My desire is to provide helpful and thoughtful information about all aspects of doing business. Feel free to share your comments, experience and insight!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Importance Of "About Us" On A Website

In the last 10 years, Internet usage in the United States has grown over 150%, with over 77% of the whole US population utilizing the Internet, according to Internet World Stats. That is astounding growth and it is a huge jump in the number of people potentially visiting websites. Even with millions of websites on the web, an optimized, well-built site has the potential of being seen by lots of people. So what sets a site apart, giving it a personal feel in an impersonal Internet experience? The "About Us" page.

Intuitive Designs LLC - website design & development for West Michigan.Although most sites have them, they are usually undervalued and ignored once they are written. However, with lots of users on the Internet finding lots of information, this "About Us" page is an opportunity to let site visitors know more about a company, its products & services and earn the company a customer. When a consumer is interested in a site, the "About Us" page is among the first three pages they visit. That in itself reveals the importance of this page on any web site.

So here are some practical, easy steps to making more of the "About Us" page:

  1. Make a personal connection.
    This page is really a story about the organization - how it started, who is behind it, it's long term goals and mission. But it is also a way to bring a personal connection into the impersonal Internet world. Consider adding pictures and bios and even include some details about hobbies or activities. Include e-mail addresses and links to appropriate contact information, blogs, publications, etc. Site visitors interested enough to read the "About Us" page want to know, like and trust the organization and those involved with it.

  2. Make sure it is up to date.
    This should go without saying but it is necessary to review this page at least once a year, if not more often. Add details about recent projects, major milestones and mention recent awards, recognition or community events. Let the site visitor see that this page is updated often enough to keep them informed of timely details about the business. An outdated page sends the message that the organization does not really value the perception of the site visitor.

  3. Share testimonials from current customers and incorporate social media.
    It is great to speak about an organization in first-person to fill in potential customers about the story of the company. But it is even more interesting and influential to incorporate testimonials. New site visitors are just becoming familiar with the business and what better way to set the stage of loyalty, service and credibility than to use current & past customer testimonials. This is also a great place to incorporate social network links. Potential consumers have the ability to view the company interactions and see discussions & comments made outside the framework of the organizations web site. Touting company accomplishments is one thing but having customers share their experiences goes a long way in developing trust in a potential new business relationship.

  4. Break-up the text with visually interesting additions.
    The "About Us" page is a 24-hour billboard for your company. Spice-up the layout of the page with photos, highlighted text, bullets, links, etc. If the page is paragraph after paragraph of bland text, the 'billboard' is boring, stale and uninviting. Without disrupting the purpose of the page, introduce visual additions to break-up text, provide easy reading and substantiate information. Everything from pictures of the building to graphics depicting the company mission are great options.

  5. Incorporate keywords and other appropriate search engine optimization strategies.
    Just because the "About Us" page is written a little differently and created to appeal to the personal/relationship side of business, that does not mean it should ignore the basics of effective web page design and optimization. Keywords and phrases should be introduced as much as possible within the text on the page. Follow the rules for optimizing a business web page so the "About Us" page is effective on all levels.

An effective, memorable "About Us" page is relatively easy to achieve with some thought, determination and a little know-how. The tips above can help any company web site offer a personal touch to one of the most important pages of the site...that 24-hour billboard where the world learns all "About Us".

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tips For Optimizing Your Small Business Website

Search engine optimization is something every website needs. But before you can make that happen, you need to understand what it is. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of refining website content and using various programming techniques to improve a web site's ranking in search engine results. So how does a small business owner go about optimizing their site? Here are 5 basic tips to get started:

  1. Good content.
    Text on your site should read well for humans. That may sound silly but in the past, people making sites have tried to do all kinds of things to get search engines to rank them well, including filling pages with hard to read, link-filled, run-on sentences. Search engines have evolved to be able to know what good content looks like. Not to mention the fact that you want site visitors who get to your site to be able to read and navigate through your information effectively.

  2. Chose appropriate keywords for your business.
    Focus on no more than 15 key phrases. The goal is to rank well in search engine results for the most important terms and phrases to your business. This takes some time and consideration, as well as using some tools to determine the words that will give you the best quantity and quality of site visitors. A good tool is to use Google Insights. Then once you narrow down the keywords that will be the best for you, start incorporating them into all the pages of your website.

