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The Truth About Web Sites
By Deb Hastings

After years of reading articles about web sites, designed either to encourage businesses to get one, or to make you feel better about having spent large amounts of money on one, I decided it was time to tell the truth: There are millions of dollars being wasted on web sites!

Does this mean the “wasted money” is on unnecessary sites? No! It means there are an incredible number of shoddy web sites on the Internet! This article will address the four most important questions you should ask to make sure you have an effective web site.

Should you have a web site?
For most businesses, the answer is "yes." This doesn't necessarily mean you need a large, complicated, expensive web site, but you should probably have at least an Internet "presence." A web site can be a very effective marketing tool, even if you market only to your local area. It allows you to provide current information about your business, information that can be updated as needed, without the expense of reprinting materials.

There are three major reasons to have a web site:

  1. Generate revenue
  2. Increase name recognition
  3. Educate

Most businesses want their site to be a #1 - too many are actually a #2.

Who Should Design/Build Your Web Site?
In theory, anyone can build a web site, if they can figure out the software - not everyone can design a web site. Once the software is learned, too many then tout themselves as “web site designers.” Should you hire them? For a personal site, sure. For a business site that you want to generate revenue - no.

There are three areas of expertise that must be in place to create an effective web site:

  1. Technology - proficiency with the software
  2. Design & Layout - there really are “rights & wrongs” and principles to be learned
  3. Marketing - directing the browser to become a customer

There are too many sites on the Internet that are absolutely beautiful, that include some of the most incredible bells and whistles the technical geniuses have created - that don’t generate a dime of revenue.

What Should Be in Your Web Site?
The content of a web site will vary depending on the type of business being presented. The first thing you need to look at is the length of time it takes to load your site - the more graphics, bells and whistles, the longer it will take, and the higher the likelihood that someone will lose patience and go elsewhere.

As for the specific content of your site, the first thing you must do is look at your marketing plan. A web site is only one component of a marketing plan. Therefore, the content of your web site must tie to your “conventional” marketing efforts. You must maintain a continuity of image and message with all of your marketing materials.

You have about 3-5 seconds to grab the browser's attention, and strike some type of common bond, something that will make them say, “What's this?” or “That's me!” If all they see is “Look how wonderful we are!” you've missed the mark. Prospective customers don’t care how wonderful you are unless or until they get the feeling you might have what they need. Then they want to know how great you are. In other words, you must address the question in a browser's mind - “What's in it for me?”

If you have a web site that includes a great deal of information about your company, and products that can be ordered on-line, be sure it's very well organized. The browser must be able to easily determine what they want to see and where to find it. They won't bother clicking around for long - if it feels like “voice mail hell” they'll go elsewhere.

In order to know the effectiveness of your site, you should invest in tracking software - not only how many people go to your site, but where they go within your site, how long they stay there, and whether they ask for information or, better yet, buy something on-line. The amount of detailed statistics available is incredible - and valuable. If you know that 500 people hit your site, and only 2 stayed there for any length of time, it would tell you that your home page needed some serious work!

How Do You Market Your Web Site?
Does this sound like a foreign concept? Too many people think that registering your site with every imaginable search engine will bring you all the customers you want. Not true. Relying on search engines is far too passive to be effective.

The concept of hits is highly overrated. Let me give you a visual - if you're walking down a shopping mall and glance to your side and look in a store's window, that's like a hit on the Internet. You need to get more than ‘hits’ on your site - you need to get business!

Like all marketing, you must be proactive and very targeted. Again, marketing your web site must coordinate with the rest of your conventional marketing efforts. to do this you need to have a very specific description of your target market. This doesn't mean who you can do business with, it means the ideal (most profitable) customer for you. Hopefully you network with people and affiliated companies in order to develop “referral source networks;” you need to do the same thing electronically. This will start with mutual links, but there are a number of other creative ways you can electronically network.

Be sure you have your web address and a general e-mail address on everything that has your company name! That means letterhead, business cards, fax cover sheets, brochures, flyers - everything! I recommend every business site have a general e-mail address of “info@xyz.com.” Don’t rely on prospects reading your mind - give them something generic that will get them in touch with you easily.

Make sure that your conventional database is updated with your customers’ and prospects’ e-mail addresses. This will allow you to keep in touch with them electronically. Just as with broadcast faxing, though, you must give them the option of not receiving information from you by e-mail.

Your web site must be a living, breathing entity, providing new information and incentives for returning to your site on a regular basis. If you put up a site and just leave it there, you'll be disappointed. Whenever you update your site with new and exciting information, be sure to let everyone know! Do press releases (if it's really ‘news’), broadcast faxes or e-mails to your database - anything you can to direct people to your web site! Once there, make sure they can find the new and exciting information!

If you're going to hire someone to help you with marketing your web site, be sure it's a company that understands the Internet and how to combine electronic and conventional marketing in an affordable and effective way!

A web site is not a marketing panacea. It is a tool - a marketing vehicle. You must still have the other marketing activities in place - and you must still be able to sell. But a web site can reach an unlimited number of potential customers in the blink of an eye - make sure you catch their eye and keep their attention!

Deb Hastings is the owner of Business Marketplace, LLC, which provides affordable and effective graphic design and marketing services. She has over 21 years of experience working with small to medium-sized businesses to increase the effectiveness of their marketing efforts, using both conventional and on-line methods, and the coordination of the two. She teaches at the community college level on this topic. Deb's expertise includes the development and writing of marketing materials and the implementation within the framework of a comprehensive, effective and affordable marketing plan. She can be reached at (336) 237-1293, at deb@businessmarketplace.com or visited at www.businessmarketplace.com.