Ramon Ray, Technology Evangelist,Smallbiztechnology.com
When you’re building a web site, it takes more than $5 a month and a fewmouse clicks.
Sure you CAN build a web site like this, creating a web site that will beused as a tool to grow your business it’s going to take a lot more.
And here’s 10 things you MUST do.
- Focus on the customer
- Have a plan
- Easy to remember name
- Easy navigation
- Easy customer contact
- Fresh content
- Be found
- Be simple - KIS
- Focus on the customer
It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement of building your web sitethat you FORGET ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMERS. However, as you’re building your web sitekeep them in the fore front of your mind. Focus on the audience that will beusing your web site. If it’s an intranet for internal corporate use, then your“customers” are going to be the employees and/or business partners using the website. If it’s a public web site for your businesses customers then ensure thattheir needs are at the top of your priority list.
As children, you probably learned about the “me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me,me” song. No one, weather with toys or business likes to be around a “me”centered person. However, those who share, who give, who look out for the needsof others will always be in high demand.
A client who owned a limousine company, came to me one day and wanted a website for his business. After talking for a few days, he brought me severalphotographs of his limousine that he wanted on the front page of his website.
He was not customer focused but only thinking of his pride and joy hislimousine. I suggested that instead of filling the first page of this web sitewith a picture of his limousine he first consider the most important thingscustomers want when their contact him for service. Is there a car available? Howmuch does it cost to go from point a to point b? How long will it take? Andetc.
Build a web site focused on your customers and you can only succeed. Build aweb site focused on yourself and you’ll fail.
One thing I did in the beginning stages of smallbiztechnology.com’sdevelopment was to post the following, in fairly large type: “Do you like orhate this web site”. Guess what, over the months I got dozens, and dozens ofopinions on how I could make my web site much better - and what I had been doingright.
Tip: Web site traffic analysis tool. I use Hitbox.com and AWStats (providedby my web host) to analyze the traffic coming to smallbiztechnology.com . I cansee how many visitors have been to my web site. What web sits referred them.What type of web browser they use. And a lot more information. With thisinformation in hand I can tailor my web site to my visitors and make betterdecisions on smallbiztechnology.com’s development.
Have a plan
Building a web site, is no different than going on a journey. You’re startingsomewhere and you want to get somewhere. The only way you are going to get thereis with a plan - or road map.
Before you even put the first dot in dot-com sit down and think. Askyourself:
- Why do I want a web site
- What is it going to accomplish
- What is the benefit to my business and customers
Easy to remember name
How many times have you heard a radio advertisement, or seen a televisionadvertisement for a web site with a hard to remember name.
In my bi-monthly seminars at SCORE I drive home to my audience the importanceof having an easy to remember name.
One huge no-no. DO NOT use hyphens in your web site name, they are too hardto remember to put them in and when saying them to people or even in an add theyget in the way of saying a simple name.
Another web site name no, no. Let say you’re business is Fuddleston Fisherie.If you’re business is not a house hold name, or even if it is a household, makesure your web site is not fuddlestonfisherie.com !
It’s much easier to remember qualityfish.com or something like that than aweb site with your name sake - if it’s one like Fuddleston Fisherie.
One suggestion you might wish to consider is having two web site names. Onecan be your long and hard to spell name sake or corporate name and one can be amuch simpler version.
Both web site addresses can point to the same web site, so you won’t have toupdated two different web sits.
Sometimes you visit a web site and it makes you sea sick. You regret going tothe site. You get so confused your head starts pounding.
Is your site like this?
Do you make it easy for users of your web site to find the information theyneed? Do you make it easy for them to find the information YOU want them tofind?
I’ve been to web sites, where the “buy” button is almost hidden. Think ofgoing to a physical retail store and the cash register is hidden!
Remember you’re web site is only one of many others selling the same things.Whether you’re selling goods or services - your competition is only a mouseclick away.
When people visit your web site make sure they can clearly and very easilyfind the information they need. You don’t want to be too simplistic and haveonly two web links per page. But you don’t want to be overly complex and makeforce your web site visitors to use a map just to navigate your web site.
Sure, every user is not going to instantly find everything they need on yourweb site and that’s where a good search engine for your web site, and web sitedirectory come into play. But do not lean on these tools, as a crutch or excusefor poor web site design!
If you have a very simple web site with only a few pages, there’s no excusethat all of the information you have should be easily accessible. If you havethousands and thousands of pages of information, your goal should be tocategorize the information in a logical layout, provide top level navigation tothe main sections of your site, and if needed use sub-sections. Then supplementthis with a good search engine and web site directory.
If you are going to promote your web site as a news site, or portal ofknowledge then make sure your web is informative.
