If, after my last article, you’ve gone out and paid good money for a company Website, be it to a professional design firm or not, the next stage is to make sure that people know where it is, and why they should visit.
Many small-medium sized companies make little or no effort to actually use and maintain their Websites once they’ve been built. In fact, the majority of small business Websites that I come across in the course of my work do far more harm than good for that very reason. It’s sad, but true. With a little effort though, that ‘online business card’ can become the valuable asset you’ve always known it could be.
This article is intended to give both site owners and site designers a checklist for the smooth launch and integration of a Website into any ‘bricks and mortar’ small business. It does not cover search engines. There are hundreds of articles on this subject, and this is not one of them.
Okay, let’s get started….
Launch Your Website
Hopefully you’re very proud of your new site and presumably that means you’d like to tell people about it. There are several rather obvious ways that anyone can do this:
- Word of mouth
- Snail mail
Yes I know — it’s hardly rocket science but it’s always helpful to start with the basics, and telling all your customers and friends about your new site is a good way to begin.
Let’s look at each of these points in a little more detail:
Email everybody in your address book, and if possible and appropriate, ensure that everyone in your company does the same thing. But be careful! This kind of email can easily be considered spam. Bear these two important points in mind:
- K.I.S.S. Keep It Short and Simple. 4-5 lines including the URL will be quite sufficient.
- Send plain text. Don’t be tempted to send html email, as many will object to it and some won’t even open it. Besides, most email clients will render the URL as a link anyway.
We’ll focus here on how you might approach your customers (your friends will probably be delighted to hear from you and excited by your new site, so calling them to tell them won’t be a big deal).
In my humble opinion (which means that it’s not even remotely humble!), there are two rules to promote your site by phone without causing annoyance:
- Call to inform your customers of a genuine benefit to them regarding your new Website.
- Tell them about it when you next speak to them in the course of business — don’t call them solely to tell them about your site.
For example, you may wish to tell all of your customers where they can now find important information, or perhaps take advantage of a special ‘Website-only’ offer. More on this later. And remember to tell whoever answers the phones in your business to mention the new site in each call as well.
Word of Mouth
This doesn’t really warrant much explanation, other than to point out that when you tell someone about your new site, your recommendation will have a greater impact if you can hand them a business card that shows the URL (or at least write it down for them).
Your efforts here will again have far greater results if the people that you talk to perceive some benefit in visiting you site, such as special offers and relevant information on products and services.
The rules here are pretty much the same as for email. The best way is to either write a short mailshot that details a specific benefit to be found on your site, or include a small note/paragraph in your regular correspondence to clients.
A friend of mine at qexo.com also suggested using postcards. You can’t fail to miss the URL, as the message isn’t hidden inside an envelope, and there’s only room for small message — keeping everybody happy!
Promote Your New Website
Okay, now you’ve told everyone about your new site, what can you do in order to reinforce your message and further promote your online presence?
The processes detailed here also fall into some fairly simple categories and although none of them would have a huge effect individually, used together they can make a sizeable impact on the effectiveness of your site.
The basic areas we’ll be looking at are:
Email: The True Killer App
You’ve already mailed everyone in your company’s collective address book — what more can you do? Loads of stuff actually. eMail is the original ‘killer app’ and provides an ideal way to both promote your site, and add value to your customer service. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1. Staff eMail Accounts
Ensure that everyone has an
@yourcompany.com email address, and more importantly, make sure they use it. Make these email addresses available on your site, and encourage your customers to make business enquiries this way.
There is one golden rule that you should follow however: You must ensure that the email addresses are checked regularly — at least three times a day for most businesses. Not having their email answered will make your customers feel unloved, and will inevitably result in lost business.
2. Create a Standard Company Signature
Make sure that every email sent from your company address has a proper signature. This should be no more than four lines long and contain useful information such as the Name, Position, Telephone and Fax numbers of the sender, and of course the company URL.
3. Create Generic eMail Addresses
Most companies will have need for addresses such as info, sales, help, or firstname.lastname@example.org Again, make them easily accessible via your site, and ensure that they’re checked regularly and responded to appropriately.
One further point, if you use mailto links on your site, make sure that the link text is the actual address rather than the person’s name. Not everyone will want to launch an email client to contact your company, especially if they happen to be using somebody else’s computer. If you provide the email address, they’ll be able to note it and send you an email later.
