|“The Web Site can wait” - or can it?
Mike Druttman, Content and Linking Strategies
How often has this phrase been said in response to some initiative to develop or extend activity on the Internet? Behind these few words lies a fundamental misperception of exactly what the Internet can do to drive business forward.
I've been involved with the Internet for business-to-business firms for many years now. During that time, I have noticed how one motif has been consistently repeated - people's ambivalent approach to the Internet as a business tool. I reckon that’s worth a comment.
Joining the club
On the one hand, businesses have accepted that they need to have a web site, just like they need a corporate profile or a business card (I group these elements together, although their individual importance is of course vastly different). For businesses to have a web site is not necessarily a decision made out of conviction, but rather as a result of peer pressure within their overall business environment ("Our competitors have one, so we need one too!"). On the other hand, many companies have not been willing - or able - to scratch below the first layer of having an Internet presence. Consequently they enter the addictive cycle of a negative attitude to the Internet. Their conversation with a web marketing specialist can reveal these typical comments:
Underwhelmed/passive about their own sites
"We’ve spent a bundle of money building our web site".
"It's been on the Internet for over a year now".
"We’ve hardly had any responses coming as a result of it".
"We announced our site to all our business contacts, but it made little difference."
"Frankly, we are not placing much hope on it. Our real contacts come from other means, such as trade shows. It's just there so that people can learn something about us."
How often do you visit your own web site? "Not much".
Have you done any work to market your site to a broad audience? "Well, we know who we are selling to and we have given them the link to our site. We think that’s enough".
Have you done much to upgrade and enhance the site periodically? "We intend to, but there is always more pressing work to attend to first".
I added the last three comments to indicate that a negative attitude to web sites needs to be judged in a wider context: the effort that a company or individual is prepared to take to make this new information channel work for them.
As in many other fields (but even more so), what you get out of the Internet depends on what you put into it. If your mind-set is basically that a web site is an obligation, then you'll have a self-fulfilling prophecy of disappointment. However if you see it as a valuable business opportunity, you'll reap the benefits - probably sooner than you think!
The five layers of a strong Internet presence
I mentioned above the 'first layer' of an Internet presence. What are the others?
Layer 1: Getting yourself onto the Internet - building and hosting a web site.
Layer 2: Getting registered and indexed in the Search Engines and Directories. If someone types your domain name in a search box, will they find you?
Layer 3: Appearing at the top of Search Engine listing in your chosen field. If someone is searching in your field, will yours be one of the first web sites that they find?
Layer 4: Being linked to all the professional areas on the Internet where your potential customers are likely to be looking. Where are your customers really looking?
Layer 5: When people visit your web site, do they stay and do they contact you?
Actually, Layers 1 and 5 should really be part of the same web site building process. But in the vast majority of cases, a web site will firstly be poorly done and only at a later stage revised to be more effective (assuming that you work with people who understand not just Web Site Building but also Web Marketing).
Now I ask this: if a company has just covered Layer 1 (and not given serious attention to Layer 5), how can they expect to get valuable results from the Internet? It's a medium that needs to be carefully studied and mastered. It's very easy to get inside, but quite hard to become prominent and get noticed. Yet the rewards are well worth the effort.
Pressing the 'New Business' button
Imagine a situation where you can get high-quality leads and valuable information from potential customers as soon as they press a 'New Business' button. All they have to do is find out that this button exists, understand what it can do for them and press. Would you not make resources available immediately to create such a button? Would you say 'The button can wait'?
I doubt it, because you would see a strong link between cause and effect.
I would suggest that many business people are unenthusiastic about web sites because they have not been exposed to the right creative and marketing skills necessary to make this medium work properly.
I believe that you have to operate in the areas where your potential customers are first likely to look for business information. This may well be in topic-specific areas that are found several layers below the general Search Engines.
I believe that you have to work hard to make your web site attractive, fast-loading and relevant to your target audiences. You have to give them sufficient content to show that you are a master in your field. You have to give them the confidence that yours is a stable, serious and professional company.
I believe that you need to be energetic in giving your web site high visibility in all the places where people will be looking for your speciality. If you don't appear within the first 30 names of any search result, you are missing out on tremendous opportunities to find new business. Even if you know all the main players in your target market, how easy is it to influence the right people within those organizations who will make the ultimate decisions on the choice of supplier?
I believe that you should learn to 'love your website'. Visit it constantly. Look for ways to improve and enhance it. Get statistical feedback about who visits it, when, which pages they like best and what keywords they use. Don't be afraid to junk some pages and start over. Keep the site dynamic, fresh and active. Be an interesting and valuable information resource to the people who will visit you - not once but several times over.
Tapping into growth
One final point: maybe you are convinced that the web site is a unique marketing tool, or maybe not - but you cannot dispute market trends. Like a snowball, the Internet is gathering speed. According to Internet World Stats, there were 225% more Internet users in 2007 than in 2000, with 73% located in North America and almost 48% in Europe.
People are getting online because there is no information source to equal the Internet. It's the 'first stop' for almost every query. It doesn't matter whether you are running a high-tech or traditional business. Your potential customers will be searching the Internet - either for information about you or about your competitors. You can be certain that someone is picking up all this new traffic.
In such a scenario, it makes a great deal of business sense to be impressive, professional and get noticed quickly. The web site is here to stay, so why not make it the best that it possibly can be? Why not use it as a strong marketing tool to generate interest, attract 'new business' traffic and thereby increase relevant leads.
Can you allow your web site to wait? Not if you want new business opportunities.
About the author
Mike Druttman is a senior copywriter with great experience in Business Writing and Marketing Communications. He is still fascinated by the power of words and the voyage of discovery that accompanies each new client project. He’s based in Israel. His website is www.futureweb.ws