Nicky Jurd

Effective Small Business Websites

Archive for May, 2008

Friday
May 23,2008

Promoting your website is no longer about banner ads and reciprocal links – the web has grown up. While there are many ways to spend your advertising dollars online, there are also plenty of ways to tap into the community of the internet and take advantage of the free opportunities to spread the word about your business. Here we take a peek at the free promotional avenues you can tap into but you might not have realised their significance.

Get your site in the search engines

This is the most important free promotional technique for all websites. Search engines are responsible for 85% of the average website’s visitation, which means if you’re not well placed in the engines you’re missing out on a lot of customers.

Here’s the quickest way to get your website ranked well:

1. Think of the keywords your customers will search for to find you.

For example, if you consider the tourism industry in Cairns an owner of an apartment complex in the city might consider the following keywords;

cairns apartments
cairns city accommodation
cairns self-contained apartments
cairns family accommodation

2. Include these keywords in your website text

The search engines will not rank you for the keywords you want unless you include them in your text. Ensure you include them in a natural way using proper English. Here’s an example of a paragraph of text using the keywords above:

Cairns Oceanview Apartments offer self-contained accommodation in the heart of Cairns city especially well suited for families and couples travelling on a budget. Only walking distance from the popular attractions on the Esplanade, Muddy’s Playground and Cairns Central Shopping Centre our Cairns apartments are the perfect accommodation choice for your tropical holiday.

Submit your website…

Search the web for directories which focus on particular industries, such as tourism, education or finance. You may even by lucky enough to find very specific directories for micro-industries such as managed apartments or English schools for example. Think about the many terms people use to describe your industry and search for these.

Most businesses belong to trade associations or professional bodies which feature member listings. Ask for a link, and ensure you’re listed appropriately.

Avoid directories or bodies which solicit your business for upgraded listings as they are generally not well enough trafficked to be worth the while. Very large directories often provide very little actual visitation to websites listed within, so spend money carefully. Instead look for niche directories which operate in a specific sub-industry or location.

The more websites you are listed on, the more credible your business appears to search engines and to customers. Search engines will repay you by listing you higher for your keywords the more websites that link to you.

Write articles for others to use

Many of us write mini-articles everyday in the regular emails we write to our customers and our clients. Consider making these a more formal article and submitting them to other companies for inclusion in their newsletters and on their websites.

The usual policy for such an exchange is that other websites and newsletters can reproduce the article only in its entirety, without modification, and includes the author’s by-line and a link to their website at the bottom of the article.

For those of us who already write articles consider posting these articles onto your website as well, and include a note that allows others to republish your article without specifically seeking permission as long as the article is left entirely intact. This allows your articles to more quickly be distributed across the internet.

Issue press releases

Consider newsworthy events that happen in your business and consider submitting them to print and web periodicals within your industry. Links from news and media sources are favourably considered by the search engines and are poised to boost your website even higher in the search rankings.

Press releases also have the added benefit of making your business appear dynamic, changing and expanding which encourages others to do business with you.

Start a blog for your business

Blogs work incredibly well for establishing a regular visitor base to your website. Most business people offer regular industry comment to clients and associates, and a blog allows you to get this content out to a wider audience.

Include your URL on everything

You might be surprised how simple this suggestion is – but I still need to search high and low for some business’ website address (URL) despite having their business card and brochure in my hand.

Don’t make potential customers look for you. Print your everywhere your phone number is: letterhead, business card, envelopes, flyers, brochures, emails, outdoor signage etc.

To aid readability, I recommend excluding the http:// part of your web address and just including the www.domain.com.au part instead.

Leverage the power of your email signature

Business owners send hideous numbers of emails each day – email is reported as the most common form of executive stress.

Help combat this stress by knowing that every email you send is promoting your business and encouraging people to visit your website.

Promote your website in online forums and blogs

One of the reasons many people are attracted to the internet is because of the vast number of forums, blogs and online communities of people with very specialised interests. Tap into the areas in which your business exists by seeking out your peers and competitors online and finding where they exchange information.

