Nicky Jurd

Effective Small Business Websites

Archive for the ‘Customers’ Category

Monday
Apr 21,2008

Google has made it so easy to include a map on your website. Once you include the map it has all the same great functionality you see on the Google maps site: zooming, dragging, different views.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Go to Google Maps.
2. Search for your address.
3. On the right hand side of the map, click Link to This Page.
4. Copy the embed in website link, and paste it in an email to your web designer.

Below is an example of the result – and a map to my office if you’d like to chat with me over coffee.


View Larger Map

Sound is Bad

Monday
Apr 14,2008

I’m fairly opinionated about this, but I an explicitly against including any sound on websites. Most especially background music.

Let’s say I’m sitting in my office surfing the web looking for a nice apartment by the beach to stay at on my upcoming tropical holiday to Cairns. I’m *supposed* to be working. The pleasant sounds of birds chirping and the beach rolling in starts blaring through my speakers. BUSTED! Everyone in the office looks toward my computer to see what I’m doing… so I quickly shut down my browser window to stop the sound.

You might think this isn’t likely on your website, but check your traffic stats. Most websites get a large percentage of their traffic during office hours, likely from people who are supposed to be working.

If you must use sound on your website, don’t play it by default. Allow your customers to turn it on if they want to hear it.

Friday
Apr 11,2008

Small businesses, just by their size, have an air of uncertainty about them. Help your customers make the decision to do business with you by showing off your strengths as a small business:

  1. You’re approachable.Include a good photo of yourself and your team on your website. Customers love being able to see who they’ll be speaking with and buying from.
  2. You have a story.Hordes of small business owners went into business because they’re an expert, a specialist and have a great track record of doing what they do best. Tell the story on your website through a company history or professional profile page.
  3. You’re easy to talk to.The phone number and premises address are easy to find on your site, and you answer your emails within 24h hours.
  4. You take credit cards.Be confident about your payment methods, and proudly display the logos of the credit cards you accept on your website. Credit cards are big businesses. Displaying their logos acts as proof you’re operating a reputable business. If you accept credit card payments on your website also make a big deal of your secure payments area.
  5. People already do business with you.Proudly display your business successes with testimonials of previous customers, informative lists of services you’ve conducted for which companies or a portfolio listing of people you’ve worked with. Wherever possible try to include full names, business logos and people’s photos – they’re much more effective.

Remember customers and businesses hide behind the anonymity of the internet. People will be happier doing business with you if you’re transparent, honest and keen.

Thursday
Apr 10,2008

One of the major annoyances customers experience with websites is trying to locate contact details, especially phone numbers. Amusingly, the worst offenders are often large corporations who should know better!

My preference is to include some basic contact details below the footer of every page on the website. This means that no matter which page your customer is on, the moment they make a buying decision they don’t need to search hard to find out how to contact you.

Have a clear, easy to find contact page. This should include your extended contact details including details like a map to your shop or office, your fax number, postal address and a contact form.

Please post great examples of contact pages you’ve seen on your surfing travels.

Thursday
Apr 3,2008

In the world of case sensitivity, it’s always refreshing when I tell people their domains and email address are not case sensitive. The major benefit of this is course, is that you can use capital letters at the beginning of words in multi-word domain names and alleviates the temptation to buy a domain with a hyphen.

So here’s some examples, see how the capitalisation makes them easier to read:

getwebservices.com.au > GetWebServices.com.au

evolveenergy.com.au > EvolveEnergy.com.au

tourstogo.com > ToursToGo.com

goodsexporter.com > GoodsExporter.com

Did you get caught on the last one? *shakes finger at you* You have naturally naughty thoughts!

The examples show how much easier it is to read a business name in the domain or separate the words with a capital letter. Have you seen any domains that have tricked you up when all written in lowercase?

Tuesday
Apr 1,2008

Back in the old days search engines were different creatures. They’ve gradually grown more intelligent, especially to people trying to trick them.