Remember those mornings when you crave for a bowl of cereal? My favorite isWheat Chex. You reach for the cereal, pour it in the bowl - only to have 3pieces of cereal come out!
It’s disappointing. It’s frustrating. It leaves a bad taste in yourmouth.
Building an information rich web site takes a lot of time and energy. But therewards can be immense. Over time you’ll find that your web site (and yourcompany) will become known as a resource. The next logical progression, if youwork at it is that a) customers will want to purchase their goods and servicesfrom you - you ARE the expert right? Then the press will call you asking you foryour insight and opinion on various topics - free press.
A great tool to use for easily updating your web site with journal likeinformation is a blog. A blog is one of the best tools you can use forcontinuously updated information. Items you post to your web site areautomatically tagged with a date, time and the name of the user who posted it.Your blogging tool will also archive your blogs for you automatically. More onthis later.
As I tell the audiences at my seminars, you web site only has to be secure asthe information it stores.
If you’re web site is going to be storing credit card numbers, personalinformation, customer lists and etc - you should invest in the security of yourweb site, commiserate with the value of that data and your business.
Businesses running a $50,000 a year web site, should not go into debt andpurchase, a $75,000 per year security solution.
If your web server is connected to your corporate network(s), the security ofyour web site is even that more important. If a hacker can get access to yourweb server, it’s only a matter of time before they can find a way through it toa computer on your network. It’s best to ensure your web site is NOT connectedto your computer network.
However, YOU are ultimately responsible for your own web sites security.Remember, if you install a script, put up a database or some other webapplication and it has security holes (even one) there’s nothing your web hostor e-commerce provider can do about it.
Easy customer contact
One of the most frustrating experiences in visiting a web site is not beingable to communicate with the web site owners (be it sales, customer service, oretc) about a question (or comment) you have.
Successful vendors such as PC Mall, CDW, Amazon.com and many others haveclearly labeled “contact points” on their web sites. Some have an 800 numberclearly displayed on every page of their web site. Some encourage you to emailthem or use a web form. But either way - a contact method is provided.
Analyze your own web site - what image are you portraying.
Do you solicit a customer’s business online, only to slap them in the face bynot making contact information clearly visible or making it not available atall?
One of the easiest contact methods, is to create a web form that will enableyour customers to send you a message via your web site. The next step, whichmany more businesses fail at - is to respond in a timely fashion to yourcustomers.
I’ve gotten emails from some companies saying, “thanks for your message,we’ll be sure to contact you in 24 - 72 hours”. In this day and age, where yourweb site is only a click away from a competitor’s, a 24 hour response time isthe minimum.
1. Every message that comes in, should be automatically responded to - so thesend of the message knows you have received the message. How many times have youheard, from your own friends and colleagues - “I didn’t get your email”. Wellsometimes maybe they are lying but sometimes email messages simply don’t getthough.
2. The next step is to ensure that someone personally replies to yourcustomer’s message with an answer.
If your inbound communication is not that much, then you can handle theinbound email in a more or less manual fashion. However, as your business growsyou should look into a commercial customer support, email / web form, managementsolution.
Another dimension to online support, is live chat. Companies such as LivePerson enable customers to initiate chat sessions, directly from your web site,for instant communication.
Igo.com successfully uses this feature on their web site - hence, I’m arepeat customer. The only caveat about these live chat services, is thatbusinesses like to display that “chat with an operator now” button, but oftentimes I’ve been disappointed to see that there’s a “no operator available” signafter clicking on the button.
No one likes stale bread, cereal or milk - and your web site is notdifferent. When visitors come to your web site, it’s an added bonus when theysee fresh information. Show me a web site built in 2001. If that web site hasnot changed one bit in 2003…I’m not so sure if I want to do business with them.Maybe they, like their web site are “dead” , or close to it.
If your web site is going to display news of any kind or serve as a “portal”it is even more important that the content you display is fresh - ESPECIALLY ifyou have dates next to the content!
To keep my news section fresh (and informative), I use Blogger.com More aboutblogging in the following pages.
Just because you have a web site does not mean that anyone but yourself, yourweb developer and your mother will know about it. Once your web site is built -you’ve got to market it and let the world know about it. YOUR world may be yourcustomers. If you have a service or retail base of existing customers don’twaste money advertising your web site around the world. FIRST market your website to your current customers and let them know that it’s there and all thethings they can do with it. Once that’s done, as necessary, you can then startmarketing your web site to new customers and prospects.
Be simple - KIS (Keep It Simple)
Last, but not least, as you build your web site, think with simplicity inmind. Don’t’ try to cram the whole universe and everything about your businessinto it.
Ramon Ray is editor of Smallbiztechnology.com.