When Boots and the Daily Telegraph announced the launch of
Handbag.com in September, media owners seemed to wake up to the
possibility of targeting women on the web.
Since then, barely a week has passed without somebody launching a site
aimed at women: Associated New Media’s CharlotteStreet.com, Freeserve’s
iCircle and Emap’s Red Direct to name a few.
Television took 70 years to target specific groups, but the net seems to
have managed it in less than ten.
Of course, many will say that the web was never going to be a broadcast
medium. It works best as a one-to-one marketing tool, and women-oriented
services give sales staff a great hook for pulling in advertisers.
But can standalone women’s sites generate enough traffic to attract big
brands? A new survey from Optimedia, called ’Women on the Web’, suggests
The agency says that 39 per cent of web users are now women, up 31 per
cent on last year. But Optimedia’s research, drawn from a number of
focus groups, indicates that women aren’t necessarily looking for sites
aimed specifically at them. ’No-one had even thought of the web offering
different things to men and women. Younger women especially found the
idea of specific women’s content very patronising,’ says Anthony Jones,
Optimedia’s European research director.
The survey quotes data from MMXI Europe that lists women’s top five
sites as Amazon, AOL, Clara.net, Jungle.com and Lastminute.com.
Having said that, Handbag.com says it now has 200,000 users and aims to
pull in 10 per cent of the 3.2 million women online. ’The figures speak
for themselves,’ says head of marketing Alicen Stenner. ’Most of the
criticism has come from experienced internet users. But the highest
number of new users are women and we provide them with a first port of
There is no doubt that women’s sites have been well received by
Pat Connolly, commercial manager at CharlotteStreet.com, says: ’Women’s
sites were something advertisers were very much looking for. At the
moment there are 55 campaigns running or about to run on the site.’
In common with the Telegraph, Associated New Media realised that
spinning off a website from an existing title was no guarantee of
success. According to Optimedia’s Jones, the internet ’is viewed in very
different gender terms to other media’.
’Women see magazines as an indulgence,’ he says, ’a way to treat
themselves to a few moments of quiet relaxation. This is very different
to the more utilitarian appeals of the internet, which is sampled at a
Emap has got around this by building branded websites around the
internet’s special capabilities. Red Direct will be a fully fledged
e-catalogue, while its previous offering, Escape Routes, combines a
travel magazine with a holiday booking site. Chief executive Kevin Hand
says he will develop website versions of Emap’s women’s magazines ’title
It seems that whether women need them or not, many more websites will be
competing for their attention in the future.