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Internet marketing tools turn Web sites into valuable assets

21 November 2009 No Comment


By Helen Kaiao Chang

See original story on SDNN

Saturday, November 7, 2009

How many Web pages has Google indexed?

More than 1 trillion.

After Google, what’s the most highly-searched Web site on the Internet?

YouTube.

How long does it take for a Web site to make a first impression on a visitor?

One-20th of a second.

What does this mean for your business? You better have a Web site, post videos on YouTube, and make sure your site looks awesome.

These were just a few of the points made at a Wednesday workshop, “Introduction to Internet Marketing,” organized by Score San Diego, a couching group for entrepreneurs. The workshop series is aimed at small businesses who want to harness the Internet to increase sales.

“In today’s environment, businesses need to have a presence on the Internet, because most people look first on the Internet to find  products and services,” said Fred Schlaffer, a Score counselor specializing in Internet marketing. “If you don’t have a professional site, many people will never find you.”

Web site assets

Web sites can be valuable assets when selling a business, said Susan Rust, an owner of Green Bird Media Web design company, who led the workshop. These assets can be worth as much as a company’s receivables or good will.

This is because a strong Web site attracts customers, mostly through the use of keywords. These are words or phrases that Internet surfers type into search engines to find information. The higher a keyword ranks in the search engines, the more people will find the business.

“Your Web site might be worth as much when you sell the business – just because of the keywords,” said Rust.

But to create an asset, a business needs to invest time, energy and money into building its Web presence. This includes choosing its: domain name, hosting company, platform and design.

One participant at the workshop talked about how his business Web site was stolen through the cheap hosting site he used. Someone in a foreign country hijacked his site, which had high-ranking keywords, thus driving traffic to the thief’s site and payment system.

“Cheapest, fastest, easiest is not always the best way to protect your business,” said Rust.

Good domain names

A good Web site starts with a good domain name, said Rust.

Here were some pointers:

• Choose a name that is simple and easy to understand.

• Use at least one keyword in the domain name.

• Use keywords that tell people what your business does. For example, one participant had a domain called “DiskCoverLet.com,” but others could not exactly tell what it sold. (It sells CD disk covers.)

• Choose unusual names only if you have a big advertising budget. For example, kudzu.com was funded by Cox Media, and Google was started with investor war chests.

• Avoid double letters. For example, All Saints San Diego becomes www.allsaintssandiego.com – which is confusing due to the double “s.”

• Avoid ampersands. Search engines do not accept them. For example, Barnes & Noble chose a Web address spelling out the ampersand, but customers rarely searched it that way. Finally, they settled on www.bn.com, but redirected traffic to www.barnesandnoble.com.

Branding

A strong Web site also communicates a company’s brand identity.

“Branding is cleaning up your business so it looks good enough to sell,” said Rust. “How that’s packaged can make the difference in how much you can sell it for. It’s like selling your house – it can be worth $20,000 more when you clean it up.”

But a brand must genuinely reflect the values and personality of a business, she said.

On a Web site, a company’s brand is communicated through use of color, design, font, sound and even customer service.

For example, mobile phone companies are associated with particular colors:

Red – Verizon
Pink – T-Mobile
Yellow – Sprint
Green – Cricket

A brand is also the “emotional experience” people have with a company and its products. People make instant decisions about the value of a product based on these experiences.

“A good brand activates that part of the brain that causes us to fall in love,” said Rust.

This love is particularly important in a weak economy, said Rust. In recent years, consumers have returned to known brands, such as Clorox, Colgate or Kellogg’s. “In a down economy, people go back to that which they love and trust,” she said.

It’s critical for a business to communicate its brand through it Web site. “Without a well-branded company, you’re missing out on that deep (emotional connection),” said Rust. “Give them something to fall in love with.”

Call to action

Web sites also need to include a call to action.

Many businesses – particularly professionals, such as doctors and lawyers – fill their Web sites with too much information, said Rust. It’s better to keep it simple.

“How can you strip it down — so people can take action?” she asked.

A call to action can urge a Web site visitor to:

• Join a mailing list

• Download a free product

• Learn about the company

• Call to find out more

• Donate funds

• Volunteer time

• Buy a product

“Websites are tools for you to generate sales. Nothing else,” said Rust. “You’re trying to get somebody to buy, call, or join.”

Web 2.0

Businesses should plan on revising their Web sites every two to three years, just to stay current with technology, said Rust.

In earlier years, Web 1.0 was about just getting something up. Pages were static.

Now, Web 2.0 is about dynamic, real-time interaction. Its features include:

• Interactivity – forms, downloads, sign-ups

• Multi-users – multiple editors or managers

• Multimedia – music, audio, video

• User generated content – forums, comments, uploads

• Feedback – reviews, polls, forums

Visitors want to connect to communities, said Rust. A successful business Web site serves as a connecting point.

Generational divide

Businesses also need to design Web sites that cater to their target age group. For example, most visitors under age 25 will get information through videos more than printed text, said Rust.

Rust shared how her 17-year-old son looks up everything on YouTube, bypassing Google altogether. “He gets everything he wants on YouTube,” she said, with some chagrin. “He doesn’t even bother with reading about it.”

Changing technology

What are the larger lessons for businesses? Be friends with technology. Revise your Web strategies annually.

And plan for change.

“Everything you learn now will be outdated in a year,” said Rust.

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenChang.

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