Prepare for Success in 2007

Now that the holiday shopping blitz is nothing but a fading memory, you can sit back, breathe a sigh of relief and reacquaint yourself with life outside your business. Family, friends and fun…it’s all coming back to you, right?

Once you’ve recharged your batteries, you can take stock of your business &#151 what worked, what didn’t &#151 and take steps toward building a more profitable company in the coming new year. The question is, where to begin?

Affinity Internet, a Web site-hosting company that provides a range of Web-related services, is a seasoned veteran in this market. The majority of its small business customers generate the bulk of their income through traditional brick-and-mortar stores or through face-to-face interactions, but maintain Web sites as an important extension of their business, says John Enright, Affinity’s vice president of marketing.

“Our customers use their Web sites as an adjunct means of creating income or as a way to advertise their business. This time of year is an excellent time to reevaluate your business strategy as it relates to the Web,” says Enright. To facilitate the process, Affinity offers five tips to get you moving in the right direction.

1. Cast a Critical Eye
Start with a thorough examination of your Web site’s look and feel. Note the pages that look stale or contain out-of-date information. Enright notes that many small businesses first established Web sites because everyone told them they needed to have one, and they haven’t done much with them since the first went live.

“Chances are,” he says, “both the content and the design are out of date, and the site isn’t generating as much money as it could. They were most likely created before broadband and lack multimedia support &#151 something that can make a Web site interactive and more interesting to potential customers.”

2. Focus On Content
Content is king &#151 you’ve probably heard the cliché a million times over, but the old chestnut holds true. Fresh content that’s relevant to your business can bring big benefits to your bottom line. “It adds value to your customers, makes your business appear more knowledgeable and gives people a reason to keep coming back to your site,” says Enright.

Content and search engine optimization (SEO ) go hand-in-hand, says Enright. It makes your site more attractive to the search engines and can improve your rankings, meaning your company may pop up in the top positions when someone performs a search on a major engine such as Google or Yahoo.

3. Ensure Customer Interaction
Regardless of the type of business you own, find a way for customers to interact with your site. It doesn’t matter if you have a product-based or a service-based business an interactive site is key.

“People who own a service-based business assume that since they don’t sell products on line there’s no way to interact with their customers online. That’s simply not true,” he says. In this case, the objective is not to sell a product but to gain a lead &#151 the visitor’s contact information.

Enright suggests a good way to do this is to offer the potential customer an incentive. For example, a landscape architect might provide a white paper outlining the top five points to consider when choosing a landscape architect. “You want to offer information that customers will find valuable so they’ll register. All it takes is a small form. They provide their e-mail address and you send the white paper,” he says.

Small business owner tend to forget this simple, important fact: “The visitors to your site came there intentionally &#151 they’re looking for information about your business, and that generally makes them more than willing to provide their e-mail address,” says Enright.

For companies that sell products online, Enright says the goal should be to make it as easy as possible for shoppers to make a purchase. “Make sure you’re providing a good shopping cart,” he says. “Optimizing the customer experience is the most cost-effective way to increase sales.”

4. Monitor Your Web Site
Your Web site is a treasure trove of information that, when analyzed, can tell you a lot about what’s happening on your site &#151 and that, says Enright, can help you make better decision in terms of how you spend your advertising dollars.

“Analyzing your site traffic tells you where people are coming from &#151 Google, Yahoo or some other site &#151 what percentage did not buy anything and what percent of visitors made it all the way to the shopping cart but failed to complete their transactions.”

The information lets you see exactly what you’re leaving on the table, Enright says. “Look at the data, and don’t rely on hunches. You’ll get better intelligence&#151 the good and the bad &#151 that will help you focus and prioritize necessary changes.”

If you’re conducting a marketing campaign, you may find that Yahoo generates more sales for a given keyword than does Google, in which case, you might decide to spend more of your advertising dollars on Yahoo. “You’ll know how much you’re spending versus how much you’re generating in sales,” says Enright.

5. Invest in Success
Once you’ve analyzed the site data, Enright suggests that you invest in what’s working and correct what isn’t. For example, he says if Google’s producing sales for your business, that’s a good place to spend your dollars. ”

Correcting what isn’t working doesn’t have to be difficult, and it can make a big difference. “If you find that shoppers are getting all the way to checkout but then bailing out of the sale, invest your money in improving the customer experience,” Enright says. “Hire a designer to look at the site. Sometimes a simple, one-time expense can result in ongoing benefits all year long.”

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of

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