Now that you’ve made the decision to put a shiny new business Web site among the tens of millions of others on the internet, you’re no doubt in a hurry to see the face of your company looking back from the screen – slick, professional, inviting, with eye-catching graphics and exciting text that just begs new customers to check you out.
But right now it’s important to take a breath, clear your mind and plan, plan, plan.
A well thought-out blueprint will guide all the other decisions you’ll make in the next ten steps. It can also help you avoid spending more than you need.
Skimp on planning, and you’ll have problems down the road.
Now let’s get going.
What’s your customer target? What’s your mission?
You may think this goes against common sense, but the essence of your Web site isn’t really about you. What? It’s true. Sure, it presents your business face to the world and you’ll carefully make choices later on to put that together.
But your Web site is a specialized tool, one that enables you to reach countless new customers and, if it’s a retail site, sell to them and process their purchases.
Here, your primary purpose is to know your customers so well that you answer any questions they might have before they ask, then make it easy for them to buy what you’re selling.
This bedrock principle applies whether you’re creating a one- or two-page site that simply tells who you are and where you can be reached by e-mail, snail mail and phone; or a fully functioning retail site with hundreds, even thousands, of pages and a “shopping cart” that let’s your buyers collect products and pay for them, comfortable that their financial and other personal data are secure.
Exactly who are they and what do you know about them, what they want, what they need, what they don’t know they need, what gives them the willies on the Web?
- How old are they? Are they men, women, kids?
- What do they expect when they come to a company like yours?
- How smart are they and what specific talents or skills do they have?
- Where do they live? What are those places like?
- Are they Web savvy or are they just beginning to use it?
In either case, what are their concerns about doing business on the Web – what scares them off?
Answer those questions, and any others that suit the specific customer you’ve now identified, and you’ll know how to go forward in writing your raison d’être, your reason for being – your mission.
You’ll tell them why you’re qualified to do what you do, and why your company is unique and better than the competition.
You’ll tell them exactly how you’ll serve their needs right here, right now, on your Web site.
You’ll sell your company as one that knows they, too are unique, and that you’ve tailored your goods, services and shopping experience to these special people.
Draw a simple diagram of your Web site, starting with the home page and proceeding – as your customer would – from page to page to page.
Keep it simple – more detail comes later.
Buying a good domain name
As we mentioned in our blog (Choosing and buying your domain name), the domain name that you will use will have to be easy to remember and also contain a few keywords of what you are trying to sell to the people. Are you selling rubber ducks? Why not get a domain name that is exactly that?
Rubber-ducks.com. Now Google and other search engines like the words to be separated either by a dash or an underscore to make sure what you are saying is true. You can get new domains from:
- 1 & 1 Domain Registration
- Microsoft Office Live Small Business
Making your website eye-catching: Text and Images
You might as well get going now on writing copy – the text – for your Web site, and how you intend to use images.
If your writing skills are sharp, follow your diagram of Web pages and decide what you want to say on each. This is a rough draft, so don’t sweat over it too long.
Writing effective Web copy is a special skill, and you need to edit and rewrite your draft along some specific guidelines. The broader ones:
- If you refer to your company as “we” in your copy, be sure to address your customer as “you.” Engage them in this personal experience.
- Don’t make your Web site look or read like an ad. You may be planning to attract and sell online space to advertisers, and you’ll confuse visitors dismissed if your content looks like ad material.
- Keep your copy concise and use bullets (like we are doing now)
- Keep it simple and kill jargon. The point here isn’t to show your mastery of insiders’ language, but to make your customers feel welcome, at home and included.
- Write like you’re talking face-to-face, using contractions if it sounds natural.
- Be succinct. Don’t write: “If you happen to encounter anything that raises questions, we are prepared to address them.” Do write: “Questions? We’re here to answer them.”
You’re not done until you spell-check your copy, then print it out and proofread, proofread again, and do it a few more times. Bad grammar, misspellings – especially proper names – and other basic errors will make you look like an amateur, not the world-beating pro you really are.
