Long ago, when the commercial internet was in its infancy, business websites were basically electronic versions of the business card. There was a time when a business would purchase a domain, set up a server and throw up some HTML pages and pronounce the website done. For a little extra panache, perhaps a menu of purchasable goods would be listed along with instructions on how to send an order to the company. This might be a simple phone number, an email link, or for the truly advanced an online form to fill out. Of course, that form would get sent to the inbox of some junior level associate who would dutifully print it out and drop it into the actual physical inbox of the order processing department. While many small businesses start off believing that this sort of simple business card style approach is sufficient, if they expect web traffic to appear out of nowhere they soon learn there is a lot more to building a successful business website than a few static HTML pages.
It might help to consider things in terms of older analogs. Let’s consider business cards and catalogs to start with. A business card was intended to give a customer or potential customers an easily fileable and quickly accessible means of storing your contact information. A catalog would allow customers (and potential customers… from now on just assume I include that group) to look at a polished representation of what the company is about and what services or goods it provides. Typically business cards would be left in locations where customers frequented or might be given directly when a salesperson would call on them. Catalogs might be mailed out in bulk if a marketing campaign were in full effect or would be made available to those who knew to ask for one, typically as a result of running across a business card or getting in touch with someone who referred them to the company. So how does any of this translate into the electronic presence?
Building Your Business Website: Have Something To Say
The first aspect to consider when creating your website is actually the catalog aspect, not the business card aspect. Consider for a moment who is likely to actually visit your website. For new or potential customers, they have been sent to you by someone they already know or found you through an online ad or search engine. Obviously you prefer direct referrals from a colleague or friend, but that’s another nut to crack. Regardless, they are trying to get to know you. Absolutely, you want to have a page or area of your website which details how to get in touch with you. But besides that, you have to have something interesting on your website. You must have something to say. Now, the very minimum you should provide is an indication of what goods or services you offer. If your website doesn’t tell a customer what you can do for them right off, then why would they spend any more time on your site. They looked you up to do business, now tell them why they should be doing business with you.
There’s more to it than that though. Remember, think “catalog”. Give them an idea of specifics. If it makes sense to do so, give them an idea of pricing. And remember too that while catalogs would stay in print for awhile, you still updated them, perhaps annually, and usually with information about what has changed since the last printing. With your website you have far more flexibility with regard to how frequently you update information. Include recent activities, indications of growth or expansion or new product lines. Your business website is the one place where you can advertise for free, so feel free to do so. Sell yourself, but don’t sell yourself short! Make sure someone coming to your website knows all of the interesting bits about you.
Here’s another little tidbit. Stay fresh. That means you need to update your website and if possible add new content, with some frequency. Why? Search engines. Organic search engine optimization is key to long term successful online web presence building. And one key to organic SEO is fresh content. Search engines are increasingly designed to be a sort of champion for online searchers. As a result, they increase the value of sites that keep their content fresh and relevant. If you are selling computer support and your pages reference computer support and you are consistently creating new pages and content concerning computer support, the search engines will look more favorably on your website than on a similar website that creates a single page referencing computer support and never updates it. But remember, ultimately you are not trying to fool the search engines. You want actual living people to come to your website and do business with you. For that, your content needs to be real and relevant, not just drivel to try to trick search engines into driving eyes to you. That approach will only cause you problems down the road.
Advertising Your Business Website: Getting the Message Out
Okay, so you have some idea of how the “catalog” analogy translates to your website. How about the business card aspect? How do you get the word out? Remember how I mentioned that business cards were something you made available in places customers frequent? And how your sales personnel would hand them out when they went out on call? Or how you might mail your catalogs out during ad campaigns? Those all have analogs in the electronic world, too.
Start by putting yourself in the mind of your potential customers. Where do they go online? Don’t just think the obvious (i.e. they go to Google to search for ‘computer support’), consider the non-obvious. Are your primary customers males, ages 18-24? Females, ages 29-38? What social sites do customers in your target demographic use? Can you advertise there? Better yet, can you join as a company? The more you know about who you are trying to attract, the better the chances of you being able to get your website in front of them.
A quick note about joining a social site (or any site) as your company for purposes of promotion. Generally speaking, there is really just one rule to follow: be a member of the community, not a user. It’s a simple rule though not always easily followed. It means that if you are going to join a community, have something to offer them. Some firms use witty and/or funny status updates to entertain. Some offer specials and deals to anyone acting on a posted link. Sometimes they provide insight into their industry, updates regarding who is doing what. The point is, they offer something. This is something even regular individual users quickly learn, because if they don’t they find themselves more or less shunned, at least until they start behaving as the community expects. This is more important for a company because in such cases the rest of the community knows the company is there to advertise and draw customers. You have to give them something to bring them in.
Okay, now you’ve considered the non-obvious. Now consider the obvious. Search engines. Think for a moment about how customers would expect to find you on a search engine. Do those search terms show up anywhere on your website? If so, good job! If not, get back to work. What about advertising? You can using something like Google AdWords to advertise on Google and their related networks. You set up search terms, specify a price, give them a URL and some text and unleash your advertising might! Depending on how much you spend and the search terms you use, you can expect thousands (or more!) of impressions but only a percentage of click throughs and even fewer conversions (i.e. someone emailing you, buying from you, calling you, etc). That’s just the nature of things.
But Wait, There’s More
There is indeed more to the story besides what I’ve mentioned here. I’ve only scratched the surface of what you need to do. Some things make sense for one company but not for another. Others are more or less universal. If you are interested in discussing business website SEO in more detail, please let us know. Those who come from more old school notions of advertising and generating customer leads might be somewhat discouraged in how things have changed with the transition to the internet, but the fact is the principles are really the same. It’s only the execution that has changed. You still have to generate those leads and you still have to capitalize on them once you have an audience. It’s not the ‘what’ that has changed, but the ‘how’. If you would like some help in that regard, give us a call.