New Owners Say DM Is Key to Excite's Profits

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Executives at The Excite Network, formerly iWon.com, are crediting two-plus years of direct marketing on iWon.com as one of the key reasons it turned an immediate profit with Excite.com's member base.


The company jointly spent $10 million with online directory InfoSpace Inc. in late November to buy Excite.com's registered users' e-mail addresses and user names. The sale was part of Excite@Home's bankruptcy deal and also included iWon's purchase of the Excite.com URL and logo. For comparison, @Home spent $6.7 billion in 1999 to acquire Excite.com.


iWon executives chose the 7-year-old Excite name because of its brand recognition.


Under the deal, InfoSpace, Seattle, would run the directory portion of the site and newly named The Excite Network would run the rest. However, Excite@Home's privacy policy prevented the new owners from transferring users' personal information without their consent. As a result, the purchase included the right to ask on the site for their permission to do so until Dec. 31, when members' personalized settings would disappear.


Also, no code, hardware or people came with the deal, so programmers spent six feverish weeks in November and December rebuilding the Excite.com portal.


"Essentially, we bought traffic," said Peter Shapiro, group vice president at The Excite Network, Irvington, NY. "Rebuilding the site was a mammoth undertaking."


During that period, visitors to Excite.com were served splash pages announcing: "Excite is now under new management. What YOU need to do. To keep all of your personalized settings and Excite Inbox e-mail address, simply click Yes! below. Otherwise your settings and e-mail will disappear on December 31."


The "yes" option was a big yellow button, on which 4.5 million people reportedly clicked.


The company continues to reserve the e-mail addresses and user names of those who have not indicated one way or the other.


To continue the re-registration process, the company has been using Excite cookies to identify people who were registered at Excite.com but who had not been back during the December effort.


The Excite Network serves those users a one-time splash page informing them that their personalized settings are gone but that their passwords and Excite.com e-mail addresses are still available if they re-register. So far, that effort has reportedly garnered 500,000 registrants.


As a result, the company claims that between iWon.com and Excite.com, it has 24.2 million names in its file: 11.6 million registered users of iWon.com, on whom it has demographic and self-reported interest information; and 12.6 million users of Excite.com. Of those Excite.com users, there is demographic and self-reported personal interest information on 5 million, and basic e-mail and password information on 7.6 million.


It claims 4.7 million unique daily visitors between the two sites.


The Excite Network's e-mail list is managed internally. The Excite Network also has a postal file of 6 million addresses under management at Direct Media Inc.


Excite Network executives credit direct marketing expertise gained through operating iWon.com as one key to the successful migration of Excite.com's user base.


"From the implementation of the database to the placement and opt-in language of the calls to action, over 90 percent of what we did with the Excite migration, we had done over the past 2 1/2 years on iWon.com and learned along the way," said Bill Daugherty, co-CEO of The Excite Network. "There were countless instances where we looked at each other and said we were glad that we did this before."


For example, testing on iWon.com revealed that two-page registrations convert better than one-page or three-page registrations. Also, a timing change in iWon.com's welcome e-mail to new registrants more than doubled click-through rates back to the site.


When Shapiro, a direct marketing veteran from Reader's Digest and Time Inc., joined iWon.com in January 2000, the company was sending instant confirmation to new registrants. He reasoned that the bell that commonly alerts computer users that new e-mail has just arrived was more than likely diverting new registrants from the site.


"I thought, 'You just took me off your site. Here I am looking at your home page, and you just took me off your site,' " he said.


iWon.com began sending the welcome e-mails at 2 the next morning, and the click rate went from 10 percent to between 28 percent and 42 percent, Shapiro said.


The Excite Network overall claims to be profitable and plans to continue operating Excite.com and iWon.com as separate entities.


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