Respect the culture of these discussion groups by not openly spamming advertising throughout the posts, but instead offer valuable contributions and information to the people asking questions. Ensure you include a signature at the bottom of your posts which links back to your website.

Regular visitors to these forums will gradually trust and recommend your business provided you do not aggressively market your business or overtly plug your products.

Write testimonials for businesses you’ve used

Many businesses display testimonials on their websites and this is a great show you support local businesses. Ask that your testimonial include a link to your website, and ensure you include a company logo so it may be included with your testimonial.

The end result is another link to your website, and credible support of a business transaction.

Ask visitors to bookmark your site

This encourages repeat business so people can find your website again easily by just checking their list of favourites. It’s simple, quick and free.

There are lots of other free ways to promote your website, but a common theme throughout most of these ideas is involving yourself in the online business community.

Unless you become familiar with how the online customer thinks you may never tap into how to make money out of them, or establish yourself as an expert in your field.

Do you have any other ideas? Submit them as a comment below.

Copying Copy

Wednesday
May 21,2008

Have you ever had someone steal the text off your website?

Whilst I am flattered that another web development company might choose to use our text on their website, it serves as a warning just how anonymous the web, and how easy it is to take things that aren’t yours.

Google doesn’t like it if two websites have the same text, and will look at the two and judge which one is the copier and which wrote the original text. It discounts the copier (and often won’t rank it for any terms) and awards the original writer with the power of the ranking.

When you write text for your website the copyright is immediately owned by you, just like with other original works like art, design or photography. Someone infringes your right if they steal your text and use it on their website.

I believe it’s important to know who is copying my text, so periodically I run Google searches for key sentences in quote marks to check is someone’s inadvertently borrowed some of my words. If I find some (and I inevitably do) I ask for a link to my website as a credit to me as the author, or I ask them to remove it. Over the years I’ve had our website copied about 15 times, and snippets and paragraphs taken about 200 times.

There’s a great website for checking to see if someone’s copied your text, have a look at CopyScape.

Be in the Game to Win!

Friday
May 16,2008

If you want a successful, effective and profitable website, get out there and use the internet.

There are not many businesses who don’t have a website, or who haven’t considered building one. Unfortunately I come across many business owners who have false expectations about what a website will do for them because they don’t understand the medium. I encourage any business owner who wants to have a serious online presence to get serious about their own online habits.

This is especially important for anyone looking to have an eCommerce website, or an online shop.

Here’s a list of things I believe all website owners should do online:

  • Book a flight.
  • Buy a gift from a small business niche retailer in another state, or country.
  • Become proficient at sending, receiving  and replying to emails.
  • Win an auction on eBay.
  • Post in a forum.
  • Book accommodation for your next holiday.
  • Search Google, Yahoo and Live for specific local products & services.
  • Find their location on Google maps.
  • Regularly use netbanking.
  • Subscribe to an RSS feed.
  • Write a review for a hotel, restaurant or service you’ve used.

Business owners making great money from their websites immerse themselves in the internet and watch how other similar businesses innovate and develop their products online. This helps them understand their customers and jump on new trends as they emerge.

What do you do online to keep yourself current and up to date?

(Don’t) Click Here…

Thursday
May 15,2008

Click here is perhaps one of the most overused phrases on the Internet.

If you’ve got any click here links on your website, it’s time to spring clean your content and remove every last one of them. People are savvy enough with websites that they realise what a link is, and that you click on it to see more information. Links are usually fairly obvious too, they’re in a different colour and they’re underlined.

Remember that each link you place on your website is a call-to-action, so instead of being tempted to write click here for more information on your next website update try linking keywords and phrases of what your customer will actually find on the next page.

Real Life Examples

TravelZone

If you have any suggestions that you think would make travelzone even better, we would love to hear from you! Click here to add your suggestion…

Does this sound a bit better?

We would love to hear from you. Please send us your suggestions to make travelzone even better!


