I’m sure you’ve seen the ads – “build your own website in minutes.” Website DIY (do-it- yourself) services offer you a wide range of professional designs you can use for free or at a low cost. All you have to do is plug in your information using a simple drag-and-drop interface, and you can have a business website online in minutes. It sounds great – and it is a good service if you are just starting out, have no budget, and want to get online fast.
But is it the best solution?
It’s kind of like choosing a place to have lunch. If you don’t have much money or time, then a fast-food joint might be the best solution. But you certainly wouldn’t take a client there!
Here’s a fast summary of the pros and cons of these “build your own website” services:
Cost: If budget constraints are holding you back from getting online and having a website, then this can be a good temporary solution. Do-it-yourself website-builder software costs you little or nothing, if you buy their hosting package.
Speed: Using one of these pre-made designs, you can get up and running in minutes, or at least within a few hours. If you’re a startup business and need to get a fast web presence, this will get you online fast.
Looks: DIY website companies usually have a wide variety of professional web designs. These are normally very nicely put together and give your website a polished look right out of the box.
Ease: Their “drag-and-drop” interface lets you easily enter your own content. And you can see what it’s going to look like as you go – what you see is what you get.
Basic functionality: Your basic boilerplate website functionality is built in – things like standard pages, navigation, contact form, and, depending on the website design chosen, may include things like a slide show or even basic e-commerce.
Not unique: Your website will look like a lot of other websites out there. Even if you plug in your logo, it will still have a sort of generic look that will not communicate what makes your company unique. It will do little towards establishing your brand identity. These same designs are used by many people.
Limited customization: While you do have customization options, such as changing the colors, inserting your logo, and inserting your own photos to replace their default photos, any significant customization will likely require a knowledge of web programming, image editing and website building tools. Custom images or lengthy content can sometimes stretch or “break” the template. Their designs are proprietary, which means that only their own programmers have access to the “inner workings,” unlike WordPress and other Content Management Systems, where the design templates are “open source” and can be freely modified by a web programmer.
No Search Engine Optimization: If you use one of these DIY sites, you’re pretty much on your own when it comes to SEO. SEO tools are limited or nonexistent. And some templates are even created in Flash, which is not SEO-friendly or easy to edit.
Limited scalability: As your business grows, you want your website to grow with you. You may want to add content, pages, and functionality such as e-commerce. DIY sites have very limited capability and adaptability. And with many of these sites – something they don’t mention – you can’t switch design templates. Once you choose a design, you’re stuck with it.
Limited functionality: With many of these DIY sites, it is not possible to incorporate a blog. There also may be limits on inserting video or other content. When choosing a design, you have to make sure it includes all of the functions you will need on your website.
Limited integration: These proprietary DIY websites are not compatible with WordPress or any other Content Management System. You cannot export a DIY site to WordPress.
You’re tied to your hosting: Another thing not mentioned is that these DIY sites are not moveable. If you build your site within a particular hosting environment using their proprietary tools, you can’t export the site to another hosting. If you decide to move your site in the future, you will have to rebuild it from scratch.
If you can live with these limitations, and you need to get a site up quickly and cheaply, then a “build your own website” service could be a solution. But if you want a website that uniquely presents your company image, has all the functionality you need, and is easily expanded and adapted to your growing business, then a custom site is probably the better choice.
And if you are concerned about having your website under your control, insist that your web designer use a Content Management System that gives you all of the user-friendly back-end tools to manage your own website.
A new year is upon us. Will 2014 be a good, profitable year for you, or a year of struggle? A good New Year’s resolution might be to make the most of those scarce marketing and promotion dollars. This is particularly important for small businesses. Here are a few tips about how to get the most bang for your marketing bucks.
Recycle and re-use: If something is working, stick with it. If your ad copy is working, use it on your website or sales brochure. Get maximum use from your tried-and-true content. After all, Nike has been using “Just Do It” for 25 years. Capitalize on the equity you have in your existing logo, branding, and key product benefits. You know what’s working – double down on that. If it’s not working, then maybe it’s time for a change.
