Living in the Information/Digital Age, most businesses realise it’s necessary to have a website. Even if your business consists of just yourself and your products/services, a website plays an important role in your success.

That said, it's no longer enough just to have a website. If you want your business to be taken seriously (and why wouldn’t you?), a professional-looking and functioning website is critical.

First impressions last
As the first point of contact for many prospective customers, a professionally-designed, informative and user-friendly website is an essential communication and sales tool for all businesses.

Since many consumers now search for information online prior to making a purchase, your website is often the first chance you have at making a good impression. If your website looks like it was designed by a barrel of colour-blind monkeys, you’ll definitely make an impression – but not the sort of impression you want!

One of the many great things about the internet is that it has levelled the playing field when it comes to competing with bigger businesses. With a well-designed website, your comparatively small operation can project the image and professionalism of a much larger company – and potentially secure sales that you might expect would go straight to your much larger competitors.

The reverse is also applicable. We’ve seen many large company websites that were so badly designed and difficult to navigate that these businesses projected an image of lacking any professionalism and credibility at all.

A website is essentially a sales person that works 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you go to the effort of training a competent sales team that works 40 hours a week, why wouldn’t you invest in something that works even when you’re closed and never takes a sickie?

As such a critical communication and sales tool, it never ceases to amaze us how many businesses still struggle with their web presence.

Maximising your audience
Without doubt, there are potential customers visiting your website every single day, many with whom you may never have any contact. For one reason or another, they’ve decided to purchase a similar product/service from one of your competitors.

Perhaps, your mish-mash of a website reflected on your business’ ability to adequately satisfy their needs? Perhaps, the information these potential customers were seeking was too hard to find? Perhaps, this information wasn’t even there at all?

As one example, if you’ve gone to the effort of having hardcopy brochures printed, it’s not difficult to upload PDF versions of these to your website, where they’re available for your target market do download 24/7.

Not only does this cut-back on expensive printing and postage costs in getting them in thehands of your target audience, it captures your audience immediately – perhaps preventing them from even bothering to order a brochure from a competitor.

Similarly, if you add a new product into your range or make changes to an existing model, you can update the digital version of your brochure far easier than having thousands of copies of your brochure printed again.

Encouraging potential and existing customers to interact with your company – through online competitions or blogs – is another way to assist in maximising those who visit your website and keep them coming back.

Without giving away too many of our secrets in this article, there are even ways to secure the details of every potential customer that visits your site!

Prominent presence
Of course, you could have a very professional looking site, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s effective. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) should be pretty much a standard part of the brief these days in the development of any website.

SEO helps your website do well in search engine rankings (and for search engine rankings, read Google!). Google is reported to carry over 65 per cent of the world’s internet searches with the next closest rival handling around seven per cent.

There are many things you can do to help boost your rankings, starting with having the website content written in the correct way. People don’t read websites the same way they read magazines or newspapers, so it’s important to have the information written correctly in terms of information flow, relevance to the keywords and specific content of the individual page.

Additional features such as social media add-ons (blogging, social-networking, discussion forums to name a few) and creative linking can also help, if used in the right way.

Video is vital
A key SEO tool worth considering is video. A high-quality video can enhance your brand values, demonstrate your professionalism, drive new traffic and inform your potential customers about the product or services on offer.

Whether through tutorials in how to use something or demonstrations of the product in action, this is a way to “feed” your viewer the precise information you want to deliver in a very digestible way.

Video is also beneficial in increasing the ‘sticky’ factor of your site. This refers to the average time people spend on your site as a unique browser and something search engines look for specifically when indexing.

Video embedded on your site should be instrumental in driving traffic to it – and keeping it there. Professional video production doesn’t have to cost the earth either, it can usually be tailored to suit a range of budgets, depending on what’s required, and is well within reach of most businesses.

All or nothing

For the cost of building and managing a website these days, all businesses should at the very least have some form of web presence – so that customers, potential employees, business partners and perhaps even investors can quickly and easily find out more about your business and its products or services.

Here's the exception to this rule: It's actually better to have no website at all than to have one that makes your business look bad.

Your site speaks volumes about your business. It either says: “Hey, look! We take our business so seriously that we’ve created this awesome website for our customers!” Or it screams: “Hey, look! I let my 10-year-old nephew design my site. Good luck finding anything!”

The cost of building a website has always varied greatly due to the low barriers of entry and individual requirements. Like anything, you get what you pay for.
Remember, your corporate website is a very important part of your business. It’s like a second shop front, a property in cyberspace that represents your offline presence. You wouldn’t get a 10-year-old to lay out your showroom or workshop, so don’t do it with a website.       
Sandman Public Relations is a full-service media agency recognised for its integrity, professionalism and success.

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