© Diane M. Aull
Are you one of the 60% of small to mid-sized businesses that don’t yet have a website?
A website offers these advantages:
- It’s available 24 hours a day, even when your office or store is closed.
- It works in the background, marketing your business and providing basic customer information and support — unattended.
- If you choose, you can even sell products directly over the Web, allowing you to potentially reach customers outside of your normal geographic reach.
It’s easy to get excited about the possibilities of having a website. But a good website isn’t free. Whether you hire someone to design your site or you do it yourself, there are costs associated with getting online, both in dollars and in time.
So how do you help ensure you’ll get a positive return on your investment?
You don’t have to sell directly online to make money with your site.
It isn’t necessary to sell products online for your web site to have a positive impact on your bottom line. Search engines are rapidly developing "local search" tools to help people find businesses right in their own home towns. The number of people using the traditional print Yellow Pages is declining every year.
A web site allows you to reach prospects you might be missing with traditional advertising and marketing methods.
A study by the Kelsey Group published in May 2004 found that small businesses less than 10 years old generally spend about half as much on advertising as similar businesses at least 20 years old. Of those newer small businesses, only 52% have opted for a traditional Yellow Pages listing. At the same time, 90% of these businesses have a web site!
These businesses know that when you have a limited advertising budget — and who doesn’t? — a web site can be a very cost-effective option.
At a minimum, your business must have a site that lets potential customers know how to contact you, what sorts of products and services you offer, and how to find your offices or showroom. These are sometimes referred to as "brochure sites."
What is a brochure site?
You can think of a brochure site as sort of a "Yellow Pages ad on steroids." It allows you to include all the information you’d traditionally include in a Yellow Pages ad, plus all sorts of extras that a Yellow Pages ad could never accommodate.
And you can probably get a complete site designed, coded and hosted for less than you’d spend on just a single Yellow Pages print ad for one year.
Of course, you can choose to take it further and actually offer products for sale directly through your site. (Just try doing that with a printed Yellow Pages ad!) Whether you decide to sell directly online or use your site for lead-generation and marketing only, there are a few things you can do to maximize your site’s earnings potential.
The basics — maintain a professional appearance.
What would you think of a store that features grease-streaked windows, a grimy floor, dust-covered displays and products in dirty, crushed and torn boxes tossed willy-nilly around the room? If you were unlucky enough to stumble into a place like that, it’s a good bet you wouldn’t stick around for long, much less purchase anything!
Treat your web site like a showroom, because that’s what it is.
Unless you’re an experienced auto mechanic, when your car breaks down you’re probably not going to try to fix it yourself. Just so, when it comes to designing your web site, if you’re not a graphic designer with experience in working for the web, you may want to hire or contract with such a person. This is not the time to recruit the neighbor kid who "knows computers." Many professional designers have very economical packages for small business marketing sites.
If you do decide to develop your site yourself, you might wish to consider a service such as Site-Build-It! This service includes most of the tools you’ll need to design and develop a successful, professional marketing web site, with the option to expand into e-commerce whenever you’re ready.
Make a good first impression with your domain name
What’s one of the first thing most people will see when they see your site listed in the search engines or when they come to visit? Your domain name!
Many site owners miss the mark when it comes to registering a domain name. First, you must actually register a domain name! Even if your hosting company offers the option of setting up a site without a registered domain name, you don’t want people to have to type in things like www.myhostingcompany.com/~mycompanyname/index.html in order to find your business online.
Second, resist the urge to register a "keyword-enhanced" domain with a dozen hyphens in it. This is not the ticket to top rankings in the search engines that some "experts" claim; worse than that, it’s hard for potential customers to remember and often is perceived as unprofessional. Pick something that relates to your business and is short, memorable and easy to spell. The best bet is probably your company name, if it’s available.
In general, the the goal is for your domain name to be:
- Related to your business or products
- Easy to spell and type
Sticks and stones may break your bones, but the wrong words can hurt your web site
While it may not seem all that important, people do notice the grammar and spelling on your site. Typos, grammatical errors and misspelled words can all give your business a less-than-professional appearance, and send potential customers running for your nearest competitor.
On the Web, your competition is always just a single mouse click away. Don’t give your visitors reasons to turn around and leave before they’ve gotten halfway through the door.
With just a little care and effort, you can have a website you’re proud of, a site that generates income for your business — even if you don’t directly sell products or services online!
Resources and information
- Stanford credibility survey (10 guidelines: http://credibility.stanford.edu/guidelines/index.html)
- Site-Build-It! affordable, complete web site hosting, development and marketing tools.