Your website is built and sitting pretty. So where are all the people you hoped would come over to play? You need traffic for your site to be effective and to start generating leads. Now that you know that just having a website won't necessarily drive business to you, you should consider the most important thing most people miss in this effort.
Here are the 3 factors that need to be in place for a successful website and successful business. I'll list them from least important to most important:
1. Sound 'on-site' Search Engine Optimization strategies. This refers to the things many consider the most important. There are the basic A-B-C's of getting things set up with keywords and phrases so that you will rank well against your competition in Google, Yahoo and the like.
This involves a lot of elements that you, as the end user, may never realize or see. Having the proper titles for each page, putting in the right key words and header tags. There are solid things that should be done and most web designers that I talk to rarely take it beyond this point. Being ranked well by search engines starts here but the best realize this is only the start.
2. Content That Is Effective. Visitors are useless unless they buy something or make contact with you. We call this "Conversion Ratio". What percentage of your website visitors convert into buyers and users of your services? This can and should be measured.
The important things here are the attractiveness and professional appearance of the site with content that is compelling. Having the right mix of words, graphics and informational content can take conversion rates from being non-existent to well over 10%. Do this right and your income level can really zing.
Web designers get so many calls from business owners that can only think to ask, "how much do you charge to make me a website?" What they miss is what it will cost them in business profits if it is not done right.
Web designers may know how to make a good looking site but not necessarily how to input the words and content for the best results. Writing compelling content is a very specialized talent. This takes more work and more time to do. It costs more, but the difference can be huge on your return on investment.
When you have this part right, the most important part of driving traffic can be taken advantage of. This aspect is where many web developers simply drop off the map in helping clients. If you are shopping price only, you won't find this part of the mix. What is it that they miss?
3. Off Site Factors Are Most The Important Factors in Driving Traffic! What are 'off site factors'? The most important key for ranking well with Google are the links that come to you from other sites that Google considers to be important sites. MSN and Yahoo are important sites. So are Digg.com, Wikipedia.com and WowWebWorks.com. OK, so the last one is more important to me than Google.
Here is the rub. How can you control whether or not other sites talk about you and link to you? I don't mean calling other site owners and saying something like, "Hey, I'll link to you if you link to me" stuff. Mutual links are not important anymore. One way links are. So how can you get those rolling? Well, this takes work. The nice part is that it is work that will have a direct effect on your bottom line. You have enough "busy work" as a business owner. This isn't busy work; it's vital.
Social-Business Networking Sites - Use Them
This is where sites like LinkedIn.com, Facebook.com and even MySpace.com come into play. I recommend using LinkedIn.com for business development. From there you can refer to your website and create interest in your site in others.
I have a full article of ideas for this elsewhere so I won't elaborate here. For more on this see "Why Bother with 'LinkedIn' or 'Facebook'?" . Posting your information and inviting contacts to link in with you can be huge. It's like having a second or third website with positive recommendations about you and your business.
Effective PR Campaigns
This can be the most important foundation for your business success. As our business partners Ray Lohner and Jerry Ogg from E3 Public Relations have drilled into me, most businesses have it all backwards. Here is what they preach for priorities:
1. Advertising => 2. Marketing => 3. Public Relation (If at all)
1. Public Relations => 2. Marketing => Advertising (If still needed)
Many businesses we build websites for already do some advertising with varying degrees of success. They do advertising yet often don't know how that differs from marketing and ignore PR altogether.
It is PR that really sets the table for all the rest to work. The Internet is transforming even PR. Every time you have a bit of company news from hiring a new employee to lending support to a local charity it deserves a PR piece. Open a new office? PR. Have a unique solution to a problem? Let the press know - they may just do a story on it.
The idea is that if you get enough good PR working for you it opens doors for marketing and advertising because your company and name are more recognizable and respected. Just knowing who you are can be huge.
What has changed in the PR realm in recent years is the rise of online PR companies that will take your electronic releases and send them as feeds to news services nationwide. An example is www.prweb.com. It is chock full of information about good PR and advice on how to write it for best effect.
Your submissions are sent out and picked up as a feed by other services. If your PR piece has a reference to your website, you now have 1 if not dozens of incoming links to your website. Do dozens of releases and you have dozens of one-way links and start to get noticed by other people interested in your field. Google notices this also.
Why Is PR All But Ignored?
So why don't more businesses use this? Why do business owners nod in agreement but rarely follow through doing this? Because it takes time and effort to put together a good PR piece in a form that will be picked up by other sites or publications. It takes some knowledge to know where to even send it after you write it. Frankly, you probably don't have time to sit down and pen out a 700-word piece.
Few have the writing talent to do it right. It's a skill, a specialized skill. Even if you do have the ability, you may well not know where to send it or who at a publication might be interested in it. This is exactly why PR firms exist.
They do it well, know where to send it for greatest effect and they know what is newsworthy to send. They usually know people at the publications on a first name basis and what they are looking for.
I'm betting that if you cut your advertising budget in half and put that half into paying for a PR firm to take over that job that your remaining advertising will be even more effective than before.
This is one of the added values for quality web development companies. Next time you call a web design firm and ask, "How much does it cost to build us a website?" find out if "fries" come with that. Do you get just a website or do you get the added value of expertise in Public Relations, Marketing and Advertising. Trust this, you will get no more than you pay for.
If your web developer doesn't do this, find a good PR firm and make sure they work together to do the job right.
Find out if they know enough about LinkedIn to even be there. If not, maybe they can't help you there. How about their press releases? Do they even do them for themselves? How do they pro-actively do marketing for themselves? There are probably reasons why the cheapest bidder is the cheapest bidder. I hired the cheapest bidder to pave my driveway. Huge mistake now that it's cracking after only 3 years.
A larger vision can make you a lot more money. You have to decide if "who's the lowest bidder" is more important than how much money and exposure the site adds to your bottom line. After all, isn't making money the point?
By John Clark is the President of Wow Web Works in Kalamazoo, MI.
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