First, Define Your Online Strategy
Originally published: 02.01.07 by Tom Jensen
Identify your goals for revenue and reach before building a Website
Many business owners begin their Web projects with two questions: “How much will it cost?” and “How long will it take?” Although these both are important questions, the first priority should be defining your online expectations. What are you trying to accomplish with your Web site? How can you use the Internet to better interact with your customers?
Start by thinking of your Web site as a new employee. If you were going to hire a new salesperson, chances are you woul have expectations for how that person will interact with potential customers, whom he or she would target, and what he or she would promote. You also would give consideration to what marketing tools you would provide and the person’s appearance when representing the company. As your only employee working 24/7, your Web site deserves the same consideration.
While it might seem easier to turn your Web strategy over to anyone with the ability to create a Web site, you, as the owner, must do your homework first! Follow these steps to define your goals for online marketing and commerce.
Find an expert
If you do not have the Internet expertise on staff, find an expert who has helped businesses define and execute a winning game plan. It can be difficult to find a technical person who also has a good business sense. I suggest finding a Web site that you think really works, and then contact the company to find out who planned and built it for them. Often, business owners will turn over the “designing” of the company’s Web site to a friend, neighbor, or the newspaper delivery kid who’s attending the local college. Although this approach may result in a functioning Web site, it is not likely to grow your business.
Plan on spending several hours talking with an experienced Internet marketing person explaining the basics of the hvacr business and defining your online expectations. Keep in mind, even the best Internet guru will need a basic understanding of your business in order to develop a winning Internet growth strategy. Many established Web site-development firms will provide this kind of strategic help at a very reasonable price. Look for someone well versed in Internet marketing, Web site design, search engines, and Internet technologies.
Know your online goals
A well-thought-out Web strategy will focus on two key objectives: traffic generation and conversion.
Traffic generation is all about getting as many folks as possible to visit your site. Many businesses wait until their site is completed before looking at how to drive traffic. However, identifying traffic sources early in the process can help define the components of your Web site. For example, if you are planning to send out an e-newsletter to remind customers of maintenance schedules, new products or service specials, a means of collecting e-mail addresses should be prominent on your Web site. Just like you plan your printed materials by the intended recipient, plan your Web site by the types of traffic you are planning to generate.
Conversion is simply the process of taking Web visitors and converting them into customers. Your Web site’s “flow” (the specifics of how you are going to get visitors to call or buy) is much more important than the “look,” but a winning Web site will blend these two aspects into a single experience. Determine your most significant competitive advantage and be sure it is used both subtlety in the Web site’s presentation and more obviously in the information you place on your valuable “home page.” Above all, make it easy to contact you or easy to buy. Don’t make visitors hunt. Place your contact information in a highly visible location on every page. Likewise, if you have products to sell, the “check out” should be easy to find at every step and the basic elements of successful eCommerce need to be in place. These consist of a good shopping-cart feature, high-quality product images and descriptions, and a secure online payment process. This last item is especially important if you are taking credit cards through your site. There are serious liabilities if you mishandle credit information. Be sure to find a development firm that fully understands these elements.
Don’t settle for a Web site that’s an online billboard. The Internet provides a wide range of opportunities to interact with your customers. Allow your customers to ask you questions and dig deep into your product or service offerings. Provide expert advice with blogs and weekly or monthly online tips. Show off your staff’s accomplishments. Be creative and allow your company personality to show.
Do looks matter?
Now that you’ve defined your online strategy, it’s time to design your Web site. The design should match your business image exactly, not the designers vision of “what’s cool.” It must help in the conversion of visitors to customers not distract from achieving this objective. Including images of your staff at work with names and biographic information can establish trust and credibility while avoiding a sterile, encyclopedic feeling.
Example: If you have served your community for many years, be sure the design elements promote longevity, satisfaction, and success. If you’re the expert in a specific technology or application, be sure both the text on the site and its overall design reflect those abilities.
Nuts and bolts development
Web site development tools have made it easy for most any tech-savvy person to put together a Web site that works. Just like having a stethoscope does not make you a doctor, being able to create Web pages does not make you a Web developer. Find a firm that does Web development as a full-time career with plenty of real-world experience. Call two to three references to see what they have to say about working with this individual or firm — especially see if they have seen an increase in calls or sales as a result of their Web presence. You should also inquire about the responsiveness of the developer both during and after the project. And remember, like most things in life, you get what you pay for. A good rule of thumb would be $500 for a site design and $300 for each page of the Web site (plan on an additional $1,000 cost if you are selling products and need a secure shopping cart).
Your Web site can truly help grow your business by reaching potential customers 24/7. Often this is the first impression customers will have of your business. Let me share a terrific example. The owner of a waterjet-cutting equipment manufacturer in Kent, Ohio, landed two of his largest contracts after these new customers visited the company’s Web site at length. By the time sales got involved, the visitors were already convinced that the company had a terrific product and a real bent toward customer support. This allowed the sales team to focus on simply matching the right product to the customer needs, and they did!
By focusing on interacting with your visitors/customers online, you can achieve your online goals of driving traffic and converting visitors to customers. Your Web site could become your most effective sales rep.