Do it yourself: There are a lot of marketing, advertising and graphic design tasks that you want to rely on a professional for, but there are many things you can do more efficiently and economically yourself. If you have a business blog, take the time to write articles frequently. After all, no one knows your business and area of expertise better than you do. When it comes to getting out an e-mail newsletter, use a service like Constant Contact, and learn how to rapidly put together a newsletter using their drag-and-drop interface. Writing a new product press release is best done by you or one of your staff. Keeping these routine promotional tasks in-house saves you money and gets you a better result.
Updating your website is something that you can do yourself if you had the foresight to have your website built using a user-friendly content management system (CMS).
Explore inexpensive options: There are many inexpensive or even free ways to get the word out about your company and products, and you should explore these. Consultants will often tell you that you need to “get on social media.” To that I would add “when it makes sense.” You have to know where your potential customers are. If they are on Facebook, then yes, have a business Facebook page and use it to announce news and events. But depending on your business and your clientele, you may find that Twitter, Pinterest or LinkedIn are more effective.
Press releases about new products or company news can be sent to local news outlets. If they are well written and contain real news, you could find them in print. And these cost you nothing.
Invest in what’s important: While there is a lot that you can do in-house or on the cheap, there are certain key promotional tasks you want to entrust to a professional. Creating a logo or a company branding is not something you want amateurs to do. It’s important to get it right the first time, so you are building on a solid foundation.
Creating the company website is also not something you want to use an amateur for. Creating a packaging design is something you should have done by a professional. When it comes to these key parts of your company image, you want the best professional help you can get. The amateur route may seem economical at the time, but it’s expensive in the long run – either in re-dos or in lost business.
Don’t overdo it: At the same time, don’t go overboard. Don’t create a 40-page website where a 10-page one would do. Don’t create a huge e-commerce website if you only have 2 or 3 products. You can always expand it later. Don’t go to the expense and trouble of designing and printing up a lot of glossy color brochures that may go out of date before they are used. Use your promotional dollars to create the exact items you need to promote your business efficiently.
One way to economize on your sales materials is to make them modular. Rather than printing up a glossy color brochure for every product, print up a generic company presentation folder and then fill it with one- or two-color fliers for each product or service. The sales person can just use the ones relevant to that customer.
Optimize: Make sure your website is optimized for best result. If you have a WordPress website, the Yoast plugin will walk you through SEO basics. For a more complete SEO optimization, hire an SEO expert to go through your site. Make sure your website content is fresh, up-to-date and accurate. When was the last time you went through and updated your content? Are there call-to-action buttons prominently on the Home page? Can site visitors easily order your products, find information, subscribe to your newsletter or contact your company?
These are just a few of the things you can do to make the most of your marketing and promotional dollars.
Have you found other ways to optimize your marketing budget?
“I’ve already had two web designers try to put together our website,” the client confessed to me. “They both failed. Their designs were attractive, but they just couldn’t seem to connect with the realities of our business.”
Unfortunately, this story is all too common. Many web designers are trained in graphic design, but know next to nothing about business. Their designs can be excellent, even brilliant. Their use of color, white space, typography, and balance can be masterful, but when it comes to things like marketing, sales, or branding, you get a blank look.
Too many businesses consider that a web designer is someone who just puts together a good-looking visual design. They are someone who “makes the website look good,” using whatever photographs, ad copy and logos are available. If they can throw in some “cutting edge” Flash graphics, so much the better.
But a competent graphic designer needs to be much more than this. He or she needs to have the intelligence to grasp complex business concepts and the skill to translate those concepts into a website that forwards the company’s goals.
Your website designer has to be willing to spend the time and effort to understand at least 7 things about your company:
1. Your Goals: The most important thing for your web designer to know is your business goals. What are you trying to achieve? Are you trying to generate a high volume of leads for your sales force to follow up on? Are you going for direct sales? Are you trying to drive customers into your retail outlets? Every business has its own unique goals, and sometimes the goals are not obvious. If your designer really understands your goals, they will structure the website to achieve that. The goals drive everything.