Tasmania Bed & Breakfast Association

If you would like to be sent a copy of our guidebook to B&B’s in Tasmania, click here to fill in your post details.

How about this instead?

Would you like to receive our publication Your Best Guide to Bed & Breakfasts in Tasmania? Tell us your postal address, and we’ll pop one in the post for you.


The Australian

Support The Men of Gold. Get behind the Qantas Wallabies, show your support and click here..

Try this.

Support The Men of Gold. Get behind the Qantas Wallabies and show your support.

Engage Those Customers

Your links should be an enticement for your potential to go further through your website. It’s like holding their hand and giving them a guided tour of your business.

Think about how boring a guided tour would be if we said go through that door instead of… behind this door is Napoleon & Josephine’s elegant matrimonial bedroom.

By writing great calls-to-action links you’ll keep your customers interest in your products and services for much longer.

Managing Email Stress

Wednesday
May 14,2008

I can’t be the only person out there who sighs at the size of her inbox every morning!

Being efficient on email is tricky for me because I get such a large volume of email email day, and I spend a large chunk of most days in meetings. It’s especially tricky if I’ve had a day off.

Here’s some tricks of the trade I’ve employed over the years to help reduce my email stress, and improve my customer service.

Leave only unattended emails in your inbox.

As soon as you’ve replied to an email, forwarded it to a colleague for action or talked about the contents in a phone call, move it out of your inbox. Either file it, or put it in a quick To Be Filed folder for processing later.

Don’t use your inbox as a task list.

As soon as you check your email, check for the ones which require you to do something which will take time, and put these on your task list.

Upgrade to Outlook 2007.

If you’re still on Outlook 2003, upgrade as soon as possible. Outlook 2007 has outstanding and superior search capability which is far quicker than it’s predecessors. This means if you need to find an email pronto, you can, no hassles. I’ve run Outlook 2007 since June 2007 and am very happy with it.

BCC follow ups.

If you know you want to follow up an email you sent, BCC yourself a copy as you send it. Leave this in your inbox until you receive a reply, and then file the reply and the BCC when you’re done.

24h turnaround.

We all inevitably get phone calls and follow up emails if we don’t get back to people quickly. I aim for a 24h turnaround with all emails to avoid the time wasting follow ups and embarrassing apologies. I am in the technology business after all, if anyone can reply to an email quickly, you’d hope it’s be me!

Sunday
May 11,2008

Have a good look at your statistics and examine the pages which contain a web form, most notably, your contact form.

It is important to know the number of people who visit these pages, because this is the number of your luke-warm customers. A percentage of these made it through the form and contacted you, and the rest didn’t.

Why didn’t they contact you?

One of the primary reasons people do not fill out contact forms is because websites request too much detail from a potential customer.

Long forms scare people. They look like they’ll take a lot of time, and Lord knows we all don’t have much.

Simplify your forms down to the absolute bare minimum of information that you require to conduct your initial enquiry with this potential customer.

For most businesses, you should ask for just the following:

  • Name
  • Email Address
  • Comments

If you are a phone kind of person, consider also asking for a phone number. These three or four fields should be enough information for you to get the ball rolling.

This principle also applies to other web forms that are of an initial enquiry nature such as an availability request or quick quote.

For bookings and orders it is a given that you require much more information to complete the sale, and this doesn’t worry customers so much as they expect you will need more details.

Attract Hordes of Customers. Photo Courtesy Jungle Jim's International Market.
Attract More Customers. Photo by Jungle Jim’s International Market

When you walk into a retail shop and sales staff immediate come over to you and ask if they can help you before you have a good look around. Do you get that awkward, uncomfortable feeling that they’re desperate to sell you something, and you just want to leave the store?

Well asking too many details in a basic enquiry gives your potential customers a similar feeling. Keep forms short and sweet.

Saturday
May 10,2008

We’ve had the ideaology of business plans, marketing plans and other plans drummed into us by business success professionals for a long time now, but one plan we don’t here a lot about are website plans. So, where do you start? With the goals!