The beast of the link exchange came about because everyone wants to rank higher. The number and quality of incoming links your website has is a very important part of search engine’s ranking algorithm. So naturally millions of website owners across the world went about inflating their incoming link count by participating in link exchanges. Often you’d get an email like this in your inbox:

Dear Webmaster,

My name is Wild Earth Adventures, and I run the web site Wild Earth Adventures: http://www.wildearth-adventures.com/

I recently found your site http://www.cairnsconnect.com and am very interested in exchanging links. I’ve gone ahead and posted a link to your site, on this page:

http://www.wildearth-adventures.com/linkmachine/resources/links_adventure_travel.html

As you know, reciprocal linking benefits both of us by raising our search rankings and generating more traffic to both of our sites. Please post a link to my site as follows:

Title: Wild Earth Adventures
URL: http://www.wildearth-adventures.com/
Description: Adventure Holidays Canada, Wilderness tours and Eco tours

This email is generic, impersonal and somewhat irrelevent to my business. There is an industry theme, travel. So how could it hurt to exchange links with them?

  • A link is an endorsement
    By linking to this company on your website you’re saying to your customers that you stand by this company and support it. Consider how embarrassing it might be if this company also links to dodgy sites, or worse, pornographic websites. Not a good look for your business.
  • You might end up in a ‘bad neighbourhood’
    The search engines will trust your site less if you appear to be linking to many websites, especially if they’re not related to your business. Having a link to a website who has dodgy outgoing links cause cause your website to receive a penalty from the search engines.
  • Customers don’t like it
    Your potential customers come to your website to find out information about you, your products and services. By sending them off to various links of an unrelated nature indicates you don’t really know how to support your product with complementary businesses.

Years ago search engines decided they’d had enough of reciprocal linking monkeys, and removed the value attached to a reciprocal link in terms of your rankings. They now reward you when someone links to your website, without you needing to link back. That’s a real endorsement.

Thursday
Mar 13,2008

To seasoned internet users, blogging is a household word. To business it’s a new and blossoming addition to their websites bringing new visitors, customers and clients.

Blogging in business is booming in popularity due to them being easy and simple to use, relatively cheap to have installed on a website and an excellent form of communication to share corporate expertise and connect with existing and potential customers.

A great business blog has a continuous stream of fresh and interesting content and helps establish a relationship with website visitors and build a climate of trust. Blogs offer business a chance to build a real community by making it quick for people to post, comment and update posts – essentially making it easy for everyone to participate.

Benefits of Blogging

  • Easy to use – simply type your thoughts, link to other websites, add photos, all with simple and quick steps.
  • Cost effective – many free blog websites exist across the internet, or you can fully customise a blog into your website between $500 – $1000.
  • Quick updates – you don’t require your web designer to update your blog which means no waiting for updates, and no cost ongoing.
  • Credibility – share your expertise and knowledge with a larger audience, an especially powerful tool for service based business.

Which Businesses Should Have a Blog

Most businesses who have ever thought about publishing a newsletter, or an e-newsletter will find a blog a natural addition to their website. Because blogs are centred around frequently updated mini-articles, they’re essentially little news items and any business which has information they want to deliver to potential customers is a good candidate to have a blog.
Here’s a couple of specific examples for business types;

Consultants & Services

Share your expertise and develop a stronger sense of credibility through your blog.

Consultants and service-based businesses are the most common businesses currently using blogs. People working in these industries spend considerable time displaying their skills within their target market through networking, panel appearances and mentoring. Blogs help to establish consultants as a trustworthy expert and build oneself as an authority or expert in a particular field.

Specialist Businesses

Encourage new custom through in-depth detail on your specialist area.

Businesses which operate in a niche target market or a tight product range are ideal for communicating with their customers through a blog. Use the blog for a knowledgebase of product information or a dynamic frequently asked questions section. Industry specific news and events are

Interesting Product Lines

Keep customers updated with new products and their features as they become available.

Many retail businesses evoke natural curiosity and following from their customers. These businesses especially should consider a blog to keep customers up to date with new and interesting products released.

Real Estate Agents

Announce new listings and keep poignant sales information in the buyer’s eye.

In a fast paced and ever changing industry like real estate, blogs are an excellent way to keep potential buyers informed of market trends as well as industry expertise, knowledge and specific suburb data.

Travel & Tourism Operators

Attract more customers through detailed product knowledge and regular news.

Many tourist operators already publish a reef report or regular newsletter which discusses specific topics pertinent to their product but much of this information is only distributed to booking agents. By publishing regular articles in a blog potential customers researching travel product online will be more likely to book through a company they know more about. This is especially true for travel agents whose business is built on experience with product.

Blogs are not necessarily designed to capture the largest audience and widest readership possible, but rather like most forms of internet marketing it is intended to help convert already interested visitors.

