All of your marketing — online and offline — should be tied to your company website.
All pieces of company literature, including business cards, advertisements, letterhead, e-mail, company vehicles, packaging, promotional items, employees' outgoing messages, signage around and within buildings, thank you cards, etc., should contain your website address.
You do have a website, don't you?
Online shopping is no longer a novelty you can afford to ignore, for it has become a mainstream commodity.
You may be tempted to focus on offline ads and leave the online stuff for later.
Resist that impulse.
Every small business needs a website now more than ever, even if it's only an interactive business card.
Everyday, more and more consumers are putting down the Yellow Pages and using the Internet to locate and research the products and services they want and need to purchase.
Still not convinced?
Another way to think of it is that these educated consumers are "interviewing" prospective service providers online.
Will they find you or will they find your competitor?
No question about it — if you have a business, you should have a website.
It doesn't matter if you are a one-man show, a family-run business, a multi-truck operation or a building service contractor; if you don't have a website you are losing money to your competitors that do.
Simply having a webpage is not enough.
A professional-looking site is an absolute necessity.
It is important that your business is portrayed in a manner that appropriately reflects the quality of service you provide.
A well-designed, professional looking website will project the image and professionalism necessary in today's business market.
A poorly designed website could potentially hurt the success of your company.
Good or bad, your site speaks volumes about your company and is often your first impression for a potential customer.
Getting your company online offers a great opportunity to provide information, making your website your extended staff.
Your company website is there to answer questions any time, day or night, and can fill in the additional information that your print ad couldn't cover, your sales letter didn't have room for, or that you forgot to mention in your telephone conversation.
Mandatory Website Material
Inform visitors about the structure of your company, your community involvement, awards, certifications and even employment opportunities.
Educate your customers before you sell.
Your target market needs to learn how you provide value in a way that will make them want to pay a premium for your services.
You simply can't do this in a 3-by-4 ad.
Your ad needs to get them to ask for more information and then you can proceed to selling.
Consumers have more confidence in and prefer doing business with companies that they know something about.
Contact info and service area
Most people don't buy because they don't feel comfortable — they don't quite trust you yet.
Set people at ease by putting your smiling photo on your site.
If you're a family-run operation, include those photos.
Get the customers to relate to you.
Don't just tell potential customers about your services — show them.
Adding "before and after" photos of your work is a powerful marketing tool.
Remember, it is very important when using images that they are cropped or scaled to an appropriate size for use on a given page.
The more images you use, the longer a person must wait to view your page.
Images enhance web pages, but must be used with skill and caution to avoid problems.
Include a link to your current newsletter, and a spot where visitors can submit their e-mail address to receive it.
It can improve the chances of a future visit, strengthen an existing relationship, survey visitors, or be used to collect testimonials.
A price-quote request form allows potential customers to inquire about a price and provide you with qualified leads.
If You Build It, They Will Come?
OK, so you have your website — now what?
It's all about marketing after your website is built.
The single biggest mistake made by most website owners is that too little marketing is done to create awareness and generate enough interest to see the benefits a website can provide.
Simply creating a website will not generate mobs of traffic and will not cause your website to be immediately listed in all the search engines.
Having a website is meaningless if no one knows about it, yet many businesses spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars building their website and then sit back and wait for the business to come rolling in.
It just isn't going to happen.
Don't expect it and you won't be disappointed.
Building a website is only one step in an overall marketing plan.
Promotion of your website is an ongoing process.
You should make your URL (website address) known to the public by using as many methods as possible.
The options listed here aren't the only ones available, and regardless of which methods you use, remember that there are many ways to increase your website traffic, but traffic really is not the key.
The key factor is trying to get qualified sales leads and customers.
I would rather get 25 people who are actually looking to purchase than 2,500 people who are not.
Search engines are becoming the online equivalent of printed business directories, such as the Yellow Pages.
It is important that you optimize your website for listing its details with search engines — otherwise, you may be missing potential customer leads.
Search engines want to deliver the most relevant pages at the top, so they use highly sophisticated and complex algorithms to rank websites.
Focus on three key factors to improve your search engine positioning: Highly targeted keywords, content, and optimized web page code.
Manually submit your website information to each individual search engine regularly. Automated search engine submission software is not recommended.
