You know you need a website (if not, see "Do You Really Need a Website?"). But if you think of your website as just the digital "sign" for your place of business, then you're not using it to full advantage.
Of course people expect your website to tell them who you are, what you do, where you're located and how to contact you. But when someone visits your website, why not take that opportunity to present your key marketing messages?
Your website can be a powerful means of generating sales. Can you afford not to take advantage of this?
Your Website Is Your Storefront
The Web has fundamentally changed the way people shop. Now, when someone is looking for a product or service, their typical approach is:
- Do a search on Google
- Look at the websites showing up in the first page or so of results
- Use the information they find there to come up with a short list of possible vendors (maybe just one)
You might be thinking "But I'm just a small local business". It doesn't matter; the same rules apply. Local search (search results specific to where the searcher is located) are one of the hottest areas of search right now.
Knowing this, the requirements for your website are pretty clear:
- Show up in the results when people search on key phrases that apply to you
- Show up as high in the results as possible
- Convince visitors that you should be on their short list
If all you have is a bare bones website (address, contact information, etc.), then you're not going to be successful in this new world of shopping.
While we can't do justice to such a large topic in one article, we can take a look at one of the most important factors for online marketing success.
Content Is King
Relevant, high quality content is the key to online marketing. Good content can satisfy all of the requirements listed above. Without good content, your chances of marketing online successfully are slim.
Showing Up In Search Engine Results
Google and other search engines analyze the content of your website and, from that, decide when to display your links in their search results. So if you sell widgets, the keyword "widgets" had better show up on your website.
But simply having a home page with the title "Susan's World of Widgets" is not likely to have much effect. Lots of sites will mention of widgets.
What the search engines are looking for are sites that seem to have a lot of useful information on the searched-for topic.
For example, a website that has descriptions of various widgets, tips on how to buy widgets, articles on the care of widgets, etc., is going to be seen by search engines as much more authoritative than the bare bones site.
Maximizing Your Search Ranking
Let's suppose that you have enough content to convince the search engines that you deserve to be listed. How do they decide where in the list to position you? They try to figure out how much authority you have for the keyword(s) entered.
Their view of your authority is based partly on the depth and quality of your content, so the effort you've put into your content will help here. But their assessment is also based on what other people think of your content.
How do they tell? They look at how many other websites have links to yours, and how authoritative those websites are. For example, the New York Times website quoting you as the world's foremost expert on widgets and linking to your website is probably going to be good for your ranking for "widgets". Having your brother's personal website do the same is not likely to make any difference.
The good news is that having lots of high quality content is one of the best ways to attract links to your site.
Write For People First
Once visitors reach your site, your content needs to convince them that your products or services are worth considering. That you're worthy of being on the short list.
Without compelling content, getting links from search engines is a waste of time. People may come, but they'll immediately go elsewhere.
On the other hand, if visitors find your content compelling, then there's a good chance that search engines will also.
Optimize Your Landing Pages
Website owners often focus too much on their Home Page (the front page of their site). The Home Page is important, but not nearly as important as it once was.
If people already know your business, then they might type your name into Google or some other search engine. In that case, they'll get your Home Page.
But more often they'll type in a phrase for the product or service they're interested in. In that case, they may start at a page deep into your website.
The page where people first enter your website (usually from a search engine list) is called a landing page. Almost any page on your website can be a landing page.
You need to know which pages are your landing pages, and make sure that the messages they contain are right for the kind of traffic you're getting to that page. Tools such as Google Analytics can provide the information you need to understand your landing pages.
You may even want to encourage visitors to enter at some page other than your Home Page. For example, if you use Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising such as Google AdWords or Facebook ads, it's a good practice to have a dedicated landing page with a marketing message that exactly matches the promise implied by your ad.
What Do You Think?
I've listed some of the most important steps you can take to make your website a key component of your marketing plan.
What has your experience been? Are there other important points that I've overlooked? Let me know what you think.
Photo by bookchen via Flickr