Improve Your Google+ Profile for Business

Most people are not taking advantage of Google+ for their business, as many people have been slow to using Google+. It is, however, continuing to gain traction in the social networking world. If you are interested in improving your business’s Google+ page, Small Business Trends has a nice article to help you improve your profile.

Why Your Business Should Advertise Online

Anyone who has made use of advertising knows the impact that it can have on your business. However, many companies are reluctant to advertise online because it is a relatively new advertising format. Why should you consider online advertising for your business? Well, here are seven off the top of my head:

  1. Specific targeting –  Be as specific as you like with your advertising. Want to be huge in Sheboygan? You can tailor a campaign to focus on just one city.
  2. Global reach – Ever check into a country-wide television advertisement? Me either, because I’m sure it won’t fit in my budget. Advertise online and you can attract customers from just about anywhere.
  3. Affordable prices – Spend only what you want because you set the limits. As little as a dollar a day can let you see if it is going to be right for your business. Even with a moderately conservative budget of five dollars a day can make a huge impact.
  4. Enhanced analysis – Online advertisers offer a huge amount of information about how your ads are performing, allowing you to get a better grip on what is working, and what isn’t.
  5. Quick changes – With quick analysis comes the ability for quick changes. You can change your advertisements at any time with just a click. Want to stop running an ad? Just click stop.
  6. More effective use of funds – Ever figure out half way through a ‘traditional’ advertising campaign that it isn’t being effective? Too bad you had to pay for it up front. With online advertising, you pay after your ads display, so a dog of a campaign won’t cost you a fortune.
  7. Only pay for those you attract – With an advertisement on television, radio, or in the newspaper, you basically end up paying to the potential people who see your advertisement. With online advertising, you can choose to pay only for the people who show enough interest to visit your website. Plus, with good keyword selection, you will only advertise to people who are looking for what you are selling.

It’s a Contact Form, Not a Credit Application

So, tell me your name. Great, and what’s your email address? Awesome. Now, what’s your address, complete with city, state, and zip code? OK, daytime phone? Nighttime phone? Late-afternoon phone? Birthday? Oh, almost forgot, cell phone? Right, and your birthday again was? In what city were you born? Do you use an electric blanket? Electric socks? What’s your stance on beans in chili?

Overly intrusive forms are annoying, not to mention unnerving, to your visitors. After all, they just want to ask you a simple question and, to do so, have to give you their maternal, fraternal, maternal great-great-grandmother’s maiden name. Do you really need to know that?

In a world of Privacy Policies, the more information you require from your visitors, the more information you have to keep private. And, really, do you need five different phone numbers for one person? They just want to know if you have that hand-made scarf in blue.

Keep your contact forms simple, and don’t ask for too much information. Four to five pieces of information is generally enough to get the conversation started, and getting the conversation started is what you want.

Ask for too much information, and chances are the conversation it will never get going.

How Much Is this Going to Cost?

What do you want for it? What’s the damage? How much for this? What’s this cost?

How often do you buy something without knowing the cost ahead of time? Rarely, and when you don’t know the exact cost, you usually have an idea. If you don’t know the cost, chances are you’re not buying. The visitors to your website are no different.

I’ve found that if a website doesn’t at least give the visitor an idea of how much your goods or services cost, the visitor will either greatly overestimate or greatly underestimate the cost. If they overestimate, chances are you’ll never even hear from them. If they underestimate, chances are they will be shocked by your price when you make your pitch, and you’ll be wasting both you and your visitor’s time.

Even if they have done some research on the going rate, chances are they found that information out from one of your competitors. I don’t think I need to explain how horrifying that is.

I can already hear the service providers out there saying something about how the cost of your service is really dependent on what your client wants and each client wants something different.

I’m a web designer. Trust me, I know.

Still, you should be able to give potential customers an idea of what it’s going to cost them to get their project completed, and if costs can vary greatly, say so on your website. It’s better than saying nothing at all and leaving your visitors guessing.

Or looking up the costs on your competitor’s website.

Keep Your Website Focused

Staying focused on your purpose is important. Your website has a purpose, too, and it’s just as important to keep your website focused. Different websites can have drastically different purposes. Individual websites can even have multiple purposes, provided that they do not conflict with one another.

Website fluff comes in all shapes and sizes, and what’s fluff on one website could belong on another. Before you have anything put on your website, first define your website’s purpose. Then ask yourself if what you want to put on you website helps carry out that purpose. If it does, great. If it doesn’t, either change the purpose of your website, or leave the content off.

Look, I know that cat picture you have is cute and all, but does it serve your website’s purpose? If you run a veterinary clinic, that cat might just be the thing missing from your website. If you run an electronics store, you probably should leave the cute little kitty on your hard drive.

Unless, of course, one of your employees helps place homeless cats in her spare time and this is the 1,000th cat she’s help find a loving home and you want to congratulate her on her continued efforts in the humane treatment of felines. Hey, it doesn’t always have to be about direct marketing.

Just make sure what you put out there falls inside the borders of what you want your website to do. If it doesn’t serve the purpose of your website, it doesn’t belong on your website.

Don’t Hide From Your Visitors

Websites are, inherently, a very public thing. Anyone in the world (barring local filtering) can see your website. It’s enough to make many queasy thinking about people on the other side of the world having access to their phone number or, brace yourself, their email address.

