How is Your Web Site Working For You?

Unfortunately, many small businesses view their web sites as an item on a “to-do” list – as if it were simply one more task to be crossed off when finished and launched live on the web. But is your small business web site ever really “finished”? Can it be left alone; letting the information become outdated, and not keeping pace with technology or your customers’ ever-changing needs and expectations? Of course not – not if you want your web site to actually work FOR your business!

The official launch of your site is definitely an accomplishment – chances are you and your web development firm have worked very hard to create the right design and branding, and to fill the pages with compelling, action-oriented content. You’ve also invested time and budget to implement the right web features and functionality that will motivate web visitors to take action – ultimately generating leads, converting new sales, supporting your customers, and establishing you as an expert in your industry. Like I said – it’s quite an accomplishment.

But once your site has been launched, how do you plan to bring traffic to the site? How will you measure that traffic? After a while, your information will become outdated – how do you plan to make updates, and keep adding fresh, interesting information to the site? What steps will you take to get on the first page of Google or the other major search engines? How do you plan to keep your site listed higher than your competitors?

Your web site is one of the most important, versatile, affordable marketing tools that you have, so you need to treat it like the marketing asset that it is – and get the most value possible out of your investment. To make sure your web site is truly working for your business, here is a checklist you can follow:

* Update your site each month; add an article, update a product page, add a video, or use an RSS feed to ensure that your visitors and the search engines are seeing something new on a regular basis.

* Optimize each individual web page for the search engines; if you are not comfortable doing this in-house, hire a professional firm to do this for you.

* Measure your SEO results every month; if you see pages begin to fall in the rankings, take immediate action to reverse negative trends.

* Review your web site stats every month; pay attention to any pages that seem to “leak” visitors and make the necessary adjustments to these pages.

* Use social networking sites to promote your site; make sure all of your profiles are cross-linked with your web site.

* Use e-marketing campaigns to drive traffic to your web site and convert new customers.

* Take some sort of online marketing action each and every month; issue an online press release, send an e-campaign, update your Google Place Page, build new inbound links, place an online banner ad, etc. You cannot just ignore your site and hope that it will bring you results, you need to actively work toward creating good results!

* Keep up with technology; if the search engines cannot read your image based site (or Flash-based site, etc.), then fix it. The longer you wait, the more outdated and useless your web site becomes.

* Keep up with your customers; since a huge percentage of web users now turn to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube to get information, you need to meet them where they are and demonstrate that your business can meet their needs. Engage them in your social spaces, and then provide links that direct them to your high-value web content. Get a social marketing strategy in place before your competitors do.

Don’t treat your web site like a one-time task to be completed and then forgotten – it takes ongoing effort and attention to get real value out of your web site and show your customers (and prospects) that you take your business seriously. Put a plan in place to maximize your web investment and make sure your web site is truly working for your business. You don’t want to risk sending the wrong kind of message about your business by letting your web site just sit there becoming older, more outdated, and more irrelevant.

Planning Your Small Business Website – From Start to Finish

Saving you headaches and money, while maximizing profits

Small business web site design is a critical aspect of marketing your company. With so many different components to a strong online presence, even small web sites require a lot of expertise. At each step of the way, there are technical decisions which need to be made. Doing things correctly the first time can save you a lot of time and money in the long run. But, without a thorough understanding of the small business web site design process, it’s easy to make some common and costly mistakes.

In this industry, we’ve seen three major decisions that make a huge difference in the success of a small business web site.

Buy Your Own Domain and Hosting

When you first establish your web site, you will need to purchase the domain name. This decides where on the internet your site will live and directs users to the appropriate location where your website is stored. Many people make the mistake of letting another person – often a friend, family member or web developer – purchase their domain name. This can be a problem because managing that domain name can be difficult if that person becomes hard to reach. Every year, you will have to renew your domain name to retain ownership. In fact, we’ve seen people lose their great domain names after losing contact with the domain name owner. This is because they let the domain name expire and somebody else purchased it before they could renew.

Another issue with domain name purchase is that it will often be offered for free with a hosting package. Buy your domain name separately from your hosting company. Buying your domain separately makes sure that you and only you have access to your domain name. Web developers will often need access to your hosting account and if you provide them login information to the same place your domain is stored it creates an unnecessary risk to your business.

When it comes to purchasing your hosting, strong web sites will need a specific server configuration, and one should verify that their hosting company offers this support. Specifically, the Joomla! CMS – used by Simple CMS Design – requires a LAMP server. LAMP stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP – all of which are required to make Joomla! (and other content management systems) run properly. These software components are widely used, free to use, and completely secure. A LAMP server will provide you with a wide variety of uses and functions while remaining cost effective.

Use a Content Management System

A content management system (CMS) like Joomla!, WordPress, and Drupal is a great way to build your web site. It provides the advantages of online security, scalability, compatibility, and ease of use – without the cost of purchasing expensive software. The thriving open source community provides continuous support and security updates. When you are ready to expand to an online store or add new pages, it’s very easy to do.

On the other hand, there are also paid CMS services which work well for specific needs. Simple CMS Design will help you select the best CMS for your web project.

Hire a Professional Web Designer

Although many of the great CMS tools are relatively easy to get started with, making a great web site still requires a deep level expertise. In such a fast changing world, one must work in web design professionally to truly stay up to date. Many people feel that they can get started with a simple web site on their own, only to find themselves spending endless hours trying to solve common problems or to end up with an ineffective and non-profitable website. Because a professional web developer goes through this process regularly, they can move much more quickly and save you a lot of headache.

Furthermore, there is always a trade off between the time you spend working on your web site and the time you spend working on other aspects of your business. It makes sense to have an expert manage your web site needs.

Many people have friends and family members who claim to build web sites. The reality is that skilled web designers are in high demand, and they are always too busy to work for free. If your nephew is offering to build your web site for a price that is too good to be true, then you’re going to get a low quality product. Later, it’s going to be hard to track them down to make important security updates, or add new content. When you work with an established small business web design firm, you know that we will always be available to help you in the future.

But, the real difference between a professionally built web site and a do-it-yourself job is the quality. Making a bad web site on your own is certainly possible, but why would you want your potential clients to see something which is second rate? Investing in a professionally designed, CMS-based web site ensures that your investment pays off quickly.