beyond
the selective use of AutoResponders.
Using forms and files on a
"Brochureware" web site help standardise incoming information. Forms
therefore enhance the predictability of eBusiness information derived from your
web site, which means you have a far better chance of automating your procedures.
A form is made up of a collection of data fields that you use for gathering information
from people visiting your Web site. Site visitors fill out a form by typing
text, clicking radio buttons and check boxes, and selecting options from
drop-down menus. After filling out the form, site visitors submit the data
they entered, which can be processed in a variety of ways depending on how you
have decided to process the results.
Forms have a variety of uses, such as:
- Gathering visitor information.
- Receiving requests for information
- Collecting order, shipping, and billing information.
- Getting feedback about your site or your service.
- Setting up guest books or on-line bulletin boards.
- Letting people search your Web site.
- Prompting visitors to log in to your Web site with a user name and
Generally, when a visitor submits a form, the data collected inside the
form is processed and saved in one of the following ways:
- The results are saved to a text or HTML file.
Each time a site visitor submits a form, the results are appended to a
file.You can open the file and view the results or create a link to the
file so that site visitors can see it.
- The results are sent to you via e-mail.
Each time a site visitor submits a form, your web site sends you an e-mail
message containing the results of that form.
- The results are saved to a static database.
A key point with
"Brochureware" web sites is that except for automated responses via
the web site itself, everything is one-way traffic - it is the visitor sending
you information. Also, in most cases there is a delay between the visitor sending the information
and you receiving the information and acting upon it.
Automating downloads from / to
your web site
When designing your site for
eBusiness, the time it takes for the information you gather on your web site
and the effort required to act on that information both need to be considered. To
a certain extent the format of your data dictates your available
HTML Files - If your
web results are being saved to a publically available HTML file, chances are
you won't need to download it to your system for processing - although you
may want a backup from time to time.
E-mail - E-mail created via a web form is likely to be using a
predictable format and the information
you want is text embedded inside the e-mail message itself - as opposed to
Depending on your e-mail package, there are many ways to process these types
For example, you could use your
e-mail package to automatically identify which form was used, and then strip
out the contents and append the contents to a predetermined data file that
was periodically imported into your desktop accounting package.
This is the basis of a
simple order entry system driven via your web site. (You probably won't have
a Credit Card Number using the above scenario because the form was not
processed via a secure server, but for existing customers who have accounts with you, the above scenario may be perfectly
Text Files / Database Files
- Although these two data formats are conceptually different, they are both still
The software used to transfer the
files saved on your your web server to your office computer is called FTP software. FTP
(File Transfer Protocol) software is available from many vendors, but there
are two distinct types:
You run Per Session FTP software
each time you want to use it - either manually or automatically. Examples
Persistent FTP software provides
an integrated and continuous link between your Desktop PC and your web site.
Both approaches are equally valid. Aside from personal preference, an
important issue is whether it costs you money to be persistently
linked to your web site - either on-line charges and/or telephone
If the marginal costs of your telephone and on-line time is zero, then
continuously being connected to your web site means that you can treat the
files on your web site as if they were part of your internal network. (A
persistent connection may not be a significant advantage - unless you have a fast connection to your web site you can't work quickly with larger data files).
The more typical scenario is a "per session" connection - your desktop software routinely checks to
see if one or more files on your server have changed or a new file has been
added - and if it has - you automatically copy / move the file from your web
site to your desktop system so you can process them
Most FTP software lets you automate the reverse sequence - i.e. you can
upload files from your desktop system to your server. This can be
particularly useful when publishing relatively dynamic information on a
regular basis - for example price lists and other time sensitive
To summarise - Capturing information from visitors to your web site can
be standardised by using Forms. You easily set up systems that download
files from your web site automatically, and at low cost.
eMail, Forms/Files and PERL/PHP Scripts
PERL and PHP are
"scripting" languages that can be used to help automate your web
site and your business. Some
sites are almost 100% PERL / PHP scripts, and resources for both languages
One limitation to PERL / PHP is that many ISP's do not
let you use your own scripts on their
shared servers. They are concerned about rogue scripts bringing the server
to it's knees or compromising security.
Even though scripts can be time intensive,
and are likely to cost you more than straightforward HTML and/or Form/File
development, the results can make your life so much easier by totally
automating your links to AND from your clients.
The bottom line is that if you want
to do something special, PERL and PHP will definitely help. And if your current
ISP won't cooperate - move to a new ISP.
(We have extensive experience developing unique web-related applications
in PERL / PHP so if you need help to automate your brochureware site we are available on a time and expenses
options | E-Mail Only systems | Database-driven