2. Your Products: What are you selling? Is it a physical product, a service, or a combination of both? Does your designer understand your product? Has he or she experienced it? Do they know how it is made, what goes into it, what benefits it provides for the user? What are customers saying about your product? Why do they prefer it over other similar products? What do customers like about your product? What arguments have sales people found most effective?
3. Your Customers: If your web designer does not understand exactly who they are designing for, they can make costly mistakes. They could design a site for end users, for instance, when you really intend for the site to be used by your sales and distribution network. Some designers may want to make your site look “young and edgy” (because that’s the type of design they personally like), when your target audience is older and more conservative. (or vice-versa) The more time your designer spends really understanding who you are trying to reach, the better.
4. Your Competition: Does your website look exactly like every other website in your business? That might be because your web designer never researched out your competition. What do your competitors’ websites look like? What are their strengths? Their weaknesses? What strategies are they using? Who are they trying to appeal to? Getting noticed in any industry means having a site that stands above competing sites.
5. Your Unique Value Proposition: What makes your service or product better than your competitors? It’s important to work this out for your business, and then make sure that your web designer understands it. A good web design will effectively communicate, both visually and with words, what makes your product special and why people should choose it over competing products.
6. Your Brand: What is the personality of your company? Does your promotion already have a distinctive look and feel? Do you already have a distinctive logo or type face? Do you already use certain colors that have become associated with your company. It takes a long time to build up brand equity, yet an uninformed designer can squander it if they are not aware of your current branding.
7. Your Conversion Strategy: You have a unique sales conversion strategy that you have developed over time. You know what is most effective. We worked with one software company that concentrated on getting people to download a free trial of their software. Why? Because they were converting 90% of these free trials to sales. That’s important information. It dictates the placement of the most prominent call to action on your home page.
If a website designer does not understand at least these 7 things about your company, they won’t have a clue as to how to design an effective website for you. It might look nice, but it will get you no business. In today’s business environment, having an effective website that addresses these 7 factors is far more important than a state-of-the-art site that wins design awards.
And watch out for these cheap “we can design your website for $300” offers. How can they build such an inexpensive site? Because they don’t take the time or effort to familiarize themselves with any of the above seven factors.
What have been your experiences with website designers? We’d like to hear!
This is a problem common to all businesses, large and small. You spend money and time promoting your business. Some of that effort results in customers, some doesn’t. So how can you make your promotional and marketing efforts more effective?
So-called “mass-marketing” (broad advertising on TV, radio, newspapers and magazines) is dead. It’s actually been dead for more than 20 years. Unfortunately, many smaller businesses are just finding this out. The old model was to make an ad and put it on TV or in a newspaper or magazine and hope for the best. The new model is to narrowly focus in on a specific target market. And with the internet, it becomes easier to do that than ever before.
In my last article, I talked about how to find your target market. In this article, we’ll explore how to reach that target market.
OK, let’s say you’ve isolated your target market. You know who your customers are – where they live, age, education level, interests, likes and dislikes. You’ve narrowed down who you are trying to appeal to. How do you go about finding them and “narrowcasting” your message straight to them? Here are some ideas to think about:
Geographic targeting: If you have a good idea of where your customers are located, maybe you can target them geographically. When we did a customer analysis for one client, we found that 80% of their business was coming from within a one mile radius of their shop. Our recommendation? Hand-deliver a flyer around their neighborhood offering a special discount for local businesses. If you own a restaurant or coffee shop, survey your customers as to where they come from, then target those areas with handouts, posters, or ads in local shoppers.
Chat groups: There’s a chat group for almost everything these days, and, used properly, they can make your business known to a specific target audience. If you are selling, say, beer brewing equipment, you can find a number of chat groups where beer aficionados gather and discuss the finer points of brewing. Do a Google search and find the right forums for your product or service. But once you’ve joined the group, don’t just spam out messages promoting your business. That will just annoy people and may even get you thrown out of the group. Instead, build trust. Establish yourself as an expert. Offer advice and tips. Comment frequently. Once you’ve established yourself as a thought leader, start mentioning your business, services and products. You can also join discussion groups via LinkedIn.
