Friday, February 13, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Web Site Essentials

The one thing I tell everyone is that having a Web site is mandatory these days. But how do you go about getting one that presents you professionally but doesn't break the bank? To find out, I asked a few questions of my very own Web diva, Tracey Kazimir-Cree, owner of eeep! productions. While she has done sites for industry associations, retailers, ad agencies, artists and manufacturers, Tracey specializes in web design and Internet consulting for small to medium sized businesses. Have questions for Tracey? Follow her on Twitter at @TrayPup or email her at websmith @ (And don't forget to read to the end. There's a special offer there just for Serenity readers.)

Why is a web site so crucial for small business owners?

Imagine place where a prospective customer can get to know you and can be encouraged to do business with you while you're sleeping, or playing with your kids, or tending to the business of running your business.

More consumers are researching products and vendors online now that the web is so accessible. With the proliferation of iPhones and other Smartphones, the web is also becoming portable. A prospective customer can find out what she needs from the comfort of her own home, without you having to stop to answer the phone to repeat driving directions or store hours. Coming from a retail background, I know that alone is worth its weight in gold.

A website levels the playing field between the big guys and the little guys. It allows you to reach a larger audience than your local newspaper/tv/radio ads can. You can go global, if you so choose. A website is becoming a sign that your business has its act together and helps to establish trust.

It's a market full of opportunity! This is a great time to make an investment in your business that can pay off in big ways. If they can't find you on the web, it's very possible that they're never going to know you exist.

What are your biggest pet peeves about owner-designed sites? What bells and whistles should people avoid?

My biggest pet peeve involves poorly written copy that doesn't flow well, with lots of misspellings and typos. [Ed. note: Hopefully not a problem for writers' Web sites!] A website that's an eyesore or that doesn't do justice to the business is a close second. Let's put it this way: I don't do my own tax returns because my accountant stays on top of the tax law for me. That's what I pay him for. Same with my auto mechanic, my handyman, my house painter, my dentist. These people have their specialties and I know that they know their jobs inside and out and they save me time and trouble by performing services for me.

As a business owner you have a lot of things you need to pay attention to. Learning how to design a powerful, effective and helpful website is not one of them. Work with a trusted professional so you can focus on what you do best.

Other things that drive me crazy:
  • Blinking text, music that starts playing as soon as the user lands on your site (give the user the option to turn it on and off), black backgrounds and cryptic, cutesy navigation. "Contact us" is far more clear and user friendly than "Here there be dragons".
  • "It's my blog/website, I should be able to write/do whatever I want" is something I hear a lot. Yes, you can do what you want, but if you want people to stay, read and, most of all, come back to your site, you need to be smart about your content and design.
  • The "if you build it, they will come" mentality. You must establish a plan that involves a combination of traditional and new media marketing to help grow your business. And don't be afraid to be creative and/or to employ really basic, grass roots ideas in your marketing plan.
  • A website that's thrown together on the fly and isn't fully thought out and researched. I have a questionnaire I give to every prospective client that covers everything I need to know in order to create a plan and a good solid proposal/estimate. A lot of people don't want to take the time to think about these things. Some do, and their businesses are flourishing.
What are the three most important elements any professional's web site should include?

That's easy:
  • A very clear call to action. What do you want your site visitor to do as a result of visiting your website? Make an easy path for them to do it and encourage them to follow it!
  • Easy-to-find contact information. No matter how easy your site is, some people just want to talk to you. Make it easy for them. Don't hide behind your website. Give them the options of using a phone number, email address, contact form, live chat, etc.
  • Strong, clean design and simple navigation. If a visitor is waiting for big graphics to load or sees broken images or the design isn't appealing, they are out of there faster than you can say "Google"--and most likely on to another writer's site.
I talk about this in more detail in my article Seven Basics of Good Web Design.

What should people look for when seeking a web designer? Any questions they should ask?

Talk to the designer and think about these questions:
Can she speak to you on your level? Do she communicate well? Is her site appealing to you? How about her portfolio? Do you feel a connection with her?

There's a great article on my site called Ten Key Things to Look for in a Good Web Designer and it may be useful for you as you get started.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Just one final note: Social Marketing. Start using it.
For Serenity readers: Tracey is offering readers of this blog a free evaluation of your Web site--normally a $150 service. You must contact her by March 1, 2009. Contact her on her site and fill out the contact form with the word SERENITY in the comments box. She’ll send you an evaluation within 10 days.

What are your favorite writer Web sites?

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