  3. Use keywords in content, page titles, page descriptions and links.
    Search engines use very complex algorithms to determine search result rankings and no one really knows all the variables. However we do know that quality, keyword rich content & links help the search engines determine what a website is really all about. So by using your list of 15 key phrases in the text of your pages, in the HTML page titles & descriptions and in any links on your site, you are helping the search engines know even more about your site content.

  4. Put names on all images.
    To a search engine, an image is just empty space unless it has what is called an alt attribute. Getting keywords and phrases into the alt attribute of all images on the page replaces the 'empty space' with quality content that the search engine can use to help rank the page.

  5. Publish new content and pages regularly.
    Of course, that is a tough one for a small business owner but the more you can share updated information, the more attention your site can get from search engines. An easy way to do it is add RSS feeds of related subjects to a page on your site. Or add a Facebook Page Badge if you have begun working with social networking. Fresh content is important to returning site visitors as well.

Getting a higher search engine rank for your web site is not as straight-forward as following a list of rules and recommendations for search engine optimization. As I noted before, no one outside of the programmers at Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engine operations really know all the details about how it works. But a foundation of good content, appropriate keywords, smart keyword placement and fresh content is the best place to start building your SEO strategy.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Case For Cash

An important emphasis has been put on local, small business in the wake of the recent financial problems around the country. Here in Michigan, we are urged to "buy local", "support Michigan business" and put "Michigan first". I have always done my best to do that but I will admit I am doing it more often and with more focus than ever before. In considering how I can personally support local business, I am also trying to use cash as often as possible. Why am I making this case for cash? Let me share a few thoughts.

1) Using cash helps reduce small business costs.
The same purchase made with a debit or credit card costs the business more than if paid for with cash. The costs associated with the convenience of a business accepting debit/credit cards usually consists of a set transaction fee and a percentage of sales fee. Other bank and processing fees may also be applicable. Obviously none of those fees are incurred by the business when purchases are made with cash.

2) Cash can be withdrawn without cost to the consumer.
Many small businesses have the ability to accept debit/credit card payments but on certain sales (say those under $5) they have little or no chance to cover their costs. As a consumer, consider using cash as often as possible for purchases under $10. With ATM's on every corner, it is easier than ever to get cash conveniently. And with free cash withdrawals, it does not cost a dime to have cash in hand.

3) It is a win-win-win.
If the consumer supports small business through patronage and helping keep costs down, that small business has a chance to keep prices down and stay in profitable business. If that small business provides good products & services at good prices along with local expertise & service, consumers will want to support the business. The consumer wins, the business wins and the local economy wins.

It is obviously not rocket science, but the case for cash has clear benefits to local economies. So the next time you are at the ice cream shop, the fruit farm, the pizza place, etc., I urge you to support them with your patronage as well as your cash!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tips For Better Web Site Performance

Web site performance is a unique topic among small business owners - some are aware that an effective web site can be a great asset, while others are satisfied just having some kind information on the Web regardless of it's performance. I suggest that all small businesses can see a dramatic ROI from improvements to their web site. Here are a few tips to achieve better site performance:

  1. Make sure the site design is appealing and follows good usability standards.
    A web site can be optimized for good performance and even rank well in search engine results but no conversions result. If the site is too cluttered, has bad design or is just basically unappealing, site visitors will not find what they are looking for and will give up using the site. Usability tells us web sites have 4-6 seconds to grab a first-time visitors attention - so be sure the design & layout of the site is effective.

  2. Utilize keywords visitors would use to find the site.
    Turn your focus to the site visitor. The actual purpose of the site is not necessarily self promotion, it is to serve the site visitor. So build your site around keywords that Internet users would type in a search to find your products or services. Then help them find that information quickly and easily on your site.

  3. Get the right people doing the right jobs.
    With the ease of web site builders and content management systems offered by hosting companies, many small businesses develop their own web sites. Their are literally thousands of new sites created every day. Many site owners believe they can administer the technical, content and search optimization aspects of their site, not to mention the Internet marketing of the site. I suggest that using a professional in those areas can make all the difference in your site performance. It is very unlikely small business owners know all the ins-and-outs of web site development. The ROI for using professionals in at least one those areas far outweighs the cost to get it right.

  4. Make quality a goal of your site.
    Don't settle for a pieced-together, half-hearted web site - it won't attract many site visitors, it won't rank well in search engines and it certainly won't have many conversions. A small business would never think of creating other marketing materials of poor quality - so why should they settle for a poor quality web site, which has the potential to reach significantly more people? They should do what it takes to create a high quality site, even if that means hiring a consultant or designer.

