I often get asked by people how they can use their website to help their business. Usually it’s along the lines of attracting new customers or how to sell products online, but in addition to those, there are a number of things you can do with your website to help your business grow.
Building or Engaging Community
Many websites we currently work on are for organizations or businesses that have active communities offline. There are many options for building an online community, such as blogs, forums, social networking sites or even custom solutions tailored to your needs. Regardless of the technology you use, the general idea is to provide your community members a place to discuss with and engage one another. An easy way to get your voice out there and start engaging your audience is to setup a blog, so you can post information and keep them coming back. Another idea is to setup a photo gallery that allows visitors to contribute photos from events or of community members. Forums are good for very large communities but can also be cumbersome to manage. To connect with a younger and savvier audience, sites such as facebook.com and ning.com can be very useful.
I always tell people if you build it, they will not come, which simply means that if you have a website it doesn’t mean you will get all the visitors you want. You have to work on marketing your website. The first place to go is search engines, Google is the best followed by Yahoo and MSN. Submitting your websites to these search engines’ databases is easy and most of the time its free. Submitting is an easy way, but a well thought out plan for getting your site listed in search engines will do you a lot of good. Setting up a blog is a good way to keep fresh content flowing on your website, and with regular posts the search engines and people have a reason to come back. Keeping a blog will also allow you to share your posts with other blogs and news aggregators to help you build traffic. Newsvine.com and Digg.com are a couple to start with.
Your content is the first place to start if you want your website to generate leads. Make sure you are using client testimonials and have clear and precise information about your services or products (for products, don’t skimp on photography). Having a clear call-to-action that allows a potential customer to interact with you via email or phone call is essential.
Taking a part of your customer service online can be useful for you and your clients. Spending large chunks of your day answering questions or explaining how certain processes work can sometimes be counter-productive. Setting up a thorough frequently asked questions section on your website or a do-it-yourself section can go a long way to helping many of your customers and freeing up your time.
Broadcast Your Message
Getting your message out works in two directions on the web: push and pull. Keeping a blog or forum will let get out fresh information and be informative to your visitors, but it is passive in nature and relies on pulling readers in. You can push your message by utilizing an email newsletter, making sure to have a clear call-to-action such as sign up for our weekly specials. The key is making sure the recipient is getting information that is relevant and helpful or incentives like coupons or discounts.
Selling From Your Website
Selling your products directly from your website is not something you want to take lightly. The key to turning visitors into customers is to instill trust. You can do this by making the shopping experience easy and by providing just the right amount of information for your products that those potential customers need to close the deal with. There are many features and configurations available these days to get you selling online fast, and while the low cost approach to using PayPal or Google Checkout might work if that’s all your budget can allow, they don’t do much in setting up that trust relationship (the trust is staying with PayPal not you). Setting up an all-in-one shopping experience for your visitors is something you should invest in, in the long run it will pay off with better loyalty and sales conversions.
Those are just a few things to start with, it’s important to keep your website current and fresh to keep visitors coming back, regardless of what combination of methods you use. Hopefully these ideas can help your business make better use of your presence on the web.
Gene is a designer with more than a decade of experience creating simple, user specific, and elegant web sites and applications. He graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in Art. Currently he is President and co-founder of Period Three (www.period-three.com) a full-service web-design agency in Columbia. Period Three provides all the services you need for a successful web site, including design, programming and Internet marketing and keep three things at the core of their development process; Keep it simple, make it measurable, get powerful results.