Tips and Tricks

Tips and Tricks (4)

Wednesday, 22 September 2010 09:47

"About Us" Pages in Small Business Websites

Written by Webmaster

The Internet has been heralded as "the great equalizer": on a browser window, any company, no matter how small, can look as good as a large company with a long history of quality and service.  This situation presents an important challenge for small businesses: how can I convince my potential customers that I am not an unethical, fly-by-night operation?  The best way to do it is through a properly structured "About Us" page.

Your "About Us" page must not only introduce your company to your potential customers, but must do so in a way that it explains, beyond a shadow of a doubt, why they should trust you and your company. Often, this means answering six basic questions:

Who is behind this website?

People are getting tired of large, bureaucratic companies and their "your-call-is-important-to-us" service mentality.  As a small business owner, you can give your customers the personal attention they won't get from the big guys. Get that message across in your "About Us" page. Don't be afraid to talk about yourself and your passion for the business, and by all means include your picture.  The central message you want to convey is that behind your business there is a real human being who has his or her customers' best interests at heart.

Is this a real business?

Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to list your full physical address.  There is something reassuring about a "bricks-and-mortar" location, even if your customers will never visit you.   A physical address shows your prospective customers that you don't have anything to hide. Include your full contact information, including your physical address, in a conspicuous location within your "About Us" page.

How do they make money?

You know the cliché: "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is". If you don't make your business model evident to your visitors (in other words, if you don't show them how do you make money) the first question they will ask themselves is: "what's the catch?".  If you offer too many things for free, or price your products too low vs. your competitors, prospective customers will hold back.  Use your "About Us" page to explain what your main revenue streams are, and why do you charge what you charge. Remember to always talk "value", not "price".

How long have they been in business?

People tend to regard longevity and stability as important qualifiers to determine trust.  Since most small business (especially of the on-line variety) tend to be very young, it may be hard to use the longevity card to solicit trust. If that is your case, you can talk about your past experience instead.  For most small business owners, their past experience is highly relevant to their current businesses.  Use your "About Us" page to talk about it, and how does it relate to and benefit your current business.

How do I know they deliver?

The best way to show your prospective customers what you can do for them is through testimonials from satisfied customers.  Ideally, the testimonials should come from companies that accurately reflect your customer's demographics.  To be effective, these testimonials must provide some form of contact information of those who offer them (usually, a name and a link to a website will work).  Presenting a small table with a list of previous clients and the type of work you did for them is also very effective. Make sure you ask for permission before listing your clients' name (most of the time, they will be more than glad to give you authorization, especially if you link to their websites).

Are they related to the business community?

Another way to establish credibility and trust is to belong to community, trade or professional associations. These entities usually authorize their members to use their logos.  For example, a repair shop's website can use the seal of the ASE to emphasize that its mechanics are well trained. Similarly, a business consultant's website can display a logo of the American Management Association, or a real estate agent can display a logo of the National Association of Realtors.  Use these associations to your advantage in your "About Us" page.

Should I trust them with my private information?

People are very protective of their personal information, especially on-line. You should have a privacy policy clearly displayed somewhere in your website, and you should link to it from your "About Us" page (and also from your homepage).   Aside from that, if you sell goods or services on-line, it is a good idea to become a Truste privacy sealholder. By becoming a Truste member and displaying the Truste seal in your "About Us" page, you will demonstrate that you abide by Truste's best practices. This alone may make the difference between prospective customers buying from you instead of from somebody else.

Some Implementation Details

If the information in your "About Us" takes too much space and makes your text too long, you can always split it among several pages (you will then have an "About Us" section instead of just a page).   If you do so, create a small menu of options that apply only to your "About Us" section. The links in that menu can be called: Our People, Our Business, Portfolio, Customers, Community, Privacy, etc.  The best location to place this menu is on a column to the right of the page, since usually the left column or the top of the page are reserved for the main navigation menu of the site. Finally, a link to your "About Us" page must be present in your homepage (it doesn't have to be in the most prominent location or in your main navigation menu, but it has to be visible and easily accessible).

Wednesday, 22 September 2010 09:40

Choosing the Right Domain Name

Written by Webmaster

Choosing a domain name can be daunting. Research the subject (after all, you're the type of marketer who researches, right?) and you'll be hit with a landslide of opinions, most contradictory. There are, however, two points that everyone agrees on:

  1. Pick your domain before you launch your business. This is especially true if your market niche has lots of competition. Research your domain before you commit to a business plan.

