Make the Web Work for You

How do I get more traffic to my Web site? How do I turn that traffic into sales? These are two of the most frequently asked questions in a discussion of marketing.

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Building a Web site does not guarantee sales, and it does not guarantee visitors. Regrettably, this is a fact that most learn the hard way. As with toolmaking, success on the Web requires effort, skill, craftsmanship and problem solving; however, there is one big difference. Building a good Web site also demands that you put on your sales and marketing hat.

Step Back

Before you call your freelance Web developer or open FrontPage®, step back and give some thought to who your visitors are and what your site should provide to them. It is critical that your targeted visitors can find the Web site and that they find value in the visit.

Prior to modifying or gutting the Web site, start by answering a few questions. Who will use the site? What do they expect, want and need? What do you expect, want and need? Without well-thought out answers to these questions, your odds of Web success are slim.

When defining who will use the site, don’t limit your scope to new prospects. Keep in mind that current customers also may refer to the site, and remember that search engines also are important visitors. It also is important to break each visitor type down to smaller categories. For example, prospects can be those that found you on the Web. They also can be those that learned of you from a referral, and they want to validate your company before picking up the phone to give you a call.

Once the visitors are identified, contemplate what information they want before taking action and how they want that information structured. Ideally, you will create a natural flow that leads the prospect from general curiosity to genuine interest to taking action.

Get Visible

Generating Web traffic is critical to the site’s success. Visitors will come from four sources: (1) your advertising and promotion, (2) referrals, (3) search engines and (4) paid search listings. Let’s assume that you have the first two covered and move onto search engines.

The first step in building search engine traffic is to define the keywords that will drive potential customers or interested parties to your site. This is simple, but not easy. Simple because you know, at least in general, the words and phrases used to describe your business. Difficult because these may not be the terms that qualified prospects use to find you when searching.

Google reports 224,000 pages for the search phrase "injection molds." Even if you were lucky enough to have a top 10 spot in the search results, what is the likelihood that the searcher needs what you sell? Are they looking for big or small molds, prototype or production molds, mold design or toolmaking? Generic terms do little good for the searcher and the owner of the Web site.

It is best to get specific. For example, "injection molds Detroit" (1,010 pages in Google) would be good for a tool shop that serves a local market. "Prototype aluminum injection molds" (1 page in Google) would be good for a company that specializes in prototype aluminum molds. Not only is it easier to break into the top 10 for search results, it is much more likely that the visitor needs what you offer. As you get specific, think like the visitors you previously identified to develop a list of keywords that they will use.

At the top of the keyword list should be your company name. If someone is seeking a phone number or wants to see what you offer, they must be able to search for and find you by your name.

Good keywords are especially important if you venture into pay-per-click (PPC) listings from Google AdWords or Overture. If you pick generic terms or misleading phrases, all you will do is spend money for worthless traffic. Each click from an unqualified prospect will cost you. And generic terms can be very expensive. "Injection molds" goes for $5.25 for top billing. Meanwhile, you can get a number one spot for "injection molds Detroit" or "prototype aluminum injection molds" for $.10.

If you decide to go with PPC, make sure that you are measuring performance. A lot of traffic does you no good if you don’t sell anything. Constantly monitor and modify your paid search listing and the landing pages to make sure that you are making money with your advertising dollars.

For most shops, the option of choice will be the free listings in a Google, Yahoo or MSN search. Take comfort in knowing that you can break into the top 10 if you select reasonable keywords and build a site that caters to the search engines.

There are many books on the subject of search engine optimization (also called SEO). Some of the key elements to good search engine performance are as follows:

  • Include keywords in the page title
  • Include keywords in headlines and sub heads
  • Include keywords in the links in the body copy
  • Get links to your site from other popular sites
  • Write pages that are keyword rich and have 50 to 300 words per page
  • Write pages that are specific to a few keywords

You may have heard that meta tags—meta description and meta keywords—are critical. In the past they were, but today’s search engines place little relevance on them. So, don’t dwell on them, but make sure that they are in each page.
There also are some don’ts when it comes to search engines. Avoid framed pages and flash animation on the home page. Search engines do not do well at indexing sites that use framed or flashed pages.

Finally, here is a word of caution. If anyone guarantees top ranking in the search engines, run! The only chance of living up to such a guarantee is to use questionable practices that may get your site removed from the search engines’ indexes.

Build for Performance

Now that you have a plan to generate traffic and know what your visitors expect, it is time to rebuild your Web site. This will require a blend of HTML coding, copywriting, graphic design and sales/marketing know-how.
At the highest level, the key to success will be creating a site that addresses the visitors’ questions and concerns while positioning your unique abilities to satisfy their needs. This information must be structured so that the visitor can easily find what they are looking for. It also must be organized to lead them to your desired action.

Your site also must look professional. The layout, graphic design and font selection need to present a polished image. You are selling to business professionals that expect professionalism from their suppliers. Perhaps the easiest way to maintain professionalism is to keep it simple. The more bells and whistles that you add (e.g., spinning and flashing images), the more likely it is that the site lacks professionalism.

Follow Through

Rebuilding your Web site is not the end. It is just the beginning. If you follow the advice on building a better Web site, you will increase traffic and sales. But this may be a short-lived success if you don’t measure performance and continually update the site.

Most Web hosts supply traffic logs. These logs report the number of visitors, what pages they viewed, and what pages they entered and exited on, and much more. You can drill down to reveal what works and what doesn’t. Use this information to improve the Web site and its performance. Your site will always be a work in progress, and with a little investigation, you will find ideas that boost traffic and overall performance.

Using the insight from the traffic logs, change and add pages as needed. Also, make sure that you review the content of the site so nothing is out of date. Keep the Web site fresh with new information and updates.

Throughout the building, measurement and updating of your Web site, never forget whom you are serving and what they expect. Make it as easy as possible for them to discover that you are the solution to their problem and make it even easier for them to take the next step toward placing an order.

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