Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Small Business Web Site

Yesterday I wrote that doing a web site for a small business was no easy feat. Crucial. But time consuming.

Today, as luck would have it, I had lunch at Search Marketing Expo West and sat at a table with Ellie Burns-Brookens, owner of European Discovery, a travel agency that specializes in small groups and individuals.

Ellie left her career in high tech to pursue a dream - a true entrepreneur - and though she was ready to market via several channels, found that most of her business came via the web. She set about making her site more friendly for search engines.

But even though she knew the ins-and-outs of the web and could port her analytics over to an Excel spread sheet, Burns-Brookens found that for a small shop, web upkeep was hardly something that could be done with a lick-and-a-promise.

Any small business owner will tell you that taking three days out of a busy schedule to attend a conference is tough (and costly). Still, she dubbed the conference well worth the time. She's now looking at the best ways to incorporate video she's shot, how to get more bang from key words and tags, what to do with images. She's asking questions about what visitors do once they come to her site. And what content she should add on a regular basis.

In short, she's trying to balance on a small-biz budget what agencies charge a couple grand a month to do.

I'm not trying to frighten anyone away from a web site...eMarketer projects that this year there will be 193.9 million US Internet users—about two-thirds of the population...so, it's folly to ignore it. But the web still isn't at the stage where a web site is as easy as a tri-fold brochure. Consider it an expense and budget both time and money accordingly.

3 comments:

Scott Hepburn - Marketing. Simplified. said...

Hi Amy...just discovered the Get Real blog...wish I had discovered it long ago!

I can completely relate to small business owners struggling to find time for their Web sites. My company just completed a year-long study of small business marketing and found the average business person with 10-100 employees is cobbling together a marketing program using five or six people (freelancers, DIY, the secretary's kid, a staff person, etc.)

The good news is that starting a basic Web site is getting simpler. The bad news is that Web sites are growing more sophisticated. I've found a lot of career satisfaction from helping those small business people get their sites up and running!

Amy Rabinovitz said...

Hi Scott - you bring up a great point - that 'cobbling together' always seems to end up costing a bunch for a not-very-good-product. Fo you have some brief "headlines" on how a small business should approach a basic Web site?

Scott Hepburn - Marketing. Simplified. said...

Sure, Amy...here's a few tips:

1) Remember Your Audience

The #1 mistake of amateur Web site builders is forgetting the audience. While it's tempting to write a Web site about how amazing YOU are, focus instead on your customer and the benefits you offer to them. Don't stick to your typical lines, either. Ask yourself, "Is this information my customer wants to hear, or is it just information that I want them to hear?"

2) Contact Us Form

A contact form lets your customers contact you with a question or comment. It's also a great way to gather their contact information so you can follow up with a personal e-mail, phone call, or direct mail. A personalized response goes a long way.

3) FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions give you a chance to provide context and clarity to your customers. Remember, they may still be at the beginning of the buying cycle, so it doesn't hurt to educate them about their choices. It's all part of building trust, which leads to sales

4) Headlines Matter

Studies show that Web readers have even shorter attention spans than offline readers. Headlines should express in very clear wording how you'll improve your customer's life. Attracting attention is a good start, but you have to hold their attention, too.

5) Special Offers

You use special offers to attract customers offline...why wouldn't you do it online? It's one more way to guide Web site visitors down the path to becoming customers.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. I'm here to help if anyone has questions!