“Having a presence online is like being in the phone book,” says Maisha Walker. But, as with a telephone directory, not every company on the Internet is prominent enough. Many small businesses have an inadequate Web presence, says Walker, 34, president and founder of Message Medium (www.messagemedium.com), a New York-based marketing firm that helps small businesses increase exposure and profits through the Internet. For business owners, communicating the value of their products and services via the Web is vital to building customer base, bottom line, and brand awareness.
Whether a company’s Website is set up to provide information or to sell merchandise, the site must offer what Walker says is a call to action: “Make sure you clearly tell your customers what you want them to do, where you want them to click, and how to take the next step. And tell them often.”
Looking to build a booming Website? Here are some tips:
- What it takes: “Learn the features and costs involved,” says Walker, in building a Website with purchase capabilities. You’ll need an SSL certificate, a merchant account, shopping cart software, and a payment gateway.
- Look the part: “People are still very nervous about using credit cards over the Internet at sites they don’t know,” Walker concedes. “Make sure your Website is professionally designed to help them trust you.”
- Keep an eye on things. Analyze your traffic statistics; understand which products buyers are most interested in and where they fall in the ordering process.
- Your info, please: Make sure site visitors can get in touch with you (i.e., a “Contact Us” form). Prominently invite them to contact you for information or to offer comments.
- Let it flow: Avoid long blocks of text. “Reading on the Web is different from reading paper,” warns Walker. She recommends making your text easy to scan with the eyes.
- What visitors want: Focus on addressing your customers’ questions and needs. If necessary, trim the company’s philosophy, history, or mission statement.
Common mistakes business owners make with their Websites:
- Assuming cheaper is better. “A one- to two-page professional Website will usually work better for you than a 10-page site created by [someone] inexperienced,” says Walker.
- Not focusing on clients’ needs. Walker recommends finding out what customers’ most pressing issues are when they visit your site and addressing those head-on.
- Obsessing over search engines. “The most important ranking is when someone types your company name or your name into a search engine; you should be at or near the top of the list.” However, you should be realistic about your placement as a startup.
- Not following up. Don’t let visitors leave your site without giving them a chance to be added to your mailing list.
- Overspending on search engine advertising. “The key to generating revenue is choosing the right keywords—lots of them,” says Walker.
Check out these Websites for more information:
- MessageMedium.com offers advice, articles, classes, and Website training for entrepreneurs.
- ClickZ.com offers great articles from industry experts on a wide variety of interactive marketing topics.
- SearchEngineWatch.com provides a wealth of information about getting the most out of search engines