Exposing your email address on a website does open you up to spam emails, but these days, many businesses have catchall email addresses anyway. If you have a catchall email address, the “I don’t want to get spam email” argument is already invalid.

Personally, I’m a bit of an on-line privacy nut. And with that said, hiding your business address and phone number has never made sense to me, since anyone can find the information on any number of government and yellow-pages-type sites.

If it’s on your business card, put it on your website, and make it easy to find. If your address, email, and phone number are not on your business card, it might be time to redesign those as well.

Hiding your business’s information usually only hides it from the people you want to have it: your website’s legitimate visitors. Not to mention that it leaves the impression that you have something besides your address to hide.

Easy-Peasy, Lemon Squeezy

Ever been to that website that is visually just stunning? I mean, it just looks so cool. And then you try to use it to get some information, only to find out you have no idea what to click on and, when you do find something, have no idea where it’s going to take you.

There’s a term for it in web design: Mystery Meat Navigation. Much like the mystery meat in the school cafeteria of your childhood, it looks good enough, but it’s difficult to digest and there’s no telling just where you’ll end up afterward. As a side note, that’s exactly why it’s called mystery meat navigation.

These websites usually hit a home run in the first few seconds of interaction. After all, they really do look awesome. The problem with mystery meat is that visitor satisfaction quickly goes into the garbage.

Don’t ever, ever, ever sacrifice an effective user interface for stunning design. (Like, ever.) Your website provides its visitors with information. It might go without saying, but if your visitors can’t figure out how to use your website, they can’t use your website. Hundreds of thousands of websites use navigation bars to allow their visitors to easily find what they are looking for. They do it because it works, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. As soon as it stops being useful to your visitors, it stops being useful.

It’s OK to Speed (On-line)

In the real world, they put up big reflective signs that tell you how fast you are allowed to go. In the digital world, no such signs exist. Like a top fuel dragster on a quarter-mile strip, the speed of the Internet is only limited by the equipment and techniques you use. Also just like the dragster, faster is better.

At best, a slow website frustrates your visitors and prevents them from trusting you. At worst, they leave before the page even loads. Website load times depend on a variety of factors, only some of which are under your control.

Don’t go super-budget when you decide who is going to host your website. I’m all for saving a buck, providing that you’re not sacrificing quality hosting to save a couple dollars a year. If just one potential customer doesn’t get frustrated with your slow website and ends up buying from you, then you’ll easily pay for the better hosting.

Make sure that the design of your website is current. Websites that use outdated technology only get slower with time, and will sometimes stop working completely if the technology becomes deprecated. Be wary of web designers that only offer a limited maintenance period, as web technology advances pretty quickly.

Another heavy hitter is the size of the images on your site. Doubling the image size in each direction actually quadruples the size on disk (and in transit), so that an image that might take a half a second to load now takes two seconds.  Double the size again, and it’ll take eight seconds.

Bottom line: keep it speedy. Don’t lose your website’s visitors before they even see your website.

They Like Me, and You Should Too

You’ve invested all this time and money in a new dynamite website. You think it’s great, and your current customers have all told you how much they love it, too. The problem is, it isn’t generating any new interest.

Translating current customers into future customers is the holy grail for any business. Throughout the entire history of business, word of mouth is the only advertising form that has never went up in cost. There are fewer better feelings than hearing how much a current customer likes your work. One of them is hearing it from a new customer.

But, be realistic: We don’t call each other anymore, we text. We don’t mail, we email. We don’t network in person, we network on-line. The development of the Internet allows us to communicate to almost anyone in the world. The problem is, we tend to interact the same way with the person in Italy as the person on the next street. We have fewer chances to interact directly, but we have unlimited chances to interact on the web, so we have to harness word of mouth advertising in a slightly different way.

Facebook ‘Likes’ and Twitter ‘followers’ have the direct advantage of allowing you to contact current customers. If you include those fans on your website, you get the indirect advantage of proving to potential customers that people, in fact, do like you and would recommend you. It’s social networking’s version of the word of mouth.

Website Left for Dead

I often tell my clients that one of the worst things you can do to an existing website is not keep it current. In many ways, an out of date website is worse than no website at all.

One of the first items on my checklist when I analyze someone’s site is to look for a ‘last updated’ tag, because it says a lot about the information there. Believe it or not, ‘Last updated January, 24th, 2004’ doesn’t build a website visitor’s confidence.

A website that is out of date suggests to visitors that the site has been abandoned. With the rise of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, the length of time between ‘fresh’ and ‘out of date’ is getting shorter and shorter. It can be challenging to keep your website fresh without becoming a professional writer, especially if you are part of a sector or business that simply doesn’t change all that much.

The solution can depend a bit on how much time you have. If you can invest a couple hours a week, including a blog on your website can be a great way to keep people interested, and it has the nice side effect of proving that you are an expert in what you do. However, this can be daunting if you’re not comfortable writing.

If you are a little tighter on time, consider including your Facebook Page’s feed (or Twitter feed) on your website. That way, you can make quick posts here and there throughout the day, or pass on industry news and notes. This can also be a good option if writing isn’t for you, as the post will be shorter and visitors are more likely to forgive spelling and grammatical errors on social networking sites.

You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) rewrite you website every week, but a little new content here and there will let your visitors know there is still someone on the other end of the Internet interested in hearing from them.