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Website Design: How To Stand Out

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Website Design: How To Stand Out(GIFTBEAT)What you don't know about designing brochure and e-commerce websites can hurt you. Don't get left in e-tailing's cyberspace dust! This month, contributing editor Sharon Bopp talks marketing plans, site costs, user-friendly design tips and keyword development with C S Wurzberger, founder and president of Massachusetts-based Neuland Business Campus and an accomplished Internet marketing specialist, retail marketing expert, and seminar and workshop leader.

Q. Why should retailers have a marketing plan in place before developing their websites?

A. The Small Business Administration has reported that less than 20% of gift shops nationwide have [any type of] marketing plan in place. A carefully written Marketing Road Map is so important to your business for two reasons. Number one: The map helps you clearly establish what you want your marketing materials to do—and for whom. I can’t stress enough the importance of knowing your company’s key audience. The more you know what they need from you and how you can solve their needs, the more successful you’ll be at attracting this audience. The Marketing Road Map helps you clarify this information and serves as a constant reminder of your business sales goals. It keeps you on course.

Number two: The map also sets your itinerary, timeline and expectations. This Marketing Road Map serves as the project scope, strategies, timeline and budget, so you can include it in your overall business planning and measure its success.

In the past, there were classic marketing tactics like business cards, stationery, promotional ideas and information at the cash register. Now, owners need to be aware of new media marketing. New media marketing includes websites; banner, directory and pay-per-click ads; search engine marketing, including keywords; business blogs; podcasts; and Vlogs [or mini video ads]. I know that the gift industry is not ready for podcasts and Vlogs. The point I'm stressing is that I understand that store owners are reluctant to step into modern technology. But look at how fast you can be left behind at the time when you can least afford it!

The website is the most important piece of new media marketing. The days of "Do we need a website?" are honestly long gone. To show customers that your business is alive and well, you have to have some sort of website presence, either with an online brochure or an e-commerce website. An online brochure is a website that has store hours, contact information, product selection, and maps and directions to your shop.

Q. What might retailers expect to pay for a brochure site or an e-commerce site?

A. There are over seven million websites out there. An e-commerce site is like opening up another store. There's a cost associated with doing it properly. Prices will vary across the country. Realistically, there should be a whole team building the site. Yes, that increases the cost but a homemade site won't compete against the big-box stores—and you won't be able to effectively sell products. Creating a successful website design is for the pros. Would you let your nephew Johnny do your taxes because he has taken an accounting course at the local college? “No way!” you say. Then why trust your website investment to a novice?

On average, a basic professionally designed three- to five-page brochure website can cost $3,000 to $5,000. First, layout a complete spec list of what you need your website to do. If your budget is not there, break that package down to phase one, two and three. An average e- commerce site selling up to 150 products can cost $6,000 to $15,000. What you're getting is a project manager; a web designer who focuses on the right colors, layout and meeting usability guidelines; a programmer who specializes in writing coding; a content writer; an e-commerce specialist who understands the best flow for the shopping process so shoppers don't abandon the site; and a professional photographer. Look at [the return on your] investment. If you put 30 products online and target a specific market for an $8,000 investment, how long will it take to recoup the investment and create profit?

Q. Why do design elements play such a crucial role in an e-commerce website?

A. The bottom line is that design elements will make or break a site's success. If a site is not user friendly and visitors can't find what they're looking for, there's no point in having the site. Many store owners understand the concept of user friendly websites but don't create them. Take time to create a productive, effective website. Understand your ideal customer, and know what products will sell best and even what site colors will work best to draw in customers. One of my clients loves the color lavender and originally chose it for her site. But lavender was not suitable for her site's customer base. Before she wasted another marketing dollar, we helped her take a step back and create a full Marketing Road Map package. Now she knows how to attract her target customer. The Marketing Road Map is the rock-bottom foundation of everything.

Q. Can you please offer our readers some key design tips?

A. At the very basic level, when customers arrive at your home page, they want to know immediately: what do you offer, what’s in it for them, how they can buy it and how/when they will get it. Your website will become as important to your business as your storefront. Make sure your homepage loads quickly—it should be in front of viewers within 10 seconds. After that, you have 28 seconds to capture attention on your homepage.

The site has to clearly identify the name of the shop, the store's logo and tagline and include a key product picture. That's usually done in the image header, or the top bar across the website. Our eyes start reading on the left so this information should be in the upper left-hand corner of the page.

The site's primary navigation [or buttons] should run across the top of the page, or down the left hand side. I see site designers on a regular basis who try to be creative with navigation. You can't be, because humans are already being trained to navigate the Internet this way. Don't get creative or silly when naming buttons like "Home," "About Us" and "Contact Us." You don't want to create a hiccup for [site viewers]. You're looking for them to be able to come into the site, find what they want, make a purchase and exit.

Don't make viewers do too much scrolling. When you look at a monitor, the bottom of the monitor is called the "fold line." Each page on the site should not scroll more than one-and-a-half screens below the fold line. If it does, you'll lose more than 40% of your viewers. Contact information should be included on every single page of your website. Every page needs to be its own online brochure. Contact information is normally put in the footer of the web page.

Q. What information can share about the use of keywords?

A. Keywords are the foundation of a successful search engine marketing campaign. A keyword is no longer just a word; it is now a phrase of three to six words. Some 88% of Internet users rely on keywords and search engines like google.com to find what they're looking for. These keywords should be placed in the page title, in the header and as part of the body content. If you're going for real search-engine optimization, another important strategy is to get your keywords into your domain name [or web address].

On average, a search-engine optimization plan that is done professionally and properly costs from $10,000 to $15,000 per year. It takes hundreds of hours to conduct. Be aware of scammers who offer to get you in the top 10 or 30 search results and charge [a small fee like] $79.95 per month. Call their phone numbers to see if they're legitimate. To keep from getting ripped off, ask [these providers] about their process for doing keyword research, and if they will optimize the coding on your site and make recommendations about which keywords should be strategically placed within your site.

Q. What are the nine steps you've developed to help retailers create their own keywords?

1. Make a list of all [possible] keywords;

2. Interview your customers to find what keywords they're using to find a specific product or service;

3. Ask your hosting company for traffic reports to find what keywords people have used to find your site. Have your web development team install Google's free software called Google Analytics [google.com/analytics]. This will tell you about keywords used, how long viewers are on your site, which browser they're using and so much more.

4. Check out your competition. What keywords are they targeting?

5. Cover all keyword variations like plurals, uppercase and lowercase.

6. Use descriptive terms like low cost, affordable or free, and those that describe the product or service you're selling.

7. Use action words [e.g. "buy stuffed animals" and "purchase stuffed animals"].

8. Look at your local market. You may want to build "Portland Maine gifts" or "Portland Maine glassware" into your site.

9. There are a number of companies that will help you research your keywords. Google will give you a free keyword research tool at adwords.google.com [scroll down and select "Get keyword ideas" link]. For those seriously building keywords, use WordTracker.com. It's a paid subscription that costs about $300 per year.

C S can be reached at 617-633-3255 or info@NeulandBusinessCampus.com. She is also the co-author of "9 Easy Steps to Planning a Profitable Web Site" and "The Marketing Jungle Guide - Your 7 Step Road Map to Finding More Customers" which can be purchased at NeulandBusinessCampus.com.

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