The Internet provides great opportunities for small and midsize businesses to level the playing field with larger enterprises and to excel in their ability to reach customers. Here are 10 surefire strategies to take your Web presence to the next level.
1: Professionally develop your Web site -- and then maintain it
SMBs tend to look at their pocketbooks and find the least expensive way of launching a Web site. However, because of the Web site's significance in advancing your brand and your product, you should never skimp when it comes to creating a great-looking and highly functional Web presence. Take the time to interview a variety of Web designers and developers and then make the best choice for your business. It is advisable to include in your RFP (request for proposal) the requirement that you be able to build out and maintain your Web site once it is created. This gives you control over a powerful corporate asset.
2: Manage your content
There is a tendency for SMBs to get lax once their Web sites are created. But traffic quickly falls off when visitors see that your content remains static (and even becomes outdated). Don't let this happen. When you fail to move new content onto the site on a continuous basis, it suggests that you don't believe your Web site is important enough to keep fresh. Your visitors will see this, too -- and will stop visiting.
3: Provide easy navigation
Keep your Web site's navigation simple and thoroughly test it before placing it into production. One technique is to limit the number of levels that users have to drill down to get to information, while still avoiding an overly busy "billboard" look on the front page that can put off users. Web site visitors have short attention spans and finite tolerance levels. They will abandon your Web site if they find it too difficult to navigate.
4: Limit pop-ups, interruptions, and links to outside sources
Many pop-ups and banner offers are value-added, and users and customers really appreciate them -- but if there is an overabundance, and navigation and response are impeded, they can work against you. Use of pop-ups and banners should be tastefully orchestrated and thoroughly tested before they are placed into production. Links to Web resources beyond your Web site footprint should also be limited if your goal is keeping your users and customers on your site.
5: Let customers opt in
Customers prefer an opt-in approach for participation in newsletters and notifications. They are less likely to appreciate being automatically included and having to opt out of a service.
6: Include SEO in your Internet strategy
Search engine optimization (SEO) should be part of any company Web site strategy. If you don't have a method for getting your Web site immediately noticed and front-listed on Internet search engines, customers and prospects are likely to miss your business in their cyber searches.
7: Consolidate your reporting channels
It's amazing how many companies fail to integrate their sales results into a composite report that includes all sales channels. They have separate reports for their brick-and-mortar selling and for their online sales. This makes it difficult to see the total picture for a given product across all sales channels. Sometimes, there are limits in systems reporting because brick-and-mortar sales channels, which were established first, are difficult to integrate with newer online channels. These integration challenges should never limit total visibility of the business. If they exist, IT needs to fix them.
8: Integrate your online and brick-and-mortar business arms
This is more a strategic business than an IT task, but it is extremely annoying for customers to begin a transaction in a physical store and then have to finish it online, where they find that they are dealing with an entirely different business arm of the company with no relationship to the original sales rep in the store. To date, the non-integration of sales channels (even to the point where the online business is a separate entity from the brick-and-mortar business) has been tolerated. But as technical integration improves, consumers will expect more.
9: Utilize Web site and Internet end point metrics for EUE
The end-user experience (EUE) is becoming increasingly important in Web site interactions. No SMB should be without metrics that report on user traffic patterns across the Web site, which items are most often clicked on or purchased, transaction times, geographical regions where users are coming from, what the Web site abandonment rate is, and when abandonment occurs.
Assessing the company Web site EUE should also move beyond the Web site. Commercial services are available that track performance of your Web site transactions around the world on the Internet, giving insights into this "out of network" performance.
The areas of tooling and software/service that SMBs should focus on are Web site performance:
and measuring and tracking performance across the global Internet:
Some Internet service providers also provide analytics visibility for the Internet traffic routes they control.
10: Integrate your customer contact points
Phone systems, Internet email and chat, and any other channels through which an SMB communicates with customers should be integrated. Customers do not want to repeat their account numbers and other vital information numerous times during a single conversation, nor do they want to start all over again with a service representative when they have already had extensive dialogue with another rep (possibly on a different communications channel). From a business standpoint, there should be a way to consolidate customer intelligence from across all contact points. The customer sees the company across all these contact points; surely, the company should be able to see the customer that way, too.
- IT Innovation for Small Businesses (ZDNet special report page)
- Executive's guide to IT innovation in small businesses (free ebook)
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.