Common Blogging Mistakes

Unfortunately many businesses fall into the same trap with blogs as they do with e-newsletters – and abandon them after just a few months. Blog abandonment happens for lots of reasons, but mostly because in business we just get too busy. Here’s a quick list of common blogging mistakes that should be avoided;

  1. Not posting frequently enough.
    2 – 3 times a week is recommended
  2. Content is not defined.
    Carefully consider your target audience before you start writing, and continually refine your blog posts to this market.
  3. Articles are too long.
    A blog post is a mini-article and best length is between 200 – 300 words.
  4. Not linking to other resources.
    An expert in their field is expected to back up with expertise with citations, so make sure you link to relevant websites.
  5. Poor spelling, awful grammar and typos.
    Lots of readers will get turned off by these. Proofread your work.
  6. No information on writer.
    Blogs readers are curious by their nature, so include a photo and detailed information on yourself within the blog.
  7. No information on business products and services.
    The purpose of your blog is to raise your credibility and (hopefully) to make you more money – so make it easy for your visitors to discover what you sell.
  8. Comments are turned off.
    Ensure readers can leave a comment about your posts as this encourages them to return and interact further.

Things you might love about a blog

Blogs give you freedom to express.

Many new bloggers love the feeling that comes with expressing their opinion in a public place. It is especially warming when you receive comments from others that agree with you! A blog is a channel of communication that builds momentum and is ideal for opinionated thought. Many journalists and editors now use blogs through the major media newspaper websites.

It’s online networking.

Blogs which encourage a genuine exchange of ideas are a great platform to network with other industry leaders and further grow your business. The best minds in business often tell us how to attract the right customers with a strong opinion than the lowest price quote.

Cheap advertising.

As with many internet advertising opportunities, a blog provides inexpensive exposure for your business. Allowing customers to interact with you through a blog encourages repeat business.

Quickly gauge public opinion.

Have you checked lately how many people visit your website? For most small businesses it’s a couple hundred people every day. Bloggers post comments at a fiery pace, and you can very quickly gauge the public’s opinion on products, services, events and business ideas. Blogs have most recently been established by political reasons heading into elections for precisely this reason.

Who Has a Blog?

Andrew Griffiths has a great example of a blog which combines marketing expertise and commercialism. Have a look at www.andrewgriffiths.com.au.

Sunday
Mar 9,2008

Keeping your website fresh is considered one of the most important features of keeping your customers. Have a look at some of the great websites of the world like Amazon and eBay, and you’ll notice they rarely look the same each time you arrive. The only thing they keep the same is the location of the menu.

For most small businesses though, changing your website every few months is usually adequate. If you’ve invested a lot of your time into developing your website and ‘getting it right‘ the first time, it might be hard to think of some new things to add, or what you can change, so here’s some ideas.

Start a File

Open a new folder on your desktop, and inside create a Ideas Word document. This is a quick and easy place to put anything you find on the internet, or thoughts and ideas you have.

Listen to Customer Feedback

I looked for information on your widget product, but I couldn’t find anything.

When a customer says something like this write it into your Ideas document, and consider how you can incorporate this into a new page or section on the website. Sometimes you might just need to ask your web designer to make particular aspects stand out more.

When Things Change…

… think of your website. Many of your prospective customers check your website before contacting you, so make sure if a price changes, or you do not sell particular products lines anymore that they are correctly noted on your site. Customers report one of their biggest frustrations as being out of date websites.

Thursday
Mar 6,2008

This article was written while I was on holiday in California and was inspired by the many great travel businesses I encountered throughout America.

When creating a website within the tourism industry it’s important to keep a strong focus on the needs of travellers. The website ideaologies applying to travel also apply to a broad number of websites selling single products online.

It is much easier to maintain this focus if you have a clear idea of your target demographic. Many businesses fall into the trap of believing anyone can stay in their hotel, or take their tour, but the reality is each product will only appeal to a subset of the travellers visiting any region.

Tourism providers who’ve been in the industry for some time will tell you that the internet dramatically changed the booking habits of travellers and it’s important to realise why this is so.

Why A Traveller Uses the Web

The primary reason a traveller will visit your website is to gather information about tourism product. This means more information then the brochure displays or a travel agent might know. Travellers are frequently disappointed when a website contains scant information or fails to answer even their most basic questions.

Essential Website Parts

For a traveller the most important page of a website is your home page. Research suggests most people will visit at least 10 different product websites before making a purchasing decision, and much of their decision to delve further into your website is based on the professionalism and information on your home page.

