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Keys To Effective Site Design

The very best and most profitable Internet businesses have many things in common. The following items are shared by most of the effective sites:
  1. Be Consistent

    Look at your online business as an extension of your traditional business. More directly, If it ain't broke don't fix it.

    Many businesses establish their online presence for the first time and try to do things totally different from the way they do things in their traditional business. The best way to start creating your online business is to look at what you've done that has worked for you in the past. Then take those elements and integrate them into your online presence. Try to be consistent in the look and feel you create for your customers online. Make them feel as if they are walking into your office or store.

    The goal of every online business is to make a profit. What most business owners don't realize is that more than likely they will continue to make most of their sales and profits the same way they did before they got on the Internet.

    Rather than try to create a whole new sales process, or way of doing business on the Internet, why not try to use the Internet to increase the profits and sales that you get through your traditional marketing and advertising?

    It is must easier to use the Internet to increase the sales or profits you get through your traditional marketing and advertising by 2-3% than it would be to increase them totally by online sales. That will change as online sales explode in the near future, but right now it is best to use the Internet to enhance your traditional marketing and sales process.

  2. Know Your Audience

    Know who your target audience is. Not all businesses are well suited to online marketing. Take the million dollar idea test in the section on the best selling products online and determine the viability of the product or service that you want to sell. Then create a profile of your ideal customer. Be as specific as you can. Remember some of the biggest successes in online business have been companies that appeal to a very small, but very specific and passionate niche market. Sound like the Harley-Davidson enthusiast?

    Out of the tens of millions of people who use the Internet, it's usually safe to say that a few of them are interested in nearly every conceivable type of product or service. Most business owners use this rational as a motivation for putting up an online business. They reason that since there are so many people on the Internet there must be a few that want to buy my products and/or services.

    They're absolutely right. Not all their potential customers are online yet, but many are and those who are could be looking for your right now. If you're not online, who do you suppose your potential customers are finding? That's right, your competitors.

    In most traditional marketing and advertising programs, business owners spend money to seek out new prospects and customers. On the Internet the roles are reversed. Our customers and prospects are looking for us. Being successful on the Internet is nothing more than being easy to find when your customers and prospects are looking for you. Some pick up a Yellow Pages directory to accomplish this... others pick up a mouse.

    Take your customer profile and see how well it matches the demographics of the typical Internet user. This information can be found in some of the online sources that are referenced in the section on Demographics. Then identify specific sites on the Internet where your target prospects visit and try to trade links between your site and theirs.

  3. Have A Clear Objective

    Establish a clear-cut objective for your site, and remember the goal of any online business should be to increase your bottom line. Profits are the name of the game in any business. Too often online businesses focus totally on sales generated on the Internet site and miss opportunities to increase their bottom line profits by using the Internet for things like lead generation, customer service, technical support, testing or research. Any one of these activities can be done very effectively online and usually at a much lower cost than through traditional methods.

    A perfect example of this principle is FedEx. They don't have a product that they can sell and deliver over the Internet, but they do make money online. They do it by providing customer service to the millions of customers that ship packages with them each and every day.

    It's works great. Without selling a single thing online Fed Ex added millions of dollars to their bottom line with cost savings from providing customer service over the Internet. The customers get a higher level of service and FedEx saves a ton of money in the process. That's a win-win situation and that's why the Fed Ex site is one of the best business sites on the Internet.

  4. Build A Sense Of Community

    Use your online business to build a sense of community with your customers, vendors and employees. Make them feel as if they are part of your team and they will show their loyalty. The best way to do this is make them part of the process. You'll be surprised how much valuable information or content that your visitors will contribute to your site if you let them.

  5. Get To The Point

    Get to the point. Computer users by nature have little or no patience. Save the hype for your television infomercial where it can be appreciated. Realize that you're dealing with a very sophisticated and educated audience and they can handle straight talk about your products and services.

    Flowery sales talk and flashy glitz doesn't go over well online and often will produce just the opposite result. One nice thing about online world is the audience will be quick to tell you if you've crossed the line, and when they tell you, don't be slow to respond.