Invite others to read over your text and point out errors, or hire a freelance copy editor. You’ll find them all over the Web, but check their references. It won’t cost much and will be money well spent.
If you don’t think you can handle the copywriting yourself, you’re probably right. Hire a professional with Web experience. There are thousands of freelance writers online offering to do the job at a wide range of prices.
Your only task now is to decide what photos, charts and graphs, illustrations and other visuals you need to help tell your message and show who you are.
Note what they are on each of your Web page diagrams, but not necessarily where they’ll go. We’ll get to that later. And keep these rules in mind:
- Use only as many images or other graphics as you need to bolster your text and make your pages attractive. Here, as in nearly anything on the Web, less is more. Don’t visually assault your visitors.
- Good pictures can speak a thousand words. If a photo or other image will save a lot of explaining, use it instead of text.
- If your purpose is just to put candid snapshots on the Web, your visitors will understand why they’re not slick, crisp and professionally done. For everything else, be sure your photos and graphics are all three.
Budgets, and Who Does What
Setting smart budgets saves money – period. Get your planning done now, and you won’t waste precious cash on things you don’t and won’t need. Set your Web site budget so you can comfortably handle the costs with available resources.
One of the great things about Web sites is their changeability. You can add bells, whistles, services and other enhancements later, as you need them and have more cash to spend.
It’s impossible to tell you exactly how to divide the pot in building a Web site. There are many factors in endless combinations, and countless ways to handle them. But think about these things and you’ll be in great shape to work out the details:
- How many products or services are you selling?
- If you’re a retail operation (e-commerce), how will you securely process orders? Are you using an verified online merchant like PayPal, SagePay, WorldPay?
- Do you need professionals for writing, editing, photography, Web design, even budgeting?
- How many marketing functions do you want? Newsletters? Surveys? Blogs?
- How much can you spend on hosting, your domain name, your Web design package?
- Does a free, all-in-one Web site service like Microsoft Office Live Small Business/Yahoo Pages cover you, or do you need more flexibility, an good “shopping cart,” an original look, detailed analytics?
- How will you drive traffic to your Web site after it’s built?
When it comes time to shop for these things, let your budget dictate your choices. As revenue starts coming in the door, your business Web site can grow, too, in scope, sophistication and ambition.
That’s the plan, right?
The rise of Social Networks, Blogs and RSS on the web has been driven by individuals feeling empowered to tell their story, communicate feelings, chronicle events or write anything that can think of. This is the age of self-publishing as never seen before and with it comes all the positives and negatives of personal opinion.
According to Metcalfe’s law “the value of a network grows in proportion to the square of the number of users” which essentially means the larger the network the more connections/benefit the users get out of it.
You may love the comments or hate them but with 27% of internet users in the US having been involved, either reading or writing a blog, companies that ignore the messages posted may be doing so at their peril. Blogs are a valuable source of research to understand what consumers are thinking about your brand, latest advertising campaign or products/services.
A web log (blog) is a shared online journal where people can post diary entries about their personal experiences and interests. Blogs have become legitimate standard business practices and progressive marketers are building strategies around their use to influence a target audience. Many of these selfdeveloped forums are generating significant revenue streams for their creators. Teen networks such
as MySpace.com and Facebook.com have become destinations of choice for an increasingly connected youth culture.
Witness the success of twitter.com in creating large audience pull and drawing advertisers’ media dollars through the public interest in ‘A’ list celebrities and fashion icons. Yahoo! is also including blogs to the search criteria within news, further highlighting the increased interest of consumer opinion, unique insights or footage of events. In addition to using blogs for research, as a feature to your site,
they can increase traffic, membership and your SEO ranking.
Video logs (VBlog), are proliferating as bloggers seek to enhance their messages. Mobile blogs (Moblogs, mBlogs) can be posted directly to from your mobile communication device. Podcasting enables anyone to create their own radio or television show for download to others. And it goes on and on.
