Saturday, June 12, 2010

Your Website Is a Marketing Tool: Design It Positive

Recent visits to several web sites - that of customers, prospects, vendors, and the like - made me rethink the reason why companies need to have a web-presence. During the DotCom boom of the 90's it was a popular fad among companies to have an "online presence of our own." Having a web site is considered indispensable even today. However how many of us make sure that our website attracts, engages and retains traffic that is key to our businesses? I'm not sure. Here are a few steps I feel could add value to your business as a practical marketing tool.

Identify your visitor

The key question here is "who is your visitor?" Is she a customer (valid mostly for portals and B2C businesses) or a partner? (valid for B2B businesses). A more convenient way is to define why someone would visit your business website. It could be an old customer catching up for updates, or a fresh prospect interested in a partnership to support your newly created business vertical. All these visitors have well defined purposes for their visits, and your site should be able to provide concise and updated information about your business to address these needs. On the other hand, the customer of a B2C business may just be interested in your company's history, or just curious to know what are your upcoming products or even may be looking to your offices are located in her city, in case they need to contact you.

It would be advisable to monitor the number of clicks you get in a particular time period, say a week or a month in order to have an idea of how frequent do you get visits.

Create an experience

Have a flashy website running on the latest technology or most updated browser? Chances are that your customer may not be able to see information that you want to detail for them. I keep a fairly updated version of my browser, armed with the supporting technologies (JRE or Flash player plug-in). Even then I get messages (though not frequently) asking me to install a higher version of Java or a different version of .Net or Flash when I visit some web sites. My limited user rights in the office computer don’t let me download and install a latest version of Java, and I don't have the time/patience/convenience to wait till evening when the IT guy comes and does it for me. So the message is straight: keep it simple, not limited to specified browser(s), and easy to use. Make it visually appealing by providing simple but eye-catching images, readable fonts, and a comprehensive narration of text.

Provide your visitors some memorabilia

People like it when they get something freely downloadable. It may be wallpaper, a desktop calendar or an international time clock, a screen saver, anything. This could serve as an advertising tool that people actually like downloading and watching. And yes, if you are a B2B organization that provides professional software and you intend to provide a sample or a demo version, please provide a good one: something that is hassle-free for the end user. If you invest in your website to attract visitors, it is also possible that you can engage your visitors (ideal for B2C businesses) with online thematic games. This would add to the user's knowledge of the theme, may it be a technology platform or even your specific range of products.

Ask them to come back/contact

Encourage users to contact you or come back to you. Ask for their feedback, what they think of the website, and what they like to see in the next range of products of your company. Assure (and equally make sure as well) that the information they share with you shall be kept confident, and shall not be used against them (as in cold calling). Unhide your face from your partners and customers. Give a physical address, a valid phone number and email which someone responsible actually reads and responds as the case is. I personally don't feel interested in a company that hides itself behind a web form, asking me to provide my details, and what I'd like to know with a comment saying "we will get back to you." In more than 50% cases, no one got back to me, and in fact I have observed a significant increase in the spam emails, text messages (this is a happening trend in India, believe me!) or maybe even hard-selling calls from unrelated companies. Make sure this doesn't happen to your customers.

And in case someone comes back, do respond to their queries, and do it soon! Respect the time and privacy of the customer and chances are high that they value your brand. Make sure you do this even in cases you feel that they may not do business with you soon.

Repeat the cycle

If all the above happens in a positive note, there is reason to cheer: it is proof that you have expanded your brand visibility. The next step is to maintain the tempo of interaction and keep gaining more value-added customers. The key is to maintain this value you've earned and make sure that you return the same value to the customer. Repeat this process with a narrower focus, since you know more about the ones to come back to you. They truly care for your brand, and they are the market you were looking to serve.