As Blue Fountain Media's director of business development, I often find myself in the position of being the first person an entrepreneur or executive talks to.
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Many of the clients who come to us are small-business owners, entrepreneurs and startups. While they are almost all intelligent, driven and savvy businesspeople, when it comes to understanding how the web works, a great majority have no idea how to use the web to their business's advantage.
This is not an indictment of my clients. Most web sites fail when it comes to delivering new leads, new clients and new revenue.
While every web site presents different issues, I'll address the most common mistakes one at a time:
1. No Web Presence at All
It's amazing how many companies doing business in 2010 have antiquated attitudes about the web. The most common thing I hear is: "I don't need a web site. My business is successful. The only reason I'm talking to you is because my nephew told me I have to be on the web." My answer to this is:
- Your competitors are online.
- A significant percentage of your possible client/customer base is looking for your services/products online.
- A web site is a terrific way to brand your company. You have the power to put your products, services and even your executives in the best possible light.
- A web presence lets you take control of your company's online reputation. If the only search results that come up on a search of your company's name are out of your control, you put your brand in danger.
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2. Not Knowing Your Audience
Many of our clients already have a web site, but it has failed to provide the desired business results. The most common reason is a failure to go after the proper audience. I work closely with clients to get them to focus on their target audience, using these questions:
- Are the company's target clients/customers limited by geography (e.g., a New York City dermatologist)?
- Is there a target demographic (Age, ethnicity, income level)?
- How technologically savvy is the target audience?
Once we identify the target audience, we can design the site to the tastes and needs of that audience and, more important, market the site to the proper audience. For example, if you are targeting 20-somethings, you might market heavily through Facebook or Twitter.
3. Lengthy Text
Most people don't understand that web messaging is vastly different from print messaging. Competition on the web is intense. If you don't capture your audience in five seconds, they will flee to a different site.
When clients come to us with dense and lengthy messaging--which happens all the time--we work with them to distill the message down to its essential elements. Once we can deliver the company's message quickly and efficiently, we then back up the messaging with clear and intuitive calls to action.
4. Stale Content
Think of your web site visitors as individuals engaged in an ongoing conversation with you. I've seen so many web sites where nothing ever changes. Nothing kills a "conversation" more than communicating with a person who has nothing new to say.
On the other hand, when there is constantly new and useful information throughout your web site, you give people a reason to keep coming back for more. This kind of "stickiness" helps create trust and inspires a loyal fan base. In practical terms, it helps turn visitors into customers.
It also increases your ability to be found via search engines such as Google. Fresh content shows your web site's value and expertise in your industry.
5. Believing in the old 'Build it and They Will Come' Theory
The best web site in the world won't help your business if people don't know the site exists. When clients come to us, they'll often say, "Just build the web site; we're not really interested in spending money on marketing."
I try to tell them, in the nicest possible terms, that this is insanity. But not everyone listens.
The internet is all about interconnectivity. People are always looking for great sites, and they share the sites they like with others. To be successful, you need to tap into this internet community.
What does that mean?
- You need a strong presence on the search engines. This requires an investment in search engine optimization and/or search engine marketing (pay-per-click).
- You need to get your voice out to the world. If you have a blog, then use blogger outreach to get the word out. The web is hungry for great content. If you produce useful and entertaining content, then the web community will be grateful. If you write useful articles, send them out to leading content aggregators (Digg, Reddit, etc.) to get more readership.
- Be an active participant in social media. Get the word out about your business and your web site by utilizing LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media outlets.
Many of our clients who have requested that we just build their sites and not market them come back to us later begging us to get the word out. Invariably, those clients are thrilled with the post-marketing results we achieve.
The Bottom Line
Entrepreneurs are, by their very nature, risk takers. They have a dream, and go out and pursue it.
Building, maintaining and marketing a web site should not be a risky business. Small companies either looking to create a new web presence or enhance their current web presence should work with a web design and marketing team that understands the way business works on the web.
When looking for a web team to work with, make sure it can show you examples of sites that don't just look good. Make sure members of the team can demonstrate that they have built and marketed sites that have actually enhanced their clients' bottom line.
Megan Hilts is director of business development for Blue Fountain Media, a website development and online marketing firm.