4. Use Auto-Responders
Check with your ISP to see if they provide an Auto responder service — many do, and they’re not usually hard to set up. If your host doesn’t provide this facility, then there are a few free services like this one that you might like to try.
The funny thing about getting an automated message from a company you’ve emailed is that, even though you know it was sent by a machine, it still has that ‘I’m being looked after’ quality to it. A simple ‘We’ve received your message and will be responding shortly’ response also buys you a little time if you don’t have an immediate answer for the client’s query.
Promote Your Site in Print
This is a broad category and covers everything from business cards to product packaging, shop-fronts and advertising. Here are some ideas that should help most small businesses.
Include your URL as well as relevant email addresses in:
- Business cards
- Promotional items such as pens, t-shirts, mugs and bumper stickers
…in fact, almost everything!
If your company advertises in print media, then it’s essential that you get that URL incorporated into your artwork. Remember:
- The good old yellow pages
- Leaflets and mailshots
- Posters and billboards
- Newspapers and magazines
You get the idea!
Your site can act as the perfect extension to your existing advertising efforts and open an immediate window into your business. If someone is interested in your ad, chances are that a professional Website with plenty of good quality content will tip the balance over ‘Your Competition and Sons, Pty Ltd’, who list only their physical address.
If you have one, it needn’t break the bank to let passers by know that you can now be found online as well. Your local print shop can probably knock up some posters for you, and if there’s a signwriter near you, get a quote to add your URL to the shop sign.
Promoting Your Site by Telephone
Using the phone to promote your site can be extremely effective if you can get all your staff to sing from the same hymn sheet. Here’s a few things to consider if you make or receive more than a few calls a day.
Keep Useful URLs Handy
Keep a list of useful URLs for your ‘front desk’ staff. When customers ask ‘can I get information on x, y or z’ point them to an appropriate page. Better still, email them the link.
Got an On-Hold Message?
Tailor your ‘on-hold’ message to promote your site. Go on, be a devil: ditch ‘Green Sleeves’ and create a snappy ad for your Website!
Write an F.A.Q.
Write and maintain an FAQ. As with the above, offer to email a link to callers that ask questions that appear on your FAQs list. Check out this howto from the HTML Writers Guild.
Run a Website-Only Promotion
Create weekly/monthly promotions that are only to be found on your site. This gives you a great reason to tell callers the site URL, and of course if they visit with the intention of checking out the offer, they’ll also be exposed to all your other sales initiatives.
Note that not all your callers will be online and some of them may object to being redirected. They took time out to call you, so do them the courtesy of responding via the same medium and send them a link to your more detailed online information. There, now everybody’s happy!
Keep Promoting Your Site
Right, so you’ve spent a serious amount of time, effort and money on the integration of your new site into your small business. You’ve plastered the URL over everything that moves, beaten anyone not using their company email address with a big stick, and you’re feeling pretty pleased with the results. So what now? Sit back and take it easy? Fat chance.
Here’s where the real work begins. Having built a Website and attracted some traffic to it, your objective now is to gain repeat visits and referrals.
As I said in the beginning, I won’t try to cover search engines here (if I did I’d never get this article finished). If you’d like to start reading up on the subject though, start here…
What else can you use? The areas we’ll look at are:
- Repeat traffic
- Viral marketing
- Going the extra mile
Chances are, you’ve gone to a lot of trouble to encourage visitors to your Website, so don’t let it be a one-time-only deal. Here are some ideas that anyone can use to maximize their site’s hit rate.
Provide Regular, Fresh Content
People that have an interest in what you do will return if they believe they’ll find more information on successive visits. If they come back a couple of times and find nothing new, they probably won’t ever come back.
To a certain degree you can even control how often your visitors return by how often you publish new content. For example, I visit SitePoint.com every day as there is almost always a fresh article every day, but I visit Webmonkey.com once every few weeks, as they don’t publish so often.
Create ‘Website-Only’ Offers
This is also fresh content of course, and if you do this regularly, you’ll increase repeat visits (providing that your special offers are of genuine benefit). Try to time these offers to be just a little more frequent than your average repeat sale: that way you can close the gap between sale number one and two a little. Be careful not to overdo it, though.
