I don’t know if there has been an industry more affected by the advancement of technology than ours.

I remember the days when graphic design was just cutting and pasting. Today’s designers “computer manipulate” while software such as Photoshop,InDesign and Illustrator allow untrained designers profess to be designers.

I am not going to get into the pros and cons of all that today. What I would like to share with you is how technology, as it pertains to marketing, can enhance your businesses with a website.

In today’s marketing world, pretty much every business has a website. Websites can be comprehensive with much information and can allow consumers to “experience” your services (online product demos, catalogues, etc.).

They are a great way to promote your business … if done well.

I have been on many websites that do nothing but irritate me because they have too many bells and whistles that take forever to load. Others don’t have the information I am looking for and some are so far out of date it is of no use to me.

Still others have no payment options.

And the big one: no contact information … no phone number to a “person” I can speak to. On a good day, I may (and I say “may” flippantly) forgive one of the above transgressions. After that, I am gone.

So, if you are planning to launch a website (or have one already) you may want to consider the following:

To have a website or not … and then, what kind of a site should it be?:

Your target audience – their lifestyle, buying habits etc. — will dictate whether you need a website or not.

Your customer will also determine how your website should look, how extensive it should be, etc.

For example, our company offers quite diverse services and we are targeting marketers, meeting planners, etc. At www.leafsolutions.ca, we include samples of our work and links to our web designs so people can see the calibre of our work.

Demos of our on-line registration system allow meeting planners to experience our product. As our customers are managers and chief executives officers, our site provides practical information and is static to allow quick access to it.

Website content/writing:

Don’t write an essay – web consumers want quick access to information – so get to the point. That is, determine what your client needs to know and say it. It is a balancing act, if you say too much or the customer can’t find the information they are looking for … click … they’re gone.

I would suggest using a professional writer, at minimum, to “edit” what you have written. We get so close to our own work that we often think it is clear when it isn’t at all. A professional writer can help.

Flash or no flash:

Ever been in a site that is “slow” to load or navigate from page to page? Flashy content – movies, videos, large images, dancing hamsters — is usually the culprit.

Again, the “keep it simple” rule comes into play. I am not saying that flash isn’t appropriate on some sites, what I am saying is it needs to be used strategically — if at all. Again, this is dictated by your target audience.

Example: if your target audience is seniors, they will probably not want any flash as they are looking for information and nothing more.

On-line payment:

If you don’t want to invest in secure payment certificates and software, don’t even go there. Consumers will follow your procedures as long as they are clearly stated on your site and you follow up accordingly.

If you want to offer on-line payment, it absolutely must be secure. You will need to purchase a security certificate and ensure that it is noted clearly on your site that it is secure.

Having said that, security is as good as the trust the consumer puts in it. Always offer traditional payment options. Today’s consumers want — and expect — choice and convenience.

Taking on-line payments can be a daunting task; a professional can work with you to outline options that best fit your needs.

Contact:

A “Contact” button should be visible on every page of your site so contact is quick and easy. If you have specific contact procedures, you should state them and you absolutely must follow through.

Example: if you state that you can expect a response within 24 hours, your response should be no more than that and preferably less.

Use a professional web design company:

As software can be purchased and learned by virtually anyone, many people figure they will simply design their own site.

It really is true that not everyone is a designer. Today’s computer software can help, but the “design sense” that will set your site apart can only come from a professional designer.

A well-designed site is pleasing to the eye (inviting people in), follows some proved rules (example: yellow type is a “no no” as you can’t read it), uses flash techniques only where it effectively enhances the message (no where else) and is designed for your target audience.

If you are going to invest the time and money, why not get the best product you can?

If you choose to go with a web design company, remember, a professional company will base its design/price on your needs. Shop around for a company that takes the time to meet with you, understand your needs and customizes its approach to meet them.

Ask it for links to sites it has designed, take time to review them and get references.

Optimization:

Your website is now designed and “live” and you’re waiting for the customers to stream in. The Internet, like your business, is a “busy ” place. There is no point in having a website if it can’t be found.

If you have hired a professional design company, it will have “optimized” your site so that it can be found more easily through search engines (and, if done right, will be closer to the top of the list).

Advertise:

Like anything else, if you tell people about it … they will come.

Preferably, you will launch your site by way of announcements and advertisements in traditional advertising mediums (newspaper, radio, etc.). Of course, your website should be the point of reference on all advertising materials, business cards, letterhead etc.

Update, update, update:

So, now you have a great website. Done? Nope. An out-of-date site, though professionally designed and quickly accessed, can be a detriment to your business. It turns the consumer off and “clicks them out”.

Develop content that brings your customer back – what’s new this month, project of the week, my view on gophers (or web-marketing) or some other topic — and will draw people to your site.

Even if this content isn’t a direct marketing of your wares, it can still bring people, who are interested in your items, to your site. Chances are what interests you will also interest your clients.

Set a reasonable date to update your website on a regular basis – and do it.

Wanda Leaf is the president of Leaf Solutions. Contact her through her website at www.leafsolutions.ca.

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