7 Website Tips to Help You Get Started Right

7 Top Website Tips - Good ideas for your business website

Creating a business website can be an intimidating prospect. You want everything to be perfect … but don’t have the expertise to be confident you’ll get it right.

That’s one reason we offer professional website design. Our experts can take all that stress off you and ensure you get a business website you can be proud of.

But you definitely can do it yourself. In fact, we offer three DIY website hosting packages that include an easy-to-use website builder and plenty of other tools to help you out.

Today we’ll offer you some basic website tips to help you get started with your business website.

Even before the list of tips, our first advice would be not to stress out about making your website perfect right off the bat. It won’t be perfect. But if you get the basics right, it will work well for you and you can easily update and optimize your site over time.

When Building Your Business Website, Don’t Forget…

  1. Contact information: Make it as easy as possible for website visitors to contact you and find you if you have a local, real-world presence. Create an easy-to-find Contact Us page and think about adding your phone number and address to the top header (or at least bottom footer) of all pages. An address can also help with your local SEO efforts.
  2. Business information: Make it as clear as possible who you are and what you provide. Keep in mind, people will be visiting your site who don’t know anything about your business or maybe even the category of products and services you are offering. Don’t rely on industry jargon that people may not understand or on vague marketing language that doesn’t answer people’s questions. Your business information can be on your homepage or an About Us page. One technique is to have some abbreviated introductory information on the homepage so people are sure to see it and then have more detailed information about your company on an About page, Product or Services pages, Pricing page, etc.
  3. Logo/Branding: If you already have an established logo or other brand elements, try to have them incorporated into your website so your customers will feel at home on your website. Doing this will also help customers trust you online, which can help translate into sales. If you do have a logo, make sure it is prominently displayed at the top of all website pages: upper-left is the standard position. (Our professional website design services offer logo design as an add-on service if you don’t already have a logo.)
  4. Easy navigation: Take some time to plan out all your pages and link to them using easy-to-understand keywords in your navigation. If you have lots of pages, group them into logical, well-understood categories in your navigation. If you are having trouble deciding on category names, look around the web at similar websites. Using common online terminology is a good strategy; you don’t want to rely on customers relearning terminology that’s unique to you if they are used to seeing it another way.
  5. Site map: Ideally your website navigation makes it simple for visitors to get to all your website pages, but having a sitemap that lists all your pages in one place is a good backup plan. Site maps are often linked to from the header or footer of all pages.
  6. Easy to read: While you do want to use your brand’s colors on your website, that doesn’t mean if your logo is red and green you want to have red pages with green text on them (or visa versa). You want to make sure all your pages are easy to read. So pick page and text colors that contrast well for readability (good ol’ black text on white pages is the most readable) and make sure the font size is big enough for most people (larger if you specialize in products/services for seniors or people with vision issues). Of course, you should also make an effort to keep your writing clear, focused and easy to read.
  7. Easy to find: Take advantage of the free SEO tools that come with EarthLink Web Hosting and Ecommerce Hosting plans. They can help you optimize your website and get ranked on search engine sites, making it easier for your customers to find you. There are also free tools so you can submit your business information to more than 60 online business directories and search engines at once. Just be patient; new websites always take a while to move up the search engine rankings.

Bonus Tip: Go Mobile! A mobile website is becoming a more and more important addition to your regular website. Five of our six web hosting plans include a free mobile website with an easy to use mobile website builder. But don’t worry if you have a plan that doesn’t include the mobile site; you can upgrade any time you’re ready.

Website Statistics – The Numbers Say You Need to Have a Website

Sometimes the numbers just don’t add up. Like these website statistics…

I recently read that 97% of Internet users in the U.S. now go online to shop for local goods and services. That’s virtually everybody.

Yet by most accounts (there are slightly different numbers from survey to survey) 50% or more of U.S. businesses still do not have a website.

You’d expect those numbers to align much closer, wouldn’t you?

If 97% of people are going online when they want to buy, wouldn’t closer to 97% of businesses be there to sell to them? But they’re not. It’s not even close.

And it’s not because people are only looking for the big national brands or top online retailers: that 97% is for people looking to buy local goods and services, the very customers that small businesses should be most trying to reach. Yet about half of all companies are giving up that potential business to their competitors by not having a website. Go figure?

It’s also not because these people would be hard to reach: The same survey reported that 90% of these shoppers use search engines to find their local goods and services. All you’d need to reach them is a simple business website that has been set up properly so search engines can find it.

EarthLink Web Hosting provides all subscribers a simple, template-based website builder that makes it quick and easy for anyone to build a business website – with absolutely no experience necessary. (There are also options to have a professional website designer take care of everything for you.)

