Now that you've got your web site, it's up to you to help make it work. Posting your site and submitting it to the
search engines does not automatically and magically result in business. You have to make sure that people know where it is and why they should visit.
Many small-medium sized companies make little or no effort to actually use and maintain their web sites once
they've been built. In fact, the majority of small business web sites that I come across in the course of my work
do far more harm than good for that very reason. However, with a little effort, your web site can become a valuable asset.
This article is intended to give you a checklist for the smooth launch and integration of your web site into your 'brick and mortar' business. It does not cover search engines -- that's another whole subject.
STEP 1: ANNOUNCE YOUR WEBSITE
Hopefully you're very proud of your new site and presumably that means you'd like to tell people about it. There
are several rather obvious ways that anyone can do this:
- Word of mouth
- Snail mail
It's always helpful to start with the basics, and telling all your customers and friends about your new site is a good way to begin. Let's look at each of these points in a little more detail:
E-mail everybody in your address book, and if possible and appropriate, ensure that everyone in your company
does the same thing. But be careful! This kind of e-mail can easily be considered spam. Bear these two important points in mind:
- Keep it short and simple.
- Send your message as plain text rather than html mail.
Of course, your friends will be delighted to hear from you and excited by your new site, so calling them to tell
them won't be a big deal. However, for everyone else, there are two rules to promote your site by phone without causing annoyance:
- Call to inform your customers of a genuine benefit to them regarding your new web site.
- Tell them about it when you next speak to them in the course of business -- don't call them solely to tell them about your site.
For example, you may wish to tell all of your customers where they can now find important information, or
perhaps take advantage of a special 'web site only' offer. And remember to tell whoever answers the phones in your business to mention the new site in each incoming call.
Word of Mouth
When you tell someone about your new site, your recommendation will have a greater impact if you can hand them a business card that shows the URL (or at least write it down for them). Your efforts here will again have
far greater results if the people that you talk to perceive some benefit in visiting you site, such as special offers and relevant information on products and services.
The rules here are pretty much the same as for e-mail. The best way is to either write a short announcement that details a specific benefit to be found on your site, or include a small note/paragraph in your regular
correspondence to clients. Postcards are a good idea. You can't fail to miss the URL, as the message isn't hidden inside an envelope, and there's only room for small message -- keeping everybody happy!
STEP 2: PROMOTE YOUR NEW WEBSITE
Okay, now you've told everyone about your new site. What can you do in order to reinforce your message and
further promote your online presence? The processes detailed here also fall into some fairly simple categories.
Although none of them would have a huge effect individually, used together they can make a sizeable impact on the effectiveness of your site.
The basic areas are:
E-Mail: The True Killer App
You've already mailed everyone in your company's collective address book -- what more can you do? Loads of
stuff actually. E-mail is the original 'killer app' and provides an ideal way to both promote your site and add value to your customer service. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Staff E-Mail Accounts
Ensure that everyone has an @yourcompany.com e-mail address and, more importantly, make sure they use it.
Make these e-mail addresses available on your site, and encourage your customers to make business inquiries this way. If MouseWorks provides your hosting, we will set these up for you free of charge.
And remember the golden rule of e-mail: you must ensure that the e-mail addresses are checked regularly -- at least once a day for most small businesses. Not having their e-mail answered will make your customers feel
unloved, and will inevitably result in lost business.
Create a Standard Company Signature
Make sure that every e-mail sent from your company address has a proper signature. This should be no more than four lines long and contain useful information such as the Name, Position, Telephone and Fax numbers of the
sender, and of course the company URL. Don't know how to set it up in your e-mail program? Just give MouseWorks a call and we'll walk you through it over the phone.
Create Generic E-Mail Addresses
Most companies will have need for addresses such as info, sales, help, or email@example.com Again, make
them easily accessible via your site, and ensure that they're checked regularly and responded to appropriately.
One further point, if you use mailto links on your site, make sure that the link text is the actual address rather
than the person's name. Not everyone will want to launch an e-mail client to contact your company, especially if
they happen to be using somebody else's computer. If you provide the e-mail address, they'll be able to note it and send you an e-mail later.
If MouseWorks provides your hosting, we can set up an autoresponder for your e-mail address. If your web site has a 'Contact Us' form, MouseWorks has already set it up so an autoresponder page thanks the visitor and
promises a quick response.
If you're using an e-mail address not associated with your domain name (firstname.lastname@example.org), check to see if they
provide an autoresponder service. Many do and they're not usually hard to set up.
The funny thing about getting an automated message from a company you've e-mailed is that, even though you
know it was sent by a machine, it still has that 'I'm being looked after' quality to it. A simple 'We've received your
message and will be responding shortly' response also buys you a little time if you don't have an immediate answer for the client's query.
Promote Your Site in Print
This is a broad category and covers everything from business cards to product packaging, shopfronts and advertising. Here are some ideas that should help most small businesses.
Include your URL as well as relevant e-mail addresses in:
- Business cards
- Promotional items such as pens, t-shirts, mugs and bumper stickers
... in fact, almost everything!
If your company advertises in print media, then it's essential that you get that URL incorporated into your artwork. Remember:
- The good old yellow pages (expensive, but effective)
- Leaflets, mailshots, and postcards
- Posters and billboards
- Newspapers and magazines
- Press releases
Your site can act as the perfect extension to your existing advertising efforts and open an immediate window into
your business. If someone is interested in your ad, chances are that a professional web site with plenty of good quality content will tip the balance over your competition, who list only their physical address.