  2. Don't wait too long if you like a domain. While you're researching, you'll likely come across a couple of domains that attract you. You might be tempted to wait, since you haven't finalized or refined your business plan. Don't. A handful of domains isn't going to cost you much at an affordable registrar like GoDaddy, and once they're gone, they're gone. Chances are you can even resell the rejects at cost, if not a profit. Or "develop" them with unique content and point them to your main site for extra traffic.



    Now that we have the easy part of the way, let's wade into murkier waters.

    Which TLD (top-level domain) is best?

    If you're a juggernaut in the business world with a giant ad budget, the answer is dot-com (.com). If you're a smalltime business struggling for search engine positioning, the answer is still dot-com.

    People do disagree on the value of a dot-com TLD. Some assert that dot-coms have no particular value in the search engines, which may be true.

    However, the fact is, if you haven't yet seared your brand on the collective brow of the planet, dot-com makes you easier to remember. If you give up on dot-coms (they're harder to get), then in some deep dark place inside, people will remember you as "that hard-to-remember URL with the ending that isn't dot-com." What's worse, if you pick an otherwise memorable domain name ending in dot-net, -us, or (God forbid) -tv, some of your traffic will end up at that competitor who snagged the dot-com version of your domain.

    Okay, that's settled. Now for the controversial stuff. Which is best: the "keyword" domain, or the "creative-genius, snappy and brandable" domain?

    Keyword Name vs. Creative-Genious Brandable Name

    A Keyword Name is the boring, workhorse kind of domain. You see them everywhere. They bristle with hyphens: "best-anchovy-pizza-in-siberia.com." Or "super-labrador-accessories-and-golfballs.biz." On the face of it, they're hard to brand. They're hard to fit on business cards. They're really hard to explain over the phone to Aunt Martha.

    On the other hand, a Creative-Genius Brandable Name is the sexy kind. The successes are sparkling: Yahoo!, Google, Amazon.com. You can shout these URLs across the room and the other guy will probably get it right. But note: the dot-com road is littered with hip, snappy business who failed to brand their product successfully, or get listed high in the search engines. Now their URLs all point to the same page: "server not found …"

    The debate rages on, but the first question you must ask yourself is:

    How will people find you?

    It was recently reported that "direct navigation" web traffic has started to outnumber search engine traffic. In other words, more people visit sites by typing in the URL directly than they do by combing search engines for results. So more gurus are recommending ‘brandable' domains.

    But think about this. As a small business owner, how will people find you? Word of mouth? Billboards on I-95? "Corporate sponsorships" on hockey arenas? Probably not: they'll find you through search engines. They'll type in "cheap purple widgets," and as a smart marketer, you will offer them a website optimized for the keywords "cheap purple widgets."

    Still, this doesn't imply you should automatically pick a keyword domain. There are pros and cons to both types.

    Brandable: Advantages

    The brandable domain is great for business cards. In fact, it's nearly compulsory if you're planning on offline marketing. In other words, if you're printing up stationary at Kinkos, you want a brandable domain name.

    If you're also a marketing genius, this is a fit challenge for your talents. Finding a memorable, apt domain to brand your business is something no software-driven suggestion tool can do.

    Most "hybrid" domains -- ones that are really crosses between keywords and brandable names -- are long gone. But if you create a unique idea for your brand, you can probably snag the dot-com name for yourself. Now all you have to do is burn that brand onto the world's collective forehead. If you do, you'll benefit from type-in traffic. That means that if someone hears about you, they can probably find you just buy typing in your domain.

    Brandable: Disadvantages

    The brandable name requires solid marketing skill, research and luck. Your name should be so catchy, it's almost viral. It should also convey your actual business – or you'll have to work hard (often meaning, spend money) to associate the two. Your name should be "tested" on coworkers, cousins and dishwasher repairmen to ensure it has no undesirable connotations. Finally, your name should be available as a domain, and not suffer from competitors with similar domains. Sometimes, pulling all this off is difficult.

    Keyword: Advantages

    By keyword names, we're not talking about the glorious generic keywords – the one-keyword kings such as drugs.com or business.com. No, we're talking keyword names you can afford.

