The Internet is not only one of the most powerful business tools ever invented, it can also be a very democratic medium.  In the virtual marketplace, even a small startup can compete with Fortune 500 companies if you apply the creativity and ingenuity needed to create a high-impact website. 

You can spend $50,000 to $5,000 but what’s important is to have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish, the technical tools available to stand out, and a designer/developer who is well equipped to help you achieve that vision.

A well-designed and executed company website has three basic functions, according to Josh Claflin, president of Denver-based Garrison Everest, a strategic brand development and design agency: “educate your audience, deliver the brand experience and capture leads.”

“Your company should be consistent with all your other channels, and be designed to deliver everything a brand should do in differentiating yourself from your competitors,” says Ken Barber, director of digital marketing for Lakewood-based marketing agency The Integer Group.  “It should convey whatever feeling you want people to walk away with.”  “You want your site to indicate where you are headed vs. where you currently are,” he adds.  That doesn’t mean your content shouldn’t be honest and real, but it should also be compelling.  Remember: on the Web your competition is jut one click away.”

One of the first tasks is to identify the potential audiences that would come to your site. “Most startup companies just think in terms of consumers.  But you also have to think about having a section for the business-to-business audience, one for the news media and possibly even potential investors.  some of your audiences may want product specs, some may want photos or video;  make sure you put something on the site for each of your potential audiences.”

Most experts, including the National Federation of Independent Business, recommend hiring a professional to design and create your website.  It may look really easy to go out and grab a template for $50 and use open-source platform software but you will need professional guidance, since most startups dont’ have the staff to make sure everything is covered.  Whether your site will be created by an individual or several specialists, you need both a designer and developer, Claflin says.  “Any designer who’s just out of art school can design a website. But you need a designer who really understands how to communicate and use web design and composition to ‘push’ your main value propositions.” You’ll also need a developer who can do the programming you need, Claflin adds. 

“The most important thing is to build your site correctly so the major search engines – Google, MSN and Yahoo – will pick it up.”  When interviewing candidates, of course, you’ll want to see samples of their previous work and talk to clients.  Along with asking about project rates, you should also inquire about the availability and cost of add-on tools and features, and services needed to update and maintain your website.  If you want to do search engine marketing or e-mail campaigns, how much will that increase the cost, as your business needs to grow more complex?  What about web  hosting?  Hosting is not a major expense item, typically in the range of $50 to $100 per month.  Hosting costs depend on the level of reliability, backup and customer service offered.  Some designers offer web hosting as part of their value-added services. 

It is also important to provide interactive features on the website to build customer loyalty.  “You can link the site to a blog that will allow people to post comments and have a discussion with the company.  With a ‘chat’ feature, you can speak to customers virtually.  Some sites have a button you can click to receive a callback from the company.  You also want to make it easy for users to share information with friends or co-workers.

What about video, the newest web sensation?  It’s becoming more important, Claflin says.  “What Google is moving toward indexing media in the form of video – is transforming business as we know it.  Fortunately, even as a startup you can create high-quality video ; just rent a high-definition video camera and download tools to help with lighting and other technical aspects.  Or you can  hire a freelance videographer, pretty cost-effectively.”

One of the best sources of website ideas and a good way to get a feel for the state of the art is the Web marketing Association’s website where you can view several hundred award-winning sites (www.webaward.org).  It is very important to keep up on the latest trends since the relatively new art and science of website creation is constantly and rapidly evolving.

-Article courtesy of Dan Emerson and New Business Denver

Websites Direct uses the latest version of Dreamweaver and its’ employees are certified in HTML, Flash, XHTML, Access, and business writing so your website will have the most up-to-date technology.  We also provide the search marketing FREE of charge with our websites since we feel a website is worthless unless you can be found on the internet.  Our hosting and website prices are below the average since we have low overhead as a family owned business and we provide the same, if not better, customer service and products that the larger companies do.  Contact us for a FREE website report and consultation. moreinfo@websitesdirect.net

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Posted by: Websites Direct | May 31, 2010

Drive Sales Through Increased Website Visibility

The top ten steps to improve your website’s popularity: 