Just like many other aspects of doing business, what is put into a site is likely what will come out of it. So I suggest small businesses take the steps necessary to achieve better web site performance and enjoy the significant results of doing things right!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Facebook Community Pages & Your Social Marketing Plan

Well, there has been lots of buzz the last few weeks about changes being made on the social networking site Facebook...and reaction has been both critical and optimistic. The changes went live this week and it has left many wondering what it all means!

Just about the time businesses and on-line marketing gurus really got a good feel for using Facebook for business promotion, the new "Community Page" has been introduced. So what does that mean to your marketing plan? First, let's look at a quick run-down of how these pages function (at least as of this writing):

  1. Group Page - Created by a user and those that become group members may have various posting rights, as determined by the group administrator. Content may or may not generate stories in News Feeds of those who are members of the group. Content of the page is not indexed by search engines.
  2. Community Page - Created by Facebook and maintained by them, updating information & profile pictures using Wikipedia. Related posts from other people on Facebook may be displayed also. Content does not generate stories in News Feeds of those who "like" the page. Content on this page is indexed by search engines. As is stands right now, once the Community Page becomes very popular (a certain number of fans), it will become a community administered page which means everyone will have the ability to post on the page.
  3. Official Page - Created and maintained by authorized representative of a business, brand, celebrity or organization. Content is created by authorized user and it generates stories in News Feeds of those who "like" the page. Content on this page is indexed by search engines.

So the idea that Facebook is trying to get across through this change is that Group Pages are for interaction about specific subjects, Community Pages provide information about specific topics from Wikipedia (and potentially other sources) and Official Pages provide professional content from a business, brand, celebrity or organization.

In considering what this means for your social marketing plans, I suggest taking the wait and see approach for now. Things are literally changing by the minute as these new updates work through the Facebook system. Don't panic just yet about the impact of Community Pages but also, don't bury your head in the sand.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Who's On Facebook?

Remember the great comedy routine, "Who's On First?". The hilarious and ambiguous skit by Abbot and Costello left you wondering who really was on first. And many people are asking the same question these days about Facebook - who is on there and what does that mean to me?

Well the answers are easier to find and decipher than those in the comedy routine. Facebook tracks that information themselves and provides the details through their Social Ads Platform. And here are some interesting details, taken right from those statistics :

  1. The largest number of U.S. users on Facebook are ages 35-54 years old - that is 29% of the user base.

  2. The largest increase in users came in the 55+ age group - up 922% since 2009. That turns out to be over 8.8 million new Facebook members over the age of 55 in the last year.

  3. During 2010, Facebook grew to over 103 million users in the U.S. That is up 144% from 2009.

So what does that mean to businesses trying to get the most out of the social networking site? It tells us that Facebook is still growing - at an impressive rate. And that growth continues to represent an excellent opportunity for marketing - so it is worth the time and effort to use it as a part of any marketing campaign.

It also tells us that the use of Facebook is not as lop-sided as it once was. Even over the last year, Facebook has morphed into a place for those over the age of 25 to connect, discuss and develop business. Before that, it was often assumed it was a phenomenon for those under 25. The new reality is that the middle age demographic is engaged in the social networking community.

So now that you know who is on Facebook, use the information to tailor the social networking portion of your marketing. And if your business has not started working with social networking, maybe now is a good time.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tips For Web Site Success

Creating a successful web site can be quite challenging for small businesses. However, with a few tips and thoughtful plans, the puzzle pieces begin to come together so any web site can increase its effectiveness.
  1. web site development, website design, search engine optimizationDefine "success" for your site. Web sites are diverse and can serve any number of purposes - from on-line brochures to dynamic sales portals. Take time to decide what the function of your site is and then determine what is success for that function. Would success for your site be a specific number of visitors? Or would it be an increased percentage of sales? Or possibly success would be an increased number of visitors that register on your site. Regardless, once you know what success is in your eyes, you can tailor the site to meet your goals.

  2. Concentrate on good design principals. There are basic design principals and concepts that all web sites should employ. Sites should be user-focused and easy to navigate. Keeping things simple helps users find what they need quickly and almost effortlessly. There are many cool, cute & clever functions that can be created on a site but if it does not serve the visitor, leave them off the site and stick with good, basic designs.

