Since most companies already have a Web presence, more and more are taking the time now to re-evaluate -- and improve -- their sites. Whether you are interested in setting up a new Web site or redesigning your existing one, here are some key elements to consider that will have an impact on the success of your site.
1. Provide a consistent message and tone. The copy and design should be consistent with your company's overall marketing campaign and reflect its corporate identity. Your Web site is an extension of your company and should support and reinforce your brand.
2. Provide a clear mission statement. Visitors should immediately be able to determine what products and services your company offers. Provide a simple, clear statement describing the business. Avoid complicated words when simple ones will do.
3. Ensure a smooth and seamless Web experience. Make sure you have conducted numerous usability studies and incorporated quality control measures at every level. For example, have you tested the site on multiple browsers and various platforms? Is the navigation quick and easy? Remember that consumers have about eight seconds worth of patience while waiting for your pages to load. If you keep them waiting too long, they may leave and never return.
4. Engage your visitors. Strive to create a positive user experience so that visitors will want to return. Always keep your site fresh with updated content and news. Also, position your site as a resource for your customers. Make sure you give them the information they are looking for and make it easy to retrieve it.
5. Know your target audience. Deliver targeted content that is valuable and useful to the reader. Incorporate personalization and customization techniques. Address customers on a first-name basis and tailor your messages to the unique needs of each customer. Start by gathering customer preferences through permission marketing, online surveys and data mining to build customer profiles, and use them to deliver customized content.
6. Enable your site for e-business. There are many levels of e-business, and, based on your customer base and its needs, you will need to assess where your company's e-business should be headed. Integrating your business processes via the Net is a complicated process, but one that will yield immediate results and greater organizational efficiencies.
Start by incorporating some entry-level e-business tactics such as stand-alone e-commerce solutions that are not directly tied to a company's business systems to see how your customers respond. After you have evaluated the results, you can implement a framework for future e-business applications that begin to integrate your business systems.
7. Empower your customers. Customers are beginning to look for solutions that increase the value of their time. Provide self-service information that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Grant access to account information, order status and service history, for example, so customers can review their information and merchandise on their own terms, without the aid of sales personnel.
8. Remember the one-click rule. Never let your visitors be more than one touch of the mouse away from a buying decision. Anything more is just another obstacle in the sales process. Make it as easy as possible for customers to do business with you.
9. Provide a user-friendly administrative site. Make sure company employees can easily update the site to increase efficiency. Develop a program that allows Web site administrators to add, modify or delete material at any time, from any computer with a browser and an Internet connection. Additions and changes are then immediately visible on the Web site with no HTML or programming expertise necessary.
10. Always quantify your results. Measure all leads, sales and inquiries and calculate your sell-through rate. Monitor your Web site traffic to track performance and make sure you're meeting your goals and objectives. This is a good way to estimate the return on your investment and to gauge how well your site is working for you.
And last but not least, if you haven't marketed your site, these recommendations will be of little or no value to you. Keep in mind that a great Web site is useless if no one can find it. Abu Noaman is president of Elliance, a strategic eBusiness technology and Internet solutions firm based on Pittsburgh's North Shore. Reach him at (412) 321-2992 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Philip Pelusi, a well-known local hair salon chain, saw the need to establish a presence on the Internet in early 1998.
Philip Pelusi has 10 salons throughout the Pittsburgh area, including an Advanced Skills Training Center with some locations expanding to nearly double and triple their original size. The company viewed the Internet as a new channel with untapped potential for expanding its markets, cultivating new and existing relationships and selling its hair care products online.
As in many companies, the realization that the Internet could be a fundamental part of its business was there it just needed a little help getting there.
Thats when we at Elliance got involved. One of the first things we asked salon chain owner Philip Pelusi was, What do you want your site to accomplish? Until this was clearly answered and the expected results determined, the process wouldnt move toward the development and implementation stages.