    This is where you buy the domain name www.cheap-purple-widgets.com in hopes of getting a top search ranking for cheap purple widgets.

    Advantages are many. First, more keyword names are available. (They're ugly, and many people feel an aversion to hyphens.) Also, they do help you place higher in the search engines. It's true that search engines only give you a little credit for having a keyword in your domain, but "a little credit" counts.

    Second, keyword domains leave no doubt in the searcher's mind about what you're selling. If you decided to call your widget business "Ableeza," a searcher might not get at a glance what it is you're selling, even if your rank is high.

    Finally, if you can get people to link to you, those links will be valuable. No matter how Webmaster Joe describes you, the link part will always say, "cheap-purple-widgets." This is a powerful search engine strategy for moving higher.

    Keywords: Disadvantages

    You won't get type-in traffic for a keyword name. You can't really explain it across a phone. It won't look pretty on a business card, and it's almost impossible to pair up with a cute logo. But if search engine traffic is going to drive your business, the keyword name is worth a long, hard look.

    Wrap Up Time

    Regardless of which type you choose, don't play guessing games. If you go with a keyword name, use a search tool (like 7search ) to determine what keyword phrases people are searching on.

    If you choose a brandable name instead, test it out on a variety of real people first. Pay attention to their reactions. Reserve your domain early, since brandable domains go fast unless they're very unique.

    In the long run, both types of domains can work for you, especially if offline marketing is an option and you have a knack for branding. Overall, though, the keyword domain is probably the easiest path to success for the small-business owner.

    (How to) Buy a Cheap Domain Name

    Domain name registrars all do pretty much the same things: register domains. Yet they vary in price by quite a bit. Why?

    Generally, the reason has to do with reputation and name recognition. Older, more established registrars get to charge more. Newcomers drive traffic by undercutting their competitors and trying to over-deliver on services.

    In fact, the vast majority of the eighteen bazillion registrars you see today are really domain name resellers. Resellers buy in bulk from a handful of official ICANN registrars, which include such stalwarts as eNom.com, Register.com and Dotster.com. You can find a current list of actual registrars (not resellers) by checking out this list at the Internic. Not a long list, is it?
Wednesday, 22 September 2010 09:33

Top 20 Tips for Beginner Bloggers

Written by Webmaster
  1. Choose a topic that you know, like, and are passionate about. This way you will never get bored and will keep your audience always interested and asking for more.
  2. Pick a topic where there is not a lot of competition. If your topic is too common, try addressing it from a particular angle or focus on a specific niche. For example, there are many sites that talk about cars, but few that specialize in only one brand, and even fewer that focus on only one model. The key to be successful is to find a specific enough topic with a large enough audience.
  3. Open a Blogger account. It is free and easy to use. That way, you won’t have to invest in costlier platforms like MovableType or TypePad before you have the chance of finding out if blogging is for you.
  4. Use a minimalist template, preferably one with a white background. This format is easier to read and pleasant to the eye when you combine it with color pictures.
  5. Use pictures to dress up your blog entries and give your blog a more professional appearance. You can find excellent pictures at a very low cost in istockphoto.com, or even free in Flickr (don’t forget to ask the owner of the picture for permission before you use it).
  6. In one of your blog’s side columns, list six or seven links to authoritative sites related to your topic. When the search engine robots visit your blog, they will find these links and your blog will benefit by association.
  7. Write in simple language, short paragraphs and using bullet points. These are essential guidelines for writing on the web, and will make your posts easier to read and understand.
  8. Always link out to the sources you use to document your posts. This is not only good etiquette but also a way to promote your blog and get links: when the people you link to find out that they’ve been linked to, they will most likely link to your post from their site or blog.
  9. Check your posts for spelling and grammatical errors. This will make your blog look more professional and will increase the probability of other people linking to it.
  10. Use labels to categorize your posts and keep your blog neatly organized. Blogger recently modified its software to allow the use of labels.
  11. Participate actively in forums and discussion groups related to your topic. Find what are the most common questions and provide the answers in your blog. Then, direct forum readers to your blog. Try to also direct forum readers to other resources, or  answer without necessarily linking to your blog, sometimes. If not, you may be perceived as self serving and only interested in promoting your blog.
  12. Use HitTail to research topics to write about. HitTail gives you a list of the search terms used by those who came to your blog through a search engine. This search term list will give you ideas for future blog posts.
  13. Allow your blog readers to email your posts to other people. Also, give them the option to bookmark your posts using del.icio.us, furl, or any other social bookmarking service. You can go to AddThis to download a smart button that makes it easy to bookmark your posts. You can find instructions on how to add the button to Blogger here. The easier you make it to share your blog posts, the more relevant traffic your blog will get.
  14. Use Technorati tags at the end of your blog posts. Technorati tags are a way of classifying your blog posts by topic and have them added to Technorati’s index (Technorati is the most important search engine for blogs). Use this automatic Technorati tag generator to avoid having to create the HTML code manually.
  15. Syndicate your blog allowing your visitors to subscribe to your feeds through their favorite aggregator. This way, they will be automatically notified every time you update your blog. You can use this tool to generate attractive syndication buttons, which you can then place in a side column of your blog.
  16. Post frequently. It is the only way to keep your audience interested and coming back. Two or three times a week is ideal. Once a week is the borderline minimum that I recommend to keep your audience engaged and maintain adequate visibility in the search engines.
  17. Keep a large number of posts in the main page of your blog. Search engine robots usually won’t crawl and index all your blog pages, however they will visit your main page frequently. The more content you keep in your main page, the bigger the chance of it popping up in the search engine results pages.
  18. Use Google Adsense to monetize your blog. Blogger lets you add Google Adsense easily and seamlessly in several locations within a page. The best locations are within the content, and on top of the page simulating a navigation bar.