  3. Make sure your site is usable. This may sound odd but it is important to consider. Once visitors make it to your site, they need to be able to use the site and understand the content. This is closely related to the good design principals noted above. The navigation should be clear and in a prominent place. Again, cute & clever won't get you very far if the site visitor can't decide how to get around your site. Make sure content is well organized and tailored to help users find what they need.

  4. Promote, promote, promote. Make sure everyone knows you have a web site. Put your URL on business cards, letterhead, e-mails...anything that leaves your office. Market your site like you would a new product or service. The more people that know about your site, the more potential visitors you can get. And as your web site traffic increases, you can begin measuring the effectiveness of your efforts.

So having an effective web site isn't rocket science but it does take some time, thought and persistence. It helps to have assistance from a professional developer but the tips noted above are practical and can be used by any web site owner. As with most marketing tools, a web site only increases its success with your commitment and effort.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Search Engine Optimization For Every Business

Search engine optimization is something that every business with a web site needs to know about and needs to address often. The good news is, it is relatively easy and it does not have to be costly...and the ROI can be priceless!

Effective web sites provide the right information to the right site visitors at the right time. Web sites that are effective in search engines utilize that right information to help lead those right visitors to their sites at the right time - when someone is searching for them! So how can every business take advantage of search engine optimization? With 3, equally important, simplified practices:

  1. Keywords. Consider the exact words & phrases that will bring people to a site. And not just bring people to a site but bring the right people to a site. Use those words in text on the web pages, in titles and in descriptions.

  2. Content. If the site text utilizes keywords, matches page descriptions and confirms the message of the business, it will naturally do well in search engines. Content developed to serve the site visitor will also serve the search engines - no magic tricks or smoke & mirrors - just good, quality content that is informative and uses terms that best describe the products or services.

  3. Links. Inbound links are important to search engines. All the top search engines use what is called "link analysis" and it helps the search engines determine many things about any given web site. Along with popularity (how many other sites link to it), link analysis determines the validity & relevance of page content & keywords. If inbound links are meaningful and make sense with the content on the page, search engines will consider the links as a valuable measurement variable of the site.

Please note that these 3 items work in coordination with each other and are not ways to unduly influence search engines in favor of any given web site. The true purpose of search engine optimization is to make sure the information presented in a web site is being appropriately indexed by the search engines by using technology the search engine programs can analyze. If the information is accurate, straight-forward and what customers need, there will be great results from the web site...the right visitors at the right time!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Keywords, keywords & more about keywords

Without question, if you are involved with anything on the web, you have heard the term "keywords" mentioned more than you care to admit. Although this may be a relatively new word in web-popular lingo, the concepts behind the term are as old as marketing itself.

The popular term "keywords" refers to a list of words or phrases that are important to the description of any given product or service. For purposes of search engine optimization and web site development, these words or phrases are critical to the success and performance of the web site. Simply put, the keywords are those words or phrases that your customers would use to describe you, your products or your services.

Those that work in search engine marketing and optimization have much to say about keywords and many of them act as if this is a new idea. But the reality is, successful companies have always tried to consider the thoughts and actions of the customer. When companies have a handle on what terms and concepts resonate with their customers, their marketing efforts - digital or in print - will be effective and have a high ROI.

So here a few quick tips to develop an effective list of words or phrases that are used to describe your company, your products or your services:
  1. Think like the customer.
    Ask yourself, "What would I look under in the yellow pages, in a search engine, in the classifieds, etc. if I wanted the products or services I provide?". Be honest and avoid any industry lingo unless it is a brand name or very specific description. And ask your employees & close associates to consider the same question.
  2. Think like your newest employee.
    Sometimes it is hard to have a fresh perspective about your products & services when you are right in the heat of the battle. So, why not ask your most recent addition to the team to come up with a list of words. If you are a small business, you can always ask friends, family & close associates to do the same.
  3. Think like the competition.
    It never hurts at this stage of the game to see what the competition is doing. Compare the list you have put together so far with what you see in your competition's advertising, on their website, in their printed materials, etc.

After considering the 3 points above, you can have a great start to an effective list of words or phrases that can help you reach your customers more effectively. The reality of the term "keywords" brings marketing full circle...taking the focus off what you are trying to tell the customer and putting the focus back on giving the customer what they are looking for.