How to avoid common Web mistakes

Common Web Mistake No. 1: Anybody can do this.

Yes, your new computer came with Web design software and you are no doubt tempted to be a build-ityourself Web designer. However, owning Web software doesn't mean good results any more than owning a camcorder means you should write, produce and edit your own television commercials.

You'll want to work with a professional to make sure your Web site reflects the image, tone and feel of your brick-and-mortar business. You need to ensure that online customers receive the same consistent, professional, quality experience as your instore shoppers.

Furthermore, e-commerce has its own set of legal, tax and security issues. If you plan to accept credit cards online, make sure you get expert advice on setting up business accounts and securing customer information.

Common Web Mistake No. 2: It's all about you.

Although you should put your business history, philosophy, products, services, location and hours of operation on your Web site, don't expect this information to attract many repeat visitors. To have a successful Web site, you must add value to the consumer experience. Think about why customers come to your store, what makes your business unique and special. Then identify how the Web can enhance the consumer experience. In short, what's in it for the customer?

Ask yourself: Why would a customer or potential customer come to my site? Can I take orders and check inventory online? Can customers get product recipes or instructions? Can they get basic information such as menus, hours, brands or directions?

Remember, the Web is not an online brochure; it's a functional experience. Plan for it.

Common Web Mistake No. 3: What infrastructure?

Before building online services, you need to carefully assess your infrastructure. Have you researched the online techniques other companies use and determined which ones best suit your business and products? Are you and your staff ready to respond to e-mails, answer questions, fill online orders, keep the site current and manage customer databases to generate e-mail coupons and newsletters?

It is better to plan for incremental growth of Web-based services than to promise more than your company is ready to deliver.

Common Web Mistake No.4: Just this once…

Many businesses view a Web site as a onetime expense and never give it another thought. However, Web plans need to be revised along with your business plans, and short- and long-term goals and timelines need to be established. In addition, a Web site needs to be reviewed regularly, us contents updated and new marketing ideas incorporated.

Your Web budget should be ongoing. At a minimum, the initial budget should include Web site development, hosting and service fees, and software and domain registration. The annual budget should include ongoing fees, service enhancements, content development, technology and maintenance. By budgeting for growth, your Web site can become an integral part of your marketing and sales mix.

Common Web Mistake No.5: Build it and they will come.

Of course, having a Web site does not guarantee success. It's important to cross-promote your site. The URL should be on your business cards, letterhead, invoices, receipts, coupons and advertising. In addition, collect customer e-mails to alert them to sales and specials. Good search engine placement is also essential. Make sure you discuss this early in the design process with your Web developer.

Word-of-mouth is still the best advertising. Treat the Web as an extension of your business with the same image, brand and quality, and word about your customers' positive online experiences will spread.

Planning is the key to Web marketing success. Start with a simple, flexible site and plan for growth. As success builds, incorporate new features and services. If Web business is lackluster, re-evaluate your site and start tweaking. The fabulous thing about the Web is its flexibility and immediacy. Use these benefits to your advantage, plan for success and start building your Web business.

Barbara S. Long, APR, is the president of Savvy Communications in Jefferson City, Mo. www.blongesavvy.com

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