At the heart of the technical revolution in the explosion of self-expression via the Web, is a family of standards called RSS and a rival specification called Atom. RSS stands for Really Simply Syndication and allows individuals or web sites to opt-in and receive content or recent changes from other web sites, the most common of which are news, blogs, entertainment, and ecommerce. The technology
behind RSS allows users to subscribe to web sites that provide RSS feeds or syndicated content. For the marketer, RSS will enable you to communicate and publish information that goes directly, avoiding SPAM filters, to users who choose to link to you, at a time that is convenient to them. You will be able to receive feedback on what the market would like to hear about from you and be able to widen your reach through portals like www.live.com.
Even if it’s something as simple as putting press releases in an RSS feed, marketers will benefit from early exposure to distributing information via RSS and receive valuable feedback from key constituents on what types of content they would like to have.
Marketing and Social Networks
For marketers, do we need to know the latest on what is hot on the Social Scene and what is not? If you want to be where the audience is growing, social networks are an absolute. Public opinion is influenced there and your brand will get reviewed, praised, skewered or viral marketed to stardom.
Several ways to get started now include:
Develop an information blog on your company, product or service. With approval from company leadership, communicate the latest happenings at the company, experiment with ideas and become a Thought Leader on a topic. Remember that your posts will return as other bloggers link to you and what you say is quoted in various ways. For many private companies, this is not a problem but understand that your postings can be used to support everything from contrary opinions to legal proceedings.
The benefits of blogging include reaching an extended audience and in the links that will be added by other bloggers. This increases the relevancy of your site for search engine indexing. We recommend you can get your own blog for free from WordPress or Blogger.
Personal Opinion Blogs
Many top-level executives are using blogs to gain higher visibility in the marketplace. If your strategy is to build key executives’ credibility so that they can be more effective in influencing the media, being invited to speaking engagements and so forth, the use of blogs is complimentary to that.
Advertising money is pouring into the self-publishing space. The audiences are highly segmented based on the focus of the blog. Cost for ad placement is generally lower than that of mainstream publishing sites due to the relatively new position of accepting media spends. Choosing to move your ad spend to a blog or Social Network should come under the same type of analysis as that of any
other site. You can cash in on all the advertising $ being poured into blogs through programs such as Blogvertise
Build Linked Blog Communities
The American political machines have been at the forefront of developing communities of linked blogs.
This allows the savvy politician to create an increasingly connected constituency to state their support and drive campaign donations. Enabling your employees to develop their own site is a good way to foster a progressive culture. Ownership even within the confines of company policy still creates positive connections.
Join Social Networks
Getting involved in Social Networks has several advantages. First, it helps you understand the space and allows you to meet people who have like interests. Secondly, it enables you to influence the participants when you post your views and positions. Friendster, YahooGroups.com or Linkedln are just some of thousands of examples of Social Networks that you can get involved with.
Enhance Messages with Vlogs
Using video and enhanced multimedia can work like TV to communicate your message. There is no medium like video for communicating emotion to the masses. Vlogs will help drive your awareness and recall to a higher level than text and flat imagery.
With YouTube results getting ranked so highly now through Google, generating video can bring you great exposure. You don’t need to make fancy videos to get these benefits either. Often times the simplest ones are the most popular. I just started using Traffic Gyser to distribute my videos to over 200 video sites. I make very simple videos and with that system I’ve already seen a considerable boost in traffic and rankings. Video is definitely the next big traffic generating strategy in my opinion.
Anyone with content can set up a Podcast. Just load up audio files and let people subscribe to them through an RSS feed. Podcasts are great for regularly updated content. Many radio stations are already using or experimenting with Podcast, as are many news led web sites like News.com. Scott Paton’s course on Podcasting is by far the best one for people interested in this area.
Set up RSS Feeds
RSS feeds provide an easy way for companies to syndicate your content and ultimately drive more traffic to your site and increase your brand awareness. You can even set up an RSS feed for the products on your site.
The people over at ShareThis.com setup these 2 cool widgets. The first allows you to setup a bookmark option on your site so people can quickly bookmark it. The second is an RSS button and allows people to get RSS feed from your site. Both are free and take seconds to create. Check them out here.