Create a Mailing List
In order to tell people when you published fresh content, especially new offers, send out a newsletter to your subscribers. Mailing lists are very easy to set up and can generate huge rewards to your business if done properly. Yahoo! provide a free and easy service at Yahoo groups that you might like to check out.
Provide a Forum
Facilitate the discussion of your products or services between users of your site. Make sure that knowledgeable members of your staff keep an eye on the messages posted there and answer them when appropriate.
This can be quite a tricky thing to set up but there are several free solutions and one of the best is ezboard, which can be set up by pretty much anyone. If you’ve hired a professional Web designer to build your site, they shouldn’t have too much trouble setting up something that’s a little more comprehensive for you.
Put Technical Documentation Online
If you sell or provide anything that requires instructions or manuals, make copies of them available online. People lose manuals easily, and it’s a simple thing to tell them that they can find the current instructions/documentation on your site — which will of course expose them to all of your other material at the same time.
Viral Marketing Techniques
Visitors can be very hard to come by, so give your users every opportunity to tell others about your site. Viral marketing, despite its name, is not something dirty or underhand. The most famous examples of viral marketing are Hotmail and The Blair Witch Project.
This is an immense topic and a detailed discussion is beyond the scope of this article, but here are few viral techniques you can use immediately to increase your hit rate.
Provide Free eMail Addresses
Give your friends and family email addresses that promote your company. If you have a cool domain name, they’ll be much happier with email@example.com than ivana@firstname.lastname@example.org — and that simple act will distribute your domain name every time they email.
If you have unlimited email addresses then why not offer them to everyone who visits your site? There are several companies that will help you do this, including Everyone.net
Email This Page
Use a simple ‘email this page’ function on pages of interest, such as articles and special offers, to allow the easy sharing of your information. Not only is your message furthered by your visitors, it’s endorsed by them!
Have a link to ‘printer-friendly’ versions of your important pages for the same reason. This is also great in an office environment as important pages can easily be duplicated and distributed to interested parties, possibly for reference during meetings.
Write for Complimentary Sites
Find sites that relate to your main focus and contribute an article or offer to write a regular ‘column’ in return for a link back to your site. They benefit from the content, and you benefit from the click throughs. Try to choose well trafficked sites of course.
Pens, T-shirts, mugs, books of matches, etc. These are all great ways of getting that URL out. You might even try free postcards like we do here in Denmark (called ‘Go-Cards’). Keep a bunch of nicely printed, preferably funny or interesting cards with your address at the counter, and let people take them to send to their friends.
Promotion: Going the Extra Mile
What more could you possibly do? If you have read this whole article I’m sure you’re now aware that there is literally no end to what you can do to promote your company’s Website. Just use your imagination.
Here are a few ideas for further inspiration.
Discussion Groups and Forums
If, due to the nature of your business, you’re particularly knowledgeable on a given subject, try to find email discussions and online forums that relate to your topic. Make sure you have a 4 line signature at the bottom of your posts that includes your URL, and answer as many questions, and offer as much advice, as you can. You’ll soon see a whole bunch of new visitors to your site.
A note of caution though: no one likes a spammer. Offer your advice for free and don’t dot your emails/messages with links to your site unless the pages you link to actually answer the poster’s question.
Create a Reciprocal Link Program
Make a page on your site full of external links to on topic sources of further and complimentary information. When you’ve done that, go through those sites and send a short, polite request to each of them that they add you to their list of links. You can read more on reciprocal links here.
Don’t worry if they don’t want to link to you, and certainly don’t remove them from your list — this is a nice way to add value to your site and demonstrates a certain degree of authority on a given subject.
The Limited Litter Approach
A private detective called Steelsun who’s been known to lurk around in the darker areas of the SitePoint forums likes to leave a few of his business cards in elevators when visiting clients in office blocks. He also suggested leaving them in those ‘win a free lunch’ fish bowls. Moreover, he swears to have gained more than a couple of paying clients this way!
The ingenious Steelsun also says that leaving business cards inside books on relevant subjects at the public library works well. This novel approach just serves to demonstrate that it’s not always how many people that see your site that counts, it’s what kind of people. Whether you approve of these methods or not you’ve got to hand it to the man — that’s creativity!
Okay, that’s it. I hope you’ve found some of these tips and tricks discussed in this article interesting and that you enjoy implementing them. Have fun!