Building A Site To See

Building A Site To See

Phillip M. Perry

Ready to build a home page for your business? Think customers will be drawn in by the thousands?

Watch out. Creating a home page may sound like it’s going to be profitable. But, too often the Web’s commercial potential remains just that: potential. Of the 60,000 new commercial home pages added to the World Wide Web each month, few attract enough revenue to justify the time and expense required for their construction.

“You have a real risk that no one will visit your Web site,” says Bob Heyman, chief operating officer of Cybernautics, a consultancy in Sausalito, CA.

Why are there so many failed sites? Consultants say businesses commonly make a number of costly errors when creating their home pages. As a result, customers either never get to the home pages, or they move on to other sites right away – like television viewers “channel surfing” for a good program.

How do you prevent customers from ignoring your web page? Computer consultants reveal the following top nine potholes in the road toward the World Wide Web.

Mistake #1. Hyping business instead of serving the customer. Consultants say this is the most common error and turns off customers the fastest.

“The biggest mistake is using the web page as an electronic form of a press release,” says Howard Henson, account executive with The Internet Learning Center in New York.

“Instead, consider the Web page as a way to meet the needs of your customer,” he says.

What people are looking for is information to help them make money in their business, become smarter buyers of your merchandise and services or lead more productive, happier lives.

The secret is to think communications, not selling. Here’s how to decide what to communicate:

* What are the most common questions asked by your customers? Put the answers on your site.

* What advice can you give customers?

* What timely information can you share with customers? Examples: Special offers that may expire soon, new services or goods being offered, or personnel changes.

What about colorful graphics and lively animations? Think of them as appetizers – not the main course. “People may appreciate your site’s graphics and animation, but those things don’t make people return time after time,” says Heyman. “Helpful information does.”

Mistake #2: Segregating the web page from other marketing efforts.

Your web page will not be effective if it is seen as separate from your traditional advertising.

“Tie everything together as much as possible,” says David Edwards, associate consultant at Redwood Partners, New York. “Look at your page as a line extension of the marketing channels you’re already using.”

On your Web page, duplicate the promotions that are ongoing in your display advertising. Tag your Web site address at the end of ads. Invite readers to “get more information at our Web site, at (Web address).”

Mistake #3: Creating a stodgy home page.

Make sure the opening page is a winner. You have perhaps five seconds to convince the new customer to stay and browse your site.

“Your home page is like a store front,” says Eric Berrios, director of interactive services at Erin Edward, a Web page consultancy in Glen Head, NY. “It is the first impression people get of you. It has to stop people in their tracks.”

To keep customers coming back, consider condensing your points into one dynamic opening page. Here are some ideas:

* Emphasize customer benefits by offering links to useful pages. Example: “Click here to learn about our frequent customer program.”

* Refer to offerings made in your print advertising. Example: “You must have read about our updated information on (area of interest) click here to see it now.”

* Keep a low company profile by using a small graphic and modest-sized company name. Get the browsers’ eyes focused on words that relate to their needs, and promise helpful materials on your attached pages.

Mistake #4: Designing a confusing Web page structure.

If your site is difficult to maneuver, your customer will become frustrated and click out.

Avoid creating Web pages more than two levels deep beyond the home page. It’s confusing. The browser can get lost completely.

Design the opening page to include a clickable index of additional pages. The browser who wants to access one of your pages can always return to your home page and click on the appropriate line.

Include the words “return to home page” at the bottom of each of your pages, along with a link. A lost customer can always click on that line to get back to square one.

Mistake #5: Designing “slow” pages.

If you want to irritate your customers, create pages that take a minute to download. Take a tip from Alan Runfeldt, senior projects manager for the Internet Group at Net5.Com, a consulting firm in Rohnert Park, CA: “If you make people wait more than 20 or 30 seconds to download a page, you’ll try their patience and lose visitors.”

One way to speed download time, says Runfeldt, is to keep each page under 100K, including graphics.

“Allow an average of 10 seconds of download time for every 10K of data transferred. Be especially wary of graphics-only pages,” says Runfeldt.

Many people turn off the graphics capability in their browsers. This allows them to download web pages much faster. Therefore, you also must make sure your Web pages are readable and usable for customers who have the graphics function turned off.

Mistake #6: Failure to engage the customer.

“Web sites are like relationships,” says Berrios. “You want people to come back to your pages again and again.” Here’s how:

* Create as much interaction as possible with visitors to your site. Start by personalizing your site. Include information about the individuals who run your company. * Include an invitation to “Please send us a question” and include a form that allows customers to e-mail you. Ask for feedback. What information would the customer like to see added to the site? This can set up a dialogue that will make the customer feel closer to your business and can stimulate a return visit.

But, be sure to check your e-mail at least once daily. Failing to respond creates an impression of amateurism.

“Businesses which understand the interactive process and relate to web users on a one-to-one basis will be way ahead of the game,” says Edwards.

Mistake #7: Failing to update the site. When customers return to your Web site, they expect to see something new. If they’re disappointed, they’ll take your page off their electronic address book.

Update your page once a week. You don’t have to do something elaborate. But include a newsy item or something that will help your customers. Announce “What’s New This Week.” When the customer clicks on the line, a page pops up with the new material.

Including a statement such as: “Bookmark this site now and come back in six days when we update it,” can also keep traffic up.

Mistake #8: Omitting links to other sites.

Including links to other sites is considered a courtesy to customers. Fail to do so and customers will think you are less than professional. These links represent the “web” part of the name World Wide Web.

Include links to sites that will extend the information you have in your site. By all means, offer to include links to the Web pages of your customers.

“If you create enough of these links, customers will start to think of your page as a one-stop resource,” says Heyman.

Mistake #9. Keeping your site a secret. Publicize your site. You put a lot of time into developing the strategy, design and information content. But people won’t check into your site until you send out invitations.

Here are some ideas:

* Mail a press release about your site.

* Include your site’s address on your business cards, letterhead and advertising.

* Ask other page owners to include your site as a link and offer to link their site to your page.

* Register with http://www.submit-it.com, which is a service for publicizing sites.

Done right, the Web page can be a successful adjunct to your marketing program. “I believe there is an Internet benefit for nearly every business in America today,” says Runfeldt. “It gives you a very inexpensive way to present your best image and your message of choice to all who visit your page.”

Got more questions about the World Wide Web? The best place to start is at www.boutell.com/faq/, which includes a list of frequently asked questions. It also includes links to additional sources of information.

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