Legal Issues on Publishing
Every country in the world addresses the legal issues involving public opinion. Ignorance is not a defense and when making comments publicly available, be aware that potential liability issues include among others:
- Intellectual Property (Copyright/Trademark)
- Trade Secret
- Publication of Private Facts
However, in the spirit of free speech across much of the world… Blog on!
Managing the Message
Is it possible to orchestrate a program aimed at influencing behavior with Social Networking and Blogging? Absolutely. Can we predict what the results will be? Probably not. Word of mouth is the most powerful factor in this medium. Bloggers are notorious for digging into the story until the truth comes out. They don’t suffer lies and mistruths well and will band together to create a firestorm of
unfavorable PR for those who misuse the space.
For a Website wanting to build awareness. Traffic and exposure, the opportunity to use these avenues of marketing is very promising. Remember that the individual rules and the power is in the hands of those who believe in your message.
8. Localized Searches and Seasonal Keywords
Pick regional search engines you want to appear on based upon the countries you trade in. If you sell to France and you want to appear on Google.fr, the French version of Google, you should either host your site in France or have a French domain that your site can be indexed under.
It is important to continue repeating these steps on a structured basis and planning in advance of seasonal trends like Holiday Season. Over a period of time the keywords will change in relevancy as search terms evolve and the relevancy of your product range changes.
With an analytics system you should be able the see what words are working for you, the traffic they are bringing in and the level of conversion you are getting for them. With this information, you can see how much of an improvement you have made and also if any changes you have made have improved your results.
7. User Behaviour
Google analyses the amount of time that a user spends on a site after he/she has clicked a link from a search results page. If there is a significant decline in the time spent on the site then it could indicate that the document contains information that is out of date and has become stale. For instance, if after clicking from a Google search results link to a timetable, an average person spent 2 minutes on the site and now the average was under 30 seconds, it would indicate that the timetable was out of date.
Google collects this information using the Google toolbar.
Make your site the ideal source for your product/service people spend the longest time there. Any document that has become stale should easily link through to the fresher version e.g. a product that you no longer sell should link through to the replacement product.
Pages Per Visitor
Another statistic all programs provide is “Page Per Vistor” (PPG). This number tells you how many pages on your website the average visitor checks out while visiting your site. So if your PPG is 1 that means that people are exiting your rite right after seeing your homepage and a good indication that you need to fix your homepage. Depending on the nature of your site the PPG will vary. The higher the PPG, the more interest visitors are taking in your site and the more time they are spending on it.
Try to find the “exit” pages that visitors are using the most. This means which one of you webpages most people exit your site from. Knowing and fixing these pages will help you tremendously.
User Maintained/Generated Data
Google looks at the number of people and the growth in people that add a document to their internet browser’s bookmarks/favorites. The basis of this is that people would only add a site to their bookmark/favorites, if the site would be useful in the long term and wanted to visit the site in the future. Google looks at the number of people that then use these bookmarks/favorites to rank a document higher. Conversely, a decline in the number of bookmarks, their usage or deletion of bookmarks could indicate that a document is out-dated and no longer relevant. Google gathers this information from the users of the Google toolbar.
Add links on your site to encourage people to bookmark this site or add it to their favorites list.
Google will look at the traffic that a document gets and changes to that traffic over time. It will also consider seasonal, daily or other timely changes to see if a document receives more traffic at these times and is therefore more relevant at these times. Any significant drop in traffic may indicate that a document is stale. Google may also consider ‘advertising traffic’ separately.
Is your primary goal in a search engine promotion campaign to increase overall traffic or to increase sales? The determination of your success will depend on your goals.
You will need to have the following statistics or metrics available to analyze your success:
- How many unique visitors you get each week
- The specific search engines that are sending you traffic
- How many hits each search engine is sending you
- The keywords people use to find your site
- What your ranks are for certain keyword phrases
- Sales per week
In order to get the above information you will need a traffic analyzer that will report your site statistics. We recommend the free Google Analytics.
You will also need to be able to integrate your site statistics with your sales/week. You can use Microsoft Excel for this purpose. You can transfer some of the information from Advanced Logger into an Excel file that also contains your average sales/day over a week. This will give you some revealing statistics about the relationships between search engines, visitors, and sales.
