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On the internet. . .
Jayden Sibert was amazed by all of the commercial growth that took place in the Winchester area after returning from college in 2004.
He was eager to try some of the new restaurants, but unless he happened to stumble upon them during his wanderings around town, he had no way of knowing what all of his options were.
That’s when Sibert decided to partner with fellow Handley High School graduate Mark Turner to start Wincfood.com, an online listing of local restaurants, which includes their addresses and contact information, and descriptions of the types of food they serve.
"It kind of started out small," Sibert said.
Then the partners added the ability for people to submit reviews, and the popularity of the site grew to about 1,600 hits a month.
"After we saw how many people were coming to the site, we realized the advertising potential," Sibert said.
The restaurants pay nothing for their listing on "Food Finder," but rates for button and banner ads range from $40 to $60 a month. Restaurants can also pay $80 a month to be listed in the animated "Our Recommendations" section.
And the reviews, depending on how good they are, can enhance the restaurant’s presence on the site.
But even if the review is somewhat unfavorable, the restaurant can still benefit from it, if handled the right way, according to Ronan Keane, CEO and president of UpClick Marketing, a Leesburg firm that specializes in "optimizing" Web sites, so they’ll achieve high rankings on a search engine’s results list.
"If someone gives a bad review of a restaurant, they should leave it there, and then tell customers what they did to rectify the problem," he said.
Giving consumers the ability to post reviews is similar to blogging, which also has been known to give unsolicited attention, whether negative or positive, to businesses, Keane noted.
"Blogging is definitely influential," he said.
Eraffle.com is another Web site that has caught the interest of local businesses and consumers.
For a fee of about $650, which includes an annual membership and a year’s worth of raffle "campaigns," businesses can secure a space, where information about to-be-raffled items and services is listed, along with a link to receive a raffle ticket number.
Visitors can also click on the space to find out more about the company, and in some cases, access their Web site.
So far, about 30 Winchester area businesses have bought memberships and posted raffles, said Paul Carey, the local representative for eraffle.com, which is headquartered in New York, Hong Kong, Germany, and Panama City.
"Most businesses, when I tell them about this, their jaws drop," he said. "They want to know ‘what’s the catch?’"
Carey became involved with eraffle.com through a friend who put him in touch with one of the company’s board of directors.
After Carey came on board, eraffle.com decided to choose Winchester as a testing ground.
"They wanted to beta test it in an area that was growing but wasn’t too big or too small," he said.
Some items being raffled off right now include a lunch and dinner at Umberto’s, a free hour of pool at Action Billiards, and a free buffet dinner at Golden Corral.
In addition to holding raffles, companies can also post coupons for people to download or donate a portion of its advertising fees to a charity, an aspect of the Web site that Carey says really appealed to him.
"Really, what we want to do is put the control in the hands of the businesses so they can be creative," he said.
Carey, a self-employed videographer, said he knows how expensive advertising is for small businesses. He recalls pouring thousands of dollars into advertising costs when he was running a landscaping company a few years ago.
"I just saw what this could be for the community, and I saw what it could do for my business," he said.
Keane said Internet advertising has definitely leveled the playing field for businesses by giving small firms the ability to advertise alongside its much larger competitors.
"You can literally start advertising on Google for a couple of dollars," he said.
And with 80 percent of people turning to Google as their search engine of choice, according to Keane, that’s a lot of bang for the advertising buck.
"It’s incredibly powerful," he said