NEWS ANALYSIS - More women’s websites than you can shake a handbag at - Is supply of women’s sites outstripping the demand? Mark Tungate investigates

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.

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

not.



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

call.’



There is no doubt that women’s sites have been well received by

advertisers.



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

desk.’



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

by title’.



It seems that whether women need them or not, many more websites will be

competing for their attention in the future.



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