June 13, 2010
There was a time when a website was a "nice-to-have" feature for entrepreneurs. That time is long gone: today, a website is a "must-have" for all companies.
"The web is the most important communications tool in business today," says BDC Consultant Rony Israel. "Your website basically replaces your business card. Not only does it reflect your company image, it's also an ideal way to communicate with your prospects and customers."
Yet only a minority of business owners know how to build a strong web presence. Many are falling behind. That's especially so of companies that got into business before the Internet existed, says Israel. "Many people think it's enough to work with a basic template, hastily put up a website and let it sit there unattended. But that's exactly what you shouldn't be doing."
Change your content constantly
A key feature of a successful website is strong, regularly updated content. "Whatever business you're in, there's always something new to communicate on your site," Israel stresses. Entrepreneurs may worry that they lack content but look to their day-to-day business activities for inspiration. You might invite customers to visit your booth at a conference your company is attending, or regularly post customer success stories and testimonials from employees. News briefs—on product launches, for example—can also be effective. "Whatever you do, be creative about it," says Israel.
Create accountability for content
It's always best to assign someone to take care of web content, or to outsource the job entirely. "Avoid having too many players working on content," says Israel. "Be sure you have one person who is gathering content from various contributors. This will help create uniformity and a consistent tone." Your site reflects your corporate image, he notes, and "that is a precious asset."
Generate high-volume traffic
The real success of any website is determined by how much traffic it generates. "If you're not getting those visits, then your website isn't doing its job," says Israel. "Achieving a high volume of traffic has to be top of mind for entrepreneurs," he adds. "Don't be complacent about your goals. Always push for more visitors. Use every single opportunity you have to direct your people to your website." Online ads and search engines can help with this. "Still, one of the most effective means is simply handing out your URL as a business card," says Israel.
Ensure search engines can find you
If your site is not showing up on search engines such as Google, you may need to make some improvements. Search engines typically use algorithms that take various aspects of your site into account, including URL, keywords, descriptors, title and content. "That's how they rank your site, so it's important to keep the material fresh and up-to-date," Israel explains.
Use the reverse pyramid
There's no fail-safe recipe for building an effective site, but Israel says a "reverse pyramid" approach improves navigation. That means putting the most important information at the top, using short headlines and keeping all written material simple. "As visitors navigate through your site, they should find more information. The deeper they go, the greater the interest they are showing in your content," Israel notes. It's especially important to design the site so your customers can contact you at any point during the visit.
Linking to other company websites can be an effective strategy for improving content, making your site more useful to visitors and building profitable partnerships with other businesses. "For example, if you're a grocer selling broccoli, then you could link visitors to sites that feature broccoli recipes," suggests Israel. "In turn, these companies may end up buying your product." Entrepreneurs can also use web links to build relationships with industry associations, suppliers and community networks.
Measure your success
It's also critical to measure the success of your website. Tools are available to allow businesses to track how long visitors stay on a site and which sites they visited previously. "This is invaluable information for any business owner," says Israel. "It enables you to adjust your site and make improvements." If you see people zipping past the elaborate animation on your home page, this may mean you need to simplify it. "Listen to your customers," Israel advises, "and let them guide you."
Make the right decision