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Website 101: Nine Tips for Getting Started

Guest Article by Martha Wagner

OK, so you don’t want to be the last one of your small-business colleagues without a website. Or you’ve already got a website, but you think you could make some improvements, maybe even generate some income. There are numerous online resources (see list below) that can help you with decisions about domain names and key words, about e-commerce, search engines, finding a web designer and more. Even if you are planning to get some help with writing the content for your site—here are some tips to keep in mind before you get started.

  1. Be clear about your reason for creating a website. Is it going to serve as an online brochure for people who you hand your business cards to? Is it going to function primarily as a tool to sell your product or service? Or will selling be a sideline, for example, generating revenue from a source like Amazon.com by enabling visitors to your site to buy specific books or other items through you? Do you plan to find new customers through your website—local, national, international? Who are your target readers and customers?

  2. Be able to identify three things that make your business unique and have them in mind when you contact some of your satisfied customers to ask them for testimonials you can use on your site. Testimonials lend credibility, especially if they address what is unique about your business or product.

  3. Understand that you have about five seconds to grab the interest of first-time visitors to your website. The first thing they’ll want to know is how they will benefit from buying (or subscribing or joining) what you have to offer. You’ve got to answer that question clearly and concisely within seconds, summarizing what is unique about your business. Focus more on benefits than features or your organization.

  4. Decide on categories of information for the rest of your site, and keep this content clear and concise too. Consulting with your web designer and browsing through websites in your field will help you decide how to organize the information to include on your site after the “welcome” or “about” page. Typical choices include a page of testimonials, a page listing your services or products, a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page, a page that lists fees, and a page that includes phone and fax numbers, e-mail address, etc.

  5. Ensure repeat visits by offering visitors to your site a cache of useful information. A business coach might include how-to articles and monthly newsletters, a potter might offer information about local art events and resources. Give visitors a reason to return to your site by offering something of value as a “freebie.”

  6. Keep your website updated and fresh. If your site promises a catalog or a new product in spring 2002 and it’s now 2004, your credibility suffers. And if you fail to update your site with new information, such as articles, event listings, special offers or new products, repeat visits will drop off.

  7. Don’t count on your spellchecker to produce error-free copy. It won’t. Before your site “goes live” carefully proofread every page, then do it again. Ask that friend who teaches English to proofread it for you; do a trade for proofing; or hire a freelancer through an organization such as www.edsguild.org. This website explains what a copy editor and proofreader do and offers a directory of Northwest freelancers. That first impression reflects on how you run your business, and may be the last impression, too, if your copy is sloppy.

  8. Discuss keywords and search engines with your web designer so your site will be easy for people to find, but also plan to tie in your website with your overall marketing strategy. Have your website address listed in as many places as you can think of: on postcard mailings, on print or electronic newsletters, on your business cards, brochures, invoices, advertising, sales sheets, etc. Mention the address on your telephone voicemail message.

  9. Take advantage of the abundance of free information available on the web that can help you with your own website. The following are a few helpful sites that are oriented toward small businesses.
    • www.allbusiness.com : covering a vast array of topics, including the Internet and steps to take to get a website up and running.
    • www.startupjournal.com : lots of useful information from The Wall Street Journal Center for Entrepreneurs.
    • www.4hb.com : good information on marketing, e-commerce and other topics for home-based businesses.
    • www.veronikanoize.com : all things marketing (from websites to elevator speeches to PR) plus information on teleclasses and other services offered by a Vancouver, Washington-based marketing coach.

Martha Wagner is a freelance copyeditor and proofreader based in Portland, Oregon. She can be contacted through her website: www.marthawagner.com.
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