  1. Content is King. The adage, “content is king”, has been true since the inception of commercial websites about two decades ago. Create well-written content that is relevant to your potential audience. Great content increases your website’s book marked pages (or favorites) and referred pages, and gains the confidence of your potential buyer. In addition, search engines like to send their own customers to pages that answer their searchers’ needs, and you’re valuable content holds greater standing in search engine visibility and rankings.
  2. Create video tutorials. Video popularity has skyrocketed with the success of YouTube, and their own success lies in its huge number of videos. YouTube’s video archives grew through the company’s development of novice-friendly tools for would-be videographers to upload their latest videos. YouTube then provided “embed” code for cut-and-paste ease of delivering embedded video right into your own website pages. Take advantage of YouTube’s user-friendly offerings by starting an account and getting your video content published.
  3. Transcribe your new video, and display the content right alongside the video. Again, written content is the stuff of good search effectiveness, and transcriptions of good video content provides a perfect resource. Additionally, your sight impaired visitors will greatly appreciate your attention to their needs.
  4. Start a Twitter account. Twitter can be a noisy place with lots of tweets floating across the Internet ether, but to visitors or customers following your tweets, you have an audience interested in your updates, new products, or musings that help them do better business. Remember, Twitter isn’t a one-way street. Make sure you “follow your followers”. Reading what’s important to them will give you a greater connection the next time you talk.
  5. Start a Facebook fan page. For some businesses such as night clubs, musicians, or artists, Facebook is vitally important to increasing your visibility. Create a “fan page”, so fans and admirers learn about upcoming events, announcements, or event ticket sales. Your fervent following may even inspire “friends of fans” to jump on the bandwagon providing an opportunity to grow your base. Do make sure you make frequent updates with new and relevant posts.
  6. Blog. Blogs are personal musings and help give your customers of sense of the people behind the business. Even larger companies should invite participation by in-house staff. It’s nice when customers get to know the personal side of the support person with whom they work, and they can provide opportunities for more meaningful relationships.
  7. Publicize your blog. If nobody knows the blog exists, what value does it offer? If you consistently let others know a new blog entry exists, you’ll begin to see readership rise. As an aside, make sure you’ve got an RSS feed available, so your visitors can “subscribe” to your blog’s feed and receive updates through their new smart phone or other feed reader.
  8. Create an email signature . A “signature” is appended to the bottom of each email and contains your web or blog address, Facebook page, and/or Twitter account. Of course, don’t forget to include contact information if you want to welcome phone calls from new and potential clients.
  9. Take heed of search engine optimization (SEO) basics. You’ll want to make sure you use title tags for all your website pages, good headings and subheadings, and other basic SEO tools. This is an easy but vital step in good search effectiveness. For our clients, all websites are created in editable format to make this effort easy. Use your blog’s tools for the same purpose.
  10. Analyze your stats, SEO effectiveness, rinse, repeat. There are a number of website analytics programs such as Google’s SEO tools that will give you a breakdown of your visitors, how they found you, how long they stayed, and their geographic location. Use these web development tools to help tailor your search effectiveness. It’s also important to know if your great content is being “indexed”, or found, by search engines. To test, simply cut and paste a sentence or two of your unique content from a sample website page and plug it into different search engines. If your site is displayed in the search results, you know the page is indexed. Make sure you try this on a few interior pages of your site to see if search engines crawled from page to page. If not, you’ll want to make sure you offer clickable site maps from the home page. For a more comprehensive test, try plugging in a few key phrases–sample terms that summarize the content of the page you’re testing. If your site pops up again, you’ve done a superb job! If you don’t, keep on plugging at the steps above.

If you are interested in learning more please go to our website or contact us at moreinfo@websitesdirect.net . We love to help our clients succeed!

Posted by: Websites Direct | May 31, 2010

How Can Facebook Help My Business?

Three Ways that Facebook can help your business:

1.  Facebook is a great way to ineract with your consumers.  The easiest way to interact with consumers on Facebook is to launch a Fan page.  Aside from setting up a  place for users to talk about your products, the page also lets you communicate important and relevant information to your consumers.

2.  Facebook is a valuable source of data.  Facebook offers page administrators “page insights” that provide you with analytics of the page including the number of visits, how long they stay on your page and how many fans you have or had. 

3.  Facebook can help you target advertising since you can make ads for each keyword or phrase so you can have different ads going to different people depending on their age and interests.

Facebook fan pages are about creating conversation with your consumers and finding a way to integrate yourself into their lives.  This page will engage people to post comments and discussions that may or may not be positive but this is how business is done and you can then in turn respond with your version of the situation or how the complaint/negative comment was remedied.  Of course if someone is just posting junk you can remove it but if you remove all negative comments this will cause people to leave your fan page since it will look to ‘staged’.  Complaints can be turned positive by communicating to consumers  how great your customer care is and what you did to resolve the issue.  It might seem difficult or time-consuming at first but if you respond well to people this will get more and more people to start using your fan page and they will become even more dedicated to your product or service.  You can even create a fan page about someone elses business or product!

