You do have a web site, don’t you?“Small business spending on Web hosting alone will top $7.4 billion by 2009.”
The rush is among the late adopters to the Internet, eager to put their businesses online. There are, of course, more numbers that go into greater detail about what businesses expect once they’re on the Web. They come from several research houses and their sum total can be dizzying:
• The Kelsey Group reports that only half of America’s 20-million small businesses have an Internet presence.
• IDC says that by the end of the decade, nearly 80% of small firms will be online.
• The Forrester Group finds that online sales have been growing by double digits for the past several years and will top $300 billion by 2010.
• CMO Magazine reports that 92% of people who searched online for electronics actually bought from brick-and-mortar outlets.
What does all this mean for you? The halfway point of the year is a good time to assess the performance of your company’s website and to take a hard look at what you really expect from it. Your web site is a digital reflection of your written business plan, and along with exposure to a global marketplace, it also lets you establish credibility or lose it with possible customers who are far away from your geographic location.
• Are you attracting visitors?
Any number of folks smarter than me will be glad to take your money to optimize your site for better search engine results. Or, you could save some of the cash and invest a bit your time in searching from a customer’s perspective. More than any expert, you should know who your customers are and how they think. View your product line from their perspective.
What keywords would you use to find a business like yours? Test several combinations and compare results; also make a note of where your competitors rank. Check out the sites of those listed above you and see if they’re doing something you can incorporate.
• Are you keeping visitors?
Once on your site, the information offered has to be relevant and it has to be easy to find. That means copy that gets to the point, clean graphics and pictures, and easy navigation. Browsers won’t be impressed by a Flash movie on your home page; their children might be, but business people aren’t coming to be entertained.
Even consumers who don’t buy things online use the Internet as a research tool. From a consumer viewpoint, how easy is it to find relevant information? Is the information clear and concise? If it’s not, you’re losing business without even knowing it.
For small businesses, the web is the ultimate equalizer, especially if your area does not have mass appeal. It offers exposure to millions that no other medium can reach for the cost. According to BusinessWeek, a marketer 25 years ago could have reached 80% of the country by using the three major television networks. Today, that same level of penetration would require buying time on 100 channels.
You already know about the Internet’s power as a communications and promotions tool. You’re reaching customers and prospects on their timetable.
• Are you tracking visitors and what they do on your site?
Generating a high volume of hits only tells part of the story. If a lot of people visit your site but leave almost immediately, that’s a problem. There are a lot of good tracking tools available, some of them free, that will not only catalog the amount of traffic to your site, but what people are doing once they get there.
What pages do they linger on? What pages are they most likely to exit the site from? How long are visitors staying? If you know what page or pages get the most views for the longest period of time, logic dictates those are the pages that should also get the bulk of your attention. If customers and prospects care, you care.
• Do visitors have reason to come back?
A web site is a powerful information tool, combining the resources of a Yellow Pages ad, TV commercial, business card, and product catalog in a format that is accessible from anywhere at any time and can be instantly updated. That last clause is crucial, but the Web environment has also created more demanding consumers who expect something new as often as possible.
Schedule online chats, led by you or by another subject matter expert; you can promote these through the newsletter that your site encourages people to sign up for and by posting a calendar of topics and moderators. You can even offer a prize for the first few people who sign up, something related to what your business does. People like to win things and this lets you get a foot in the door.
Your web site is a reflection of both your business and you personally. It will be the first contact many people have with your company, showing them what you stand for, what your company offers, and how consumers benefit from doing business with you. Your digital store demands the same care and consideration that you devote to the physical storefront. But, first be clear on what defines success on the web; chances are, it won’t differ much from what defines success on paper.
About the author:
Alex Lekas is the VP / Corporate Communications for AIT, Inc. (http://www.ait.com), which provides web hosting and Internet services to nearly 200,000 business domains.