Our web hosting services also include easy-to-use tools to help businesses reach out to their customers, including search engine optimization (SEO) tools to help small businesses get their website in front of the 90% of shoppers using search engines for local goods and services.

According to the numbers, getting online works: Businesses using the web are expected to grow 40% faster and almost twice as likely to create jobs.

So, if you’re still waiting…what are you waiting for? A great deal? Then how about this:

Right now, the 50% of you without a business website can get 50% off any of our do-it-yourself web hosting and ecommerce hosting plans. Plus, a free domain name for 1 year.

Product Page Checklist: 14 Elements You Need on Website Sales Pages

Price & offer are 2 elements of a good website product page.So, you managed to build your own website, or you had a professional web designer build your site. You’ve even got an ecommerce shopping cart for online sales. So…why aren’t you selling?

There are many possible factors, like traffic. If you aren’t driving enough traffic, sales are bound to suffer. But lets look at another important factor in online sales: your product pages. These are the pages that describe and sell your product. The pages from which you hope to generate your sales.

Unfortunately, due to the enormous range of product types (and services), each with its own unique characteristics and customer requirements, there is no-one-size-fits-all, silver-bullet of a product page. But there are standard elements of all product pages that you should only eliminate with good reason.

Use the following as your product page checklist and vary according to your own unique product needs.

