Creating and maintaining an effective presence on the Web has become increasingly complex and challenging as the power of the Internet as a marketing tool becomes more and more necessary to entrepreneurs and emerging businesses.
The good news is that technologies that were only available to the big guys just a couple of years ago - audio, video, ecommerce, e-mail database management applications - are now affordable for almost everybody. The bad news is that the number of choices and opportunities can be confusing and overwhelming.
Here are my eight favorite tips to help you steer clear of some of the biggest mistakes I've seen people make when designing or re-designing their Web projects.
1. You begin without a marketing strategy.
Web sites, like brochures, newsletters, business cards, post cards and the like, are simply part of your marketing mix, not just something you build so you can say you have one.
Before you begin, you need to ask yourself important questions about your Web site strategy beginning with why you want a Web site in the first place.
a. What are your objectives? To educate? Motivate? Inform? Attract new business? Serve existing clients? Be perceived a certain way, such as compassionate or trendy?
b. Who is your target audience?
c. What do you want your visitors to discover and/or do when they log on to your site?
As the Cheshire cat explained to Alice - if you don't know where you're going, I can't tell you how to get there. So before you do anything else, make an Internet marketing plan for your site.
2. You have no Internet branding or inappropriate branding.
Once you know what your objectives are and have identified your target audience, your site needs to reflect that knowledge. A music site selling hip-hop to teens needs to look and feel a lot different from a health care site for seniors or a motorcycle site for guys that ride Harley Fat Boys.
A good brand should repel as strongly as it attracts. Once you get the positioning and Internet branding right, your site will sort out your potential clients from the online crowd.
3. You buy the wrong technology for your goals and objectives.
There are two big, broad categories of Web sites - one that you own and one that you rent. The "rental" model is a site offered by what is called an Application Service Provider or ASP. You usually will pay a set up fee and a monthly fee ranging from $59 way up to hundreds of dollars depending on the sophistication of the Web site application.
At the low end, you may see an ad for a "FREE WEB SITE." The company offers to build your site and then you "just pay" $59 per month- forever! With this
model the site itself never belongs to you, only your content. If you leave the provider, you can't take the site with you.
With the ownership model, you will hire a Web site designer, or do the work yourself, then pay an annual or monthly hosting fee - usually much smaller comparatively - and you own both the site and the content, which you can move to a different service provider if you wish.
4. You have no Internet marketing plan.
"We will build it and they will come," has not worked for a long, long time. Budget the money necessary to promote your site and meet your objectives, or wait until you can. It doesn't have to be a very expensive plan. But do something! There are way too many "secret Web sites" out there in cyberspace.
Start building your email database as soon as possible. Consider an eZine to keep you in front of your prospects on a regular basis. Offer a free report on your site. Put the offer on the back of your business card.
If you want to do more, work with a Search Engine Optimizer (SEO), who will make your site attractive to Google and Yahoo and other top search engines. You may also want to consider pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to get you to the top of the search engine listings.
5. You have no way to measure your site's effectiveness.
Remember that old saying: "If it's not broken; don't fix it?" Well you will need a way to know if your site is working for you or not. Make sure that your service provider offers site statistics, to let you know who is visiting, how often and if your traffic is growing.
Use an email sign-up form to build your database, and keep an eye on your progress. Track what works and what doesn't, and make changes as you get feedback.
6. Your technology doesn't match the target audience.
We've all had the experience of landing on a Web site, only to get a message saying that we don't have the right plug-in to view it. Sometimes the site designer has a link letting you know that since you are among the "great unwashed" without the "right" browser of technology, you must go download it to view the site. Don't expect that potential visitor to stick around!
Research your target audience to make sure your site considers their technology level. Don't use images that are too large to load in a reasonable amount of time if your users don't have a broadband connection, for example.
7. You let your users get lost in Cyberspace.
Your navigation system needs to be clear, and intuitive. Links should be in the same position on each page. There should always be a "home" button. Confusing navigation drives potential clients and users away.
8. You play hard to get.
Don't make it hard for your clients and prospects to communicate with you. Make sure your contact information is on every page and is easy to access. Let your visitors know what you want them to do, like: "Call me!" or "Sign Up for My E-EZine."
Marcia Torrey-Jay is the owner of Vision Quest Multimedia in Los Angeles, CA. Her company offers affordable, custom Web site design, Internet branding and online marketing services to small business owners, professionals, healers, artists, and other entrepreneurs.
Visit http://www.visionquest.tv to sign up for her free Web site development tips and tools eZine, Envision It!