Optimize your Web site so it works for you

Customizing your online marketing is essential for targeting your best customers

 

Rick O’Connor, owner of Blu Sky Creative, recommends considering who your target audience is before you design your Web site.

 

It used to be that a business was in the dark ages if it didn’t have a Web site.

Nowadays, with the lightning-fast evolution of modern-day technology, unless your Web site is using strategic marketing, interactive features and pay-per-click Web optimization you’re business’s online presence could be considered a Neanderthal.

So which era does your Web site live in — the Neolithic or the futuristic?

 

Web site design and marketing

The first thing to consider when thinking of how to optimize your Web site design is to consider whom you are targeting and what is the site’s goal. Be strategic, said Blu Sky Creative Services owner Rick O’Connor.

Think about your target clientele’s demographic characteristics. Are they aged 55 and older? If so, you’re site should use large text sizes and a simple layout — like the AARP’s Web site. If your target demographic is younger — think MTV’s Web site — you may want to use more flashy, hip layouts packed with information.

Consider how your target clientele will navigate through the site once there, and what kinds of design elements and language they might respond positively to, he said. For example, if you are trying to sell high-end furniture, survey your target clientele about what would lead them to purchase a sofa or come into your store.

“If you think about it strategically, it will be way more successful,” he said.

Jeff van Loben Sels recommends updating information on the site regularly to keep the user coming back, especially with something interactive. Van Loben Sels, a senior designer with MB Design and Pivot Lab, said using an e-mail newsletter can drive visitors back to your site regularly.

Along those lines, make sure you continue making your Web site’s presence known by integrating it into traditional means of marketing, such as press releases, advertising and direct mail, as well as cross-marketing campaigns on the Web.

“The goal is to build an online presence around your content and get other relevant sites linking to yours,” van Loben Sels said. “This will increase your chances of potential customers finding your site.”

It will also get your site’s search results position higher on search engine pages.

Alie Walker decided to redesign her contracting company’s Web site, which had been created by a family member, a year and a half ago.

Walker, who co-owns Augustus Contracting with her husband, described the original site as basic, flat, and obviously homemade — not the professional, streamlined look she wanted for her growing custom-homebuilding and remodeling business.

The Web site redesign was part of a larger marketing campaign. After changing the company’s logo, she hired Blu Sky to redesign the site.

“We wanted a home page that would just grab you,” she said.

The redesign used a simple rotating array of home-detail photographs to make the site more active, she said. It is now more user-friendly and simple, and has a growing section featuring clients’ profiles.

“For someone who’s going to spend $500,000 to $1 million on a home, (the Web site) will make them more likely to call us, especially people from out of town,” she said. While using a professional to design her site may have been more expensive, Walker said the site’s high quality gives her more credibility with potential customers in and out of town.

The site also provides information and links to a number of local subcontractors, designers and architects, which acts as a good resource for clients and also increases the links going to her page.

 

Search engine optimization

Currently, the most popular method of search engine optimization is the pay-per-click method, where companies pay a search engine, such as Google, MSN or Yahoo, every time their site is clicked on and the search engine positions the site in an optimal position on the search results page. Google, for example, will display the site on the right-hand side of the page. However, this can get expensive if other sites in competition with yours begin bidding for higher placement based on common search words.

Even though the technology has been around since the early 2000s, more and more companies are jumping on the pay-per-click bandwagon, especially e-commerce sites, O’Connor said.

Ninety percent of O’Connor’s e-commerce clients use pay-per click, and about four out of 10 non-e-commerce clients do.

Other options include pay-per-action programs, where the company pays the search engine every time a certain action concludes, such as a sale or a phone call by a potential lead.

Scott Blanchard swears by the pay-per-click system.

“It has been amazing,” the Redden Marine Web master said. “I don’t know if we could get by without it.”

Redden Marine hired Blu Sky a few years ago when the company decided to switch from a fairly static Web site featuring only basic information to a full e-commerce site with a shopping cart system and a complex pricing structure.

The streamlined new site and the pay-per-click system have broadened Redden Marine’s market considerably. Blanchard said the site has opened up entire new markets on the East Coast and Alaska. Whereas the company’s sales used to be subject to this particular area’s fishing season, now the company cashes in on the fact that it’s fishing season every day somewhere in the world.

“I don’t know anyone selling online that shouldn’t be using pay-per-click,” he said.

Regular search engine optimization, using meta keywords and description in your Web site, is also important, van Loben Sels said. Meta keywords are words inserted into the site’s code that allow search engines to pick up and display sites. Meta description is the description that appears underneath the site’s address on the search results page, which is also written into the site’s code.

 

Other online trends

Advancements in online technology have opened the e-door to new Web site optimization possibilities. Here are a few of the trends that could influence a business’s Web site design decisions, according to van Loben Sels and O’Connor:

 

  • Technological advances in Web browsers, such as Microsoft’s new Internet Explorer 7 and evolving editions of Mozilla Firefox, allow Web designers to develop more interactive Web sites that are consistently viewable from browser to browser.
  • The continuing evolution of Web viewing and Internet-enabled gadgets such as Blackberries, iPhones and other mobile data devices present new ways for people to access the Web, and businesses can create sites compatible with them.
  • New frameworks such as Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) allow developers to take mini-applications out of browsers and onto desktops — think widgets in Mac OS X.
  • Changes in social and cultural practices and institutions online, such as blogging, Flickr, YouTube and Wikipedia, offer new ways for a business to have a presence on the Internet.

 

Measure your site’s success

Van Loben Sels gives the following tips for measuring your site’s success:

 

  • Track page hits and site traffic. Many Web hosts provide this service for free in the form of server-based applications such as Webalizer and AWStats. If you don’t have access to these services as part of your Web-hosting plan, you can use Google Analytics, a free sign-up service that provides similar information. Along with basic tracking functionality, you will be able to examine how your customers move through your Web site, see which page they came from, and which keywords your customer used to find your site.
  • If it’s an e-commerce site, online sales coming from the Web site could be used as a direct indicator.

 

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