Archive for March, 2009
In this industry I see business owners often making this same mistake over and over again. They use up their entire budget on building a decent site, then they forget to promote it! We usually hear something like the following:
“You mean people won’t just visit it because it’s there?“
Back in the first month the internet was born this was realistic, some people just surfed the web to see what they could find, and your site would pop up in the rudimentary search engines of the day because there was virtually no competition – sorry but those days are long gone!
To help promote your site, here are some tried and true ways to build traffic to your site through the online community. Remember, todays online browser can be tomorrow’s customer if you do your homework.
SEO – strategies for getting better results from search engines
- Write a page title – this is the first thing that search engines look at when viewing your page, it’s also what appears in the top left of your browser window, don’t forget it!
- Include your keywords in the header (h1, h2, h3) – Browsers interpret these tags as having more importance than regular text (hence the ‘h1′ which means ‘header 1′). Use these tags to not only grab attention for what’s to come, but to impress search engines as well.
- Use keywords in hyperlinks - Google especially puts emphasis on the words used in a link (what is blue or underlined). This is seen as a ‘gateway’ to another page or location and the text used describes that location, hence making it more important to the search engine.
- Promote your local business using google – This is a must do! It amazes me how many people don’t realize the business potential in this. Every time people look at a Google Map or search an area on a map Google shows what it thinks are relevant businesses. If your listed in that area, you get one of those balloons with your name, address, and phone number. Google will send you a postcard in the mail which you have to mail back to them to verify that you are a local business. This service is FREE (minus the cost of the stamp and 3 minutes of your time).
- Business Blog – On the internet content is king as the old axiom goes. What better way of building solid online content about your business can you think of than blogging about it? Press releases, new projects, industry developments are all great ways to build content. It also helps a lot in keeping a site fresh, downside is you have to be semi-diligent about it. Nobody wants to read a blog whose last post was in 1999.
- Submit site to key directories – This helps build traffic in two ways:
- It builds ‘real’ traffic to your site through click-throughs from directories in your field. Directory listings often show up in searches and this can be a great way to build traffic.
- It also builds ‘votes’ for your website. The way this works is fairly easy to understand, when someone links to your site they are in essence ‘voting’ that your site is a desirable destination on the internet. Google’s and other search engine algorithms see this and positively consider it when ranking your site.
Old School – traditional marketing tactics
- Include your URL on all company media - This is a no-brainer and the best and easiest way to promote the online component of your business. Radio commercials, TV ads, your company vehicle, pencils, pens, business cards (especially those!) and stationary should all have your web address.
- Develop something for free - Everybody wants something for free, especially on the internet it seems. Develop a part of your site that offers free stuff. Maybe a free example floor plan if your an interior designer, a free quote service if your a contractor, the always popular free newsletter subscription. These services are technically free, but they help to bring you business which more than makes up for the effort and cost you expend to create them.
Email – marketing techniques for emailing your customer base
- Email Marketing – Get the Word Out… but not through SPAM! Everybody hates SPAM but there are legitmate and effective ways to build business through email marketing.
- Traditional Mail or Electronic? – We Vote Electronic! It’s cheaper, faster, and much easier to implement. M5Media has a newsletter system that comes with a custom template that matches your website and marketing material! Email newsletter marketing is an industry in itself so look to this site in the future for more information and future articles about this subject.
Don’t get me wrong… the old site was great in it’s day but we can all agree it was getting a little long in the tooth. The web has changed so much in the last 5 years that new stuff is all over the place. My previous month has been building a new web server for our stuff to run on and it only makes sense that we upgrade the site too.
We wanted to make the M5 site a little more flexible and up to date, and of course make it cool so we opted for a blog based CMS. WordPress has been around for awhile, but let me tell you… this piece of software is impressive! When you consider it’s plug-n-play architecture and active online community you have a great CMS/blog system.
Design wise it’s a little of the old with a little of the new, the website runs on the Word Press engine. We opted through several iterations for this redesign but none of them felt right so we ended up working with and overhauling an existing theme from WordPress and adding our own stuff.
We also have a new logo! I was looking for something that would tie the two words together in a design sense, you be the judge… [below]
This site goes out to Will Weyer of Wiretree.com, who has always been an inspiration to me and shown that good work is worth the extra effort.
What to Look for in a Web Designer…a beginners guide
Experience: If his/her answer to this question is “Yeah, I designed a website once” that should tell you something.
Online Portfolio: Your Web Designer should have some sort of portfolio online, take a look at it. Do you like what you see? Call up a website owner and ask about their experience with the developer. Did they get what they paid for? Was the developer easy to work with? Is the site doing what you need it to do? Etc.
Server Side Scripting: All but the most basic of websites have interactivity, without it a webpage is just an online brochure (which is fine if that is all you need it to do). However, to start working for you a website needs to have some sort of server side scripting. Do you want the website to collect information from people? Do you want the website to sell your products? Do you want the website to accept job bids, photo submissions, questions from customers? People’s needs are impossible to guess…here are just a few examples of things people needed server side scripting to accomplish.
