Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet
By Mike Gould
I was recently asked to speak at the Factotem Confab, "A bi-annual conference on emerging trends in the information industry, as they affect the marketplace for e.Business Development services", as the blurb on their Web site (http://confab.factotem.com/) describes it. The theme of this year's conference was managing online operations, administration and maintenance of Web sites, and I was asked to talk about site maintenance. So I whipped up a talk entitled: "The care and feeding of Web sites and the clients who love them".
Since it's been a while since I talked about business Web sites ("Show me the money", B2B 6/99, available online at http://mondodyne.com/b2b/smbiznet.16.html), I thought I'd share some of my points with you.
Half the Fun
Getting a presence on the Web is half the battle; keeping it relevant is the rest. Given the nanosecond lifetime of Web content, a site that hasn't been revised lately has a musty smell. The Web is all about immediacy; surfers are accustomed to finding the latest news of the world online, and this is creating an expectancy of freshness for anything beginning with www.
Look at your own business site; has anything changed on the front page in the last week? Month? Year? Does the line at the bottom read "copyright 1999? Is there an announcement for Christmas Specials under your logo? These are all clear signs of screen saver on, nobody home.
You want your customers and potential customers to re-visit your site from time to time to see what's new. If they bought something from you that they liked, and your URL (www.yourcoolsite.com) is somewhere on the material they bought, chances are you will get at least one more shot at selling them something else. They get their product, and at some point actually read the instructions or whatever, and think to visit your site again. If there is something new there for them, it will encourage them to bookmark you and check in from time to time. If they visit your site and they see the same old stuff, they will be less inclined to come back the next time. This is why stores change what's in the front window: your Web site is your front window to the world, and needs to be dusted out and re-stocked on a regular basis.
Remember that your Web presence is but one part of your over-all marketing strategy, complementing your print and other media efforts. You tout your Web site in your brochure, and people can download your brochure from the Web; everything works together to get your message out. You wouldn't send out last year's catalog, so don't send out last year's Web site.
The strength of the Web is that immediacy I mentioned above: when you have a new product you can promote immediately on the Web, you don't have to wait a month for a catalog or new brochures to be printed, and then wait some more while these are snailmailed to your customers. Another strength is cost: it is a lot cheaper to maintain a Web site than it is to send out thousands of catalogs every month. The key here again is "maintain" - someone has to put the effort into putting fresh content on display.
How Much is That Content in the Window?
So who does the window dressing? This varies from business to business; larger companies have marketing departments that handle everything from print advertising to broadcast media to the Web, which is, after all, another form of broadcasting. Smaller firms rely on either in-house webmastery or a contract service. Or a combination of the two where the in-house graphics person will hand off the content to a Web expert for massaging and integration with the site involved.
This is what I do with several of my clients, by the way. For some of them I adapt their print content for the Web, for others, I create the content under their direction and post it to the Web. In some cases I prepare content for both Web and print, creating graphics at different resolutions for either arena. I all cases my job is to keep the clients' sites spiffed up and zesty (as we say on Madison Avenue).
Thanks to my involvement with Factotem, I just learned another buzzword/acronym: MSP. This stands for Managed Service Provider and describes an evolving sector of the Information Technology area that specializes in one or more of the following: providing outsourced IT management for data storage (including the Web) networking, security, and 7x24x365 support. In other words, there are companies out there that specialize in keeping your digital efforts up to date and running smoothly. And as a regular updater of client Web sites, I guess I'm an MSP too. Let's see how that sounds: "Hi, I'm Mike Gould, BA, MSP." Hmmm...
However you update your site, whether via the efforts of your in-house talent or using your friendly neighborhood MSP, keep your updates frequent, keep your site fresh, and keep it online.