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02. Market forces - Use your website as a marketing tool.

Are you using your website to market your business? If not, you should. Your site is an important part of your marketing arsenal and can be a very effective way to promote your business. You can take advantage of the marketing opportunity your site provides by gathering as much information as possible about how your customers behave when they visit your website and using that information to make improvements.

Start by asking yourself some key questions:

  • Why are people coming to my site?
  • Where are they coming from?
  • What pages are they visiting?
  • How long do they stay?
  • How many are taking action (e.g., signing up or purchasing)?
  • And finally, how do I drive the right traffic to my site?

To find the answers, you need to start capturing data - and the good news is, all that information is easy to track. Once you've answered these questions, you should retool your site to offer exactly what your customers are looking for.

WEBSITE STASTISTICS (REPORTS)

Your web hosting company should provide you with website traffic reports. (If they don't, you'll have to check your server logs using a reporting tool that helps you analyze the data.) The reports should tell you the sites or search engines that send visitors your way, how much time visitors spend on your site and which pages attract the most (and longest) views, how visitors navigate their way through your site, and which pages are most popular. It's important to actually use the information you collect.

This may mean changing your pages, content, links or navigation, or revamping your search engine marketing strategies to make sure that you're driving the right customers to your site. You're not playing a pure numbers game here. Web marketing is not just about aggregating numbers; it's about getting the right people to your site. You might think there's nothing wrong with your site.

However, you may not be the best judge. Ask friends or colleagues to check out your site. You might be too close to it to see what visitors see. Are visitors turned off by your photographs and illustrations, incomprehensible headlines, too much clutter or even "ugly" colors? Presentation is key here - remember that there are more than 230 million website on the web (November 2009), so you need to capture viewers' attention fast.

Once you get people to your site, engage them. Just talking about how wonderful you and your company are will turn potential customers off. The net is all about information. Many visitors come to your site to get key facts about your business, such as location, product or service offerings, prices or rates, and contact information, and they don't want to have to sift through tons of marketing-babble to find it. Make sure your site design helps visitors navigate to what they're looking for quickly and easily.

A REASON TO STAY

You need to give people a reason to stay, to learn and to buy. Attracting customers requires magnets - things that excite people and make them come back for more. Use promotions online just as you would offline. Let's say you run a bed-and-breakfast. Obviously, you want people to come to your site and book a stay. But maybe they're comparison shopping or just doing some research.

How do you get them to buy now or at least bookmark your site for future use? The simple answer: Market to them. Offer a "three nights for the price of two" promotion, or run a contest for a free two-night midweek stay. Promotions keep customers and prospects engaged and eager to return to your site for another chance at the prize.

BUILD A PROSPECT DATABASE

It's also important to provide the proper mechanisms to collect e-mail addresses from your visitors in order to build a prospect database. There are various ways to do this. For instance, you could provide a visible "Contact Us" link. Throughout these articles, you'll find details about the other ways to collect e-mail addresses from your customers the right way. Once visitors sign up - and remember, you need to get their permission to market to them - start a relationship. Tell them about events in the area. Promote special holiday stays. Celebrate the opening of ski season. Send birthday or anniversary e-cards containing discounts and special offers.

Reward returning customers with a glossy national B&B directory. Show them that you value their patronage. You can adopt these tactics no matter what type of business you operate. Your website is more than just a Yellow Pages-type display ad. It's a dynamic marketing platform that should engage and inform customers. Look beyond the basics of who, what, when and how much, and use your imagination to create promotions and build content and hooks that bring visitors back for more.



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