With more than 2 billion people surfing the internet, and more than $1.25 trillion rung up in on-line sales annually, your corporate website can be one of your most valuable assets. But how do you harness its true power to increase sales, move up in search and keep customers coming back?
I could fill a library (or 1000 hard drives) with recommendations on how to do this. Internet marketing is an extremely complex proposition. But whether you manage your own site, or enlist an on-line specialist for the task, here are the basic principles you should follow to make some pretty substantial gains.
1. Closely Measure and Monitor Current User Behavior
The first step to improving your website's performance is to closely measure and monitor how it performs in the first place. Too many small businesses create and market a website without paying close attention - on a regular basis -- to visitor metrics. Tracking user behavior is critical because then you can identify what you need to improve, and adjust accordingly.
• What kind of traffic are you getting? Where is it coming from?
• What is your conversion rate? How many visitors go no further than your home page?
• How much time are they spending on your site and where do they go after they leave?
If you owned a retail business, you would know exactly what you have on the shelf and how many people came in and what they bought. You would also know how many left empty handed.
When you monitor the behavior of your visitors to your website, you provide yourself with a huge opportunity to improve your business. For example, if 70% of those visiting never get past the home page, then you need to make some serious improvements to your homepage. If you lose people while they are buying a product, better check on the functionality of your check-out page.
The good news is this information is readily available and free with services like Google Analytics. With this tool, you can drill down into every page of your website, study individual page performance - and make improvements based on what you discover.
Set aside at least two times a month to "check under the hood" and make some repairs and enhancements.
2. Provide an Easy and Useful Experience with Clear Messaging
• Clear Messaging:
Clear messaging is critical to any marketing effort. When a visitor comes to your website, you have four or five seconds to deliver your company's central message clearly, quickly and convincingly. Follow two basic rules:
• Keep your message simple
• Use sparse copy and large fonts
Your homepage is the cover to your book." It should not be littered with paragraphs of text. The main job of this landing page is to deliver your central message and then create pathways to the internal landing pages that best serve the needs and interests of the visitors.
If you've done your job with the homepage and get your visitors to make the next click, the landing pages within your website must be designed to convert this traffic into action, such as a phone call, sign up, download or purchase.
• Value Added Content
Any useful practical information you can provide demonstrates your expertise and makes people want to do business with you. Provide information beyond just marketing your product that serves the need of your target audience.
• Call to Action
One of the biggest mistakes businesses make on line is to forget to give visitors the tools to take the next step, whether it is making a purchase or requesting more information. If you are using your website to drive business, then give your visitors the "keys" to the car.
If you want them to buy something, give them a large "buy now" button. If you want them to call to learn more, post your phone number boldly in the top navigation bar. I can't tell you how many websites I have been on where I need to search to find a contact number. Why would we make our customers work so hard?
3. Extend Your Messaging Beyond Your Website
Forums, Blog Posts, and Social Networking Platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn,, Twitter and Google+ , provide unique opportunities for you to be part of conversations relevant to your industry - and to link back to your website to capture a piece of the action.
• Social Networking:
Build a Google+ page for your business and follow businesses that are related to your product or service niche. Share informative and relative content and link to your profile from your website. You should also encourage users to +1 your content on a page by page basis.
Build a Facebook Page and engage those who are interested in your product or service. Create groups, events, and photo albums. Link to your Facebook profile from your site and allow visitors to your site to like and share your content.
Create a new list in Twitter and follow profiles of industry experts you know and trust. Use this as your modern feed reader. I don't use RSS feed readers anymore. I like content that has been vetted by my peers and is worthy of a tweet or two.
Share your photos on Flickr , Twitter and Instagram. Create a profile, write descriptions, and link to your website.
• Articles and Blogs:
Start a blog, using a free service from Blogger or WordPress. There's no better way to keep your website current. And don't be afraid to incorporate video. It not only puts a human face on your company, but it can be a great way of demonstrating your expertise and your value proposition.
Post information on niche social media sites related to your business. For example, if you are a travel site, participate in forums on Tripadvisor.com
Comment and offer original, well thought out, sensible information, opinion and help on blogs relevant to your website's topic and be sure to share your URL.
Write a "how-to" article that addresses your niche for Wikihow.com or Answers.com
• Company Listings:
Make sure your Bing and Yahoo Local listings are up to date and make sure your yellowpages.com listing and URL are accurate.
As CEO of one of the premiere digital agencies in New York City, I have seen firsthand how much impact these three simple rules can have on a business - and I have also seen the outcome when these items are not on the priority short list. Organizations cannot afford to miss the mark with their website. It is the company lifeline.
Follow Gabriel Shaoolian on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BFMweb