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Eight Basic Tips for a Top Website

9 May, 2005 By: Robert Weiss imageSource

Eight Basic Tips for a Top Website

Remember the early days of “cyberspace” when websites contained more phone numbers than email addresses, we were speeding along at 28K, and an online form was hailed as advanced functionality? Looking back, it all seems so archaic now.

Over the past decade, the Internet has managed to revolutionize almost every aspect of the business process, and I will assume in this day and age, most of you have established a website. So, the question nowadays isn’t whether or not you have an online presence, but how strong is that presence?

Today, customers use the Internet to engage themselves into the buying process. Before the Internet, local buyers had no other alternative other than picking up the phone and reaching out to local businesses to learn what was available. An April 2005 survey from the Kelsey Group and ConStat showed that 70 percent of consumers are using search engines for information rather than their phone books.

It’s easy to understand why. The Internet is a buyer’s dream! Customers can do their own research and identify, investigate and eliminate companies based on their own impressions before even picking up the phone. The Internet has quickly become the largest Yellow Pages in the world and the most powerful research tool ever developed.

In order to maximize the opportunities that the Internet presents, you need your website to be prominent. One that will provide all the vital information to your customers, support your sales efforts, generate leads, secure new appointments, communicate your brand, and position you as a provider of technology products and services.

Initially, you need to look at your internal resources such as time, money and personnel expertise of your organization. After examining those aspects, you can decide if you already have or can invest in the skill sets needed to develop and maintain a top notch Internet platform. If you have a small business, these critical resources are likely stretched thin.

For these reasons, an Application Service Provider (ASP), which can provide a website template, is fast becoming a popular resource for small businesses. The ASP basically becomes the dealership’s Internet expert. The ASP takes care of the technical aspects and provides the small business with a ready-to-use solution. These tools, which can be industry specific, typically include design, functionality, ecommerce, marketing, and other types of support. All come ready to use with a small degree of customization required and without the typical time, money and resource commitments normally associated with website design.

But many still live by the old adage, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” Remember, building an efficient, professional website from the bottom-up can present certain challenges and constraints on internal resources. Custom website development costs will greatly vary depending on such variables as the size of the marketplace—for example, New York City compared to rural Mississippi—the number of pages and sub-pages, size of a company’s catalog, type of functionality, design preferences, content creation, use of stock images or licensed images, use of Flash, and how many updates will be needed.

No matter if you do it in-house or use an ASP, structuring your site around your customers’ and sales representatives’ needs is essential.

Here are eight key points, in no particular order, for any company in the office equipment industry to keep in mind when either creating or remaking its corporate website:

1. First impressions

First impressions can be everything. The top reason why customers will leave your website is that they are simply not impressed with its quality and professionalism. Your home page should load quickly and be filled with simple text and images that reflect your organization. 

Take a look at your site and see if it matches the quality of your brochures, in-house demonstration area and the way your account reps present themselves to customers. Do your account reps make presentations in a suit and tie or a t-shirt? Does your website reflect the same?

2. Give the people what they want

Customers visit your website because they want instant information they need to do their jobs. Satisfy customers’ needs for information by professionally presenting details on your company and the products and services it provides.

Incorporate a detailed product catalog on your website with images, product descriptions and brochures. And keep it updated! One of the ways you can get a higher ranking with search engines is to have relevant and updated content on your website. This helps search engines do their jobs by sending searchers to the sites that will help them complete their investigation.

3. Easy navigation

It is not just enough to have the information on your website, but customers have to actually be able to find it.

Have you ever gone to a website that was confusing to navigate? What did you do?  I’ll take a guess and say you left the site in search of another. Your customers are no different. Provide them with persistent navigation and bread crumb trails as they dig deeper into your website. If your customers cannot find the information they came to investigate, they will leave immediately! 

Once customers get to your website, best of breed functionality like bread crumb trails and persistent navigation will allow visitors to easily get around your website. This will help them quickly understand how to get from section to section of your site to quickly get the information they need to do their jobs.

4. Keep ‘em coming back for more

Try and avoid having old, stale information on your website, or at least have some current content as well. Neglecting your website could reflect poorly on your company. This may be the only impression a customer gets of your company, so make it a good one.

Content management tools such as Red

Bridge Interactive (www.rbii.com) or Interwoven (www.interwoven.com) allow someone without any HTML or programming expertise to make changes to a website. Content management tools can allow you to easily make changes to your website. Show your customers that you are on top of things. Always post new products and services, company news, bios on new employees, open house events, and other information that would entice repeat visits.

As your business changes, you want it to reflect your go-to sales and marketing strategy. Change the content of your website to speak directly to an audience(s). For example, if you are going to offer document imaging then create a section on your site to explain this aspect of your business. Maybe you want to target the medical industry, create a page that lists satisfied customers, case studies of recent projects and the services you provide.

With content management tools, you can make continual adjustments to your website at practically no added costs. But, the initial cost of content management tools can be high because of the customization needed by Web developers. However, hosted solutions or developers that have off-the-shelf programs may offer better and more user-friendly applications at a lower price.

One of the best things about content management is that it puts the company’s website back in the hands of the sales and marketing team. Sorry all you tech people.

5. Less is more

Customers do not read the Internet, they skim it. Don’t make your website an exact replica of you company brochure. Don’t be too wordy. Break one long paragraph into two, upload images and pictures to support your story, and bullet point benefits of your products and services for ease of reading.

6. Lead generation/ customer feedback areas 

This may sound like a no-brainer, but always have contact information readily and easily available to customers. If you have multiple departments, list the contact name, phone number and email address for each.

Incorporate buttons, images and links to drive traffic to the areas on your site that solicit further information and generate leads. Have invitations on your site such as "Request a Quote,” "Join our Newsletter Mailing List,” “sign up for a free consultation”, “Register to Win,” surveys, and event registrations.

Encouraging dialogue helps you to pinpoint dissatisfaction with service, uncover new ways to improve, and identify untapped revenue opportunities. All this will translate into fresh leads for your sales team.

7. Advanced functionality

Most customers are savvy enough to understand when one site provides more functionality over another. Advanced functionality is your company’s way of saying, “We understand how to use technology.”

Instead of having an email contact for a service request, have multiple online forms that are customized for each request. Allow customers to sign up for your monthly “demo day” or “open house” directly on your website. Meter readings, customer service portals and asset management applications are additional office equipment specific functionality.

Advanced functionality is even more critical these days as IT involvement in the decision making process of networked, color and multifunctional machines is increasing.

8. Market and build awareness

Promote existing online functionality on all corporate communications like business cards, letterhead, trucks, Yellow Pages, etc. Also, look into email marketing as a way to use the Internet to drive traffic to your website. Any reputable email marketing company will provide you with tracking and reporting tools to measure the success of your efforts.

The Litmus Test

After all is said and done, have your account reps give your new website a declaration of approval. Can they use your website as a sales tool? Can they properly educate customers on your products and services in order to move the sales process forward? 

If they cannot, then your customers will likely not find the site useful either. In order to maximize your site to its fullest potential,it needs to tell your company’s story as well as, or even better than your account reps.

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