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Making your Web Site work for you - not against you

By Jon Wilson
Posted Sunday, November 28, 2004

For a Web site to be an effective investment for your business it must be publicised, and contain sufficient content to keep visitors coming back.

It may seem obvious, but for your Web site to be successful, you must achieve two key objectives:

get people to your Web site

keep them there

Many Web sites fail on one or both of these tasks - it could be the most beautiful, elegant, usable and interesting Web site out there, but unless you can promote it, it will take a long, long time for your web presence to be of any real value. Similarly, no matter how hard you plug, promote and advertise your Web site, unless there's something there for people when they do browse to it, it's all a wasted effort when they see what they've heard about or looked for, and say 'Is that it?!'

There are ten or so guidelines that are almost universally agreed upon to make a good starting point to a successful Web site. Here is my version of the guidelines.

Raise Interest

First and foremost, get your audience interested - the ones who are passing through your site on their way through a list of alternatives, the ones who are looking specifically for your company because they came directly, the ones who have arrived by lucky accident because they picked your name from a directory or search engine.

You need to get them hooked by what you can offer to do for them. You need to tell them clearly and succinctly in terms that they understand, and in terms that relate to them.

Customers don't want to know how wonderful you are, and how well you are doing - they want to know how wonderful you can be to them and how well they will do by choosing you to receive their business. As opposed to the casual visitor, the prospective customer always wants to know 'What's in it for me?'

Be Interesting, Be Relevant

Make sure that you have something of interest and of relevance to your audience, whoever your audience is. If you have a wide and mixed audience, make sure that you have a mixture of content for them. If all you have is eye catching, whiz-bang graphics and multimedia, the audience you catch is going to be the browsing, thrill-seeking and almost always non-spending audience.

Individuality Wins Visitors

Make your content unique and distinctive - your personal, individual contribution. If what you have to say covers the same ground and from the same perspective as the rest of the world, then guess what? Your visitors will be able to go elsewhere to someone bigger, more established and more original.

Content is King

Content is King - make sure that your content takes centre stage, not the presentation and graphical fun and games going on all around it. A site doesn't need to be overloaded with spinning wheels, flashing lights and graphical niceties for it to be attractive.

Remember that visitors are impatient. The key is the five second rule: either get your message on screen and ready to read in five seconds or less, or forget about it. If you can't do it in five seconds, make sure that you get enough of a hook to keep your visitors attention while the rest of the page is loaded. If your pages take longer than five seconds to complete, then make sure they're constructed in such a way as to make something readable and usable appear well within that five seconds. If your visitors have a couple of paragraphs or more to read while the rest of the page arrives, they're more likely to stay than if all they have is a blank screen and anticipation.

Keep it Simple

Your own, meaningful domain name hosted on a quality web server will help to bring in visitors. Aiming for a short, memorable and meaningful domain name with as few components as possible.


is preferable to


for many, many reasons.

Host Well

Having your site hosted on a reliable, quality web server will increase the speed that your pages are served, increase the reliability of the service, and make sure that when visitors try to get to your pages, the pages are there, and soon. The small cost of hosting your web presence properly will be repaid by the increased traffic and subsequent increase in customers.

Be Dynamic

Make sure that the site stays up to date, relevant and current. If your site changes regularly and always has something new to offer, you are more likely to get repeat visitors, and it is repeat visitors who are more likely to spend their money with you. Make sure what you have is accessible and available to them - give something away to your visitors, even if it's just things you couldn't sell anyway, like hints, tips and pieces of relevant advice. Freebies make people come back.

One fact that remains the same - in regular commerce as in eCommerce: a repeat visitor is more likely to be a buyer than a first timer.

Statistics have consistently shown that in terms of e-commerce and sales over the Internet, the chances of a visitor buying something increase dramatically after the third visit. If someone has been to your site three times, there's something there that interests them, and consequently, more likely to be something there that they'll consider buying. (The same is true of sites that act as brochures and hooks into real world trading rather than e-commerce. A repeat visitor is more likely to pick up the phone and call you than a first timer.)

What Goes Around, Comes Around

Get the word out by simple exchanges of links with other Web sites. What goes around, comes around, after all.

If you can find people out there in a similar market sector, or an associated one, consider swapping links with them. If your customers can also become their customers, and vice versa, you both win. Look for directories and online magazines related to anything you do, and swap links with them.

You will get more chance of being listed in their directory of sites to visit if you have a link back to them. You can't expect to get listed in portals and directories of services without giving something back from time to time. It is supposed to be a web, rather than a tree after all.

Promote via email

One popular way of promoting yourself and your services, and making a name for yourself as someone useful is to create a newsletter (always an opt-in rather than a mass-mail unsolicited mailshot) in which you can give interested parties and would-be customers information of use to them. Make sure that each and every newsletter you send out includes details on how to unsubscribe.

Even if the content is not earth-shattering in its originality, you may be able to identify a niche or an angle that will allow you to 'localise' the content, either to your physical location or to your location within your particular marketplace. Read other people's news and columns out there and use them as a guide to what is happening of relevance in the world and the web. Maybe you can tell your readers how the news impacts on the market they are in, or the business needs that you are fulfilling for them.

'What's in it for me?'

A newsletter can be discreetly laced with self-publicising adverts, links and news, so long as it also has something of interest to your audience, as well as to you. Again, remember the key question your audience will be asking, even if subconsciously: 'What's in it for me?'

Take it offline as well as online

Three keywords: Promotion, promotion and promotion.

Offline and online.

Offline, make sure that your web address is there on your business cards, invoices, letterheads, envelopes, Christmas cards and bank cheques. Anything that has your company name on it should have your web address on it. Make sure that your friends, family, suppliers, doctor, dentist, tree lopper, bank manager and local convenience store owner know your web address. People tell people. Don't feel guilty about using your friends and family as free advertising.

On-line, make sure that your web address is at the end of every mail you send. To anybody. It's back to marketing through friends and family again. Auntie Beryl who emigrated to Kansas may not be interested in buying from you, but Fred Smith down the road who she kept in contact with might be. Word of mouth is still a very powerful force on the Internet.

Keep things available

Three more keywords to bear in mind:

Compatibility, accessibility and speed.

Make sure they all check out. A poor performance in any one will keep a slice of the market away from you. Visitors should be able to comfortably read your site and its content on whatever they happen to be using - whether it's a super fast office link or the shared slow pipe down at the library public access terminals, your pages should be viewable, and quickly.

If it doesn't work comfortably and attractively in a broad range of browsers from version 4 onwards at the very least, it needs a rework. Many people have no choice which plug-ins and add-ons they have, so the increasingly popular Flash inserts won't necessarily hit everyone.

Remember that your visitors are your customers, and that you are there for them - don't imagine that you are in a position to dictate to them how and where they can view your content, or to make them install new software before they can visit your site, unless you really do want to pick and choose your customers, and turn some away.

If you try and exclude them in this way, the chances are that a high number will just say, 'Forget it. I'll go elsewhere' rather than 'Ok, I'll go get the new browser and then come back.'


Making your Web site a success is a many sided task - some of it is work up front in design and development; some of it is ongoing, never-ending, now until retirement commitment.

About the Author
Jon Wilson is an independent writer, consultant and developer, bringing high quality internet services within reach of small businesses in a time effective, cost effective manner.


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