By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
I have long been a proponent of the necessity for companies to have websites. In fact, I view a website as a veritable requirement for success in today’s market.
Organizations lacking a website are quickly viewed as second-rate providers and not worth the consideration of first-rate prospects. With the current concerns over attracting new customers, now is the time for site-less companies to embrace the Internet as a means of marketing and validation.
I know there are still organizations out there that have not yet fully embraced the internet revolution. Sadly, I hear from them on a somewhat regular basis. In addition, a few business owners and managers still say they don’t have an email address. Lastly are those who do not have a website or who states that “it’s not up yet.”
How can these companies serve customers, market to prospects, and stay in business? If you are one of these organizations, take action today to embrace the Internet before it is too late, with your business paying the price.
Although it can cost thousands of dollars to have a whiz-bang, high-tech, professional-looking Website designed, there are less costly options. After all, we don’t all drive a Mercedes-Benz—sometimes a Chevy will do. You can make an inexpensive website yourself for under $100. The goal is for it to not look cheap. Most hosting companies offer do-it-yourself website templates that you—yes, you—can customize to provide a basic, yet professional-looking site. However, there are a few beginner mistakes that you will want to avoid:
- Stay away from line art graphics or any artwork that looks like it was homemade.
- If you need to resize a graphic, be sure to keep it proportional. Otherwise, it will distort, either being stretched or squished.
- Take time to proofread the text, verify spelling, use correct grammar, and employ commonly accepted punctuation. Have others double- and triple-check your work.
- Don’t go crazy with different fonts. Use one or two at the most.
- Avoid uppercase text; people will feel like you’re screaming at them. (The one possible exception might be listing your company name at the top of the page.)
- You might be tempted to insert a page counter or some other nifty gadget. Resist that urge. Just because those features are available doesn’t mean you should use them.
- Although not available with predesigned Website templates, you might think you need to have a flashy animation on your home page. Don’t go there; the only ones who will be impressed will be you and the person who designs it. Everyone else will be irritated, and the search companies will dismiss you.
- Don’t piggyback off someone else’s domain name; get your own. This can be inexpensively obtained from your hosting company. While you’re at it, set up an email account using that domain name. Post that email address on your Website. If need be, you can have this new address forwarded to an existing email account.
Search Engine Optimization
Now that you have a functioning website (which avoids all the beginner errors), you want people to find it. Aside from telling everyone you meet and listing it on every piece of literature and stationery that you have, you need search engines to notice and appreciate your website. This is Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Although this is more of an art form than an exact science (since the search engine companies closely guard their methodologies), here’s some generally agreed upon SEO basics:
- Each page of your site needs a title tag, and each page’s title should be different.
- Each page also needs a description tag; again each one should be different from the other pages.
- Add reasonable and accurate keywords. Although most experts say Google ignores them, some search engines will use them, so it’s a good idea. Again, they should not be the same for each page.
- Although some people still value reciprocal linking (that is, “I’ll link to your site if you link to mine”), the conventional wisdom is that in most cases this no longer helps and may actually hurt your visibility with the search engines.
- Most of the companies that guarantee you top search engine placement for a fee, fail to deliver or can’t do so for the long-term. There are experts who can do this, but they are in a minority and their skill is often hard to substantiate.
Search Engine Marketing
If you want people to find your site and contacting you, the next step to consider might be Search Engine Marketing (SEM). This is when you sign up with Internet advertising companies such as Google, Yahoo, or a host of others. Basically, you tell them how much you are willing to pay each time a person clicks on your ad, and they place your ad on Websites where potential prospects frequent. If you go this route, proceed slowly and carefully until you have a good understanding of how this works. I have heard stories of novices spending hundreds of dollars in a couple of hours with not much to show for it. A key thing to remember is that just because they clicked on a link that points to your Website does not mean they will become a customer—or even contact you.
Given the current concerns over the economy and finding new business, organizations need to do everything they can to help them succeed. The Internet is a cost-effective and increasingly popular method. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner in this area, have the experience, or are a veteran, there are always more opportunities waiting in the rapidly growing realm of cyberspace.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is publisher, editor, author, and blogger with 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for tips and insights.