Of the vast repertoire of marketing tools available, corporate websites unquestionably claim the lead in today’s business marketing. Like many of you, this is not something I have easily embraced. The first 15 years of my marketing career were focused on paper: newsprint, magazines, billboards, brochures, etc. And while print still plays an important role in business marketing, I’ve come to believe that a corporate website is the best marketing brochure a company will ever own.
Trends in Internet and Web-Based Marketing
The evidence is everywhere. Formerly paper-only media sources, such as the Yellow Pages, have expanded to online products and services, while newspapers and television networks offer interactive websites. More than ever before, consumers are online. During 2011, billions of Google searches were conducted:
- Facebook was the most visited and most searched website.
- Online video advertisements increased a whopping 128 percent.
- Online holiday shopping reached an all-time high of $35.3 billion—a 15-percent increase over 2010.
Whether it’s a social networking page, video streams or online advertisements, the majority of American companies incorporate Internet-based marketing supplements as part of their overall marketing plans.
Internet and Web-based marketing have changed rapidly in the past 15 years. Back in the mid-1990s, a standard corporate website—if a company even had one—included basic text and images. Few interactive features, such as video and customer reviews, were available. In the early 2000s, many companies launched websites for the first time, and those with previously established websites reinvented them. During this phase, visually stimulating features such as color and Flash (i.e. moving images and animation) became common.
Today, the opposite is true. Website design now tends toward a simpler, cleaner look. Contemporary corporate websites are easy to navigate and view quickly, yet they provide access to a plethora of information through features such as video streams, electronic forms and links to related websites.
Is It Time To Update Your Company Website?
If you don’t have a company website or haven’t updated your website lately, now is the time to do so. The following steps will help you get started. First, decide what type of functionality you need. Do you want to collect data through your website? Will your customers need to upload files? Will your website serve as a point of sale? Is optimization (i.e. being first in search engine rankings) a priority?
Second, do your homework. Look at other companies’ websites, within and outside your own industry, to identify designs and features that you like. You may find one desirable feature on one site and another somewhere else. Make note of each so that you can later incorporate the best into something uniquely your own.
Next, establish a domain name. To do this, visit a website such as GoDaddy or Register.com, type in the domain name you have in mind, and see if it is available. If a name is already taken, you can slightly alter your selection by combining words, abbreviating, hyphenating, etc. If a .com is already taken, you can try .net or .co. Not-for-profit organizations should select .org. Domain names rarely cost more than $15-$20 per year, and even less for multiple-year contracts. If you are concerned that someone else may take your domain name, you may want to purchase it immediately. Or, you can have the designing company make the purchase later.
Hosting and Maintenance
Website design, hosting and maintenance are often intertwined. If you plan to maintain your own website, you can purchase server space for approximately $75 a year with no monthly hosting fees. For this option, your website designer will need to create a website administration page, from which you can change text, add photos and links, etc. This will add to your initial design cost, but can save you money later.
However, it is my experience that most business owners think they want to maintain their own website, but when it comes right down to it, they don’t have the time or desire. You don’t have to be overly “techie” to do it, but website maintenance does require a learning curve and a time commitment. I suggest that you talk with your website designer about the responsibilities involved before selecting this option.
If you plan to hire a company to maintain your website, it generally works best if they host the site as well. In this case, there is no website administration page created for the customer, which eliminates this up-front cost. Instead, a maintenance fee can either be added to the monthly hosting fee or negotiated at an as-needed, hourly rate. In general, monthly hosting fees range from $25 to $50. Maintenance fees vary widely, depending on the size and complexity of the website.
Website optimization is another service you may wish to incorporate. Optimization uses keywords, pertinent links and frequent updates, among other criteria, to ensure that your website ranks at the top, or near the top, of Internet search results. A disadvantage of optimization is expense. It is a time-consuming process that does not always guarantee top results. Moreover, search engines now have the capability to recognize computer users and generate results within their geographic area, which may reduce the need for optimization in some industries.
Selecting a Designer
The decisions you make regarding website hosting and maintenance will influence who you choose to design your company’s website and vice versa. You may select a company that works with you initially on website design and functionality and then directs you to an appropriate corporate partner for ongoing hosting, maintenance and optimization services. Or, you can find a company that provides all of these services under one roof. Although “one-stop shopping” is very convenient, you’ll want to make sure the company is proficient in all aspects of website design and maintenance if you select this option.
Shop around before selecting a website designer. I can’t tell you the number of times I have come across a business that has spent 10 months and $10,000 for a website that should have taken one month and cost $2,000. Be sure to get the most bang for your buck.
Top Priority: Your Website
Whether you’re creating a corporate website for the first time or simply updating an existing site, your company website is the best marketing brochure you will ever own. Print materials still claim an important role in business marketing, but your website should come first. Do it this year! iBi