Selling Your Message on the Web

You've just spent thousands of dollars developing your first Worldwide Web site and you get your first activity report. It shows a mere 200 hits for the month. At first, you're optimistic until your realize that you and your office probably accounted for 180 of the hits. Thousands of dollars for, at best, a few lousy visitors and not one serious inquiry. You begin to wonder if you hadn't made a huge mistake.

Because the Worldwide Web is uncharted waters to most of us, a lot of operations have left it (and rightly so) in the hands of technical outsiders. What they may end up with is a slick Web site, months of storage bills, and very little traffic.

What these operations seem to forget is that the marketing burden still lies on their shoulders. Having a Web presence is much like having a field office in every locale worldwide that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. However, many operations open this field office, never tell customers that is open, leave the door unlocked all day, and the building unattended.

That would never happen in the real world but it happens everyday on the Web. Web sites require time and attention. In fact, if you are going to be effective in selling your message online, you should budget more money to operate, update, advertise, and maintain the site during the course of the year than the initial development costs.

Here are just a few pointers that will help you build traffic on the Web and bring new customers to your business:

Know What the Numbers Mean: A lot of Web developers get caught up in "cyberbabble", tossing out a lot of impressive numbers regarding hits and unrealistically raising expectations. While it's true that Web usage is growing 10% or more each month, the current numbers of active users are still quite small and these relatively few users can account for multiple hits on a site. A hit is registered every time a file is accessed on your site. That means if you have a home page with text, a logo, a button bar, and a couple of pictures, five hits are being registered every time that page is accessed. If someone is talking about thousands of hits, he or she is really talking about hundreds of customers. Instead of focusing on hits, ask your provider for a regular count of pages accessed or users.

Be a Yahoo: Once you launch your site, have it registered with the many search engines and indexes that most Web users rely on for research (such as Yahoo!, Google, WebCrawler, Lycos, or AltaVista). Registration with these services may double usage within such a few weeks. Be careful to compile a complete description of your site and some keywords describing your business. Ask your Web developer to provide this as part of its service.

Be King of Your Own Domain: Every operation considering a Web presence should at the very least register a domain name or the rights to use the address Registration costs from $13.50-$50 per year depending on who you register with. Just about any Web developer or service provider can perform this service for you for a nominal fee. A domain entitles you to a simple unencumbered address that you select (subject to availability), makes it easier to access your page, and gives you the freedom to move your site without having to change its address.  (I'm partial to

Be User Friendly: Using the Web can be time-intensive and therefore most often expect a reward for their efforts. Web users don't want to be sold they want information. Your Web site should not be a billboard. It should be a store of useful information that allows users to browse with anonymity.

Publish or Perish: If it's new they'll look. If it's old they'll leave. Come up with a game plan for regularly updating your site and identify such updates on your home page. It will keep a steady stream of traffic at your door.

Tell Them Where to Find You: Once you develop your Web site, the URL (uniform resource locator or address) should be listed on every single promotional and advertising piece you develop-brochures, clothing, business cards, ads, etc. Your Web site should be a natural complement to your current marketing efforts. For example, you may want to shift gears in your print advertising to market your image and lead prospects to more detailed, current information on the Web. What won't fit in a quarter-page print ad, will certainly fit on a Web page.

Advertise Online: Consumer marketing firms are putting more and more money in online advertising because they have found it to be an effective way to market higher-priced goods that involve a high level of research. These companies are spending considerably more to advertise in this medium that the initial development costs of their Web sites. Why not consider investing 10% of your next advertising budget to bring users to your Web site?

Keep in Touch: While Web users crave anonymity, most will gladly give you information in exchange for a brochure or newsletter. This is a good way to build a customer list. Also, be cognizant of e-mail. E-mail users expect timely replies. Ensure that your organization is equipped to check e-mail daily and answer it swiftly.