Your blog: It’s easy to start a blog. Make sure you have a clear idea of who you are trying to reach and the message you want to communicate. Don’t just plug your company or products – offer tips, advice, how-to instructions, anything that would be of value to your target customers. Remember, no one has to read your blog – they will read it if they find it valuable. Selecting the right topics will ensure your blog comes up high on organic searches. Learn the exact questions your customers are asking, and use those as the titles of your blog articles, whether it’s “How to Bake Bread” or “How to Organize Your Garage.” Building a blog audience takes time. Make sure you have a prominent RSS button, and “share” buttons so that your readers can easily share your blog articles on social media. Whenever you post a new article, alert your readers via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
SEO longtail keywords: Search Engine Optimization is a large subject, and one that is vital to your website or blog. It’s how you make sure you are found by people searching on the internet. While there is much to the subject, one key part of it is keywords. What are the words and phrases that people use to search for products and services like yours? Let’s say you are in the pest control business. A good keyword might be “termites.” But searching that term would get everything from a Wikipedia article about termites to “A Field Guide to Common Insects.” By using longtail keywords, you can get more specific. If you were to use “termite control,” that would be better. Or, even more specific, “termite control in Austin Texas.” These are examples of longtail keywords. While they don’t get as many searches, those who do use those search terms are looking for exactly what you are providing. And, as more and more people are phrasing their searches as questions, how about “how to get rid of termites in Austin Texas.”
Targeted online ads: If you have an advertising budget, targeted online advertising can deliver your ad to the exact consumers who are looking for your products. Services like Google AdWords deliver your message to people who are searching for what you are selling. And online advertising is actionable – more so than any other form of advertising. Potential customers can just click through to your website. You can also deal directly with niche website or blog owners and arrange for affordable ad spots that will reach exactly the people you are trying to reach.
Partner with like-minded businesses: Find companies that are trying to reach a similar target public, and partner with them to expand your reach. If you are a wedding photographer, for instance, partner with a wedding officiant or a wedding caterer. Guest post on each other’s blogs. Link to each other’s websites. Share social media posts. You’ll extend your reach and bring more value to your target customers.
These are just a few of the things you can do to reach your target audience without spending a lot of money. You can probably think of others. The important thing is to know exactly who you are trying to reach, and find ways to narrowly target them.
Have you found other effective ways to reach your target audience?
“Target Market” or “Target Audience” is a concept that many business people don’t fully understand. Some years ago, I had a client who wanted to sell a self-help book. When I asked them who their target audience was, they said “everyone.” “Everyone can benefit from this book, so we don’t want to limit our sales.”
This is an all-too-common business mistake. Targeted marketing is about increasing sales, not limiting your reach. It’s about finding those who are most likely to buy and reaching them effectively and economically. Everyone does not buy everything. When was the last time you bought a skateboard? Knitting supplies? A handgun? A 10-port USB hub?
In the case of my publisher client, I was able to show them with a few basic statistics how to narrow down their target market. At that time, only 11% of Americans bought more than one book in a year. Right out of the gate that eliminated 89% of Americans who would not buy their book. Narrowing this further, only about 30% of those book buyers bought non-fiction, and of those, only a small percent bought self-improvement books. So right out of the gate, we were able to narrow their target market to just a few percent of Americans. We were then able to do further research into that market and come up with an effective advertising strategy.
Small businesses don’t usually have the budget for extensive market research, but there are a few simple things you can do to narrow down your target market:
- Common sense: You already know something about your product and your customers. If you are selling sports equipment, you already know you are selling to people who are relatively young and active. If you are selling scrapbooking supplies, you already know your audience is primarily female. Take a moment and list out the attributes of someone who would be likely to buy your product. Ask yourself who are you trying to sell to? Who is your product intended for?
- Your customers: You know a lot about your customers. If you have a retail shop, you know the kind of people who come in. Your sales people know what kind of people are the best prospects. Gather and write down as much as you know about your existing customers.