Facebook has overtaken Yahoo as the second most visited site on the web as of January, 2010 so if you are not using this tool to market yourself or your business you are missing out on a lot of available business!

content from Website Magazine submitted by: Websites Direct, LLC

Posted by: Websites Direct | May 21, 2010

Top 10 Ways to Drive More Visitors to Your Website

  1. Content is King. The adage, “content is king”, has been true since the inception of commercial websites about two decades ago. Create well-written content that is relevant to your potential audience. Great content increases your website’s book marked pages (or favorites) and referred pages, and gains the confidence of your potential buyer. In addition, search engines like to send their own customers to pages that answer their searchers’ needs, and you’re valuable content holds greater standing in search engine visibility and rankings.
  2. Create video tutorials. Video popularity has skyrocketed with the success of YouTube, and their own success lies in its huge number of videos. YouTube’s video archives grew through the company’s development of novice-friendly tools for would-be videographers to upload their latest videos. YouTube then provided “embed” code for cut-and-paste ease of delivering embedded video right into your own website pages. Take advantage of YouTube’s user-friendly offerings by starting an account and getting your video content published.
  3. Transcribe your new video, and display the content right alongside the video. Again, written content is the stuff of good search effectiveness, and transcriptions of good video content provides a perfect resource. Additionally, your sight impaired visitors will greatly appreciate your attention to their needs.
  4. Start a Twitter account. Twitter can be a noisy place with lots of tweets floating across the Internet ether, but to visitors or customers following your tweets, you have an audience interested in your updates, new products, or musings that help them do better business. Remember, Twitter isn’t a one-way street. Make sure you “follow your followers”. Reading what’s important to them will give you a greater connection the next time you talk.
  5. Start a Facebook fan page. For some businesses such as night clubs, musicians, or artists, Facebook is vitally important to increasing your visibility. Create a “fan page”, so fans and admirers learn about upcoming events, announcements, or event ticket sales. Your fervent following may even inspire “friends of fans” to jump on the bandwagon providing an opportunity to grow your base. Do make sure you make frequent updates with new and relevant posts.
  6. Blog. Blogs are personal musings and help give your customers of sense of the people behind the business. Even larger companies should invite participation by in-house staff. It’s nice when customers get to know the personal side of the support person with whom they work, and they can provide opportunities for more meaningful relationships.
  7. Publicize your blog. If nobody knows the blog exists, what value does it offer? If you consistently let others know a new blog entry exists, you’ll begin to see readership rise. As an aside, make sure you’ve got an RSS feed available, so your visitors can “subscribe” to your blog’s feed and receive updates through their new smart phone or other feed reader.
  8. Create an email signature . A “signature” is appended to the bottom of each email and contains your web or blog address, Facebook page, and/or Twitter account. Of course, don’t forget to include contact information if you want to welcome phone calls from new and potential clients.
  9. Take heed of search engine optimization (SEO) basics. You’ll want to make sure you use title tags for all your website pages, good headings and subheadings, and other basic SEO tools. This is an easy but vital step in good search effectiveness. For our clients, all websites are created in editable format to make this effort easy. Use your blog’s tools for the same purpose.
  10. Analyze your stats, SEO effectiveness, rinse, repeat. There are a number of website analytics programs such as Google’s SEO tools that will give you a breakdown of your visitors, how they found you, how long they stayed, and their geographic location. Use these web development tools to help tailor your search effectiveness. It’s also important to know if your great content is being “indexed”, or found, by search engines. To test, simply cut and paste a sentence or two of your unique content from a sample website page and plug it into different search engines. If your site is displayed in the search results, you know the page is indexed. Make sure you try this on a few interior pages of your site to see if search engines crawled from page to page. If not, you’ll want to make sure you offer clickable site maps from the home page. For a more comprehensive test, try plugging in a few key phrases–sample terms that summarize the content of the page you’re testing. If your site pops up again, you’ve done a superb job! If you don’t, keep on plugging at the steps above.

If you are interested in learning more you can to go our website or contact us at moreinfo@websitesdirect.net  We love to help our clients succeed!

Posted by: Websites Direct | May 9, 2010

What to ask when hiring a Website Designer

Do you have a website? Is it current? How do people find your website? Did your website designer create meta tags for your website and submit to the search engines?

These are very important questions that can directly affect whether your business is successful. This will be the first of many blogs that address website issues I see and hear from new clients.

So far the number one reason I get new clients is because their last website designer is nowhere to be found! Basically the client paid a lot of money to a website designer for a website they now have no ownership of or access to! This is not appropriate and not good business practice. Please ask any website designer if you get ownership of your website and can get a copy of your website files on CD. This will allow you to give the files to another designer if the company goes out of business.

