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Have you had a website built because you've had prospects and customers ask for your website address? Or, perhaps because you've met or heard about some small business owners who have used their website to bring in a significant amount of new business? Did you pay a web developer thousands of dollars to put your business on the web? Or spend countless hours of your own time setting up a website yourself?
And, now that your site has been up a couple of months, you are beginning to think the web isn't such a hot marketing tool. In fact, you haven't gotten a single sale you can trace to your website. What happened? What's wrong? What can you do to remedy the situation (or avoid the problem if you're putting up your first website)? Here are twelve important guidelines to help you fine tune your site to make it a more effective marketing tool. The list below is based on proven best practices and ways to correct common mistakes that businesses make when they set up a website.
1 - Make sure your site looks professional
Take a hard, cold look at your site - or ask a friend who will be brutally honest to look at the site. Does it look professional? Are the graphics professional-quality and clear? Are the fonts, font sizes, and font colors used in a consistent way? Or does your site include design flaws like these that immediately mark it as an amateur production:
- Photos that are squeezed or stretched out of proportion
- Multiple elements on the page that are blinking, bouncing, scrolling, or turning in circles
- Multiple styles of type used for headlines and body copy
- Colored background graphics or textures that make it difficult to read the type
- Background graphics that are inappropriate for the content of the site (eg.: bubbles on a site selling bookkeeping services)
- Text blocks that are out of alignment
First impressions matter on the web, just as they do anywhere else. And the first impression your site makes should be one of professionalism and appropriateness for the markets you serve.
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2 - Don't use the name of your company as the web page title
Every web page has a windows-style title bar. The title that appears in that title bar is determined by what you include in the title "tag" in the html code for the page. You or your web site designer may be tempted to make the name of your company the title of the page, or at least to put the name of your company first in the title. After all, it's nice to see your name in "lights," even if it is just on the web.
That's not a good idea, however, unless the name of your business includes a descriptive term (called a keyword or key phrase) that someone looking for your services would search for to find what you sell. The reason: Search engines place heavy emphasis on the words in the title bar. Like the text on your page, the closer the text in the title bar matches the term a web surfer is searching for, the higher your site will rank when the results of the search are displayed.
3 - Don't let your home page be nothing but a photo, or worse an old flash presentation
Search engines feed on the text on your pages. They can't read photos. If all the words on the page are actually incorporated into an image, the search engines won't understand what the page is about.
Flash is no longer supported by most web browsers, so if you site is old and has a flash presentation, it might be blocked, preventing people from reaching the site at all.
4 - Focus the home page and product pages on your customers' interests, not yours
You're proud of your business and your accomplishments. (As you should be.) So, it's tempting to write a lengthy description of your business accomplishments and run it on your home page with a big photo of yourself, your building and/or your employees, saying, "We're here to serve you." But prospects and customers aren't coming to your site to learn about all the great things you've accomplished. They're coming to your site to find out what you sell and how it will help them.
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Get their attention with benefits-oriented headline and text. The headline should make clear what you do and suggest a benefit. For example, "Fast, accurate transcription for Monroe County Medical Offices and Hospitals," or "Phone systems that grow with your business."
Don't toss out that company information, though. After you interest the customer in your products or services, they may want to know more about your company before deciding to do business with you. So, if the purpose of your web site is to sell your product or services, make the company information a link off your home page, not the focal point of the home page.
5 - Invite customers and prospects to join an email list
Just because someone got to your site once, doesn't mean they'll remember it or find it again. To get customers and prospects to remember you and your website, ask them to give you their email address so you can stay in contact with them. To encourage website visitors to join your email list, offer them something they'll find useful such as a free newsletter you'll send regularly, a special report, or perhaps you'll send them coupons or notices of special offers, or new products.
6 - Avoid a cluttered look
If you sell multiple products, you want them all to be found. And if you are being billed by the number of "pages" on your web site, you may want to keep costs down. But don't try to squeeze dozens of images or product descriptions on a single page. The page will look cluttered and make it difficult for visitors to find the products or information they want.
Instead, put small photos of a few of your best-sellers or most representative products on the home page, and then have links to other products in your catalog. Break up the links into logical categories. For instance, if you sell sandals, you might have categories for women's sandals, men's sandals, and children's sandals. If you sell footwear, you might have pages for men's footwear, women's footwear, and children's footwear, and then break down each of those pages into categories such as sneakers, shoes, sandals.
7 - Minimize graphic sizes to make sure your pages load quickly
Photos and other graphic images make your pages look appealing and help illustrate what you sell. So, they are important to include. But don’t let the size of graphics slow down your web site. In most cases, images should be thumbnail size - no more than 1 to 1 1/2 inches in size. If a larger image is needed to properly display an item, then you can add a link that says "Click here to see a larger image." That way big images that take a long time to display will only be displayed by people who really need to see a bigger picture.
8 - Be sure you've included important supporting information
To turn web surfers into customers, you'll want to provide enough supporting information about what you sell to make them feel comfortable buying from you. If you sell software, for instance, you'll need information about what platform the software uses, compatibility with other products, system requirements, and links to press reviews, if any. If you sell graphic design services, the "supporting information" you need should include a portfolio of work you've done. If you provide consulting services, it would be a good idea to include case studies describing client problems, what you did to solve them and how they benefited as a result. (Be sure to get the client's permission before using their name in this way on your site.) A page with testimonials from satisfied customers is beneficial as well.
9 - Make sure it's easy to place an order
Imagine how annoyed you'd be if you ran into the supermarket to pick up a container of milk, and couldn't find the checkout counter? Website visitors are no different. They will get annoyed if they have to scroll up and down or side to side to find a place to order from you. Avoid the problem by keeping pages short and including a buy now button or link in the same location on every page. A good location is just below the text that describes any product or service.
10- Be sure your contact information is easy to find
Customers not only want to know what you sell and who you are, they want to know how to reach you. They may have questions about the merchandise you are selling, want to know who they can contact if there is a problem with their order, or prefer talking to a "real person" instead of ordering online. Avoid losing sales by including your phone number, store location (if you have one) and email address on every page.
11 - Include your website link in all your social media profiles. Once you have the site set up to look attractive and encourage people to sign up for your mailing lists, be sure to include the website name and link in all your social media profiles. If prospects like what you are saying in social media conversations, chances are they'll take a look at your website before they pick up the phone and call you or email you for more information.
12 - Share links with other businesses in your community
The tips above will help you get found in search engines and help make your pages more appealing to potential customers. But even in the Internet age, business still has as much to do with who you know as what you do. So talk to business owners who sell different products and services than you do, but serve the same market. Help get each others' pages found by swapping links and giving each other referrals.
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