Using the Internet to Your Advantage: Part I

By Frank D’Ascenzo

Companies generally fall into four categories in regard to their Internet technology friendliness. There are the:

  1. Traditionalists: These are businesses that are in denial about the fact that most businesses must, sooner or later, become an e-business. Traditionalists cite any number of reasons why their business does not need to change. They take a “We’ll wait to see what happens” attitude and are so focused on business as usual that it’s difficult for them to even consider making the move from hard to virtual assets.
  2. Maintainers: These businesses are covert resisters of change. They say yes, but mean no. They allocate a budget and some time to the investigation or implementation of change, but never get quite around to doing anything about it. Their unspoken motto is, “Don’t make waves.”
  3. Adapters: These are businesses that are willing to change. They are open to accepting advice, open to experimentation, and they are willing to take some risk.
  4. Innovators: These are leading-edge companies that are in the process of learning how to adapt, or actually implementing, Internet technology into their business. Their goal is to find ways to use this new technology to improve or transform the service value they provide to their customers.

If your company does not fit into the Innovator or Adapter classification, then you need to re-think your future.

Fortunately, you can begin transforming your traditional TAS business into an iTAS-business (that’s lower-case “i” for Internet) with a relatively small investment of time and money. You can begin the process by investigating, and then adapting into your business, one or more of the following Internet advantages:

  • You must establish a Net Presence for your company–you need a website.
  • You should take advantage of Internet unified messaging to enhance your present service offerings.
  • You can start offering live-answer services for websites using Internet telephony technology.
  • You should take the time to investigate, and perhaps use, some of the business assistance services available on the Internet.

The first three: A Net presence, unified messaging service, and live-answer service for websites, are important. Using available Internet business assistance services is optional, but could prove beneficial for your own business. There is a lot of free or low-cost help available for small businesses on the Internet, and you should take some time to see if any of it might be useful.

1. Establishing a Net Presence

A. Why You Need A Web Site: A website is your Internet communications connection. It’s one more way prospects can find you. It’s a convenient and inexpensive way to stay in touch with your present customers. In short, it’s the first and necessary step in the iTAS transformation process.

Establishing a Net presence means more than simply putting up a website. Establishing a Net presence entails several important elements that together elevate a website into a “Net presence.” Unless you want to take the time to learn how to build and manage a website yourself, you should enlist the advice and services of an organization that specializes in cost-effective website implementation to help you establish your Net presence. A complete Net presence package should include the following basic services:

  • Domain name selection and registration,
  • website design,
  • website hosting,
  • Search engine registration, and
  • website management.

While each one is important in and of itself, the combination taken together is what helps create your Net presence. Let’s take a closer look at each to better understand the part they play in the total picture.

B. Domain Name Selection: Your domain name, or universal resource locator (URL), is how your business is identified on the Web. It’s the Web address you’ll add to all your business materials. Your domain name is one of your business assets. It can be as important as your business name, or your logo. Recently, the rules regarding domain names has been changed. domain name size has been increased from 23 to 63 characters. It is more than likely, therefore, that your complete company name can be used as your domain name. Once you have your domain name, and after your website is on-line, make sure you actively promote your new Web address. Publish it every where. Add it to your business cards. Print it on your letterhead, invoices, and brochures. Include it in your yellow pages ad. In short, make sure it appears anywhere and everywhere (like at the bottom of this magazine’s page). It’s not enough to simply have it available on the Internet.

C. Web Site Design: website design can become very complex; however, the old “keep it simple” adage applies here in spades. Don’t be swayed by exploding graphics and multi-media effects. Beyond all else, a well designed website needs to:

  • Look professional.
  • Be filled with meaningful information about your company and services.
  • Be properly managed and kept current, or up-to-date.

Here are some basic elements of website design:

  • The actual design or look of the site,
  • The content on the site,
  • Keywords and other Meta Tag descriptors,
  • Inter-site and intra-site Links,
  • Auto-responder links.

Graphic design is the most subjective element, and because it is, the cost of website design can run into hundreds of dollars, or even thousands, without some control of graphics. A good website does not need to be burdened with expensive graphic design. A good website, especially for a smaller company, should present a professional uncluttered look coupled with good site content.