After some discussion, we determined that the main goal of the Web site would be to create a national market for its hair care products rather than to simply promote the salon chain itself. We decided to leverage the existing name recognition and local brand awareness with Internet marketing techniques designed to expand the companys market share.
During the initial site development, Philip Pelusi wasnt quite ready to invest in a completely automated e-commerce site, but he did want to test the notion of selling the companys products online. So we proposed a two-phase development process that would let Philip Pelusi test-market the foundation for a future e-commerce site.
A Hair Care Analysis module allowed users to select their hair type and identifiable problems. After a visitor selected the criteria, the system would recommend an appropriate hair care line. Users then could place orders online and submit credit card numbers securely via the Internet, although no real-time transactions occurred online. Philip Pelusi would then receive the order and manually process the transactions at the salons.
As Pelusi began to see increased site traffic, sales and the emergence of national and international markets the company gained enough confidence in the site to streamline and fully automate the business process via the Internet.
Heres what we created for the salon chain:
1. An Automated E-mail Broadcast Module that captures users e-mail addresses through orders, inquiries, feedback, etc., and stores them in a customized database to build repeat business and relationship marketing efforts. This intelligent system automatically notifies interested parties of upcoming sales, new products and events.
2. An Online Product Catalog that allows users to search hair care product information and view pricing and products.
3. A Fully Automated E-commerce Engine to permit secure, online credit card transactions with a shopping cart module. This self-serving system expands the companys retail outlets to the Web with negligible overhead.
A customized, distributed administration grants access for key personnel to add, modify or delete products, information and database contacts from their desktops. This allows the customer to cost-effectively manage its Web solutions itself and empowers multiple site managers from various departments within an organization.
To jump-start the site traffic, we suggested promoting the URL on existing sales and marketing collateral such as brochures, ads, billboards, product packaging, etc. Web site traffic was increased by deploying a comprehensive search engine ranking program that positively influenced the sites position on Yahoo, Infoseek and other key search engines. Within a year, traffic increased from 453 to 4,056 visitors a month.
Although its still too early to provide either quantitative and qualitative results, executives at the company seem pleased with the results so far.
Quantities [of orders] have gone up, says Michele Pelusi, marketing director. We have seen more multiple sales for the same product within an order with the addition of the shopping cart module. We also have obtained new clients from the neighboring states of Ohio and West Virginia, as well as international orders and inquiries from as far away as Jordan and Egypt.
Moreover, Michele Pelusi says, the company has reached the break-even point on its total investment after only 90 days. When it comes to investment in such an Internet site, that, of course, speaks for itself.
Abu Noaman is president of Elliance, a full-service e-commerce, database integration and Web development firm based on Pittsburghs North Shore.
Thousands of people are gaining access to the Internet each week, and businesses are constantly opening new Web sites to market their products and services.
According to the Online Computer Library Center, the number of Web sites has increased dramatically, from 1.6 million in 1997 to more than 4.8 million in 1999.
Although this steady Internet growth represents tremendous opportunity for businesses, it also heightens the need for effective Internet marketing. A great Web site is useless if no one can find it.
With a countless number of Web sites, its important to consider an Internet marketing program that will generate traffic and set your company apart from the competition. Here are six strategies to get you started:
1. Submit your Web site for listings in key search engines, such as Yahoo, InfoSeek, Lycos, AltaVista, Excite and HotBot. Since upwards of 80 percent of your Web site traffic likely will come through search engines, its important to be listed accordingly.
Prepare your site for the most advantageous search engine indexing possible, referred to as keyword optimization. Without optimization, your site probably wont show up in the search engines under a particular keyword search.
2. Negotiate strategic linking. Strategic links are placed on Web sites related to yours, and connect users to your site. You directly benefit from the traffic their sites receive. The goal is to reach a very targeted audience; however, the audience should be big enough to provide the opportunity for visitors to come to you.
