Make sure to spruce up that stale Web site

 

“Our Web site’s a waste of money,” the customer said. He was wondering why their business Web site, that used to pop up on page one when Googled, was now pages in and hard to find. “We’ve had it for years, I guess it’s time to update it.” Looking through it, I had to agree.

Businesses who considered themselves “early adapters” in the Web world jumped on buying a domain name and creating a Web site years ago. They congratulated themselves on their foresight and then got busy doing other things. Meanwhile, their competition, often “late adapters,” hired more recently trained Web developers and overtook them in the Internet world.

Has your Web site gotten stale? Take this little quiz I developed:

  • Was your basic Web site format created more than 4 years ago?
  • When you Googled your industry key words locally, did you pop up right away?
  • Have you added new photographs, text or links in the past 6 months?
  • Have you looked at your competitor’s Web sites lately?

If the answer to any of these is no, it’s time to make 2009 your year to pay attention to your Internet presence. There are a lot of reasons to make this a priority. Internet users comprise 74 percent of the United States and some say 92 percent or more in the Northwest. Nielson Online recently said that during the 2008 holidays, 55 percent of online shoppers visited a retailer’s Web site before visiting their store.

But it’s not just for retailers. People visit restaurant Web sites to check out menus and hours of operation. They look up doctor’s qualifications before visiting them. They travel to places that have a good Web site presence. Even worse than having an old Web site, is not having one at all.

When Jimmy Thanhnguyen prepared to open Jimmy’s Personal Care in Fairhaven, he was unsure about the need for a Web site. “People will find me by word-of-mouth,” he said. Creating a Web site was an expensive proposition after putting all of his money into the creation of his luxury spa.

Jimmy is a savvy businessman, having owned a successful jewelry store and a restaurant before opening the spa. He agreed to let us create a simple Web site, with just a few pages and lots of visuals, reflecting the atmosphere of the business. When it was up and running, I asked him if anyone was finding him online.

“Rarely,” he replied. “It is still word-of-mouth. But when someone hears about us now, they go right to our Web site and look up our services, hours and pictures. It saves me lots of time on the phone. It is the best thing I could have done for my business.”

Look up your Web site right now. Are the hours correct? Are the products and photos current? Do you know how many customers you may be gaining or losing because of your Web site?

If it’s time to update, ask your Web designer to do the following:

Match the feel and look of your Web site to all of your other marketing. The colors, fonts, logo, photos and feeling need to further enhance and solidify your brand. Don’t let an artist get so creative that you lose your business in a good-looking Web site. Your Web site should be fresh, current and user friendly.

Do Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This means when someone Googles key words relating to your business, you come up on that first page. Your designer should create or ask you for a list of words that describe your business and weave them into the text. “Web sites have to have specific technical requirements so Google (or any other search engine) can find it out there.   This process includes strategically locating and replicating key-word content, creating or modifying meta tags, title tags, alt image tags, internal linking structures, site maps” offers Karen Burroughs, owner of Bayside Web Design. “Search engine algorithms are always changing, so Web site SEO optimization is constantly shifting and it needs to become a routine business necessity if business owners want to have good ranking and Internet visibility.”

Simplify and speed up navigation on the website. Don’t make the reader continually go to new pages or scroll up and down to find something.

Freshen your photographs. Get some current, compelling pictures that reflect your business. Explore “rollover” or timed picture changes. Offer video where appropriate, but don’t have it come on automatically on the first click. There is nothing more annoying that having unwanted voices starting up while you’re exploring a new Web site.

Create appropriate links. Using links to relevant Web sites can help your search engine ranking, as well as give your Web site more substance. Do NOT let the visitor leave your Web site when they click on the link, however. You can link to articles, other websites, and informational sites. You can do reciprocal links with related Web sites.

Update and proof text. Hire a professional writer or editor if you need to, but at the very least, have someone else look through your Web site for typos, grammatical errors, and better, friendlier ways to say things.

Learn about Social Media opportunities. You won’t know if your business needs a blog or RSS feeds until you know what they are. YouTube is huge. A clever video can get lots of play. E-newsletters can bring in regular business.

Put an e-mail address on your contact page. And then answer your e-mails within 24 hours. Fewer people are using the phone these days.

Set up a “Google Alert” for your business name or even your industry. Google will then e-mail you appropriate items that have come up on the Internet. You will be amazed at what people are saying about you and your business.

Publicize and advertise your new Web site. When the Web site is updated, interesting and useful, let people know about it. Send press releases to the business papers. Add your Web site to all of your advertising, including business cards and brochures.

 

Taimi Dunn Gorman is the owner of Gorman Publicity, a PR and marketing consulting business in Bellingham. She was the founder of the Colophon Café and the Doggie Diner, and chaired the governor’s Small Business Improvement Council. She teaches small-business seminars at Whatcom Community College. To contact her, visit www.gormanpublicity.com.

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