While you might think a graphic-intense website is important to capture and retain viewer interest, the fact is most people visit your site to learn something about your company and services, not to be entertained. There is nothing worse than waiting 60 or more seconds for a website to load. In fact, many viewers won’t wait. The complexity of any graphics on your site, therefore, must be weighed against the purpose of your site.

As they say, “content is king.” And that’s as true here as it is on any printed media. The text on your website that tells the visitor who you are, what you do and how you do it, is probably more important than the actual graphic design. Keep the design simple, but provide interesting content for the viewer. Tell them how they can save money using your service, or explain how using your service will improve their business. What you say on your website, and how you say it, is the more critical aspect of your overall website design.

Meta Tags are website HTML code elements that are not visible to viewers, but are to search engines. Meta Tags are used to identify special information or characteristics about the website and include things like keywords, character set identification, and background color.

Keywords are one of the more important Meta Tag elements. Keywords help search engines find and list your website. Choosing keywords that best define your business, your services, and perhaps your business location, and using these keywords in your site content, will help assure the proper and better listing of your site by search engines. Links are website elements that assist navigation throughout your website. Links help a visitor move rapidly to information within the site, to another page, or even to another website.

An auto responder is a special kind of a link. An auto responder is used for automatically providing additional information to a visitor. This is information that might be too long to include as part of the site content, like pricing for example, or a “How To” white paper. When a site visitor clicks on an Auto Responder link it initiates a transaction that results in the automatic transmission of the information to the visitor in the form of an email message.

D. Web Site Hosting: website hosting is a separate and necessary part of website implementation. A website host is a business that provides space on a Web server for your website. The term “virtual server” is usually applied to a hosting service. Its “virtual,” because your website uses only a part of the overall server capability, and because the server is not in your office facility, but its “somewhere else.” The Web server is, of course, connected to the Internet for access by search engines and individuals. Your website does not exist on the Internet unless it’s hosted somewhere.

E. Search Engine Registration: Once your new website is on-line it’s necessary to let the world know it’s there. Simply installing your website on a Web server is not sufficient. Your new website must be submitted or registered with the various search engines. Otherwise, your website has absolutely no chance of ever being located by a visitor–unless they know your exact domain name. You mostly hear about the larger search engines like Yahoo, Alta Vista, Lycos, and Hot Bot; however, there are literally hundreds more, and while inclusion in the major search engines is important, it does not hurt to be listed in some of the less known engines as well. Search engine registration is an absolute requirement for your new website. Once the website is designed and hosted, proper registration helps assure that a prospective visitor has a chance of being directed to your site by a search engine.

Remember the Keywords discussed earlier? A search engine looks for websites based on the keywords entered by a visitor. If your keywords are a close match to those entered by the viewer, then your site will get a higher listing by the search engine, which means a better chance your site might be selected for a visit.

F. Web Site Management: Publishing your site on the net and getting it hosted and registered does not mean you are finished. It’s important to keep your website content updated. It’s important to re-submit your site to search engines; and, changes will need to be made to the information on your website. For example:

  • Your address or telephone number might change.
  • Your auto responder message might need to be updated.
  • You may need to revise product information, or add a new product.
  • Keywords might need updating.
  • Graphics, like photos, may need updating.
  • Search engine re-registration is desired.
  • You might want to move the site to a different Web hosting service.

There is nothing worse that a website with out-of-date or incorrect information. It’s like an incorrect Yellow Pages ad, or a brochure misprint. website management is the process of maintaining the accuracy and viability of your site, and is an absolute requirement.

G. Traffic: On the Internet, “No one knows you are in.” The process of traffic generation is a separate issue to address, once you have your Net presence established. The process of attracting visitors to your website is mainly a matter of marketing, or promotion. Earlier, we mentioned the importance of publishing your website address “everywhere.” In addition to having it printed on all your business materials, you can:

  • Make sure all your present customers know about your website.
  • Give your customers a reason to visit your site.
  • Give them a reason to return.
  • Let local newspapers know about your site.
  • Promote your website through business groups, your church, and local chamber.

You can venture beyond these avenues through direct mail and email, and local and national advertising, if appropriate. How much you spend on promotion, of course, must be cost effective.

[See “Using the Internet to Your Advantage, Part II” in the July 2000 issue.]

[From Connection Magazine – May 2000]

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