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As your mother told you countless times, first impressions are critical. Have you ever visited a website that is attempting to entice you to purchase their product with an sales promotion that expired last year, one that looks like it was designed by a pre-teen, or is written without regard to your need? Rightly so, you immediately discount them by equating their lack of detail, design, and value proposition to the quality of their product. Neglected, poorly designed and company centric websites become a detriment to your sales efforts—resulting in a poor initial impression. For too many companies, websites are today's high tech, not to mention expensive, decaying office lobby plants.
A good website supports or accomplishes core business objectives, not another fancy tool for marketing activities. Marketing likewise exists to support core business objectives—a great website markets, sells and serves its target publics. Each business constituency, or audience has different needs. A good tip is to start by listing your target publics, then think of what value could be delivered to that audience via your website—be it employees, customers, vendors, or investors.
Ask yourself what each audiences interests are. An employee wants to check his 401K and remaining vacation time. Human resources wants to publish the employee manual and certify each employee has read it, and use the site as a recruiting tool. A prospect wants to compare your products price, features and benefits. A returning customer wants to access the product manual or warranty. A vendor wants to connect directly to purchasing. Purchasing wants a screening process whereby vendors can be pre-screened. Investors want to know management has a handle on the business and the company has a good earnings ratio. Management wants to demonstrate good leadership and fiscal responsibility by publishing the annual report online instead of printing thousands of books to be mailed.
Strategically, who is important to the continued success of your business? What can or should you provide these strategic partners via the internet? What would help cement loyalty from these partners to your company and to your brand. These initiatives become your strategic deliverables because they support the core business goals of your company.
Good tactical implementation of these strategic deliverables may include ease of navigation, organizational forethought, and limiting use of flash animation, sound or other rich media to your site which are invisible to search engines. Rich media's role is to support the mission of education, information and to engage. A product demonstration, podcast or a virtual tour of a home for sale serve to educate and inform and are therefore valid uses of rich media.
Consistent branding and messages are always important and must integrate with other marketing communications. All communications are branding. All operational activities are branding. How a customer is greeted in your store or office lobby, or upon entering your web domain is branding.
If you are a technology company and your website is outdated and lacks design does not bode well for your brand—you are essentially a botanist with a dead plant in your front lobby. You have seriously hurt your initial and potentially critical opportunity for making a sale. For the rest of the sales cycle you are swimming upstream without the proverbial paddle—this assuming that the prospect remains on your website and doesn't tell friends and family of their poor experience. This situation can be found in both the consumer and business markets, where companies of all sizes fail to fully leverage their websites as a critical component of their marketing strategy.
For a striking number of companies, nothing has changed on their website from their initial leap into the digital age. The push in the 1990s was to quickly get a website launched out of fear that your company would be left out of the Internet phenomenon. In their haste, executives gave little strategic thought on how to integrate this new communication capability with their existing marketing activities. Many to this day are still without an comprehensive strategy that fully integrates their website with their other communication elements—most call this website 2.0. Many websites remain a stagnant, online brochure, instead of an effective way to interact and engage your customers on a consistent basis. Worse are the websites that spout the company as a high quality, high end solution, but have the look of a ransom note. Stunningly, I have seen working websites that have "insert photo here" or even greeked copy on sections never completed. Recently, I found a company that had a promotion for tax time—in 2004—still in the "What's New" section. Dead plant. But the most grievous ones are the websites that talk about the company's history, commitment to customer service, the typical business speak—blah-blah—never getting around to what's in it for the customer. For those websites, the customer is an after-thought, merely a propaganda tool to talk about what a great citizen the company's president has been or other self-serving information.
While everyone understands the power of the Internet to market and sell, very few companies serve their customers effectively. An effective and interactive way to educate your customers can be accomplished through podcasts and blogs. For example, a residential real estate company can educate a first time home buyer on the things to consider when purchasing a new home via a podcast, thereby adding value and trust to an emerging relationship. By providing thought leadership content and educating customers, businesses can differentiate themselves from companies with a passive approach. An additional benefit of po casting is companies can effectively communicate in this high paced world, demonstrating that they are tuned into the times and younger, technology-savvy generation of first time homebuyers. The value that a customer receives from a website can easily be ascertained by answering the question, "Why would anyone visit your site more than once?"
A final, critical aspect of your website is how well it attracts your target market. A new survey indicates that 85 percent of all web surfers use a search engine like Google, Yahoo and MSN to find products and services. Unfortunately, a large amount of prospective customers searching the web won't take the initial step of viewing your site. According to a recent study, unless you are mentioned in the top ten Google, Yahoo, or MSN listings, there is a 62 percent chance your website will not be visited. Six out of ten people searching the web will not visit the second page of search results and nine out of ten people won't go to the third page.
To improve your odds of success, you need to concentrate on a number of keywords that are used by your target audience and continuously incorporate them into your communications. This can be accomplished through a proactive public relations program that continually adds fresh content to your site. Google rewards websites with new content, meaning your website has to be regularly updated—no longer can you ignore enhancing your website for long periods of time. A neglected website and/or an aggressive competitor will cause your rankings to drop. Since 59 percent of all searches are conducted through Google, they set the standard in the industry, making it imperative to play by their rules and keep current on their initiatives. A higher-ranking means more traffic, inquiries, and ultimately leads to the key performance indicator—sales.
Critique your website through your customer's eyes to determine if your website is adding value or if it is a decaying plant in your office lobby.
A website today is not “just a website”. It is your actual presence online, which in most cases is more important than your company’s real presence.
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