If you have one, you can let passersby know that you can now be found online, as well. Your local print shop can
probably run off some posters for you. And, if possible, get a signwriter to add your URL to the shop sign.
Promoting Your Site by Telephone
Using the phone to promote your site can be extremely effective if you can get all your staff to sing the same song. Here are a few things to consider if you make or receive more than a few calls a day.
Keep Useful URLs Handy
Keep a list of useful URLs for your 'front desk' staff. When customers ask 'can I get information on x, y or z' point them to an appropriate page. Better still, e-mail them the link.
Use an On-Hold Message
Tailor your 'on-hold' message to promote your site. Ditch 'Greesleeves' and create a snappy ad for your web site!
Write an F.A.Q.
If you get asked the same few questions over and over, write and maintain an FAQ for your site. As with the above, offer to e-mail a link to callers that ask questions that appear on your FAQs list.
Run a Website-Only Promotion
Create weekly/monthly promotions that may be found only on your site. This gives you a great reason to tell
callers the site URL. And, of course, if they visit with the intention of checking out the offer, they'll also be exposed to all your other sales initiatives.
Note that not all your callers will be online and some of them may object to being redirected. They took time out to call you, so do them the courtesy of responding via the same medium and send them a link to your more
detailed online information. That way, everybody's happy!
STEP 3: KEEP PROMOTING YOUR SITE
So you've spent a serious amount of time, effort and money on the integration of your new site into your small business. You've plastered the URL over everything that moves, beaten anyone not using their company e-mail
address with a big stick, and you're feeling pretty pleased with the results. So what now? Sit back and take it easy? Nope!
Here's where the real work begins. Having built a website and attracted some traffic to it, your objective now is to gain repeat visits and referrals. What else can you use? The areas we'll look at are:
- Repeat traffic
- Viral marketing
- Going the extra mile
Chances are, you've gone to a lot of trouble to encourage visitors to your web site, so don't let it be a
one-time-only deal. Here are some ideas that anyone can use to maximize their site's hit rate.
Provide Regular, Fresh Content
People that have an interest in what you do will return if they believe they'll find more information on successive visits. If they come back a couple of times and find nothing new, they probably won't ever come back.
To a certain degree you can even control how often your visitors return by how often you publish new content.
Adding a tip of the week or coupon of the month is a great way to get the ball rolling. For example, MouseWorks' Chepachet.com web site has a new 'Tip of the Day' every weekday.
Create 'Web Site-Only' Offers
This is also fresh content, of course, and if you do this regularly, you'll increase repeat visits (providing that your
special offers are of genuine benefit). Try to time these offers to be just a little more frequent than your average
repeat sale: that way you can close the gap between sale number one and two a little. Be careful not to overdo it, though.
Create an E-Mailing List
In order to tell people when you published fresh content, especially new offers, send out a newsletter to your subscribers. Mailing lists are very easy to set up and can generate huge rewards to your business if done
properly. Yahoo! provides a free and easy service at Yahoo groups that you might like to check out. There are
limitations in the number of addresses that can be on any one list (to help prevent spam), but you can just set
up Group 1, Group 2, etc. to get around this limitation. Don't have time to set up your own mailing list? Let MouseWorks do it for you. We'll field the sign-ups and send out your messages whenever you like.
Put Technical Documentation Online
If you sell or provide anything that requires instructions or manuals, make copies of them available online. People
lose manuals easily, and it's a simple thing to tell them that they can find the current instructions/documentation on your site -- which will, of course, expose them to all of your other material at the same time.
Remember that MouseWorks can take your Word, WordPerfect, or Publisher document and convert it to a PDF
(portable document format) file, the industry standard for online manuals. Once we post the link on your site, folks will be able to download the file quickly and easily!
Going The Extra Mile
What more could you possibly do? If you have read this whole article, you're now aware that there is literally no
end to what you can do to promote your company's web site. Just use your imagination. Here are a few ideas for further inspiration.
Write for Complementary Sites
Find sites that relate to your main focus and contribute an article or offer to write a regular 'column' in return for
a link back to your site. They benefit from the content, and you benefit from the click-throughs. Try to choose well trafficked sites, of course.
Pens, t-shirts, mugs, books of matches, etc. -- these are all great ways of getting that URL out. You might even
try free postcards. Keep a bunch of nicely printed, preferably funny or interesting cards with your address at the counter, and let people take them to send to their friends.
Discussion Groups and Forums
If, due to the nature of your business, you're particularly knowledgeable on a given subject, try to find e-mail
discussions and online forums that relate to your topic. Make sure you have a 4-line signature at the bottom of your posts that includes your URL, and answer as many questions and offer as much advice as you can. You'll
soon see a whole bunch of new visitors to your site. A note of caution, though: no one likes a spammer. Offer your advice for free and don't dot your e-mails/messages with links to your site unless the pages you link to
actually answer the poster's question.
Create a Reciprocal Link Program
Make a page on your site full of external links to on-topic sources of further and complementary information.
When you've done that, go through those sites and send a short, polite request to each of them that they add
you to their list of links. The are called reciprocal links. Don't worry if they don't want to link to you, and certainly
don't remove them from your list -- this is a nice way to add value to your site and demonstrates a certain degree of authority on a given subject.