by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Founder of the EmpoweringSites.com Network
In my recent travels and business dealings I have been stunned by the number of small business owners -- realtors, lawyers, store owners, and others -- that smartly developed a Website for their business but are now stuck with a site that they don't like, can't easily update, or feel is not helping them in marketing their business and bringing in new customers or clients.
All these Website owners had good intentions. They either hired a local Web design company to develop their site or used one of the many professional-oriented sites that sell templates (for lawyers, realtors, doctors, etc.). But those good intentions turned to frustration and dismay when it came time to expand or change parts of their Websites.
Are you one of these people? Do you have a vision for your Website, but with no way of making it happen? Are you frustrated that your weak or bland Website just sits there?
If so, this article is written especially for you. This article is designed to reward you for your good intentions and smart business savvy by providing five strategies that should enable you to take back your site and develop and improve it into the marketing-driven site that you want it to become.
No, you don't need to take the time or effort to learn how to develop Web pages from scratch, though it might be helpful to learn some basic Web programming for troubleshooting purposes. Your main priority, of course, is running and managing your business.
You have a couple of options here. First, you could consider sending a member of your support staff to get trained on basic Web programming... that way you'll always have an expert in the office to make changes as quickly as you can develop them.
Another option is to contact your local college or university. Most schools have an information technology or e-business major, and many of these students are seeking internships and freelancing gigs. You could literally have an intern manage your Website by offering internships every semester and over the summer.
By hiring a student to assist you with your site, you are not only regaining control of your Website, but also providing valuable experience for the student to use to propel his or her career -- a win-win.
Finally, there are many very fine freelancers who you could hire on an as-needed basis or for longer terms.
If you feel a total redesign of your site is necessary, my suggestion is to keep your site simple -- avoid all the flash that annoys both visitors and search engines -- and focus on providing user-friendly navigation and search capability. Your redesign might also focus on a design that enables fairly easy updates and additions. Consider developing a site plan for your site.
For more basics of developing a small business Website, read my article, Tips for Starting a Small-Business Website: 5 Steps to an Online Presence.
2. Find a New Hosting Company. It is extremely easy to change your hosting company if you are stuck with the same company that originally designed your site -- or simply if you want more control over your site.
I personally like GoDaddy.com. I use them mainly as a domain registrar, but they also offer a wide variety of hosting options for small businesses.
Some good sources to find a new hosting company include: TopHost.com and FindMyHosting.com.
Once you find a good hosting company, changing your site to your new hosting company is as simple as changing the nameservers and uploading your Web pages to your new account -- which your new hosting company can probably help you with.
3. Focus on Offering Unique Content and Features. The best CEOs of major consumer companies talk about how they spend a few days a month in the shoes of their consumers. Take that same strategy and conduct searches using keywords and keyword phrases that your consumers use to find you (and your competitors). Visit competitor sites and make note of their good and bad features. Contemplate the features and tools that visitors (and you may have several categories of visitors) are seeking when arriving to your site.
You need to provide all the basic services and features that consumers are seeking, but don't stop there. Adding beneficial information and tools may take additional time and costs, but you must always think about how to differentiate your site from your competition. To both visitors and search engines, content is king -- and a key resource to improving the value and ranking of your site.
You probably already know that you have several types of visitors -- what marketers refer to as target markets -- and that these folks are seeking different kinds of information. At a minimum, you should provide an entry page to your site for each of these target markets.
What type of content can you offer your visitors? While it depends on your business, let me make some suggestions for a hypothetical real estate agent. On his site, for buyers -- besides things like his listings and MLS searching capabilities, he might also provide maps to the area, tips for buyers (first-time buyers, investors, vacation properties, vacant land, etc.), and links to support services, such as local governments, chambers of commerce, banks and mortgage companies, insurance companies/agents, contractors, home inspectors, school systems, etc. Because he is also seeking to represent sellers, he should also have things like how to evaluate the value of a home, tips for improving curb appeal, inexpensive ways to spruce up your house before putting it on the market, etc. He probably should also include a page about himself and his company so that visitors can learn not only about his expertise, but also a little something about him personally.
What you add to your site will depend on your research -- but you cannot go wrong adding content that benefits your target market(s).