  19. Don’t use Google Adsense excessively, at least at the beginning. Your initial focus should be not to monetize your blog, but to build your audience and establishing your blog's reputation as an authority within your topical community. A blog that is deep on content and lean on ads is more likely to attract the kind of links needed to become relevant to users and search engines.
  20. Once your blog is established and generates abundant, relevant traffic, you can monetize more aggressively, not only with Adsense but also with affiliate links and, why not, maybe even by selling your own products.
Wednesday, 22 September 2010 09:29

Five Questions to Answer Before You Build Your Website

Written by Webmaster

It is not just a website. It is where the bricks-and-mortar world meets the clicks-and-mortar world, and your website has an impact on your company’s image. Because your online market presence is viewed by individual-defined norms, you must ensure the site meets the expectations of your site visitors. In fact, a visit to your site must not only meet the visitor’s needs, but also delight them to promote subsequent returns. After all, what good is your site if you only get someone to stop by once and never return again? Although there are many different objectives and strategies for various websites, one fundamental objective is to have visitors bookmark the site and return again and again and again.

So how can you satisfy your visitors’ needs and increase the frequency of visits from the same visitors? There is no magic formula or secret java scripting that will do it. However, laying the foundation of your site by answering five basic questions prior to building your site will allow you to develop an online presence that meets your business goals and encourages visitors to return to your site time after time. The five questions to be answered are: 1) Who is your target audience, 2) What are the objectives of your website, 3) What does a visitor expect from your site, 4) What do you want the visitor to leave with, and 5) Why should a visitor return to your site?

 

Defining the Target Audience

The web gives people access to, and control of, information at their convenience. Knowing who your target audience is a crucial step that needs to be clearly defined prior to developing site content or design. By knowing who your audience is you can answer the five questions that lay the foundation for your website with greater accuracy. In fact, the better you know who your audience is and what they expect to get from a visit to your site, the more relevant you can make your site.

Many websites are designed to cater to the needs of a nondescript mass audience. Take a quick look at most websites and you will find the standard out-of-the-box website package with six pages – including “Who we are,” What we do,” and “Our favorite links.” In order to satisfy the dramatically different needs of a wide variety of people, web developers create a generic site that provides no real value for the visitor or the company. The visitor does not find relevant information, and decides that the website is not adequate for his needs. No bookmarks are made and the visitor never returns. The company (site owner) gets some level of activity as measured by hits and page views, but never builds any loyalty to the site so nearly all visitors are first-time, last-time surfers.

Who is your target audience?