Like all things, a website will have one or two major goals, and a number of minor goals. Usually the minor goals support the major ones. Throughout most websites we build, the major goals don’t change.

Major Website Goals

  • Making money
    The reason a business exists in the first place, and certainly the ultimate goal of any eCommerce endeavour. Making money is a broad goal and the method for achieving this goal will change depending on the website. Methods include generating bookings, making sales and attracting advertisers.
  • Increasing credibility
    This goal is especially utilised by the professional services industries like accountants, lawyers and even web developers! This goal centres around informing your potential customers of your company’s spectacular history, and key staff’s qualifications. Artistic and creative industries will increase their credibility through visual portfolio pages.
  • Saving time
    Often this goal exists in tandem with one of the other two above, but many businesses choose to save administration time by having a web application built for them that automates some of the mundane tasks they do often. It might be as simple as referring cold enquiries to a page on the website for frequently asked questions, or it might be more complex like a customer management system.
Archer by Paul Downey
Photo by Paul Downey

Minor Website Goals

  • Encourage leads and enquiries
  • Conduct research on web user habits
  • Provide an easy contact platform
  • Allow quality media downloads
  • Increase subscriptions to newsletter database
  • Develop a community around your product or service
  • Encourage customer loyalty

Does anyone have further suggestions on other goals websites might try to achieve?


Saturday
May 10,2008
Kicking Website Goals. Photo courtesy Kenna Takahasi.
Photo by Kenna Takahashi

Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of your goals when building a website. We get ties up by the visuals; where photos go, how logos are positioned, what shade of green should you use… those sorts of fiddly bits. But the important part, perhaps the most important part, is keeping focussed on the goals.

Each page of your website should be trying to kick some goals, and before you even start writing the text for your pages you should have a firm grasp on which goal you’re aiming for.

Here’s some examples of what goals your website should be targeting.

Home Page

  • Encourage further exploration of your website
  • Allow easily visible contact details
  • Provide a clear path to the revenue stream of your website

Company Profile Page

  • Raise credibility of the company and its key staff

Newsletter Archives Page

  • Increase subscriptions to your newsletter database
  • Provide great content for search engines

Contact Page

  • Encourage enquiries

Usually your website will have many goals, with most having the ultimate goal of generating sales. Achieving your website goals will be infinitely more successful with the use of strong calls-to-action.

Friday
May 9,2008

There’s a dreamy romance about the notion of making money while you sleep. This is one of the major motivations for new online entrepreneurs – which is understandable when you read stories about the gobs of money made by the great global success stories such as Amazon, Google, facebook and eBay.

Many people concoct amazing new web ideas every day; lots don’t get developed, and lots don’t make it online. Some run out of budget after launch, and sadly fizzle in the market. Here are some aspects to consider when trying to make it in the web world.

New, Unique Ideas are Rare

It’s hard to believe, but the web has been mainstream in Australia since 1996. In 12 years the web has evolved significantly with some 5 billion websites. Just on numbers, the big winners are few.

The internet is experiencing an era like the industrial revolution where multiple people fought over who was the first to invent particular machines. Brilliant ideas are dreamt up every day, and there’s a good chance someone else in the world has already thought of it. In fact, there’s a good chance someone else is developing it already.

Many people believe the web money now lies in narrow niche markets. For example, there’s not a great deal of room in the market for another major player like Amazon. But there are strong online opportunities for antique book dealers, collectible book specialists, rare and hard to find online bookstores.

Similarly, as more people seek to purchase local goods and services online, geographically niche concepts will become more important, and certainly more profitable.

Concept Development

The first step of any online entrepreneur is to get some advice from people in the know. Sit down with a number of IT gurus and thresh out your concept. Refining the idea early on will save you a lot of money down the track.

It is best that once you’ve talked to a few friends in the industry that you seek the advice of seasoned internet professionals. Most web developers who’ve been in business for 5 or more years are considered veterans and will happily work in a consulting capacity to assist you.

