by Mary Napier
As potential customers turn to the Internet to research and make product purchase decisions, more companies are trying to market themselves and their products with the use of a web site. But you shouldn’t jump on the bandwagon without proper preparation. The web site needs to be well planned and executed, or the business risks spending money on a web site that doesn’t convey the message it wants or even worse, drives customers to the competition.
Developing a Web Site
Kathryn Fuller is a web site developer with Response Builders, a web site design company specializing in search engine marketing. Response Builders creates web sites that are comprehensive online marketing pieces, serving as useful tools for small to medium-sized businesses. According to Fuller, there are important elements to think about during the initial planning stages. Before beginning a web site project, each company should take time to clearly:
- Identify their target audience who buys the company’s products and services and what would the target audience like to see on the web site
- Outline short term and long term goals
- Research other sites and determine what you like and don’t like
- Establish a reasonable budget for the initial setup of the site and the updating of it
- Set your priorities
Information Management Services LLC in Hillsboro, Ore. started a web site, www.mybinding.com, about three years ago. The company sells binding equipment and supplies, as well as filing systems and supplies. During the initial planning stages, IMS determined what elements it wanted on mybinding.com, set goals for the site, looked at competitors, and figured out ways to market the web site.
“We wanted to create a web site that was simple to navigate, but comprehensive to give our customers lots of choices, and we wanted it to look good and have a good feeling,” said Jeff McRitchie, business manager and the person who developed the site. “Our goal was to grow the business and continue to provide for ongoing growth.”
IMS developed the web site in-house and does all of the updating itself. This is something to consider when you are planning the budget for your project. If there isn’t someone on staff who is capable of developing the web site, your company should acquire several bids from professional web development firms. Then weigh the costs of setup and maintenance. Maintenance should be assessed since it affects the ongoing cost of the web site. “For successful e-commerce web sites, most companies play some sort of role in the maintenance of it,” said McRitchie. “I spend about 10-20 hours a week updating our site.”
Elements of a Successful Web Site
The next step is to determine what elements on the web site will be most successful in attracting and providing information for your audience.
The most important element, according to Fuller, is the content. “Content is king! Be sure content is clear, concise, and meaningful,” said Fuller. “Visitors to a web site are looking for information to satisfy a specific need. Determine the need and supply content that answers their questions.”
According to Fuller, companies shouldn’t forget to “sell” the web site they have created. When creating your site, don’t forget the following:
- Strategically choose images and photography to enhance the marketing message. Be sure to keep download times reasonable for those customers with slower internet connections.
- Optimize your chances with the search engines – a web site is only successful if potential customers know your site exists. Web site code should be written with the search engines in mind.
- Keep your site fresh – update information on your site regularly to encourage visitors to return.
Specific content that could increase traffic to your web site includes reference tools, industry-appropriate articles, and elements that provide customer interaction. “Quality resources on a web site show that you are knowledgeable in your industry,” said Fuller. “As an added bonus, articles and tools of reference can help your site be found in search engines for specific keyword phrases.”
Customer interaction tools also keep your visitors interested and eager to return according to Fuller. Web site promotions, coupons, and referral discounts all give a customer a reason to keep checking your site. You can even demonstrate a product with a short video. “A lot of people think of a web site as an online brochure, but it should be so much more,” said Fuller. “A little interactivity on your web site can leave a great impression with your customers and prospective clients.”
McRitchie also had some advice for a successful web site, “Aim to be the best. There are so many choices, so know what you are trying to do and be the best at it.”
McRitchie suggests doing market research by simply looking at what other people in the business are already doing to see how you can accomplish the same thing. Then come up with a unique idea to market the same products in a new and interesting way. This will make you stand out among the competition.
Marketing Your Web Site
After a site is planned out and developed, marketing the site becomes extremely important. “No one will ever go to your site if they don’t know that it’s out there,” said Fuller. Fuller often uses online marketing strategies that include optimizing web sites for the search engines so the site gets a higher ranking under key word phrases. Building links to your site and paid search engine advertising are other elements to consider in an online marketing plan. Sending e-mails to clients and prospects also can inform them about what is new in your company.
When doing traditional printed materials or advertisements, it is very important to include your web address on everything. Companies also can mention the web address on phone messages, use direct mail, and write press releases. And don’t forget to talk about your web site to current and prospective customers.
Mybinding.com understands the value in marketing your web site. “Any good web site has to have a marketing plan in place,” said McRitchie. “A few things we do are to try to position ourselves positively on search engines, send out e-mails, and do direct mail pieces. We do anything to get our name out there.”
Plan for Success
Web sites can be effective tools to grow your business if they are developed and executed in the right way. If your company is looking to start a web site, be sure to go through the proper steps of planning, development, execution, and marketing. Then make a commitment to update the site and keep the content fresh.
“Planning is very important,” said McRitchie. “E-commerce is no different than any other business. You have to have a business plan to be successful.”
Fuller explains that a web site is only worth the investment if it does what you want it to do. “Just like any other piece of your business, if you’re going to have an online presence, you should devote the time and money necessary to do it right.”
Kathryn Fuller joined the Response Builders team in 2001 and opened the Houston branch of Response Builders in 2004. Fuller combines her web site design experience with up-to-the-minute search engine marketing strategies to provide her clients with a web site that is a true representation of their business. Fuller currently resides in southeast Texas and can be reached at (409) 386-0807 or [email protected]