eMarketing Award Distinction :)

Chartered Institute of marketingThis summer I studied the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM)’s eMarketing Award. Last night I got my results in the post…

I’m proud to say that I achieved grade A distinctions in both my online examination and 4,000 word eMarketing report.

The course covers all aspects of electronic marketing.  I studied with Marketing Tom Media, a CIM approved centre based near Cardiff, and would certainly recommend both course and training provider to anyone interested in growing their business online.

Perhaps what is most satisfying is that the report which I wrote is not simply being filed away as an academic exercise but is actually being used as a strategy for a major organisation’s electronic marketing activities.

In addition to this I have taken on board many of the tactics and resources covered by the course and have successfully grown a number of websites. Since attending the course I have rebuilt this website and started using lots of online resources, my favourite being FeedBurner. My site now gets 3 to 4 times the traffic it had previously, ranks much higher in Google search listings and has brought in more enquiries, which is the real measure of its success.

The “Cheap Web Design” Market

cheap web designA look at what awaits “cheap web design” seekers.

I’ve been running my own web development business since 2004 and in that time I have noticed a few changes to this market. There’s far more competition now than there was a few years ago. If you do a Google search for “cheap web design“, “budget web design” or “affordable web design” then there are a lot of web pages out there with those page titles.

What I find curious is that the web design product or service being offered in this market and the pricing structures don’t seem to have moved on since 2004.

The vast majority of companies competing in this market still seem to be offering very basic static brochure sites. The process here is 1) the client sends text and images to the web designer, 2) the designer puts them in HTML pages, 3) repeat stages 1 and 2. This means that if the client needs to make a change to the website’s information – new products, price changes, news updates, etc. – he or she needs to go through the designer who probably charges a modest (if you’re lucky) fee for the work.

Much stranger than the product on offer though is the pricing structure. The majority of these seem to be sold as packages (design, hosting, email) based on the number of pages in the site. This makes no sense to me at all. It’s usual for all pages within a website to have a similar look and feel. They generally all use a common template which includes the header, footer and navigation menus along with any styles (fonts, colours, etc.) used throughout the site. Therefore, most of the web designer‘s work goes into creating this template. Once this is designed it makes little difference whether a website has 1 page or 100. It’s very curious then that so many of these companies offering “cheap web design” will offer, for example, a 4 page site for £150 but a 6 page site will set you back £350. That’s a £200 jump in price for what I’d estimate to be half an hour’s work. Cheap web design doesn’t have to mean a small website and a large website doesn’t have to cost the earth.

Chris Smith Web Development offers something different. I offer not static web pages but an installation of a content management system. This means that rather than having to come back to me to make changes to your pages you can simply log in and do it yourself, whenever and wherever you want to. No delays and no additional fees. The pricing is based on the template design so there’s no limit on how many pages you can have. All you have to do is log in, select the Write Page option, write your content, click on Publish and it’s there for the world to see, as many times as you like. You can go back and edit or delete pages, reorder them, change their titles whenever you want to.

Since 2004 I have moved on and have developed a better product. Static sites, charged for by the page, are no match for the flexibility and freedom offered by a content management system.

The Information Hungry Search Box

lionWe’re all used to the idea of search boxes on websites. The visitor types in a word or series of words which are then used to filter database results or web pages and return a list of matching results. It’s a quick and easy way of finding something without having to drill down through endless options.

From the web developer‘s point of view it’s a great tool which increases a website’s usability. From the web marketer‘s point of view it can do more.

By capturing the text typed into the search box the website owner can see what his/her visitors are searching for. This may be for existing products or it could be that they are searching for something not offered. Capturing and analysing this information can help have several benefits.

It can show where perhaps the wrong keywords are being used. It’s unwise to advertise the services of a “Heating Engineer” when everybody is searching for a “plumber”. Finding the right keywords allows you to change your text and tags and bring you closer to your potential customers.

It can help to shape a website’s navigation. If a particular area is of far greater interest than others it can be made more prominent on the site. You may even notice seasonal trends.

Where the search text is for products or services not offered by the website it brings the opportunity of developing the product/service range or working with partners to deliver these to the website visitor.