Over a period of time, you will be able to see the emerging relationships between keywords, search engines and sales. Analyzing these relationships will show you where you need to improve your site.
Track visitors with a traffic analyzer
A unique visitor is a person that visits your site for the first time. Some statistical reporting programs will tell you unique visitors per 24 hour period. This means, if the visitor returns the next day, they are counted again as a unique visitor, even if they have already been to your site.
When you start to analyze the data, you will be exposed to a lot of numbers. Make sure that you know the difference between the unique visitor and total hits on your site. Total hits can be anything from hits on every page to hits on every page and every graphic (total accesses).
You will need to know the number of unique visitors in order to track your sales success.
Simple site statistics usually provided by your host will tell you how many unique visitors your site is
Track Search Engines with a traffic analyzer
Depending on your site statistics program, you may also be able to see which search engines are referring traffic to your site. Google Analytics will provide graphical charts to represent site traffic.
Don’t expect to get every page ranked in every engine. Some search engines just naturally pick up more pages than others. Search engines are always in a competition for who has the biggest database of web pages. You may find that one search engine may be picking up and ranking almost every page of your site, while another engine only likes your home page. It is also dependent on the popularity of the specific search engine.
We’ve dealt with the statistics for many web sites over many years. We believe that Google sends the most traffic. But that doesn’t mean that Google always sends the most quality traffic. Quality traffic (traffic that produces sales) can vary by search engine. One important variable would be the product.
For instance, traffic from MSN may bring many sales for your product, whereas traffic from Google may yield you less sales per unique visitor.
You will need to look at your statistics over many months to determine which engines are bringing you sales and which keywords are producing traffic and sales for your specific product.
Track keywords with a traffic analyzer and a ranking report
Again, an advanced program will be very useful to help you accurately track the ranks of specific keyword phrases in the engines. You’ll need to get the free version of WebCEO which will provide you with plenty more analytical tools as well.
When you start getting a good amount of traffic (at least 500 unique visitors per week) you will start to understand that the keyword phrases people use are wide and varied. You will notice that you’re getting traffic from search engines on phrases that you never thought of. The essence of a good search engine promotion campaign is that you see a nice spread of traffic from ALL engines and a
nice spread of keyword phrases.
Some equations that may help you analyze traffic
Percent Increase of Unique Visitors:
- UVB = unique visitors before a promotion campaign. They should be over a specific period of time, like 4 weeks.
- UVA = unique visitors after or during a promotion campaign. This should be over the same period of time as UVB – 4 weeks.
- UVA – UVB = difference
- Difference/UVA = percent of visitor increase
Percent Increase of Hits from Search Engine(s):
- HB = hits from search engine(s) before a campaign over specific time
- HA = hits from search engines after a campaign over same time period as HB
- HA – HB = difference
- Difference/HA = percent increase of hits from search engine(s)
Percent increase in sales:
Sales/Unique Visitors = percent of sales/visitors
On the same day of each week (or month) you should calculate your sales/unique visitor ratio. This will tell you if your promotion campaigns are increasing sales, not just visitors. (We’ll venture to say that 1% is a good ratio. That is one sale per 100 visitors. If you see anything over 1%, you should examine the campaign and try to replicate it in any way possible.)
Anchor text is the clickable text that is associated with a link. Google looks at the anchor text,
freshness of the anchor text and changes to the anchor text over time.
- If there is a disparity between the anchor text and the document that it links to, possibly due to changes in domain ownership, Google could look at the time this occurred and ignore all the valuable links to your document prior to this event.
- Let people link to you with appropriate anchor text.
Unique Words, Bigrams, Phrases in Anchor Text
Google analyses the unique words, bigrams (pairs of letters, words or syllables) and phrases in anchor text for a document.
- Google analyzes graphs of unique words, bigrams, and phrases in anchor text to see if this information is real. Results that are created artificially would show spiky graphs whilst natural
data would show organic graphs.
- Don’t try and SPAM the search engine using unscrupulous link trading or search companies as
you could get black-listed and not recover from a lowered ranking.