- Your competitors: Check out your competition. What kind of people are coming in to their stores? Who do they seem to be trying to appeal to in their ads?
- Social Media: What kind of people are connecting with you on social media or “liking” your posts? Young? Old? Male? Female?
- Online forums and chat groups: You can learn a lot about your potential customers if you frequent online forums related to your business. If you sell model trains, for instance, join some forums and chat groups where they are talking about model trains. What do they discuss? What do they like and dislike? What kind of people are they?
Once you’ve done your research, put together a description of your average customer. Be as exact as you can as to specifics: age, income level, education, marital status, professions, areas where they live, likes and dislikes. Now you know exactly who you are trying to reach with your promotion.
The next step? Effectively reaching your target market – which will be the subject of an upcoming article. Also read our previous article on the 7 StartUp Business Pitfalls for further insight on the subject of narrowing your target market.
But over the last few years – chaos! People are now accessing the web from all sorts of devices – tablets, smartphones – literally thousands of different devices with all sorts of screen sizes. A May 2013 Pew study found that 56% of American adults now have a smartphone, and 34% own a tablet computer.
Mashable recently declared that 2013 is the year of Responsive Web Design. In their article, they noted that
For the first time since 2001, PC sales are projected to be lower than they were in the previous year. So which devices are consumers buying? Tablets, for one thing. Tablet sales are expected to exceed 100 million this year. Their sales numbers may top notebooks next year. Smartphones, of course, are also a hot commodity — according to Nielsen, the majority of U.S. mobile subscribers now own smartphones, not feature phones.
Does this smartphone make my website look bad?
Your website will look different depending on the device it’s viewed on. That brilliant design that looks great on a desktop computer could look terrible on a smaller screen. You may have had the experience of trying to visit a website on your tablet or smart phone and finding that part of the site is cut off. Or you have to scroll around to see the whole site. Or the site is so small on your smart phone that you have to pinch and zoom to read it. All of these things are not optimal web experiences.
One solution has been to design a special “mobile” website that would look good on a small screen. But this requires creating two websites – double work. And having the same content on two websites may negatively affect your search engine rankings (there is still some debate on this). Unless the content of the mobile site is going to be very different from the main website, having a separate duplicate website for mobile could be impractical and expensive.
The optimum solution is a single website design that responds to whatever device is accessing it and reformats itself to deliver a design that is clear and readable at that screen size. Hence, the development of Responsive Web Design (RWD).
What is Responsive Web Design?
Without getting too technical, a Responsive Web Design reacts to the type of device it is being viewed on. The site uses media queries to determine the width of the screen it is being viewed on, then uses a fluid grid and flexible images to adjust the website layout so it looks good on the smaller screen. Photographs are sized to fit the screen, and the design may be changed to look right on the smaller device. For instance, a design that has three columns on a desktop computer may be reduced to one column on a smartphone.
To put it simply, RWD can detect the device you’re using (whether desktop computer, laptop, mobile device or tablet) and automatically adjust the site’s design elements to fit the screen size you’re using while maintaining the website’s look and feel.
Do I need a Responsive Website?
If you check your web traffic, you can determine how many visitors are accessing your site through mobile devices. (In your Google Analytics, select “Audience” on the left side, then “Mobile” to see how much traffic is coming from mobile devices.) If a significant percent of your visitors are using mobile devices to view your website, you should consider changing to a responsive design.
Certain types of businesses are more likely to get mobile visitors than others. A restaurant is likely to have people searching for them on a mobile device, for instance. Retail shops may have a large percentage of mobile visitors. News sites, popular blogs and online forums may have many visitors from tablets and smartphones. A 2012 mobile device study showed that people use mobile devices for entertainment, social interaction, shopping, planning future activities, and getting news and information.
In contrast, a business-to-business service website may get low mobile traffic. RWD is not a panacea for every type of business. But it’s always best to check where your customers are coming from.
Responsive design is the future of websites. With consumers accessing the web through more and more devices, we recommend that all of our clients look into the practicality and feasibility of a responsive website.
Any questions? We’re here to help you understand the constantly changing world of the web.