- One client needed a website with an online dating service for its patrons (a nightclub),
- Another needed a way to upload and sell their photos online (a photography studio),
- Another needed to take job submissions over the internet (a construction company).
Aesthetic Design: This is a very subjective one but you can be the judge. Are sites that this Web Designer has done pleasing to look at? Are they functionally designed? Are they easy to navigate? Do they load in a reasonable amount of time? Do they have purple backgrounds with yellow text and jumping clowns? (Hint, this is not a good sign)
CSS: CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets, a language developed to separate content from markup. Your web designer should use CSS in some form or another. CSS allows all the text and some of the design elements for the site to be controlled from one document. When you want to change fonts or colors on a site, it’s a matter of minutes instead of hours, which is time that you are paying for.
A Private Server: Ask your Web Designer if they have their own server or if they just rent space. I’m not saying every web developer has to have their own server, but if they do, this should tell you two things.
- They are serious about the business; nobody has their own server just for fun.
- Your website will get better performance. Virtual hosts (companies that rent space to people for cheap) often severely overload their servers to make more money. Downtime, email problems, slow page-loading, and a million other problematic things are the usual result. You are less likely to encounter this problem with a developer or company that has its own server(s).
Monthly Fee: This should be a reasonable number, no more than $75 a month unless you are getting free consulting time or your website has special needs. A range of $15 – $35 is pretty standard for just hosting, depending on the needs for your site and what comes with it (expect to pay more for consulting time, extra storage space, etc).
Cost: Every website is unique, and most of the time you usually get what you pay for. If you want your site to do everything but wash your dishes and your budget is $500, you are not being realistic. On the other hand, if you just paid $5,000 for a site that doesn’t really do anything, your getting ripped off.
A Content Management System: You shouldn’t have to pay your Web Designer every time you need a few words changed, modern sites should be built with some kind of Content Management System (CMS) which allows you (at least) to make basic text changes.
Features: What comes with the website?
- Does the site include email accounts, statistics tracking?
- Does the developer or company backup the site regularily? Can you make backups? (this is especially important if your site holds important information)
- Can you make changes to the site without paying for them?
- Do you get consulting time? How much? What’s the hourly rate?
How to get Ready for a Website…
Plan: What do you want the website for? How will it help your business? What can it do to save you time or money? This information is critical to the success of your website.
Gather: A common misconception is that websites can be made from nothing, this is not the case. A website is a container for, or in some cases, a medium to transfer, information. However, that information needs to come from somewhere. Here are a few things any web designer needs to get started.
- Logo – preferably in a vector format (adobe illustrator, eps, or macromedia freehand format). If you don’t have one, get one designed, it is usually the starting point for your websites design.
- Photography – an all text website is pretty boring, have photos ready or arrange for them to be taken.
- Information – Contrary to popular opinion your web designer does not know the details of your business, the history of the company, or what information you want on that contact form.
- A Needs List - What do you want the website to do? What information will it gather… or present? What aspect of your business can benefit most from the website?
Define Your Terms: How much are you spending each month? Has everything you need the website to do been spelled out? Is there anything you’d like to add? What’s the quote amount? Are you working on a quote or hourly basis? How long till the site is finished once everything is supplied?
Get your information to the designer ASAP to help get your site done ASAP: Stick to some kind of structured time schedule with the developer. All pictures need to be turned in by this day, text information needs to be turned in by this day. The site will be completed in x amount of time once all information has been collected, etc. The sooner the site is finished the sooner it can begin working for you.
- Check in with your web designer on a weekly or bi-weekly basis for changes or progress reports.
Get Involved: Check in on your website while it’s being built, voice what you like and don’t like. Ask about changes as soon as possible. Is this changeable? What if I want to add this? Will it cost more? Etc. A good web designer will keep you informed about changes or modifications they need to make to make the website function better from a technical or aesthetic standpoint. If you don’t like something, ask about it. Maybe it was done for a reason, maybe it is just a difference of opinion.
Build your Website in Stages: If you are not sure what you want but know you want to bring your business online – start small. A small basic website should cost you no more than $500 – $800. Start with this, wait a few months and see what you (or your customers) are requiring of the website. If you have already determined exactly what you need the website to do, make sure you relay all of this information to the developer.
* Taking care of these basic things will insure a better overall experience for both you and the web designer. It will help insure that your website can be working for you as soon as possible and doing what you want it to do.
- Listed in the Duluth, Minnesota Web Design Services Directory at Marketingtool.com
- Finding Web Designers
- Sun Website Promotions
- The Designers Network
- Web Design Directory
- SitePoint. Ltd. excellent source for the web developer
- The Web Development Community
- SEO Companies – Directory of top Search Engine Optimization companies
- ZAESY.com – Web Directory
- Lawyer Directory
- Small business web directory