The best strategic links involve trade associations, industry publications, partners and other related industries. However, almost any business relationship offers the possibility of a mutually beneficial cross-linking opportunity.
3. Advertise your products or services via opt-in mailing lists or newsletters. Opt-in lists are composed of individuals who have requested information on specific products and services. Recipients of the newsletters opt in to receive content of their choice, delivered via e-mail. Your mailing list can be very narrowly targeted to reach as many potential customers as possible.
4. Get involved with newsgroups. Find groups most likely to be frequented by prospective customers and join the discussions. Newsgroups, though often overlooked marketing tools, can prove effective, because they help you develop relationships with prospects and customers.
From building customer loyalty to providing customer assistance, participating in group discussions or moderating your own can help you build an excellent reputation with, and significant business from, discussion group members.
Add a signature file at the end of your posts usually a four- to eight-line mini-advertisement containing your product or service, phone number and Web address. You also can refer to key pages on your site, as long as they are relevant to the topic discussed.
5. Purchase banner advertising. This is usually an ad with a clickable link to your site on a carefully selected, high-volume Web site. The big issues with banners are how to build them, how to identify the important elements in design, and, finally, where to put them.
With banner ads, you have a short period of time usually less than eight seconds to make an impact. The message should be eye-catching and include animation that appeals to your target market.
The key to banner advertising is finding a place where your banner will draw a qualified audience. There are all kinds of banner-swapping companies; many have no standards whatsoever. Once you sign up with a banner exchange, you at the mercy of the company. Investigate thoroughly.
If you dont check out what kind of company youre working with and see its standards in writing, you could end up promoting all kinds of sites even pornographic ones.
6. Include your e-mail and Web site addresses on all of your companys sales collateral, business cards, stationery and conventional advertising campaigns. This is one of the most overlooked aspects of online marketing.
Think of your Web site as a new store location or branch office and promote it accordingly to drive people to the site. The most successful Web sites have strong conventional advertising campaigns to supplement their online marketing and generate increased traffic and brand identity.
Allocate the time and resources to adapt these online marketing strategies to your specific target. If done correctly and diligently, you can generate real traffic, increase sales and build your business and your brand.
Abu Noaman is president of Elliance, a strategic eBusiness technology and Internet solutions firm based on Pittsburghs North Shore. Reach him at (412) 321-2992 or at email@example.com.
Even in the world of the Internet, word of mouth still rules the day.
One of the best ways to market your Web site is to rely on positive word of mouth and referrals to drive people to your site. Since this has the potential to reach thousands or even millions of people, this time-honored strategy has been given a new name, viral marketing. It has become one of the hottest online marketing trends this year.
This marketing technique is not only simple and inexpensive, it also can be implemented quickly. All you have to do is motivate your users and make it easy for them to spread the word about your products and services. You are putting your friends and customers to work for you. Just take a look at HotMail and ICQ, which have both enjoyed consistent, double-digit growth per month with little or no marketing dollars.
You could do the same if you plan your strategy carefully. A viral marketing plan doesnt need to include all of these strategies, but the more you can incorporate, the better your results.
1. Make sure your site is providing a resource or great service. Start by building a core user base, then expand. The more successful your site is at achieving repeat traffic, the better your chances of getting users to spread the word.
2. Make it easy for users to recommend your site. Consider a friendly notification link to encourage users to refer interested parties to your site. The link should be tied to an e-mail program and provide for referrals a direct link back to your site.
Another option is to install a Recommend-It button through a Recommend-It referral system. These are fee-paid services that provide attractive recommend-it buttons and forms for your site, as well as incentives and tracking information.
If these dont appeal to you, simply tell users through the copy on your site to Please remember to tell your friends about this site. Examples of this can be seen at www.culinary.com and www.careerperfect.com.
