by Donald Carson
September 2, 2007

If you have a toxic-looking office in a scary part of town, you probably won't have many people stopping by to say "Hi." The same is true of websites.

Some companies have websites, but they don't get many visitors, and often those who visit leave quickly. In other words, some websites just don't work.

And I mean "don't work" literally-they don't perform any work. They fail to fulfill their business function.

When you hire a salesperson, you expect them to get leads, qualify them, and make sales. If all they do is sit around the office drinking coffee and making no sales, you fire them.

But what about your website? Is it sitting around doing nothing for you, or is it a key tool in your successful business? Let's take a brief look at five tips you can use to create a new website to drive customers-or modify your existing site to be more successful:

1. Understand the Mechanics of Website Traffic

It's called the "World Wide Web" and the "Net" because it's a network of hyperlinked sites. On the Internet, if your site isn't linked to by another site, it's as if you don't exist. The most important sites that link to you are search engines, because millions of people a day use them to look for information, products and service providers.

If no one is visiting your site, it's probably because no one knows it's there. Have you put it on your business cards or on the side of your vehicles? Have you told friends and family about it? Here are some other sites that you can (and should) link to your site:

  • Search Engines (the most important sites of all)
  • Online Phone Directories (more people are looking for service providers online)
  • Online Industry Directories (membership organizations that will list your business)
  • Online Industry Sites for Consumers
  • Distributor and Subcontractor Sites
  • Paid Affiliates (popular sites that send you customers for a fee per customer)

You can buy linked text ads on search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN. These appear under the "Sponsored Links." Eventually, your goal should be to have free placement. Start now, since this can take months. Make sure your site has good information and that you've followed all the rules to get noticed and cataloged by search engines. Web designers or Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialists can help you with this. The better your site is, the higher it will rank in search engines' unpaid results.

Bottom line: The more people see links to your site, the more people will visit your site. Without visibility on the web, you're invisible.

2. Choose a Good Domain Name

The biggest companies have the biggest wallets to buy the best domains or web addresses. Apple Computers owns apple.com, Budweiser owns budweiser.com, and the rest of us have to figure out how to find a domain that hasn't been taken by someone else. Some advice:

  • Buy ".com" whenever possible-it's still the best choice
  • Avoid dashes in your website address if possible. If a customer leaves out the dashes, they could go to one of your competitors' sites by accident.
  • If you're planning to advertise on TV and radio, get an address that's easy to spell and to remember. If your company's name is Associated Builders, and associatedbuilders.com is already taken, you'd do better to buy ab.com or abuilders.com rather than assoc-build.com or something that's almost impossible to recall. You might even consider developing a tagline and using that as your Web address-for example webuilditright.com.
  • If you have a memorable phone number (such as 1.800.BUILD), use it as your website address, too. Be sure to buy both 1-800-build.com and 1800build.com.

Bottom line: When buying a domain name, choose simplicity over accuracy. Domains are cheap, so buy more than one if you have several ideas.

3. Evaluate Your Website as a Customer Would

One of the biggest mistakes businesses make when they create a website is that they make it too focused on them and not on what their customer wants-"We Have This" and "We Do Such and Such." Another mistake businesses make is not making their sites easy to understand and simple to use.

Customers are looking for a reason to stop searching. Your website should convince them to do business with you rather than someone else. Here are some ideas for doing this:

  • Use a headline-To a potential client, your business name probably doesn't mean much. Yet on so many websites (as in so many Yellow Pages ads), the business name features most prominently. Instead, minimize your business name and use a large headline which highlights your greatest benefit to the customer. For example: "Your project will be finished on time and on budget-guaranteed."
  • Evaluate your entire website-Look at it from a customer's point of view who has never heard of your company and is looking for any excuse to leave the site. You'll be amazed at what you find.
  • List the benefits-Phrase your capabilities as benefits instead of bragging rights, focusing on what the customer gets rather than what you provide. Instead of saying, "We don't make you pay until the job is finished," say, "You don't pay until you're satisfied with the job."
  • Add credibility-If you belong to local and national trade organizations, use their logos and link to them on your site to let customers know you're part of a trusted community. Use before-and-after photos or testimonials to show that you've provided good service. Do anything you can to allay potential customers' fears.

Bottom line: Evaluate your website from a busy customer's point of view who could care less about you and is just looking for a solution. Create a website that helps the customer decide you're that solution.

4. Implement Best Practices

Have you ever visited a website that instantly started playing an annoying song that you couldn't turn off? This is a classic example of what not to do. Here are some "best practices" for your website:

  • Keep your website concise, with bullet points, so it's easy to scan.
  • Avoid turnoffs and distractions. Don't play music or use lots of bright colors and animation. Focus on what you want the customer to know or do on your site.
  • Keep your website up-to-date. Nothing kills credibility like an out-of-date copyright year or an offer that expired three months ago.
  • Encourage connection-collect names, e-mail addresses, phone numbers.
  • Your website is as good as you are. Before a customer meets you, your website is all they know about you. If you're a professional company, make sure your website looks professional. If you're not sure what a professional website should look like, scan the sites of your largest nationwide competitors, and see what their big website budgets have bought them. Then recreate that on a smaller scale.

Bottom line: Customers evaluate websites in just a few seconds-follow best practices so you don't distract them or make them leave your site. You'll have a better chance of getting them to connect with you.

5. Make Your Website Work for You 24/7

You don't answer your phone during the night when you're asleep (if you do, you should seek help from a qualified professional). But your website can be working for you every hour of every day, collecting leads while you're doing something else. In fact, your website should encourage those who visit to connect with you. The best way to get contact information from a busy person researching on the Internet is to offer something in return. Here are some ideas of what you can offer a potential customer:

  • A free evaluation of their needs (or, if it's not possible to offer it for free, a "web discount" or something similar)
  • Offer information or ideas in exchange for contact info...for example, put together a digital booklet of before-and-after photos and ideas from customers that prospects can download if they give you their e-mail address and phone number. Get inside your customers' heads and understand what information you have that they want-and offer it to them. They receive valuable content, and you get contact information necessary to begin a relationship.
  • Send regular newsletters to keep your company in the forefront of your customers' minds. Set up an automatic e-mail to go out the minute a customer submits their e-mail address thanking them for giving it to you. Then, at regular intervals, send them information you think they'd be interested in. In a low-pressure way, remind them that they have a friend in the business and they should direct any questions about the industry to you. Remember to include a way to unsubscribe in every e-mail so they don't feel trapped.

Bottom line: Your website should encourage customers to contact you. The more automated the lead-collection process is, the less you have to think about it. Put your website to work!

 

Construction Business Owner, September 2007