Before, during or after you launch your company, an effective website to go with it is vital to success
WEBSITES ARE NEEDED for virtually all types of businesses in today's increasingly wired world. The only exceptions might be professionals or tradesmen offering standard services with nothing to distinguish them from the competition.
'Exceptions would be the local plumber who offers a standard set of services,' said Chris Gurney, owner and manager of Integrinet Design & Marketing. 'His market still goes to the yellow pages or checks their local paper or gets referred from friends and families. However, a plumber that offers a specific service that is outside the scope of a traditional plumber would suit a website.'
Whether you set up a website before or after your business is up and running is open to debate. But any business entering the increasing number of markets that are already well established in cyberspace should go online early.
When setting up a website, business owners should consider what their point of difference will be, and how they can better communicate with their customers.
'Maybe they can offer SMS messages about new product or service releases,' Mr Gurney said.
Those wanting to set up a website can either do it themselves by purchasing or downloading software, or they can hire outside professional help.
Doing it yourself reduces the initial labour and maintenance costs. But hiring outside help will be more professional, the technology will be more up to date, and the search engine will be easier to use.
As always, cost-saving measures can end up costing you more money in the long run. If you choose to set up a website yourself, you run the risk of looking unprofessional, and this can impact your company's image.
Mr Gurney said one of the most important things to keep in mind when creating a website was that content is king.
You can invest heavily in whistles and bells, but if your site does not provide the type of information that your customers are looking for, it will be a wasted effort.
'Once the visitor gets past fancy flash animations and eye-popping graphics, they want some worthwhile content. That is why they will come back again,' he said.
Other things to consider are good navigation (if they get lost they may never come back again), readability, fast-loading graphics, a minimal scrolling of pages and a clear display of available contact options.
'Use a brief contact form if possible,' Mr Gurney said. 'This enables the business owner to gain some limited demographics from their inquirers, such as the state and/or country.'
There should be at least 100 words of text on the homepage that clearly explain what the business does.
'This is as much to assist in search engine rankings as it is for visitors,' Mr Gurney said. 'Make sure the meta tags for each page are set up correctly.'
Some of the mistakes that first-time or small business owners make include expecting too much from their website, not keeping it fresh, not driving traffic to the website with offline advertising, having too much clutter, and not employing strategies to assist in achieving good rankings with search engines.
One of the most important considerations is choosing an appropriate web address.
'A web address should relate as closely as possible to the business name,' Mr Gurney said. 'This is usually mandatory with country specific addresses such as fredsdonuts.com.hk, whilst you could also have ilovedonuts.com. It is wise, however, to secure the same domain name in a '.com' format, i.e., fredsdonuts.com, so as to protect that name from [being used by] others.'
There are many advantages to having a website. As Jane Harris, managing director of Adelaide Cellar Door, pointed out, one of the most important things is that they allow businesses to provide far more information about their products or services than 'even the most enthusiastic salesman' ever could.
They also allow businesses to promote and sell their products around the clock, at less cost to the company, while saving the customers time and money.
'We operate seven days a week, 24 hours a day, but still, personally, have weekends off,' Ms Harris said. 'Our customers can also ask me questions via our website at any time of the day or night that suits them.
'With no shops in Australia or Hong Kong, and therefore few staff requirements, our overheads are low and we can be very competitively priced with premium wines.'
The company orders, displays and sells all of its products online.
'Some of our suppliers we have never met, but I feel as though I know them all personally and we communicate mostly via e-mail,' Ms Harris said.
'As a result of our website, new wineries are constantly finding
out about us and sending us
samples of their wines in the hope that they will be chosen by our panel to display and distribute through our site.'
The company's web designer is based in Adelaide, but it uses a basic web design from a Russian firm called X-Cart as it is cheaper and simpler to operate.
'We can also do a lot of the work ourselves, which saves time and money,' Ms Harris said.
'As a result, we have a website that is managed partly in Russia, partly in Australia and partly in Hong Kong.'