For those of us used to tried-and-true methods of marketing, such as brochures, trade shows, personal relationships or press releases, the hoopla surrounding websites can seem like the latest Barnum & Bailey circus. It comes into town with a lot of sound and fury and leaves after a short while. A fad by any other name is still a fad.
But websites are no transient visitor to the world of marketing. There's a lot of rationale behind including a strong website in your arsenal of communication tools. Many of the reasons may not be immediately apparent if you've been focusing on brochures or word-of-mouth in the past, or if you personally don't visit websites of companies when you research information for your own benefit. You're probably prone to thinking, "If I'm not using the Internet to get information, most of my customers aren't either." Or you may be fearful of revealing too much information to your competitors via an easily accessible medium such as a website.
To understand why websites are important, you have to remember that the world is made up of different kinds of people and different ways to access information. Some people are very aural they like to speak with people over the phone and receive information that way. Some like the personal one-on-one meetings and forging relationships and obtaining data that particular way. There is still another group that is somewhat reticent, albeit industrious, that prefers to conduct their research via print.
This last group is important to remember when you prepare your marketing strategy. There are both customers and a majority of time-constrained editors who prefer to obtain information about your services via a non-intrusive, 24x7 medium such as a website. By not including the correct content in a website, you're effectively eliminating 25-40 percent of your target audience right off the bat. Do you want to neglect such an important sector of people who can buy or influence others to buy your product?
While you may personally not be prone to using the Internet, there are many, particularly younger buyers and editors, who grew up on computers and can't imagine any other way. These are the people who will go to what they perceive to be the best website in order to make a purchase or obtain background information for an article. Their rationale will be, "If company A has such little content on its website, and makes it so difficult for me to find the information I want, then I'll go to Company B, because their website is easier to navigate and has a lot more information, so it's probably a better indicator of the successful company they are."
To come up with the content and navigational methods for your website, it's helpful both to review what other companies inside and outside of your market are doing, as well as to take the time to examine the demographics of your target customers. What kinds of information do your buyers want and need to know? Is it pricing? Is it the range of services/products available? Following are some minimal required components to successful websites:
- Information about your range of products and/or services
- Key features to each product and/or service
- Upcoming events where your company may be participating/speaking/exhibiting
- Sales offices
- List of partners/resellers
- A clearly defined "Newsroom" where press announcements, case studies and articles are contained
- A clearly defined contact list
- Company background information
- Information about the executive team
In addition, it is helpful to include an area on your website where visitors can contact the company with questions. If you can include an e-commerce component so that visitors can purchase your product or order your services from the website using a credit card, you've helped improve your chances of increased revenue immensely.
Don't make the mistake of trying to save money and creating the website on your own. In this Internet age, the homegrown websites stand out as a painful indication of the lack of interest and budget on their company's part is this the message you want to convey to customers and the media?
To design information for an electronic world requires a design talent that very few people have the likelihood is that you weren't born both with a talent for design and for running your masonry business. Just as you wouldn't expect a designer to excel in your world, don't put the same expectations on your own design capabilities. Hire an expert.
Some people are reluctant to include corporate information such as executive teams or pricing on their website. To try to be this cloistered, however, misses the larger picture you are missing out on a huge customer and editor population by failing to provide this information.
The rationale many people make is that if you can't include more detailed product or service information, then the company is doing something clandestine. Most people aren't patient enough and will go to the next best competitor. As for the competition trying to steal away your executives, maybe it's time to focus on what your company needs to do to attract and retain good talent. It doesn't always boil down to a higher salary, as studies have shown.
Editors need to know who is on your team. And it's a good way to demonstrate to customers the range of experience and talent behind the company brand. The big players in manufacturing and technology didn't get to their current leadership positions by hiding their light under a box. Don't make the same mistake in your own marketing efforts be sure your website is the absolute best reflection of your company's image.
Website? The Who and the What
So you've finally decided to make that leap and join the millions of other businesses on the World Wide Web. Great! Now what?
Like any other new project, creating your first web page can be confusing. Here are some steps to making the process of finding a web designer and creating a website easier:
Networking can be a great way to finding the perfect web designer. Do any of your business acquaintances or friends have great websites? Ask who designed their site.
Surf the Internet. If you find a site that has the style and flair that you're going for, look at the bottom of the index page most web designers put their company name with a link to their site at the bottom of their client's opening web page. Although it's sometimes helpful to find someone local, you can hire anyone, anywhere; distance is not usually a factor.
Use Search Engines. If you feel more comfortable hiring a web designer who is local, go to any of the major search engines and type "web design (your city)." This should bring up quite a few choices. Any good web designer will have several examples of their work. For right now, narrow down the field to those designers who can provide examples of the structure, artistic abilities, and professional look that you want for your own site.
Ask What YOU Need, rather than trying to up-sell you on expensive additions that don't serve your goals. Flash, ASP, databases and e-commerce are up-sells for basic business websites.
Help You Find a Web Host to house your website. If the designer does not offer a web hosting package, they should be more than happy to help you find something to suit your needs.
Design Fast Loading Pages that will appear, in entirety, within three seconds of being opened. Any longer than that and you risk losing potential clients.
Write Meta Tags for each and every page so search engines will be able to catalog your site. Meta tags are what search engines "read" to know what's on each page. Without this information, search engines will skip over you; in turn your web pages won't show up when clients look for your subject matter.
Include Search Engine Submission with the cost of the design. Although monthly re-submission is necessary to rise in the rankings, designers should make the initial submission of your site for you.
Include One Contact Form and Pictures. You should not be charged extra for one contact form on your site or for one to four pictures per page, though. Adding more pictures might require an additional fee, but you shouldn't need to pay for a minimal amount of pictures per page.
Provide a Bottom-Line Cost, with no hidden fees. Any reputable designer will provide a contract with a breakdown of the number of pages, what all will be included, and the total cost. Services and design work shouldn't be left up in the air.
Allow at least one revision for any changes you need made to the design, pictures or text. Many designers will allow you opportunities to preview your site several times for revisions, so the final site will be exactly what you want.
Linda VandeVrede is the principal of VandeVrede Public Relations, a Scottsdale, Arizona company that serves clients nationwide. VandeVrede Public Relations offers expertise in public relations, crisis planning, issues management and analyst relations.
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