Friday, June 16, 2006

Weave Your Web for Added Revenue

Your Web site is your face to the world. It’s unlike any other form of marketing or selling you’ll ever do. To make sure that your site is rich in content and functionality, work with professionals who know the Web ropes. Otherwise, it’s akin to a lawyer who defends himself [herself] having a fool for a client.

The Site That’s Successful
To make the best of a working relationship, you must understand the contribution you make to the success of your website. Following are some things to remember:

Clarify Your Goals. Years ago, people built Web sites just to have a Web presence. That’s no longer the case. Determine what you want your site to do. Do you want it to be an online brochure? Will it be educational? Are you doing e-commerce?

Determine search words and phrases. You must determine the words or phrases your audience will use to find your site. For example, if an attorney uses “matrimonial attorney” and people search under “divorce lawyer,” they won’t find that attorney. If you’re a money lender, you may use “factoring,” “asset-based loans,” and “bridge loans.”

Remember that First Impressions Are Key. Always put the good stuff first. Think of your home page as a giant magazine rack and the audience as someone scanning the front covers of all the magazines. Within eight seconds, people will decide to stay or look elsewhere.

Know Your Target Audience. Remember that your site is about your audience, not about you! You must understand the nature of your target audience so you can present a look and style that’s appropriate for them. Know who wants your information and how they’ll use it. Look at the Web sites of your competitors to see how they tantalize (or frustrate) the audience.

Write for Readability. Web audiences want instant information and they want substance over glitz. Therefore, you must keep the text concise—shorter than its print equivalent. To give your audience information quickly, write headlines that give key information at a glance (much like the ones you see in this paper.) Pattern your headlines after those you see in a newspaper. And use lots of bulleted lists.

Go Modular. Think about the content and how the average person will access your pages. Keep the topic and content of each page focused and make each page one complete thought or idea. This means that each page could stand alone, if possible. People have different browsing styles, so they’ll view your Web site from different paths. Therefore, you should consider having key information in several places.

Link to Other Sites. No matter how great your content is, don’t waste the most valuable feature of the Web links. You’ve probably found that one of the best experiences you have on the Web is the serendipity of stumbling upon a cool site you didn’t know existed. When you provide cool links to your audience, your Web site becomes a valuable resource they return to and recommend to others.

Build in tracking. You must be able to quantify the ROI by measuring the activity of visitors, e-mails, faxes, and phone calls. This is critical for knowing who visits your site and how often.

Publicize Your Site. What good is your wonderful site if people don’t know you have it or how to find it? Here are some ways to publicize your site after it’s published:

• Include the URL on your letterhead, business cards, invoices, specialty items, packing slips, fax forms, and anything else you send out or give out.
• Add the URL to the signature portion of all your e-mail messages.
• Post the URL to appropriate newsgroups.
• Send out a press release, if that’s appropriate for your business.

Keep Your Site Current. A static site is a boring site. A good way to keep your site current is to become a gateway for information. Include new links, industry tips and trends, and any other information your audience will find useful. Or consider running contests or promotional incentives, if that’s appropriate for your business.

The Site That Fails
There are a number of reasons why Web sites aren’t successful. Here are just a few:

Lack of Key Words. You must have the key words your audience will use to search for your site. Otherwise, people won’t know you’re there. These words must be peppered throughout the site because you don’t know on which page people enter.

Bleeding-Edge Technology. Don’t use the latest technology with all the bells and whistles just because you can. That’s akin to generating documents that look like circus posters just because you have a word processor. Include only what you need to make the site attractive, yet readable.

Sensory Overload. Your site isn’t New York City’s Times Square. Don’t use images that have an overpowering effect on human peripheral vision.

Hard-to-Read Colors. There are still black backgrounds with yellow lettering, or something equally as awful out there. Use appropriate, readable colors.

Outdated Information. Keep your site current. You need a Web gardener to weed your Web garden and replant new flowers. An outdated site is the sign of an outdated company.

Long downloads. Human-factor guidelines show that audiences lose interest after eight seconds. Many people still use dial-up modems, and download time may be a significant factor.

The International Website
As Internet access grows across the globe, so do translation and download problems. Following are some guidelines to help meet the needs of a worldwide audience:

Work with a Translator. If the site is to be translated, identify the languages. Send text, menus, and entries to a translator to learn of potential problems. For example, gerunds (nouns ending in “ing” that look like verbs) don’t have a similar convention in other languages. Also, there are colloquial expressions such as “get” that have a variety of meanings.

Be Award of Download Time. There are many parts of the world that have slow modems with Internet access billed by the minute. Users in these regions will visit sites that are quick to download.

Site Must be Printable. In parts of the world where Internet access is expensive, users often share computers and print out websites to distribute information. Many websites don’t print well. Make sure yours does!

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