Common Web Site Misconceptions
Adapted from content excerpted from the American Express® OPEN Small Business Network
There is a lot of misinformation out there about Web site marketing. Many small businesses find it difficult to separate hype from reality. The key is to determine if the Web is right for you, and then use the right methods to exploit its marketing power. Below are some common misconceptions about the World Wide Web, along with some tips on how you can make your online marketing program a success.
Misconception 1: Every small business needs to have a Web site
While many small businesses can benefit from developing and maintaining their own Web sites, it's important to realize that this form of marketing is not for everyone. You need to consider using a Web site if:
Your customers are online.
If your customers base buy products or get information via the Web, then you need to be there. If, on the other hand, they get most of their information from other sources (whether the Yellow Pages, newspapers and magazines, trade shows, or other marketing vehicles), then you might want to concentrate your efforts in these areas.
You want to reach a national or international customer base efficiently.
The Web is not a form of "local" marketing. By its very nature it has a broad reach, so you need to be prepared to take advantage of that. For example, a home contractor based in suburban New York may not be able to reap the full benefits of a Web site because it serves a very targeted audience. A candy distributor that offered national shipping would be in a better position to take advantage of the Web's broad reach.
A Web site supports your marketing objectives and your budget.
Your Web site needs to be part of a fully integrated marketing plan and budget. It's important to have a consistent message in all the tools you use.
The Web can take the place of, or be more efficient than, other marketing options
The Web can give your customers immediate access to information that it might take them days or weeks to get otherwise. For instance, a commercial photographer who put his portfolio on the Web can direct potential clients to his site, instead of incurring the expense of sending his portfolio for every job.
You're committed to your site
A Web site requires constant attention. Are you willing to keep it fresh? Can you commit to adding new content every month? Do you have the time and budget to support it properly? If you're not willing to do this yourself, you need to hire someone to do it for you. Otherwise, your Web efforts will be wasted.
Misconception 2: A Web site automatically levels the playing field between my small business and my larger competitors
Yes, a professional looking Web site can make your small business look larger than it is. But without an effective plan and effective implementation, your Web site can actually make you look less professional than you are, and put you at a competitive disadvantage.
Use the Web to show off your expertise. By giving away your knowledge, you can position yourself as an expert and attract customers and interest them in your products or services.
One way to make yourself appear larger than you are is to have your own domain name. A Web address of "www.yourcompanyname.com" is much easier to find and presents a more professional image than using a sub-address of your Internet Service Provider or online service (www.yourISP.com/~yourcompany). The cost to register your domain is minimal, and many ISPs will host your site under that name for a small monthly fee. Talk to your ISP about how to do this.
Another trap to look out for is using technology for technology's sake. Using bells and whistles just because they seem "cool" can actually work against you. Here's an example: the home page of a consulting firm features a popular "counter" that informs you how many visitors have come to the page. Unfortunately, it announces the site's low traffic, and therefore causes you to question whether the information you're receiving is accurate or compelling. Without the counter, you might have read the content without considering this.
Misconception 3: Put up a Web site and people will come flocking to your company
Don't expect people to find your Web site on their own. You need to encourage traffic through active promotion both on the Internet and in your traditional marketing materials. Here are some common methods:
Register your Web site with all the major search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. There are a number of services that will register your URL with multiple engines and directories for a small fee -- a popular one is Submit Express. Be aware, however, that while these services will get your site listed, you will lose control over how you want your site described.
Exchange links or banner ads with non-competitors who have complementary services or products. Send an email to the Webmaster at the site you want to link with, and offer a reciprocal linking arrangement. Be sure to stress the mutual benefits of creating this link in your note. Services such as Link Exchange let you swap links with other businesses, giving you free banner advertising directly proportional to how much you put on your Web site.
Be sure to support your URL throughout your marketing literature. Put your Web site address in all your ads, in your product brochures, and on your business cards and letterhead. Include it in the signature file for your emails, so customers can automatically jump from your message to your Web site.
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