Your home page should be a three or four paragraph summary of your product which addresses questions about location, rates and sells your products major benefits over your competitors. In addition you should ensure your home page does not load slowly, and avoid flash animations as they rarely display the information required to entice your visitor to go further.

Within the information on your home page, ensure there is appropriate linked text where visitors can find out further information. This is particularly important with rates and calls to action.

The rates themselves should be clearly displayed in a neat table with the fine print or pricing conditions close by. A visitor needs to be able to quickly figure out how much your product costs, so avoid making them fill out a form with their dates and number of people as this is likely to annoy them and generally results in them studying your competitors rates page instead.

A strong call to action leading your visitor to book, enquire or phone should be near the rates data and is nearly always forgotten by less savvy website owners. Be clear about what your potential customer should do next.

Most often a visitor will contact you before booking if your website does not have an automated availability and booking form. You can make this process easy for them by having separate booking and enquiry forms.

Hire a professional photographer and include your most spectacular shots on your home page, and then scatter the rest generously through your website. Include talent from your target market demographic in the photos. This allows people to put themselves in the picture having an enjoyable experience.

Hindrances To Conversions

As the web becomes increasingly automated the time it takes for a visitor to gather the information they require from a tourism product provider will determine which provider makes the sale. For this reason consider investing in a web-based reservation system to allow customers to make decisions instantly. Customers will get frustrated if they need to wait for responses to their reservations and book a competitive product.

Many web users attest their biggest annoyance about websites is not being able to find the information they require to answer their questions. Think about the most common questions your customers ask and answer everyone of them.
The question all customers need answered is the one of prices. Some products mistakenly leave their prices off their website hoping someone will contact them to ask, but this strategy will sooner send your customers to a competitor which does display their prices. Just as bad as having no rates is having confusing rates, so keep them simple.

When a customer has an enquiry request ensure your enquiry form is short and sweet and only asks the absolutely necessary details you need to respond to the customer. Long enquiry forms will put customers off and they may choose not to bother asking.

Be careful with the photos you include as bad photography with small grainy pictures or old shots devalues your product and puts customers off. Avoid including anything blurry, out of focus, or where the photo has too many subjects.

Resources Travellers Use

Think about the online resources travellers use to find product, and ensure you have strong representation.

The first and most important is the search engines, especially Google. If you don’t have good rankings, consider purchasing advertising with Google AdWords to ensure you have good visibility.

Travellers often review prominent, high ranking information sites containing general information about the area. Look into advertising on these sites for more exposure to travellers who have not yet decided their precisie itineraries.

Big for international travellers are review and comparison websites like Trip Advisor (www.tripadvisor.com). These sites give customers an unbiased view of a number of products in an area, and rates them by popularity. Customers trust the reviews on Trip Advisor so encourage your customers to write something about your product.

Similarly travel forums like Lonely Planet’s The Thorn Tree allow travellers to explore destinations and their products through discussion with other travellers. Especially tour product will benefit by participating in online forum discussions and passively promoting their products aand services direct to potential customers. Seek out localised travel forums and ensure you follow the accepted ettiquette for product promotion.

The prominence of travel blogs have seen an increase in product providers being featured in personal stories from customers who have experienced that product. These are powerful reccommendations, and travel providers should consider asking customers if they have a travel blog and encourage their product’s favourable inclusion if so.

Travel websites are by large all about your customer. They need to cut through competition by doing a great job of answering your customer’s questions and being well organised with spectacular photography.

Moving Parts

Tuesday
Mar 4,2008

It’s my humble opinion websites should rarely shake their hips, rattle, roll or hum. Perhaps this is because I’ve spent too many years making professional-grade business websites, and when I’m serious about doing business with a company, I don’t want my eyes distracted my moving parts.

There are an amazing collection of web animators who create fantastic multi-media productions. They’re not my preference, and they’re usually not a customer’s preference either. So, if you want a cool, hip and modern moving feature film on your website, here’s the best ways to implement one.

Movement Draws Attention

People’s eyes are instinctively drawn to anything that moves. Remember with your web customers you already have their attention, as they’re only looking at your website. Unlike when they view a TV advertisement, web customers want to see your website.

What should you draw people’s attention to:

  • Anything that makes you money: online specials, featured products, new services
  • Photos that showcase your product: portfolio images, regional hero shots, strong venue photos

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