Defining the target audience and their needs is an important first step in building your website and a critical element to increasing the loyalty on your site. Who are the people that will use your website? Engineers that require technical data or students looking for specific information for a term paper project? How do they like to receive and use the information they collect on the Internet? Is the visual impact more important or less important to effectively delivering your message? How can your site help satisfy the needs of your target audience? You can see that knowing your target audience is much more than figuring out the demographics like gender, age, education level and income. Knowing your audience is the only true way to provide relevant content the way your audience wants to receive it. Define your target audience and get to know them better than your competitors. After all, the only sustainable competitive advantage is the understanding you have of your customers that your competitors do not have.

What are the objectives of your website?

Is it already obvious to you why you need a website? For many companies it is not so much a clear strategy as it is wanting to keep up with the Jones'. “Our biggest competitor has a website and we don’t want to seem like they can do something we can’t.” If this is your reasoning for embarking on an e-commerce initiative, you need to take a step back and consider what a website could offer your customers that is of true value – rather than to forge ahead with no direction.

There are many reasons for building an online presence that compliments or enhances your existing offline presence. For many companies, the primary justification for launching a website is because everybody else has one. Although this thinking is somewhat myopic and inward looking, because everyone else does have a website may mean that without a web presence your company is led out to pasture in the future.

One of the most basic reasons for building an online presence is that a website serves as one more tool for communicating with your internal and external audiences cost-effectively and conveniently. Cost-effective in the sense that the Internet has allowed small, capital-limited businesses the chance to look a lot bigger than they really are – opening the door to an expanded marketplace. Small businesses are no longer restricted by their location and ability to touch the customer personally. Now, with an online presence that delivers targeted communications you can drive in traffic and connect with customers that would have been cost-prohibitive to reach using traditional marketing tools.

There are many reasons why your company should have a presence on the web. However, the only ones that matter are those that are customer-focused. This alternative channel of communication saves time for the visitor and permits her to access the information at her convenience. It also provides the ability for your company to capture information on your site visitors to build customer profiles and better serve your customers.

What does a visitor expect from your site?

If you have already developed a visceral understanding of your target audience, realizing the expectations of your site visitors becomes second nature. However, it is important to take the customer’s perspective to adequately define what your visitors expect from your site. Most Internet users will expect ease-of-use (referring to the navigation ease) of your site as well as relevant information that makes their lives easier. These expectations go hand-in-hand with the assumption that your site will download quickly. The average Internet user will wait no more than eight seconds before jumping to another page or stopping the transmission if the page is too slow to open.

Beyond this, depending on your business and target audience, some users will want to be entertained and be dissatisfied if the entertainment value does not meet their expectations. Others will look for ordering information, pre-sales services, and company information. The expectations will vary from person to person, but if you have defined your target audience into the smallest homogenous segment possible (with the goal of a market segment of one), you will be able to meet your visitors’ expectations in both content and design of your website.

What do you want the visitor to leave with?

Once you have a solid understanding of what your site visitors expect from your site, you need to determine what it is that you want the visitor to leave with after visiting your website. Are you attempting to reduce the sales cycle time and want to ensure that your customer’s questions about your product’s performance and specifications are answered? Or are you looking to improve your brand image and need to find ways to enhance your offline brand online? Depending on your goals, you will want to develop different strategies for different goals.

Ask yourself what it is that you want your visitors to leave with and then consider whether you can address those needs with a focus on content or on design of the site. Most likely you will want to provide a combination of rich content that helps satisfy customer needs complemented by a good website design that allows the user to find the information or conduct the transaction quickly and easily.

Why should someone return to your site?

Is there any good reason that a visitor should bookmark your site so that he will return again? If not, what needs to be improved within your site plan that will encourage repeat visits? Although this question is last in this article, it is equally important to targeting the right audience. Whatever the objectives and reasons are for creating an online presence for your company, if you are not driving people back to your site, your website efforts are in vain. After all, why spend the time and money on developing a site if its only purpose is to keep your competition up to speed on what you are doing and how you market your business?

By asking yourself, “Why should someone return to my site?” you are forcing yourself to take a hard look at your website initiative and the justification for the investment. Developing loyalty from your customers through your online activities will be seen in your offline revenues and profits. Providing relevant information, making it easier for your customer to do her job, and creating a compelling site are some basic tactics that will encourage people to return to your website. Determining what it is that is of value to your target audience will be the cornerstone of your web activities.

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