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Why should a business have a website?

by Keith Thirgood

Money. For any business, the ultimate goal for having a website is to make money. Your site is not a status symbol, it's a tool, designed to make more money for your business.

However, money's not enough. Ask yourself: Beyond the ultimate goal of earning more money, is your website designed to gather leads, service customers, enhance your image, produce direct sales, or something else? It's important to choose. Because, without a primary objective, you have no way of deciding what should go in your website or how it should be structured, let alone evaluate whether it's working or not.

The next big question is: Do I have the time and the inclination to design and manage the website myself? If yes, there are plenty of inexpensive, user-friendly web creation software packages available, for all platforms. You might also consider having it professionally designed, but managing it yourself.

If you are going to get professional help, take the time to clearly understand what you want a website developer to deliver, and what you must provide for a successful site. Approach designers with your goals and objectives, and a budget in hand. Don't' expect, or allow, a designer to tell you what to spend. It's not their money, and not their future. It's yours, take command.

Evaluate these professionals on how clearly they can respond to your budget and goals. Can they explain why you should have the basic elements they're suggesting? Can they clarify why they do not have certain things in their proposal that others might have included? If all they say is "For $xxxxx you get 14 pages," look further. These people are providing a cookie cutter approach to web design.

Additionally, don't be mislead by a flashy portfolio of sites they've designed. Try to analyse any sites they show you from the eye of the company that needed the site. Ask them what the goal of each site was, and try to determine if the site delivers on the goal.

With your objective in mind (and possibly a professional at your side), it's now time to develop the tactics you'll use to succeed. I assume you are developing a website for marketing and selling purposes, not just image.

Keeping your focus on the objective of your website, put your primary emphasis in developing content and the necessary tools to communicate with prospects. Attractive graphics and design are vital to success, but forget the animations, the streaming video and all the other bells and whistles. (Unless, of course, these bells and whistles are what you're selling.).

Bells and whistles tend to slow sites down, some are annoying and some (Java, audio, video, etc.) are not supported by all browsers. (Some designers/programmers will tell you that 80% of the browsers support X, Y or Z special effect. In theory, yes. However, I've found that most regular surfers don't have their browsers configured properly to take advantage of all the features it's capable of using.) Remember, it's about communications.

One of the best tactics of generating prospect communication is by gaining your visitor's e-mail address. It's just like getting a prospect's address and phone number. With these, you can begin a dialogue. What people are now calling "Permission Marketing".

I've found that at most websites, capturing prospect contact information isn't a very high priority. Usually, the concentration is on products and services. Keep in mind, research has shown most people don't buy the very first time they hear about, or see, a product or service. The rule of thumb in advertising is, a prospect needs seven exposures before they will take any kind of action. This holds true for the Internet. If prospects visit your website, have look, leave and never come back; you've failed. Either your site must be so compelling, that they keep coming back. Or you need to gather their contact info, so that you can continue to bring your marketing message to them again and again.

Gathering E-Mail Addresses

What might induce a visitor to give you their e-mail address? How about a free subscription to your electronic newsletter? Or a free report on a subject of interest to them? (Related to your field, of course.) Or, announcements on special offers in the area of their interest? Show them the benefits and many of them will sign on!

Don't simply ask prospects for their contact information. People are very wary of handing out personal information. They want to know what's in it for them, before they'll give you such valuable information.

Once you have their e-mail address, immediately contact the prospect. This can be done by sending each contact a personal e-mail, or by using a listserver/autoresponder. Immediately send your prospect information about the benefits of doing business with you. (How hard or soft an approach you take is up to you and your style. And to some extent, the style of your industry.)

A listserver is software which stores e-mail addresses, and can automatically e-mail information to your entire prospect list. This allows you to send special announcements, tips, industry information, etc. to your prospects on a regular basis, at next to no cost. You can even set the listserver to send a final batch of information if a prospect asks to be unsubscribed from your list. It's one last chance to impress them with the value of your product/service.

Next time, I'll talk about some ways to improve your website's ability to sell your services and products.

Article by Keith Thirgood, Creative Director
Capstone Communications Group

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