    It's also a good idea to write in a conversational tone and use some humor. The online world is a very relaxed environment where casual conversation is the rule, and clever humor is appreciated. In fact some of the most popular sites and newsgroups are humor related.

  6. Provide Something Of Value

    You must provide some value in your online business if you want to succeed. It needs to be bigger, faster or stronger than the other methods you use to market your business. If it's not, why would anyone go to all the trouble to find you online in the first place. Before you put something on your Internet site, ask yourself, "what benefit will my customers get by getting this product, service or information from my online business." Since most businesses have a lower cost of goods for products sold online, one easy way for most companies to provide value is to offer discounts to online customers. Another great value would be free demos or samples, or free information about your products and services. Whatever you choose to offer on your Internet site, remember that you must overcome the tremendous gravity of habit. Your customers and prospects are most likely very comfortable getting your product or service from the traditional delivery method that you've always used. Getting them to get it online involves breaking that gravity of habit. The bigger the value you offer your customers and prospects online, the easier it will be to convert them to online customers.

  7. Change Often

    You need to change and update your site often. The online world is a very dynamic place and change is a big part of it. If you site doesn't change, none of your audience will want to come back for a second look. The really successful sites get their customers and prospects to back time and time again.

    An effective way to do this is to feature one deep discounted product each and every day. If there is something new to see each day, it will draw people back for a second look.

    Some sites place features on their homepage that change every few days or every week. This is a bit more work, but remember, change is that important. Actually, Harley-Davidsonšs site does this effectively by having a half dozen or so different splash screens (entry screens) that change display randomly each time you log on. They also provide links to new items on their core page.

    The AT&T site at http://www.att.com) is another good example of a site that changes it homepage frequently. A couple of others to look at are the Internet Shopping Network (http://www.Internet.net) and USAToday (http://www.usatoday.com).

    You may want to have a featured product of the month, or a quote of the week. But be sure to change your site from time to time. Change is also a great way to learn what works and doesn't work on your site. If you take something away and you get a lot of feedback from you visitors, you may want to put that element back in your site and focus a bit more attention to it. You may also learn that some of your products sell better in this forum than do others. These are some of the fringe benefits of making changes. BE SURE TO CHANGE!

  8. Combine With Off-line Efforts

    Make sure that your online business works in conjunction with your off-line efforts. Most people make the mistake of expecting their online business to be a totally self-supporting operation. They miss a very important point. Most businesses will still make most of their money in the same way they always have. Having an online presence will not change the way the business operates right off the bat. So it is wise to build your online business to support your online efforts. Online and off-line marketing should work together. It's just not realistic to expect your online marketing to replace your traditional marketing. Create your site to make them work together. Be sure to give visitors to your online site the opportunity to get a catalog in the mail, or add their name to your off-line (called snail mail online) mailing list. Give them a coupon on your site that they can print and redeem in your store if you need to have them come into your store to do business with you.

    A good example of this is a grocery store. They do their business in a small local area and they need their customers to come into the store to do business with them. If they were to set-up an online presence it would be wise to create it in such a way as to drive more traffic to their store. Makes sense doesn't it?

    Key Point: Your online marketing efforts should not be designed to replace your traditional marketing efforts, but work with them.

    Some of the best ways to build traffic to your online business involve using your off-line marketing methods. Simple things like placing your Internet address or email address in your print ads, on your business cards and letterhead, in your catalogs and even on your billing statements will do more to build your online business than spending all your time posting ads in newsgroups.

    You need to utilize every method that you can to communicate with your current customers and your prospects that you've set up shop online and that they can benefit by doing business with you there.

  9. Be The Expert

    Establish yourself as an expert in your field. When people want things done, they always want to go to an expert. If you can establish yourself as a expert in your field, you will enhance your ability to attract customers and increase your business online. One area where this might work especially well is in the Service Department. Provide technical and service tips that establish you as an expert in this area and that provides an additional incentive to come back to the site and/or establish an appointment for a service call that might otherwise have been placed with an independent or a competitive dealership.
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