Developing a Good Web Site
Fundamental among the basic elements to consider in the development of your e-Strategy is the fact that you must have a good web site.
Many business people that I speak with are of the opinion that their web site is like a billboard on the Information Superhighway. Unlike traditional billboards, having a web site without promoting it effectively is like having a billboard on Route 79 somewhere outside of Podunk, Michigan. There is such a place. I’ve been there. Not much traffic…(we’ll talk more about web site promotion in a bit)
Why Are You Online?
As mentioned earlier, the principle of “One Thing – Focus” is critical to your success on the Internet. So to is the development of a very clear objective statement for your online activities. What is it that you intend to do, specifically and why are you online?
The 4 Reasons for Developing a Web site
If the majority of businesses that have had limited or no success on the Internet were honest with themselves, they would realize that they have no clear direction when it comes to the Internet. This manifests itself in their lack of focus and their inability to state, in no uncertain terms, why they are online. To help you understand your own business and to assist you in developing your specific reasons for existing on the web, I offer the following 4 Reasons for Developing a Web site
1) Building Your Brand
Branding is a term that you hear most often bandied about in relation to big product names like CocaCola, General Motors, Microsoft, and so on. Not so coincidentally, these are some of the most well known brand names in existence today.
These companies recognize that the perception that exists in their customer’s and consumer’s minds (which is essentially the brand message) is a valuable commodity. It is so valuable that often times it is considered as the most valuable asset of any company. For example, the Microsoft brand, which is one of the most well recognized brands in the world, is worth 65 Billion dollars, according to Interbrand, the brand valuation company.
You may be thinking, well, how does that affect me and my small business and the Internet? As follows: Those giant companies didn’t start out as giants, they began life in somebody’s basement or garage or in a back room somewhere. Over time they were able to define a very specific category of market and then dominate that category. As a result, their brands came to be identified with that category. The meaning of their brand names evolved accordingly and became associated with a positive image in the mind of the consumer..
In their book, The Fall of Advertising and The Rise of PR (Harper Business, 2002), Al and Laura Ries submit that, “The best way to establish a brand is to create a new category...This is a revolutionary concept in the sense that it goes against conventional thinking.” They go on to say that, “Creating a brand and defending a brand are two major functions of a marketing program. PR creates the brand. Advertising defends the brand.”
As indicated above, PR (public relations) builds the brand. There have been more cases of brand building failures that were directly related to the misuse of advertising for this purpose, than most advertising and marketing people care to remember.” Al and Laura Ries go into significant detail about this point in their book. It is incumbent upon you, the small businessperson, not to make the same mistake.
In establishing your brand, it is important to follow the path of success mapped out by other successful brands, many of which you must be familiar with. After defining your particular category, you need to work diligently to associate your brand name with that category, striving to establish that positive impression that will set you apart. The Internet represents the ideal opportunity through which to do this.
In effect, the Internet is, the quintessential and ubiquitous communications medium. Do you remember why the Internet was created? Communication, Cooperation, Collaboration. Public relations strives to do the same thing. Most people view PR (articles in newspapers & magazines, the news, editorial columns…) as the advice of a “trusted friend. You have the opportunity to establish this same level of trust using the Internet as your primary communications medium with your customers and prospects. Be cautious about the contents of your messages however. Try pushing a blatant advertising message through this medium and you will quickly loose that trust.
Everything about the design of your web site should represent your unique position within your category and support the positive impression that you are striving to establish in the minds of your consumers. In addition, the information that you make available to your web visitors needs to build on the philosophy that you are developing a trusting relationship with your customers and prospects.
2) Sales Channel – Revenue
The Internet quite literally opens up a world of opportunities for the small business. No longer are you limited by time and space. For many businesses, the Internet gives them the opportunity to do business in Seattle, Washington just as easily as in Tully, Greenland, at anytime of the day or night.
If you are developing a sales channel online it is important to keep in mind that your primary objective, as with any for profit business, is to generate revenue. This can occur directly on your web site in the case of an ecommerce function, or indirectly through the establishment of qualified leads that require some human intervention to “close the sale.”
In the case of a direct ecommerce focus on your web site, you should provide your web site visitors with a very clear navigational path that will bring them to their ultimate destination, namely your shopping cart. This assumes that a significant portion of your selling activities have occurred before they reach your web site. That’s not to say that you don’t need to provide good quality information, however. Be sure to make the information that will support and answer their questions, easy to find and accessible on your web site.
Qualified Lead – Specialty Product Or Service
In the case of lead generation, you are more than likely trying to establish a relationship with your web visitor and therefore should take a more informational approach. The two defining characteristics of this type of web site design are 1) your product is a more high priced specialty item that is not necessarily conducive to an ecommerce sale, and 2) your offering is a service that you provide to your customers.
In both cases it is important to design your web site so that it promotes quick and easy access to the valuable informational resources that you will have available on your site. Remember, information is the currency of communication on the Internet. Your objective will be to translate this information into knowledge, because that is what will determine customer loyalty!
In establishing a relationship, there are several ways that you can begin a dialogue with your web site visitors. First, you must capture their email addresses (web site quickiness) so that you can in fact communicate with them. This is most easily accomplished by offering them the opportunity to opt-in to your newsletter using a simple subscription form..
Another way is to provide them with a response form that they can fill out and submit, on your web site. This will automatically generate an email message that will be sent to you. It is important that you respond as quickly as possible to inquiries from your prospects. The current expectation is that you will respond within a half an hour. If you yourself can’t find the time to respond to these email inquiries, make sure you forward the messages to someone who can. This may be reason enough for you to consider investing in an auto responder. There aren’t a lot of second chances online!
3) Bricks To Clicks – Efficiency & Effectiveness
As with all things automated, efficiency and effectiveness are the watchwords of the Internet. The whole idea behind the technologies represented by the Internet is increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of human communications.
If you can imagine migrating all of the paper transactions and hard-copy communications that your business currently does to an automated online environment, you start to get a sense for the immense power of the Internet to create potentially huge savings for your business.
Having said that, you need to know that the development of such a communications infrastructure (i.e., your web site) will not 1) happen by itself or, 2) do so overnight! This is a serious effort that requires resource planning and strategy.
4) FAQ is… Customer Service and Support
As mentioned, facilitating human communications is what the Internet is all about. Creating and enabling this conversation with your existing customers is that much better. Statistics show that it costs seven times more to go out and get a new customer, than it does to nurture an existing one.
There are many ways the customer service process can be automated online. The most obvious way is through the development of a comprehensive FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section on your web site. This can be a simple list of questions and answers or it can be a complex searchable database.
If you know who your customers are, you should have a fair understanding of the types of questions they have about your products or services. These are the same types of questions your prospects will have as well. Answering them in a well-developed FAQ section is the first step in a successful customer service department.