3. Prompt users to e-mail pages of your site or a link to friends. This resembles the Recommend-It strategy, but allows users to send specific content and useful data. This allows users to e-mail specific products and information to interested parties, who can view the information via e-mail and have the option of going directly to the site. A good example can be found at www.officebydesign.com, which allows visitors to send photographs of furniture items as gift ideas via e-mail.
4. Make sure your sites URL is prominently displayed on all outgoing e-mails, correspondence and collateral. This encourages word-of-mouth recommendations virtually unsolicited.
5. Develop periodic newsletters or other communication vehicles and encourage your audience to forward them. If you encourage readers with a friendly reminder to forward the information, they are more likely to do so immediately.
6. Provide incentives to refer visitors to your site. Enter users in a cash or prize drawing for every individual they refer or forward to your site. A prime example can be found at www.lifeminders.com.
Keep in mind that viral marketing is simply one component of an online marketing plan and shouldnt represent your entire marketing campaign. Such marketing is most effective when used to support and reinforce your existing online campaign.
Abu Noaman is president of Elliance, a strategic eBusiness technology and Internet solutions firm based on Pittsburghs North Shore. Reach him at (412) 321-2992 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Customer relationship management, or CRM, has become one of the hottest topics and fastest growing segments of the Internet industry.
CRM is about gathering data on your customers' buying habits and building unique customer profiles to provide increased value and exceptional customer experience. Building strong customer relations is a requirement for any successful business, but it's even more critical in the digital marketplace.
The Internet has drastically transformed the way business is conducted, and online customers expect shortened sales cycles, less costly transactions and immediate purchasing information. To maintain positive customer experiences, your business must meet and exceed those growing expectations.
The most successful CRM strategies provide integrated solutions that automate and enhance your customers' overall experience. While sales, marketing and customer service may be different departments offline, that's not the case online, where a symbiotic relationship must exist to facilitate a seamless, positive customer experience.
Leveraging the Internet to develop, maintain and manage successful relationships with customers, partners and suppliers is the new mantra for business. The components listed below provide a framework for developing a solid CRM strategy that will lead to long-term relationships, repeat sales, increased efficiency and greater profitability.
Know and understand your customers
Once you know your customer, you can begin to understand and anticipate their needs to deliver the information they desire in a timely and effective manner. Create a relationship management database and establish an account for each customer and prospect.
Use it to build and collect data on demographics, affinities, competitive usage, product preferences and account history and profitability.
Target your most profitable customers
Identify your most profitable customers and create specific marketing campaigns to target them. This is the 20/80 Rule, in which 20 percent of your customers represent 80 percent of your total profits. Concentrate your efforts on your most profitable customers and create customized marketing information and product offers that target specific customer segments.
Most marketing activities are quickly evolving from traditional, conventional methods to include digital marketing, site banners and e-mail campaigns.
Optimize your sales process
Most companies utilize a specific sales and contact management system for sales forecasting, contact and quote management, proposal generation and win/loss analysis. This information is vital not only to the sales force but to the entire organization.
Turning a prospect into a customer, then maintaining a loyal relationship is a core business concern and should be handled from a marketing and customer service stance. Share and combine customer and prospect data with marketing and customer service to provide a seamless customer experience.
If you can analyze your customers' sales history and understand their life cycles, you can work in conjunction with marketing and customer service to create specific product and service offerings that address your customers' changing needs.
Exceptional customer service
Servicing customers in the best ways is key to gaining and retaining customer loyalty. Self-service is a fast-growing requirement as more customers are using the Internet. Organizations must provide customers with online account information, etc. to improve organizational efficiency, increase productivity and enhance customers' overall experience by empowering them to get the information they need.
The ultimate goal of CRM is to deepen customer relationships by adding convenience, efficiency and cost savings while promoting your customized services. Companies that strive to provide effective CRM will benefit from more profitable and loyal customers.
Abu Noaman is president of Elliance, a strategic e-business technology and Internet solutions firm based on Pittsburgh's North Shore. Reach him at (412) 321-2992 or by e-mail at email@example.com.