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Upholding Business Image

Q:I’m the VP of a small Internet Marketing & Web site promotion company. Naturally, we use our Web site to help publicize our services, and as such consider any feedback we get concerning our site to be very important. Recently we received an e-mail from a disgruntled visitor who criticized us –rather sarcastically too- by basically saying that we have a poorer image because our company uses AOL (America On Line) to host its Web site rather than pay InterNIC to get a domain name.

A:I use the Internet and my website extensively to market my company's products and services. Although I do take advantage of the free website offers that the commercial online services provide, I also have a Web Site with an exclusive domain name that provides complete information about my company. I too have noticed that customers (especially those who are savvy at using the Internet) look down not only on AOL web sites, but on anyone using an e-mail address with an aol.com attached to it. Although the psychology of this phenomenon is perhaps too complicated to explore in this message, I think it's worth paying attention to. AOL has been experiencing a lot of problems lately, and some people have had problems accessing AOL web sites. So, my advice to you would be to take advantage of the free Web Site offer, but also look into creating a stand alone site for your business. Not only will it give your company a greater perceived image, it will also allow you to create a site way beyond anything you could create on AOL. This is a fairly common question. "Do I look unprofessional if I have an AOL e-mail address/website?" Honestly, I'd have to say that yes, you do look unprofessional by having your website on AOL. I think that this is especially true if your business is one that deals with the WWW and the Internet. Yes, your AOL site is free, but who is going to hire a web design firm who won't even spring for their own website and domain name? You might have an argument if your AOL site was interesting and attractive, but frankly it's ugly, dull and unimaginative. I completely agree with the person who criticized you. Using a free AOL web page is fine for an individual who wants to put up pictures of himself and his family on their fishing trip for his relatives to look at, but makes a business of any kind look like it must be a bush-league operation. This is especially true if your business is directly involved with internet marketing and promotion. I don't understand why you would even consider doing anything other than getting your own registered domain name and setting up a "virtual" web site, under your own name, using "virtual" e-mail, so your e-mail can be forwarded to you. Advantages: You look like a real business instead of a kid with an AOL connection, your web site is easy to remember and access, and so is your email address. Costs: $100 to internic. Probably $100 up front to a "web farm" provider and then $30 or so a month. That's NOTHING. What's the big deal? Do it.

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