The Green Sheet Online Edition
July 28, 2008 • Issue 08:07:02
Web sites that work
You have a Web site. It is beautiful to look at; its colors are breathtaking; its graphics sizzle. It's also perfectly well-written. But is it helping you grow your business? Not unless it meets eight requirements. The first is that your Web site must conform to your company's marketing goals.
The objectives of a Web site are the same as all other forms of marketing - to motivate targeted individuals to:
- Perceive you the way you want to be perceived
- Act on those perceptions the way you want them to act
Therefore, before setting pen to paper (or developer to code), consider the basics:
- Who your audience is
- What you want your audience to do
- How you will reinforce your brand and remain memorable
The other seven requirements
In addition to being a traditional marketing vehicle, a Web site presents some opportunities not afforded by other media, so take advantage of them. Your Web site will work hard for you if it:
- Is search engine-friendly
- Encourages repeat traffic
- Boosts viral marketing
- Leverages your sales force
- Incorporates permission marketing
- Encourages customer loyalty
- Is sticky
Search engine optimization
If you want to do business on the Internet, your Web site must be search engine-friendly. Nine of every 10 Internet users rely on search engines to lead them to the information they seek.
Getting a prominent spot on Web search results pertaining to your company's sphere requires expert search engine optimization, which is a savvy combination of content and keyword management, meta-tags and links to other relevant sites.
While it is certainly possible to learn how to do this, most of us do not have the time to invest in doing so. There are, however, many Web specialists, marketing firms and consultants who can work with you to get the best search engine bang for whatever buck you specify.
Most will give you a free analysis of your current Web site. And - I promise - most of you will be shocked to hear what they have to say. Give it a try.
Whether your Web site is a lead generator, a sales tool or a brand awareness vehicle, repeat traffic will help you achieve your goals.
Obviously, a site that is attractive and user-friendly will inspire more return visitors than one that is difficult to understand or navigate. But there are other things you can do to more forcefully encourage repeat traffic. All of them should launch from your home page.
Free stuff, for instance: Free advice, free gifts, free information and even savings coupons can be made available to visitors simply by clicking on a home page button. These types of offers can be used to capture important audience (lead) information. And doing this well ensures prospects will return for more.
Your home page should also appear fresh and timely. And the best way to do this is by having a what's new, hot product or sales tip of the week type of section. If your information really is useful and relevant, those who read it will continue to return for updates.
This is also an ideal place to house calendars of upcoming events or offer online seminars. And it's a great place to keep up-to-the-minute information about contests you sponsor. People will check back frequently if they can see how close they are to winning.
Your best sales force is your satisfied customers. It stands to reason, then, that you want to make it easy for these individuals to bring others to your Web site.
The best place to start is with a feature that allows them to "tell a friend" about your products and services or forward a piece of information from your site to other interested prospects.
Sales force leveraging
In essence, this step builds on the previous one, making it much more effective. To leverage your sales force of satisfied customers and Web visitors, create a program that spurs them to tell a friend about you or refer a customer to your business.
Many ISOs already host merchant referral programs. Putting information about the benefits of your program on your Web site is an effective reminder to your customer base.
Plus, it makes it easy for merchants to send new business your way. It also makes referrals easier for you to track. Even if new merchants don't sign on for your services right away, you are on your way to building a mailing list of prospects that will work for you for years.
One of the best things a Web site can do for your business is help you build a prospect mailing list. Free information, articles or contests become viable ways to build this list. But every time you ask a visitor to sign up to receive something, you must also make sure you are in compliance with anti-spam legislation.
Have each participant check a box that gives you permission to use his or her e-mail address, and always include information about how to opt out of any future mailings. When people do opt out, please respect their wishes, and delete them from your online database.
Online loyalty programs are rapidly growing in popularity and usage. No matter how many other things change, one thing never does: Everyone wants to feel acknowledged and appreciated. Make your Web site visitors feel that you care about their perceptions and their preferences, and you will inevitably boost their loyalty.
Most businesses use members-only areas to do this. At SignaPay, for instance, we have a password-protected login box on our home page that connects our ISOs and merchants to our back-office operating system.
Going forward, we will use this to announce new programs and special offers, as well as to keep our ISOs and merchants informed of important industry updates. At some point, I hope to use my knowledge of individual client preferences to tailor special communications to each narrow target audience.
When you've accomplished all of this, your Web site will be sticky. That means it will attract more visitors, hold their attention for longer and bring them farther inside than just your home page. It is not easy to do this in our industry. Most of what we have to say is neither particularly profound nor much different than what our competitors have to say.
Our industry doesn't change all that much day to day, so keeping your Web site timely and relevant doesn't require a whole lot of updating.
But for the best example, look at The Green Sheet Inc. Web site. News is fresh and posted constantly. Latest print issues of The Green Sheet and GSQ are posted. The site hosts forums, an RSS feed, advertising and links to other sites. It is, quite simply, a sticky, hard-working Web site.
Most of us can't and shouldn't do all that The Green Sheet does. But by keeping our content timely and relevant, by making our design clear and user-friendly, by striving to accomplish at least some of what is described in this article, most of us can make our Web sites work a little bit harder - and produce better marketing results.
Nancy Drexler is the Vice President, Marketing for SignaPay Ltd., an ISO headquartered in Dallas. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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