January is a busy time for people searching the net for bargains, holidays for the year, new business ideas, etc. So it is a good time to make sure that your website is getting you the best possible results. It’s also a good time to set out the goals for the results you want from your website in 2009, in order to make sure that your website is working for you. Here are my recommendations:
- Get a face lift. Take a good, objective look at your website and ask yourself, “Does the design of my site reflect the image I want to portray for my business?” In the past you may have felt that you didn’t have the budget for a professionally designed website and took on the job yourself; you may have used a student, relative or other less experienced designer; or perhaps the image of your business has changed over the years since your site was first designed. Now is the time to make the changes to make sure that your site is appealing to your market and portrays your brand in a way that will increase your sales. Find an experienced web development company with a portfolio of websites for clients in similar industries to yours, that shows that they can capture the image required for your business. It’s important that your site isn’t just a bit of text about your business, products and services — make sure your site is based around proven online marketing techniques to move the visitor to become a customer.
- Get Management. (Content Management System vs. Website Management Service). It is important to keep your website fresh, interesting and attractive to keep visitors coming. Ask your web development company about adding a Content Management System , so that you can either update all the pages of your site or perhaps just relevant sections (i.e. News, Events, Rates, etc.) If you think that you will not have the time or desire to make changes to your site yourself, you may prefer to take out a Website Management Service. Most web development companies offer a contract service that will save you money on site alterations and perhaps include other benefits; such as priority or expedited service, a higher level of support, etc.
- Get Results (as in the best possible Search Engine Results). You cannot overlook the great opportunities to increase your traffic through better search engine results. If your site was developed a few years ago, or if you web developer wasn’t search engine savvy, there may be some simple things that can be done throughout your site to improve results. If you are in a very competitive market on the Internet you probably understand the value of search engine placement, but better results may take more time and effort. I still get a lot of new clients that think that search engines are not going to be an important source of visitors to their sites, but within a year they then see the benefit of all that unexpected traffic to bring them new business, as well as PR/marketing and networking opportunities.
- Get Links. Quality incoming links are important for a few reasons. It’s a good way to bring in more traffic. Link building is a good opportunity to network with like minded business people. Search engines track the links into your site and a number of good quality links will improve your search results. For more information, see my post on Link Building the DIY Way.
- Get Freedom (from Spam). Spam has gotten to be an expected factor in using the Internet. The problem is that it is easy to lose the good messages in the spam filter. First consider if you can stop using any addresses that are already getting spammed. Once they are in the spammers lists, they are not coming off and the amount of spam will just grown and grow. Use one address for yourself that will never be used on a website and kept absolutely safe, use another on your website (but encrypted so not exposed to email address harvesting programmes used by spammers) and a third address that you can post on third party sites that may be accessed by spammers (you know this one will get spammed, but you can change this account as needed). Make sure that your web developer “spam proofs” your enquiry forms.
- Get E-Mailing. A few years ago Email Marketing was called the killer marketing Tool. This is still very true and it’s stood the test of time (well a few years is a long time in this rapidly developing industry). Start by adding a subscription form on your website and ask people to sign up every chance you get (enquiry forms, point of sale, etc.). Be sure that you don’t spam – by sending messages to people that have not requested the information – besides being illegal, it’s annoying and not a good way to market your business. Your best targets are people that have used your business before, and it’s usually easy to get them to subscribe for special offers, news and other interesting information that you can pass on. Some businesses find it sufficient to send a newsletter 1-2 times a year, perhaps to help boost business during the slow period. If you can generate interesting, relevant content more frequently – and it suits the nature of your business – you may want to send mailings as often as needed (i.e. whenever new products/services are added, when you are offering a special offer, etc.) We recommend using a third party mailing list management service, like iContact, as it provides a secure way to maintain your list, an easy way to compose professional looking newsletters, makes it easier to get through spam filters and provides good statistics on how many recipients opened your message and clicked links, etc.
- Get Blogging. A blog – a user friendly, online ‘diary’ – is another way to provide interesting, up to date information about your business. The search engines ‘love’ blogs and regular Internet users do as well. There are many tools to make it easy for visitors to refer your blog posts to others using the net. You just need to add links into your website and your blog becomes an excellent marketing tool. Including useful, timely information also helps to establish yourself as an expert in your field and is a good ‘magnet’ for incoming links.
- Get (Social) Networking. If any of the names MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. are not completely foreign to you, you are ready to take the plunge and use one/all of these Social Networking sites to promote your business. Like blogs, these sites are set up so that it’s easy to send ‘your message’ to a large community of people. It takes time to build your community, but as you do, more and more people find out about your business. Using these sites can be less time consuming than writing regular blog posts — but the more time you put in, the more you will get out of it.
- Get a ‘Tech Check’. The best €150 I spent in 2008 was to the West Cork Enterprise Board for a Tech Check, technology audit of our business. The result was a detailed, independent report on the technology we were currently using in our business, along with recommendations for new systems and procedures that we could use now and for any expected expansion. I hesitated to sign up for the service initially as I assumed that the person assigned would be pushing his own services and his recommendations would be geared to that; but it is part of the scheme that the auditor cannot provide the follow up services. In fact, my auditor doesn’t provide such services for a living and most of his recommendations were things I could do myself, were free or very cheap and easy to download from the Internet. So if you have concerns about the security of your data, how to do back-ups more efficiently, if you need a better programme to manage your accounts, etc. this service will get you the answers you are looking for.
- Give Outstanding Service. The one area where many web businesses fall down is in providing a decent level of customer service, so this is a great opportunity for you to stand out from your competitors. Many Irish e-commerce site owners are concerned about the fact that Irish VAT, one of the highest in Europe, has risen and UK VAT has dropped; so prices on Irish sites will appear higher than ever. Yes people are more price conscious these days, but when shopping online more people are concerned about doing business with a reliable, established business that they can talk to if needed. Be sure that your website provides clear contact details. Answer enquiries within 24 hours (sooner, if possible, even if just to say that you’ve received the message and will get back to the sender promptly). Offer delivery times and costs equivalent to your competitors (even if in neighbouring countries). Focus on the customers needs and strive to provide that to them, even if it means giving that little bit extra. This will set you apart from the pack.
With the concern about keeping your business going strong in the current economic climate it’s important to make the most of your current resources, so resolve to make the most of your website and see the results in 2009.