All the answers to your unique business lifestage questions
Too many businesses make the mistake of throwing together websites that look good, do little, and which they assume will make them rich. But for a website to work for your business, it first has to work for your customers.
Instead of thinking of it as a possible cash cow, think of your online presence as an opportunity to sell indirectly, and to explain who you are, what you do, and why you do it better than anyone else.
Use it to do all the things you can't - like being available 24 hours a day, shouting your company name from global rooftops, and creating permanent access to your products and services.
A website is an opportunity to provide what every customer really wants - instant gratification.
Why you need and online presence
Despite the exponential growth of e-commerce and Internet use in general, some organisations still question whether or not they need a presence in this new medium. The answer is complicated and it depends on your target market, the nature of your business and your ability to manage and monitor a company website. However, there are definitely advantages to building up a strong online presence that go beyond merely driving product sales.
- Websites level the playing field: A website is relatively economical and not limited by size. It creates marketing reach that would not be possible through any other medium, allowing small and medium-size companies to compete head-to-head with bigger corporates.
- You can afford it: Compared to other forms of advertising, even the most elaborate website is a relatively low-cost marketing solution. Consider this: posting a flyer to 2 500 potential customers will cost more than R5 000 in stamps alone. For roughly the same price, you could have a basic website designed and hosted for a year.
- Websites are easily monitored: You can track the number of visitors to the site, which pages they visit and what products they purchase. At the same time, you give information to people who come looking for it, whereas traditional marketing often falls on deaf ears. Remember that on the Internet, marketing is done by providing information rather than through persuasion, and more and more people are choosing to do business this way.
- All hours are business hours: With a website your customers can place orders or find information about your business from virtually anywhere, at any time. This allows you to offer a range of value-added services such as electronic catalogues, news groups and customer database management, which you might not have had the resources to do otherwise.
- It's a contact point - and more: The web is often the first place that someone with Internet access looks for information. It is like an extension of your business card, only more flexible - while a card or advert limits you to a few key words, a website gives customers as much or as little information as they want.
- Improve your customer service: As your business grows, personal contact with your customers becomes harder to manage. A website linked to your customer database and a bulk emailing facility offers an automated, cost-effective way of keeping your customers in touch and up to date with your products and services.
- Gain competitive advantage: How well do you know your customers, their preferences and buying behaviour? How well do you know your competitors? What are the trends affecting your industry and how can you take advantage of them? A well-structured website allows you to find, collect and manage as much information as your business can handle.
- Websites are multi-taskers: Besides providing information, you can use a website as a marketing tool to bring in new business, an e-commerce tool to drive sales, or a retention tool to keep existing customers coming back for more. Websites are the true multi-taskers of the working world, and - when carefully managed - can help you to achieve what a dozen employees could not.
Bill Gates once said that in the new millennium, there would only be two types of businesses; those on the Net and those out of business. That point is debatable, but the advantages of having a website are not.
Let the stats tell the story
- More than 40% of people who buy from online retail sites arrive via search engines.
- Only one site out of 100 gets substantial targeted traffic - and these are usually those that have implemented proper search engine optimisation and placement.
- More than 80% of all surfers discover new websites by using search engines.
- When searching the Internet, users generally only view the first ten listed sites - the rest almost never get seen.
- Search engines create more awareness about websites than all other advertising combined, including banners, newspapers, TV and radio.
- If you are planning to launch a new website, or have an existing one, ask your Internet service provider about search engine optimisation and how to improve your site's position in the rankings.
- For more information visit www.searchenginewatch.com.
Be content-rich and keyword-focused
The way you structure the content on the internal pages of your website can dramatically boost the number of visitors that it attracts.
For example, if your website sells cars and you want to include a review of three different car models, don't use one lengthy review covering all the cars in a single web page. Instead, separate the info into separate reviews in three different web pages. Repeat the model name frequently in the page copy and include it in the page's title and meta tags.
You should also try to get inbound links from sources relevant to your page's content. This will increase the relevance of your page and its chances of getting a good position in the search engine results when people search for that particular model.
An eyesore - or a sight for sore eyes?
Fast loading time, platform and browser compatibility are important to the success of your website. But often designers make simple mistakes that could cost you sales and reputation. Consider the following tips:
- Don't use fancy images in the background. They increase page loading time and make it hard to read the text.
- Use plenty of white space between headlines, sub headlines and paragraphs. It makes text easier to read.
- Ensure your navigation menu is readable and easy to find. Use logical names for links and make it easy for users to find the main pages from anywhere in the site.
- Keep design consistent from page to page. If readers get confused, they are likely to leave.
- Keep the font size readable. T ext should be 10 to 12 pixels. Bear in mind that points (the normal measure for font size) is dependant on screen resolution, whereas pixels are fixed. Using the latter ensures that fonts look the correct size regardless of the user's screen resolution or platform.
- Avoid using frames, as search engines have trouble reading the content in them.
- Don't forget the order button. If you sell something online, make the order information visible on every page of your site.