The other question to ask is how long the website company has been in business. There are a lot of website companies out there and just about anyone can create a website. How do you know which one to go with? Longevity in business is very important since you can then feel confident you will have someone to take care of your website and it shows the company is a serious website business that probably has a lot more experience than a start-up or website business of a couple years. Typically a company that has been in business a long time also has good references and is established in the community so can also provide good referrals to other quality businesses.

In conclusion, remember to get a couple estimates and ask how long the company has been in business and if you will own the website files. The next blog post will be on meta tags and the importance of incorporating these into your website when it is being designed.

Posted by: Websites Direct | May 9, 2010

What is Social Networking?

So what IS Social Networking?

Think of high school and the different groups of people there- the jocks, geeks, social butterflies, etc. These cliques are social groups and you may have been a member of none of these groups or one or several.

Our world is full of these same networks – high school or college alumni, fraternities and sororities, work place, or town or state affiliations. You may not have a lot in common with the people in your network and some you may never meet in person, but developing these connections will help your business grow.

Social media is not just online and includes collaborations with other offline marketing and public relations campaigns. Often, offline social media is a better commitment after considering your budget, market and target audience, and utilizing actual human interactions like community events, in-person business networking groups or the Chamber of Commerce meetings can be a good strategy.

Online social media is a collection of modern social networking opportunities and can be used in any occupation – restaurants, retail stores or service-oriented businesses. Online opportunities include:
-Facebook
-Twitter
-Linkedin
-MySpace
-TalentBar
-YouTube
-Blogs

Through listening and interacting with your customer base, social media is extremely useful for building your reputation and increasing trust. For more information please go to www.websitesdirect.net.
-Article courtesy of Natalie Carpenter, Red Humpy Design

Posted by: Websites Direct | May 9, 2010

How Can Social Media Help My Business?

I have a friend who now lives in Ohio and maintains a hobby of shopping yard sales for antiques to resell. She has over 15 years of experience doing this sort of thing and has developed an expertise in the field of knowing what to buy, and knowing what will sell for a profit. But only her small group of friends knows what she does.

We were catching up recently by email and I told her how I am becoming more knowledgeable as a Social Media Consultant and helping small business owners, especially those with sole-proprietership and no employees, enter the world of social media to promote their services. I referred her to my blog, which led to her question, “Do you just put in these blog posts and then people comment back to you?  I don’t follow how this makes money. ”

Here is my reply, which helped her understand how this social media thing, specifically blogging, really works:

“Thanks for asking about my blog.  Let’s say you are an antique dealer and want to enter the social media world. You start a blog and make posts about what you discovered over the weekend at a yard sale. You talk about how you turned around and sold it on Ebay for a nice profit. You tell a story about what to avoid, and what doesn’t sell. You talk about how you made a mistake, got ripped off, made a thousand dollars, restored something, restored your house, used an antique item in an innovative way, etc.

You continually make posts on whatever you are doing related to your passion of antiquing. Then, you create a Facebook page for your antique business. You post announcements about an antique auction coming to the area, and what to watch for. You create a Twitter page and post Tweets like “just purchased an antique wxyz  for only $20!” The blog, Facebook and Twitter are free, but you spend several hours each week making posts and keeping it updated.

After a few months, you may have people who found you by searching antiquing and Ohio. You will gain a few followers and they may even comment on your posts. You are diligent in replying to anyone who comments on your posts, and you also spend time browsing other posts by people with similar interests.

Give yourself at least 8 months of building an online presence and soon you will have a reputation as an Ohio antiquing expert. Because you made blog posts using the keywords and tags specific to your field, people are finding you and reading what you have to say.

So how does it make money? Someone sees your blog and mentions it to their club or organization who may pay $200 to $1000 for a speaking engagement about antiquing in Ohio. People will want to hear of your adventures and experience, and your credentials will be you online presence. If you gain enough followers and people are visiting your blog because you offer relevant and helpful information, an advertiser may decide that your site is where they want to put their money. Research shows that advertisers are looking for sites to put their money and want their ads to be in places with content relevant to their industry where people are already visiting. If you are found easily, the advertisers will find you.

The key is to create an online presence, and you can do this by blogging on a specific topic that will attract people.

When Jane Doe (Joe Blow’s sister!) has a houseful of antiques to deal with after her parents died and she needs help with liquidating them, she’ll go online and do a search on antiques in Ohio and if your name comes up and she likes what she reads in your blog, you might get a call for your services.

The most amazing thing about the evolution of social marketing is that it’s not just the high-budget businesses that can be discovered. The little guys can do it if you put in enough time keeping up your social presence and blogging information that others can use. ”

By doing nothing, only a small group of people will know that she is an antiquing expert. By creating a social media presence, she is sharing her knowledge with an endless pool of potential clients that can find her if they look.

-Article by: Natalie Carpenter, Red Humpy Design

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