  1. Headline: If you have a very large store selling many products that do the same thing, you may simply use the product name as the headline (as Amazon.com does). So people instantly know where they are and what’s for sale. If you are selling only one or a few products that fill different niche’s, take advantage of your headline real estate by crafting a more compelling headline. It may be one that promotes an offer or discount, that highlights a benefit, that draws readers in with a question, etc. Copyblogger.com has a great series of posts on headlines called Magnetic Headlines.
  2. Name of your product: If you are selling lots of product, and multiple products in the same area, that you include all elements of a product name (such as model numbers). Sometimes a small model number difference makes a big difference in the product. And make sure, especially if you are using product names as headlines, that you include descriptors that let people know just what it is. For example: Gizmo XYZ-750 may be the product name, but if, it’s a home theater system, Gizmo XYZ-750 Home Theater System is advised. Amazon.com does this well. You’re never left wondering by the headlines: OK, that’s the name…but what IS it? It’s also best practice to make sure you have the product name next to the offer and CTA (call to action), such your Buy Now button. So people are 100% sure what they are about to buy.
  3. Product offer: What’s the price? What’s the discounted price? Are their other incentives to order, order now, order multiple items, etc? Doing the math on offers is often effective. Don’t just say the price is now X. Say it’s now 35% off, or now you can save $200. In some cases, businesses also find showing the previous price with a strikeout and then showing the new lower price is effective. Amazon.com is very good at this. If there is a discount, they always show the List Price with a strikeout, their lower price under that (larger font size, in a different color), and they let you know in both a dollar amount and a percentage how much “You Save.”
  4. Call to action (CTA): This may be part of how you constructed your offer, but it’s worth double-checking. Make sure you have a strong CTA that tells customers what you want them to do. Use forceful verbs to drive action. It may be implicit that you want people to order your product, but be explicit: Order Now for Special Online Savings of 40%! Call Our Upgrade Hotline to Qualify for Our VIP Customer Discount! Click Here to Save $50!
  5. Pictures of your product: People are visual. It’s reassuring for them to see a product before they buy and not seeing it can introduce some anxiety (more so for clothes, furniture, electronics and other items where the style matters); and anxiety is the enemy of sales. Ideally, show multiple product shorts with different angles showing different features, different uses etc. Services are naturally hard to picture, but try to find photos to support your services. If you paint houses, showing houses you painted is perfect. If you are a plumber, maybe it’s just a picture of your truck outside a house or shots of the different kinds of work you do (sinks, shower drains, toilets, etc.). In some cases, a before-and-after photo series can be very compelling.
  6. Product feature list: This is often the easiest for businesses. It’s simply a list, or long-form copy about, the features of the product. What are the components that make the product or service compelling. For example, with EarthLink’s cable Internet service, you get high-speed connections up to 15Mbps (which is 250x the speed of dial-up), you get a complete online security suite, 24/7 support, free dial-up service, a cable Internet modem, etc. If we were selling a TV, the features would be the type of TV, screen size, resolution, built-in Wi-Fi, sound, etc.
  7. Product specs/technical parameters: Specifications can overlap with features, but they usually represent an extra level of detail down from the main features. The fact that your television is 48 pounds probably isn’t a main sales feature (though if it were just 5 pounds maybe it would be) but some people may want to know how much it weighs. Think about all the details people may want to know and make sure they can find this info. It can be linked to on a separate page or dynamic layer that pops up (like the Learn More and Compare Speeds links from our DSL Internet access page).
  8. Product benefits: This is one of the most important elements of your product sales page that is often overlooked. Benefits answer the consumer’s “what’s in it for me?” or “why should I care” questions. Sometimes because business owners are so close to their products they assume when they list product features that people simultaneously know the product benefits. That’s not so. You need to spell out not only that your TV has a XYZ-50 screen but that having an XYZ-50 screen means there will be no blurring while watching sports, that you can gather more people around the TV to watch at different angles without distortion, etc. Another way to think of benefits is to describe the pain they solve. For example, if you make service calls to people’s homes, saying you schedule in 15 minute windows is a great feature, but remind consumers of the benefit (the pain you remove): that you won’t waste your whole morning sitting at home wondering when you’ll get your service.
  9. What’s in the box: Make sure you specify everything a person can expect when they order your product. Some 3-D TVs come with 3-D glasses when you order them, others don’t. Some come with 1 pair, others 4. Is there a remote? Are there batteries? Is there a DVD setup guide? Etc. I was recently looking to buy and outdoor ping pong table and noticed some included ping pong paddles, some nets, and very few included outdoor covers to keep the table in good shape.
  10. Objections: Just because you are positive about your product or service, don’t forget people will have all kinds of possible objections or apprehensions about buying the product in general and about ordering from you specifically. There’s a sales and marketing acronym for this: FUD, which stands for fear, uncertainty, and doubt. You need to address and lessen potential buyers’ FUD to make them more likely to order from you.  Maybe you need more proof about product claims. Maybe you need to more explicitly show how this product is better than a competing product. Maybe you need to reassure people of your reputation. Maybe you need a strong and clear refund and return policy. Think about all the people who did NOT buy from you and why they didn’t. Put on your skeptics hat and make a list. You may put some of this on your main product page but put more details on a product FAQ linked from the main page.
  11. Guarantee / return policy: This overlaps with the Objections category above but it’s worth breaking out because it’s so important. Especially if you are a smaller business, not a top brand, or are relatively new online, you need to gain people’s trust. So having a strong and clear guarantee and/or return policy will go a long way to establishing trust and making sales.
  12. Testimonials, ratings & awards: This is another way to combat objections. Show testimonials from satisfied customers. Ideally, show them near where others will make their purchase decisions to help ease their fear, uncertainty and doubt. If you have a product rating mechanism, that’s great too, as long as you have enough ratings. Showing a product with 1 or 2 ratings may actually introduce more doubt. Depending on the nature of your product, you may have full case studies, which function as fact-based testimonials typically for large business purchases. Our EarthLink Business division has a page full of case studies about businesses that have benefited by using EarthLink Business services. Awards can also help support your product sales if you’re lucky enough to have won one. EarthLink Cloud recently won a Cloud Computing Excellence Award from Cloud Computing magazine, which we now have displayed on a rotating banner on the EarthLink Cloud homepage.
  13. Shipping/order information: The big fears around shipping are will shipping costs raise the price significantly and will I get what I order quick enough. The big sites are more consistent about shipping but since there’s a wider range of experiences with small companies, you have to work harder to allay people’s doubts. Make your shipping policies clear and make it easy for people to know when shipments will arrive (if necessary, include a phone number if you need to give an estimate that way).
  14. After the sale: Shipping info may be the last box you need to check, but depending on what you are selling, you may need to be clear about what comes next. For example: “Your shipment will arrive in 5 – 7 days. In 7 – 10 days we will call to schedule installation, which is typically complete in 48 hours. You will be able to choose from 3 installation windows per day. The installation typically takes 45 – 60 minutes. The professional installer will do X, Y & Z and make sure you are good to go before he leaves.”

What Is Content Marketing? 15 Kinds of Content Marketing

You may have heard of the term “content marketing.” If you have, you’ve probably also heard that it’s important for online businesses. And it’s true.

But you may not be sure what it is.

Content marketing, according to Wikipedia, is

“an umbrella term encompassing all marketing formats that involve the creation and sharing of content in order to attract, acquire and engage clearly defined and understood current and potential consumer bases with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

I’ve bolded the headline characteristics, the creation and sharing of content. But it’s important not to lose sight of the objectives and goals behind this content generation and sharing: attracting, acquiring, or engaging customers and driving profitable customer action.

Creating and sharing content in and of itself is not content marketing if it’s not done to achieve these customer-focused goals. It’s also not content marketing if your “content” is really just marketing, promotion, or sales.