One pet peeve of mine to avoid. If you are going to list contact information -- especially an email address -- devise a plan to respond to every inquiry as quickly as you can, typically within 24-48 hours, if possible. Websites that provide contact information but then never respond to emails -- or respond a week later -- never get my business.
Finally, remember that your work is not done once you've added this content. You'll want to keep the information updated and regularly be seeking new features and services you can add to stay at least one step ahead of your competition. (Another way to find new content to add is simply asking some of your current customers/clients about the types of tools or information they need -- or needed.)
4. Learn the Value of Basic SEO Strategies. Just as you do not need to become an expert at Web page development and publishing, you do not need to become an SEO (search engine optimization) guru, but learning some basics can help you better understand and communicate the changes you'll need to make to your site to improve its standing in search engine rankings.
The three easiest things you can do to improve the ranking of your Website -- and thus improve the chances that visitors will find your site -- is to develop strong and unique content, understand and use relevant keywords and keyword phrases, and develop a linking strategy.
Content was covered in the previous strategy, so let's move on to keywords. It's really more about keyword phrases than keywords. I once had a client who used a local design company to design his site. He had a lovely art gallery downtown and said he felt he was getting little or no business from his site. A quick check of his meta tags -- one place in which keywords exist (the other is in the actual content of your site) -- revealed that the only keyword listed was "gallery." Can you imagine how many Websites you might find in a Google search on the term? (At the time of this writing, it stood at 1.3 billion pages!)
Back to our hypothetical real estate agent. Rather than using something like "Realtor" as a keyword, it would be much more helpful to use keywords that focus on his location and area of specialty. Of course, he could certainly use "Realtor" as part of a keyword phrase, such as "Central Oregon vacant land Realtor." Besides regional keywords, he should also list all the major towns, cities, and counties he covers. He should also consider other real estate-related terms (such as real estate, land for sale, acreage, dirt, dirt for building, lots, etc.).
The third strategy is developing a linking strategy -- requesting and obtaining links from well-ranked sites will improve your site's ranking. In our real estate agent's case, he could ask for links from the local government sites, chamber sites, libraries, and more -- as well as reciprocal links from anyone you link to.
There is so much more that goes into good SEO strategies that don't fit in this article, but you can find more details my comprehensive article on search engine optimization: SEO Strategies for Enhancing and Optimizing Your Web Presence: A 10-Point Primer for Website Success.
5. Market Your Website. Once you've taken back your site and turned it into the site that you envisioned in your head, your final strategy is full-tilt marketing. Here again you do not need to spend a fortune, nor do you have to do it yourself.
Just as with your Website design, contact your local college or university and see if you can hire an intern who is majoring in marketing and/or e-business.
There are two types of marketing you should do -- traditional marketing (what I refer to as offline marketing) and online marketing.
In terms of traditional marketing, once you have your Website functioning the way you want it, put your site's address (URL) on EVERYTHING -- on your business cards, stationery and fax cover sheets, on all promotional items (such as pens, cups, mugs, etc.), in all your advertising -- any and all places where you display your company name, you should list your Website. Besides marketing efforts that cut into your profits, you can also consider doing things such as writing a column for your local newspaper or participating in a call-in show for a local talk radio. If you're not currently doing any traditional advertising or marketing, you should certainly look into cost-efficient ways to do so.
I've already covered part of online marketing -- under SEO strategies -- but there is so much more you can do online to promote your site. You should consider becoming an expert in forums or discussion groups related to your expertise, profession, or trade. You can read and comment on blogs related to your industry -- or even better, start your own blog. You could write articles that you not only publish on your site, but also on various "article" sites. If you belong to a professional organization or association, consider ways to do additional marketing beyond a link to your site.
One final word on domain names. If you are not happy with your domain name -- in addition to your Website -- now is the time to change it. You can always redirect your old domain to the new one so that visitors are seamlessly taken to your new site. The best domain names are ones with your keywords in the name. Don't make your domain name too complicated and always try to get the dotcom extension rather than one of the many others (such as org, info, net, etc.), though you could buy some of them too to protect the value of your domain name (and redirect those domains to your main domain).
Web Marketing Guru Dr. Randall S. Hansen, CEO of EmpoweringSites.com -- a growing network of highly ranked educational and inspirational Websites -- has been empowering people his entire adult life. He is also founder and publisher of EmpoweringRetreat.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. He holds a doctorate in marketing and has been involved in marketing his entire life. Learn more at his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.