People mistakenly skip this step and try to keep ideas to themselves for fear of someone else stealing it. The reality is ideas need substantial development to make it to market, so it’s well worth investing in the professional advice of people ‘in the know’ and experienced with your market.

Traditional Rules Still Apply

The great rules of traditional business are equally but arguably more important for online business. A business plan, start-up capital and a strong marketing strategy are required for online success.

Business plans for websites are different beasts to those of bricks-and-mortar businesses, but you most certainly should not skip this step. Most web development companies will have somebody on staff to assist with the conceptual planning and realistic goal targets from an online perspective.

Start-up capital for most online operators needs to cover the cost of website development as well as realistic marketing costs to get the idea off the ground.

What’s your idea going to cost? Most customised websites with unique and interesting features start from $20,000.

What’s Hot

All the awesomeness of the web’s automation has won hearts in the past but customers now crave the essentials of traditional businesses; customer service and reliability. Unfortunately, it is usually the automation features that attract budding online entrepreneurs and it’s important to remember that customers require so much more to become regular website customers.

Automation trends now only impress when intelligent interpretation and intuition is used throughout websites. An example of this is where you fill out an online form and upon answering a question the form tries to predict the answer to your next question.

Delivering superb customer service through intelligent automation should be the goal of emerging web businesses. Think carefully about the text in automatic emails sent to your customers when they complete certain actions on the website, such as asking for more information or subscribing to your newsletter, as you can keep a visitor for much longer if you can continue to satisfy their curiosity.

Making More Money

Ultimately once your website is built, you’ll need to sink some marketing dollars into drawing visitors. The quickest way to do this is through Google’s AdWords program, or advertising on high profile websites within the region or industry in which you operate.

Many new websites skip some of the user testing techniques employed by the big websites to maximise profits. Try this simple one: find 5 to 10 people you know to participate. Just friends, work colleagues and family will be fine. Give them all a slightly different job to do on your website. For example, purchase 3 items using the shopping cart, or make an enquiry. Watch how they traverse the website, where they need to stop and think about their next action, and where they find the site easy and intuitive. Use this information to improve your customers’ experience.

The web is undoubtedly an exciting place to do business, and if you don’t lose sight of the basics of business, the road to success and profits will be much smoother.

This article was published in the May 2008 edition of In Touch In Business magazine.

Thursday
May 8,2008

Every now and again I will be contacted by a website owner who believes Google is punishing them. They may have experienced a significant drop in traffic, not appear in Google at all, or they’re not being found for keywords they used to be.

Search engines have always been very secretive about the punishments they deliver, but we do know that they’re automated, and they can mostly be reversed.

Punishments are a tense and uncomfortable time for business owners as there is very limited information about what specifically can be done to fix the problem. In my experience reversing punishments is not a quick and easy process, so can cause a drop in revenue through the website.

Penalty

This is the most common punishment we see delivered by the search engine gods, and it’s also the most difficult to identify.

Usually you will notice you have a penalty because your traffic from search engines will suffer a significant decrease. This is most commonly associated with your website not appearing for search terms that you formerly enjoyed traffic from.

If you are still listed in Google, but can’t be found in the first 50 listings, then chances are a penalty has been applied to your site.

Ban

The worst type of punishment is a ban. We don’t see these very often, but they certainly exist, and are to be feared.

A ban occurs when the website can no longer be found in the search engine. You can check if you have been banned by doing a search for your business name, or running a site command in Google.

The site command will tell you how many pages in your website Google has in its index, so if you see any pages at all, you haven’t been banned. Here’s how you check:

site:www.yourdomain.com.au

So in my case, I’d be typing in site:www.nickyjurd.com.

If you have been banned, the best thing you can do is wait a couple of days. Sometimes the engines have little jitters when doing an update and you might inadvertently fall out of the index temporarily. If after a few days there is no improvement, then you’re permitted to begin worrying.

Some new website owners mistakenly believe they’ve been banned, when they just haven’t yet been added to the index.