By Vivian Manning-Schaffel
Among the oldest forms of divination, astrology is thought to date back as far as ancient Babylon. This esoteric science has advanced significantly in the twentieth century, inspiring a myriad of famous thinkers (Carl Jung, for example) to devote hours upon hours of study to prove there is something to it. Today, astrology is a multi-million dollar business, with an endless number of planetary experts poised to tell you about your sign.
Twenty years ago, Astrodienst began as a small Swiss company devoted to astrology chart generation and interpretation. Since teaming up with famous American astrologer Liz Greene in the 1980s, Astrodienst has developed a system that imitates the experience of a chart reading with Greene in the flesh.
Astrodienst's site Astro.com went live in 1996 and grew into one of the best-known astrology sites in the world, registering more than two million visitors per month. A brand with a considerable international customer base, the site is viewable in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Dutch. Citing itself as dispensing the ''world's best horoscopes,'' we clicked onto Astro.com to see how predictable the brand is online.
At first click, Astro.com is packed full of information, with a look and feel that is more clinical than astral (perhaps it's the abundance of links). A lengthy side navigation bar makes it easy for first-time visitors to visit site sections at a glance. The considerable content, geared toward both the novice and avid astro hound, confirms the site's positioning as the arbiter of all things celestial.
When you have to educate consumers about your service as well as your brand, it's important to provide visitors with enough value-added content to keep ‘em clicking until they buy, and Astro.com is quite successful at this end. Freebies are positioned at the top of the home page to entice those who are clicking for the novelty of it. Among the site's offerings are free printable charts with brief descriptions of the aspects -- a great way to give visitors a good taste of information without giving away too much. Users can enter, examine, and store up to four detailed charts by simply parting with an e-mail address. The site even offers a free daily e-mail horoscope based on the specific configurations in your chart.
Among the pay services are detailed chart analyses for you and compatibility charts for just about anyone you deal with: your boss, your kid, your lover. There are also specialty charts available that focus on aspects of a person's life, be it career, love, etc. Each description sounds enticing and the prices are cheaper than the going rate for in-person consultations.
For the experienced astrologer, the day's aspects are posted on the home page like a weather report. Users can purchase or download free chart software, read articles by site partner Greene, learn about new planet discoveries, study the charts of various countries, even download an ephemeris that contains over 3000 years of planetary aspects -- the amateur astrologer's mother lode. There are even a few pages devoted to educational institutions and programs that offer classes and certificates in astrological study.
With such an abundance of value-added content, Astro.com does a great job of reinforcing its position as the place to go online to learn about astrology. Its free offerings do a decent job of engaging first-time visitors, capturing their demographic information, and luring them into purchasing pay services that seem quite comprehensive -- by description, anyway. The look and feel of the site seems a bit perfunctory, but, until its stars align visually, Astro.com has aspects indicating a bright future.