Getting Your Small Business Online Part 2

Getting Your Business Online – Part 2
In Getting Your Business Online – Part 1, we discussed

The importance of planning of your website, the reasons for getting online and the type of websites a business has.

We also discussed choosing and obtaining a domain name and Web Hosting

This installment, we continue with Developing your website and Managing and Maintaining your website

Developing Your Website
This is probably the most exciting part, you finally see your website taking shape. Before jumping in, who’s going to build it? Getting your business online requires a certain amount of time, expertise and money. Most of us would rather have a hands-off approach and outsource the job of creating and managing our businesses’ online presence. Cost is on the other hand important to small businesses. To save money most will try to do it themselves. Each approach has it’s own plus and minuses.

In-House vs. Outsource
When you outsource to a web designer, you are bound by their knowledge and capacities of handling the job. Not all designers are created equal. Consider how much they know about e-commerce if that’s your plan. How much to they know about business in general? Some designers are excellent in programming and design but fail to understand your business. One design and development company to look at would be Design Velocity (http://designvelocity.com). Their team consists of designers and marketing professionals so you get to tap the expertise of both.

Consider also how involved you want to be with your website. Do you want to be able to update it yourself such as news and announcements? Do you want to be able to maintain your inventory yourself? There are many solutions out there that allow businesses to post news or update their catalog without the need to extensively involve the designer. In this case, a good solution is to outsource work that is time-consuming and what you are not familiar with such as creating the website interface, scripting and the underpinning software applications and website hosting.

If you choose to do it yourself, remember to factor in the cost of software and time to learn the application, time to install, build and manage the website. Also time to learn about keyword optimization, security and other technical items. If you are familiar with them, chances are your time cost to do it yourself will be low. Otherwise the cost becomes more than it would to outsource because it’ll take you away from doing what you do best.

In almost all cases, it’s best to manage customer interaction in house to build customer confidence. The rule of thumb is to let professionals handle the technical details of creating your online presence and keeping in house your core business operations. Think of it this way. If you build a new store, you would hire a building contractor. In this case, your web designer would be your building contractor.

Site Map
In beginning the design process it’s best to draw up a site map to guide yourself. The site map relies heavily on your objectives (More on this in Part 1 – Why are you getting online?) and illustrates how your pages link together. Decide what your visitor sees on the main page. Should there be an introduction page, company page or a news and specials page? Regardless what your focus is, your pages should be simple to navigate. A quick draft will give you a bird’s eye view of the site and helps to pull the pages together.

This map should also be made into a page on your website to aid search engines as their robots visit the site. More on this in Part 3.

Design
Many times new websites strive so hard to achieve their individual look or design that they lose sight of the fact people online are used to finding what they want instantly. Unlike a brick and mortar business, there’s no one to help them as they enter the premises. Some key things to consider when designing your website:

Familiarity

Ease of Navigatio

Speed

Familiarity
Many websites on the Internet have a common way to display pages (Fig 1). If a designer gets too creative it disrupts the visitor’s expectations. If they don’t find it in a few seconds they’ll leave and the business loses a sale.

Fig 1

Logo Advertisements, Shopping Cart, Customer Service or Important Links
Main Menu and important links. If it’s a store you’ll find store departments or product category links. The main body of the page is usually dedicated to product, news, deals, announcements and so on
Company information, Privacy Policy, Terms of use

Ease of Navigation
If you have to make the layout drastically different, keep your key links highly visible or available. Put the most important links as high up on the top of the page as possible because many people still don’t scroll.

Don’t clog your pages with advertisements, yours or others. That is a major put off and just looks unprofessional. If you participate in affiliate programs, use your banners wisely; set a section in your side bar for partners and affiliates. It’s easy to clog your pages; there’s so much to tell but remember to focus your website. Keep the most important items the most visible. Review your objectives. What do you want the site or page to achieve? Buy your product, read your article, buy your affiliate product, give you their email?

Don’t make your fonts too small; the computer monitor isn’t conducive for reading. Don’t make it too large either. Use headlines to emphasize the most important points only.

Keep text length to a minimum. People don’t have time to read through a web page where there’s endless scrolling to be done. Learn how to write effectively for the website (http://www.webreference.com/content/writing/). Learn what the elements of good web design are. Vincent Flander’s Web Pages That Suck (http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/) is a great resource to help keep you away from what will hurt your business.

Speed
It goes hand in hand with ease of navigation. Despite the growth of high speed Internet access, the majority is still on dial up. If your web pages load too slowly, your visitors leave and you lose. The biggest way to ensure your website loads quickly is less graphics, less audio or flash extensive website. Websiteoptimization.com (http://www.websiteoptimization.com/services/analyze/) has a very handy tool to help evaluate how quickly your website loads at different speeds. It also gives you summaries about the size and number of images all designed to identify your speed blocks.

Managing & Maintaining Your Website
So! Your website up and running. Your work is far from done. A website is a live thing and requires a fair amount of maintenance.

New Content
The biggest thing to keeping a website alive is the freshness. People are easily bored. If your content hasn’t changed in as little as a few weeks, they make the assumption they’ve seen all there is to see and won’t be back. Some ways to keep your site fresh new are

Adding new products

Announcing company news

Featuring one product per week

Give a new hint each week how to use your product

Technology & Security
As technology advances you’ll also want to adjust the site so it will load properly. Hackers and viruses also unfortunately exploit technology advances. You’ll need to close the gaps or be aware of them. If you outsource your web development, the company you hired should take care of software updates and security patches. If they don’t, you should consider looking for one who does. Try HostVoice (http://hostvoice.net) to obtain quotes from reliable web hosts. It only takes a few minutes and one form. If you use email, you’re open to all sorts of viruses pretending to be customers. Be informed. Keep up with security threats and virus warnings even if you’ve got someone to handle it for you.

Customer Privacy
Keeping your customer information private is not only a good idea but also a must according to the law. If you collect customer information even a simple name & email database, you should have a privacy policy (http://www.internetbasedmoms.com/articles2/privacy-policy-creating.html) in place.

Privacy policies are only a start. You need to ensure you do all you can to protect your customers information. Again, you need to be sure your web host or designer is up to date with website security issues and they plug the hole in a timely manner.

Data Integrity
Last but not least, always prepare for disaster. After you’ve worked hard to build your site, traffic and customer base, what happens when you visit your website one day and find you cannot access it at all? Worst still, you’re told all data has been wiped out. You not only lose business, you lost a lot of time and effort. Hackers, viruses, hardware failure, natural or unnatural disasters and so much more, can easily corrupt data.

The key? Backup frequently and don’t rely solely on your web host’s backup. Learn how to make your own. If you hire a designer, include in your service package a scheduled backup routine. Get a copy of that backup so you’ll always have two sets in two different places.

By now you’ve thoroughly planned and built your website, it’s time to promote. Join us in our final installment when we cover the different ways of website promotion including:

  • Pay Per Click Advertising
  • Linking
  • Search Optimization
  • Newsletters
  • Banners and Offline Advertising.

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