Consider these scenarios:

It’s not content marketing if you write a few poems and send them out to a group of your friends. It is content marketing if you are a poet and you create a small, limited-edition ebook of your poems and let fans who subscribe to your mailing list download the ebook.

It’s not content marketing if you have a camera store online and you send out an email to your customer base with all your current promotions. It is content marketing if you create an email with your to 10 tips to help your customers take the best holiday photos.

It’s not content marketing if you’re a car company and you air a commercial on TV (or post it online). It is content marketing if you create a series of short films featuring your cars, as BMW did with its film series called The Hire. (BMW called it “branded content” but it was clearly content marketing of the highest order.)

BMW Films "The Hire" - content marketing, branded content

Content marketing is often an important part of most company’s SEO strategies since web content gives you more things for search engines to index and more opportunities to get inbound links, which will help your web pages rank higher.

Content marketing will also intersect with your social media strategy since when you create content on your website you’ll want to promote it on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. And the sharing of your content on social sites will help support your SEO as well as your initial content marketing objectives.

 Here are 15 popular forms of content marketing:

  1. Blogs: You can blog in just about any style and with any content focus (how to generate ideas for your small business blog). Just make sure you are trying to add value with your content and not just sell your products or promote your business. Blogging can overlap with other items on this list, such as videos, photos, and infographics.
  2. Videos: Video content marketing could be how-tos, interviews, documentaries, humor or other entertainment. You can post videos on your blog, in a video section of your website, and social media sites like Facebook. You can even start your own channel, like this one for EarthLink Business on YouTube.
  3. Photos: You can post photos on your blog, create a special photos section of your website, and post photos to social media sites such as Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Facebook.
  4. Podcasts: Show off your expertise by creating one or a series of podcasts on any subject (think of it as an audio blog).
  5. Webcasts & webinars: A webcast is typically live, streaming video of an event. Webinar takes its name from Web + seminar and should therefore be educational/instructional in nature. Hold periodic webinars to teach others what you know and increase your online authority. Both webinars and webcasts may be live originally but have long-term content marketing value when integrated into your website.
  6. Online communities/forums: Create an online forum or other form of online community to position your business as a leader in your field. (Last week we showed you how to get started by installing PhpBB forums on your website.)
  7. Email newsletters: Create a weekly or monthly newsletter that shows off your knowledge; offers tips, advice, and support; links to related resources, and more. You may include some promotion, but keep the newsletter focused on content or it will be viewed as spam. (Here’s how EarthLink Web Hosting customers can get started with email newsletters using Announcer Pro.) The eLink newsletter that we send to our dial-up, DSL, and cable Internet access members fits into this category.
  8. Infographics: Infographics are a fun and shareable way to get across numbers and statistics related to your business.
  9. Whitepapers: Whitepapers are more typically found on B-to-B websites rather than consumer-focused websites. They are typically longer and perhaps more technical and researched-based than most blog posts, but the two do overlap and you can repurpose one for the other easily. See how EarthLink Business uses whitepapers (and webinars) in its Industry Insights educational series.
  10. Ebooks: Ebooks are the next step beyond blog post or whitepaper, but you can often put together an ebook based on several blog posts or whitepapers; you may need a designer to help you with this one.
  11. Slideshows/presentations: Think “public PowerPoint.” You can use presentations to show your expertise and passion for your subject, to educate or entertain. Slideshare.com is the #1 site for online presentation sharing. Since you may have already created a PowerPoint, you may be able to repurpose it for content marketing with a minimal amount of tweaking.
  12. Games: Creating a branded game that’s related to your business can be effective, though it’s not something you can typically do yourself. And even with a professional game builder helping you, success can be tricky.
  13. Apps: Branded apps that are helpful may be more likely to catch on than game apps and more likely to support your brand; but like games, they do require professional development that may not get much attention if buried below hundreds of other competing apps in the big app stores.
  14. Microsites: Microsites are just websites, but they’re not traditional business websites with product listings and other company info; instead they are websites designed to educate, entertain, or build community around a topic of interest, e.g., Proctor & Gamble’s Home Made Simple microsite.
  15. Custom magazines (print & online): If you’re an AAA member, you’re probably familiar with their monthly magazine about cars and travel. My son is a big fan of the Red Bulletin print magazine (which focuses on extreme sports and edgy culture) from energy drink maker Red Bull. They’ve also made the magazine available as a free iPad app.

We’ll be following up with some more in depth tips on content marketing in the upcoming weeks. Until then, good luck.

And, as always, let us know what you’re experience has been. Any content marketing successes? Failures? We’d love to know what you’ve learned.