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Do You Need a Website?

By Dr. Robert Sullivan

EVERY small or home-based business should consider a website. There are certainly some businesses where a website offers nothing of value but for the vast majority a website can be a very effective sales channel and marketing tool. However, there are some "rules" to follow to ensure the success of your website. This article will list the steps we have taken that have resulted in a successful website.

FIRST THE BASICS

Decide if you are going to develop your own website or contract with a developer. If the latter, search the web for possible candidates. If you are doing it yourself, visit a bookstore or search the web and pick up one of the many excellent references on Web Publishing and html. If you don't have the time, hire someone and ensure they have the required expertise. A child can write html code. Designing an effective website takes an expert.

Apply for a domain name. (You can do it yourself over the internet via the Internic, or have your ISP do it for you). Think up three names ... it is likely you will not get your first choice. Take your time ... this domain name becomes your identifier!

Carefully outline and organize the material you want to place on the web. Don't do it "on the fly."

Decide on the "look" of your pages. Browse the web for ideas.

Your website MUST provide a service as well as present your product or service that you are selling. In our case, we provide useful small business related information (tax advice, start-up and money saving tips, etc). We then gently steer the visitor to the books we are selling. It works!

Your website must be EASY to use. The design of the site must make it easy for the user to navigate and not get lost. A confused visitor will simply leave.

Your website will go nowhere without a sustained marketing effort. See below for what has been successful for us.

WEBSITE DESIGN TIPS

LOADING TIME. Users will not wait. You have about 10-seconds to catch and keep a visitor. Your home page should load quickly. Ensure this by keeping graphic files small (optimize all graphics with "Gif Wizard" at http://www.gifwizard.com), backgrounds simple and by using height and width tags with every graphic. The height/width tags will force the text to load first giving the user something to read while the graphics load. It is also a good idea to use ALT tags with the graphic tag so that the graphic is identified to the user while it loads.

BROWSER FRIENDLINESS. There are many different browsers in use. Ensure your home page is friendly to all of them. Do this by keeping your page simple and if you are using frames, tables, image maps and other enhancements, ensure you have an alternate page available for browsers that cannot display the enhancements. For example, we use frames so we provide a "non-frame" gateway for those users with older non-frame friendly browsers.

ORGANIZED MESSAGE. The user should be immediately presented with a description of your site ... what it's for and what's in it. Also, make it easy for the user to navigate your site. For example, make certain there is always an obvious way to return to the home page from anywhere within your site.

META TAGS. These html tags are used to define the name and content of you site. Proper use of META tags will ensure that some important (large) search engines can find and properly index your site. Also ensure each webpage is property "titled" within the header tags. Learn about meta statements at http://www.metatag.webpromote.com.

UPDATE FREQUENTLY. Ensure that visitors will return to your site by constantly updating its content. This cannot be stressed enough - a static site will not grow.

ASK FOR FEEDBACK. Make it easy for a visitor to e-mail you comments.

MARKETING IDEAS (ATTRACTING VISITORS)

We have found the following to be very effective in building and sustaining traffic to our website. I hope it goes without saying that website sales are directly proportional to traffic!

Get listed with the major search engines. Don't do it yourself - it is very time consuming and there are plenty of inexpensive ways to get it done.

Utilize traditional and internet-based news releases.

Engage in strategic mutual link development. This is quite important - 25% of our traffic comes to us via these links! This takes time but is worth the effort.

Participate in newsgroups and listservs. Don't advertise - provide useful information. Let your "signature" do the advertising. Don't become a pest.

Include your URL on EVERYthing: telephone answering machine, literature, business cards and stationary, traditional adverts, etc. We had some T-shirts printed with our homepage on the front and URL on the back - they are great conversation starters.

Develop a newsletter. (Preferably e-mail based) We did, and in about a year generated a mailing list of over 5000. This brings traffic ... and sales. Got a new book? Let your list know about it - at no cost.

Write articles for journals and periodicals that relate to what you do. Include a byline with your URL, of course.

Make sure you are using a "signature" with your e-mail and include your URL.

KEEPING VISITORS

Content, content, content. Your site must say something, teach something, provide valuable useful information. This is the most important element of any successful website. Furthermore, this information must be dynamic - kept up to date and always changing.

As noted earlier, website navigation is very important. It must be easy to find anything within your site and it should not be impossible to "get lost." It is amazing how many websites ignore this important element of website design.

That's about it. You can build a successful website if you pay attention to what has worked for others. The ideas presented here worked for us and I bet they will work for you. All you have to lose without a website are sales! Think about it.


This article is an excerpt from "The Small Business Start-Up Guide" by Robert Sullivan, which is available in many libraries and bookstores or may be purchased from the publisher, Information International, Box 579, Great Falls, VA 22066, at $16.95 plus $3.50s/h. 800 375 8439. Visit "The Small Business Advisor" at http://www.isquare.com