To effectively capture this kind of data you need to not only log the text eneterd into the search box but also the time, date and the user’s IP address. This additional information allows you to spot any duplicate results – there’s a big difference between one person searching for something ten times and ten people searching for something once. The date and time data allows you to see any seasonal trends or possible responses to any other marketing campaigns.

Even on a small website, which wouldn’t normally merit a search box, using this tool can provide you quickly and easily with details of what your website visitors want.

Website Design – the Finishing Touches

The finishing touchesWhat separates a good website design from a great website design? On the surface they may both look the same but with great design come all the finishing touches, all those little details which make your site look that little bit more professional and, more importantly, perform better.

If you’ve got a website already has your designer provided all of these?

Favicon
Favicon is short for “Favorites” icon and is the little graphic which is displayed when your site is bookmarked. It appears in your list of “Favorites” or Bookmarks, on your desktop if someone places a shortcut to a website there and in the address bar and on the tab in your web browser.

Email
When a web developer is setting up your website it’s reasonable to expect that they set up your email using the same domain at the same time. This can be done in several ways – forward all mail to an existing account, set up a new mailbox or set up a catch all account whereby anything sent to your domain will be delivered to you.

Email Filters
As well as email you should also expect anti-virus and anti-spam filters to be applied.

Email Autoresponders
Your email can be configured to automatically respond to incoming mail. This is useful to reassure your website visitors that the email they sent or form they submitted has been received. It can also provide useful information like alternative contact details, when they can expect a response or point them towards an area of your website, e.g. FAQ, or make them aware of your latest promotion.

Sitemap
If your site is larger than 7 pages it’s good practice to include a sitemap, an easy place for your visitors to go and see the contents of your website at a glance. This is also very good for search engine ranking as it reinforces your site structure and offers more internal links to be crawled.

XML Sitemap
A Google XML Sitemap is a small XML data file which lists the pages in your site. It’s in a specific format which Google recognises and it gives you greater recognition by the major search engines. The same format is now also used by Yahoo! and Live. By not creating this and submitting it to Google you risk a great delay in your site being indexed and people finding it.

Robots.txt
This is a small text file which tells search engine robots which parts of your site they can access and index. It is also used to signpost the XML sitemap file. Without this your sitemap might not be found.

Search Engine and Directory Submission
Once your website is finished the next step is getting it found. Some web designers feel that this is where their job ends and someone’s else’s begins. Others will take this on and actively try to make the website work for their client. A good practice when launching a new site is to submit it to the search engines so that they crawl and index it. It’s also advisable to submit your site to as many directory sites as possible. There are thousands out there which accept listings free of charge and this helps to build up incoming links to your site which may or may not help with search engine ranking but will certainly give human web users the opportunity to follow links in to your site.

Marketing Advice
Rather than just leaving you to it a great web designer will pass on useful information and advice on how to grow your site and make it as successful as possible. It is amazing how many do the design job and walk away when it is in their interest to create sites which work for their clients.

When buying web development services it’s important to check exactly what you’re getting for your money. When you have a website designed by Chris Smith all of these finishing touches come as standard.

Basic Website Integration

Offline communicationIntegration is, in simple terms, making your website fit in with the rest of your business. At a basic level it’s about making everything consistent and not leaving any holes.

Consistent Information

Make sure that whatever information you have on your website is consistent with any offline information. Anything like details of a product or service should really be a word for word match as any anomalies could create confusion. Customers who are not sure what they’re getting won’t buy. Don’t kid yourself that they’ll phone and check; they’ll find the next website.

Customer Contact

Unlike a physical business your website is accessible 24 hours a day. Therefore, if you provide a phone number on your site you should make it clear when people can use it. If it just rings and rings they may not call back. You should either put clear calling hours against it, offer an answering service or offer a callback facility. This last option has advantages for both you and your potential customer – the customer doesn’t pay for the call and you don’t miss out on capturing the customer’s interest. Who knows if they’d still feel like calling you at 9.00am the next morning?

As well as phone contact you need to deal with form submisisons or emails in an appropriate way. Autoresponders are good. When the visitor sends you an email or submits a form they get an email just confirming that it has been received and will be dealth with. Set a realistic timescale for this, or better, set a timescale and then respond much quicker – exceed the customer’s expectations.

Integrated Web Design

A good web developer will not design your website as a stand alone unit but will look at how it integrates with your business needs.