Most search engines have a formal, online process for submitting website details, but the process varies with each search engine.
For the majority of search engines, all you need to do is provide the domain name of your website — e.g., www.andrechelle.com — a short description, and your keywords.
You should also resubmit your website to the search engines after any significant change is made to your website.
Buying keywords and phrases from all the top search engines is also an option and will ensure excellent search engine results placement.
Make a short list of your most important keywords and phrases, then contact the sales departments at the major search engines and ask them what it would cost for each one of your keywords and phrase.
The cost will depend on what words you are asking for and the number of times that they are searched for on that particular engine.
Targeted, subscription based e-mail can be a very successful strategy for generating repeat and added sales to existing customers and interested potential customers.
Sent at a reasonable frequency and full of useful, relevant information ? such as product recommendations and reviews, values and discounts, editorial articles, and notifications about website content updates ? an e-mail campaign can be a very successful part of your Internet marketing strategy.
But only use true opt-in e-mail lists.
Spamming is the most certain way I know to lose your e-mail account, website, Internet Service Provider (ISP), and your reputation, both personal and professional.
The best way to have a true opt-in e-mail list is to gather it yourself by asking visitors to your website to join your mailing list (newsletter).
Always make it at least as easy to unsubscribe from your list as it was to subscribe.
Don't let customers simply slip away.
Make an effort to reel them back in.
It costs a lot less to retain a disgruntled or inactive customer than to acquire a new one.
If you haven't heard from a customer in awhile, send a personalized e-mail, inquiring if all is well.
You can also utilize the convenience of e-mail to send appointment reminders and thank you notes.
Customers may forget you're out there unless you remind them.
Target Regionally Specific Directories
These smaller directories are usually tightly focused on your particular area and customer base.
Newspapers, ISPs, local business magazines, and other regional guides are often popular with residents because they carry information about local news and entertainment events.
Search online for your local city, town and state.
Many have local business directories that are free to place ads or links on.
Write them a short e-mail and description about your business.
Getting your website listed in regionally specific directories and business listings can allow you to reach your target market where they visit most.
Also, actively monitor and participate in user groups, mailing lists and discussion groups.
Research active e-mail discussion lists and online bulletin boards relevant to your business and audience.
Link popularity is an important criterion in most search engine ranking algorithms.
Some use it almost exclusively.
Developing quality inbound links can be critical for high rankings in some results.
You have created great content and offer a superb service — and now, you want people to know about it.
To ensure that your website has the visibility it deserves, you will need other websites to point (link) to yours.
Reciprocal links form a vital part of any website promotion effort and while the process of exchanging them is essentially a simple one, there are various approaches that can be taken in searching out and requesting links.
Reciprocal links generally bring in more qualified visitors than the search engines.
Requesting link exchanges with other websites, although necessary for good search engine placement, can unfortunately be rather time consuming.
Search for websites that support the professional cleaning industry, such as trade organizations and suppliers, and write the webmaster a nice letter or e-mail asking for a reciprocal link to your site.
In return, put a link on your site to theirs.
Don't overlook your existing customer base for link partners.
There is a good chance your business clients have established websites.
Ask them for reciprocal links, which can lead to increased traffic to your site.
Your website is only one tool in your marketing toolbox, and is most effective when used in conjunction with your other marketing tools.
Whatever you have printed, make sure it has your website address on it, including letterheads, postcards, brochures, sales letters, invoices and business cards.
Add it to any advertisements you place in newspapers, magazines, on the radio or television, or in the Yellow Pages.
Include it in any e-mail correspondence, and be sure to mention it in any conversations you have with potential customers.
Display your website address on all company cars, trucks and vans.
Vehicular advertising is a great method of promotion.
This way you can advertise your website wherever you go — even in traffic.
Free Media Promotion
Press releases are excellent for getting the attention of the public.
For example, this may be to announce the opening of your new business where you will have an excellent opportunity to display your URL.
Once your site is launched, or after a major revision, get out a press release.
Almost all e-Zine, TV, radio, newspaper and magazine editors accept press releases.
Now that most media sources are online, e-mail is the preferred way for them to receive your releases.
Your release should be one page long and offer valuable information of interest to publications — readers.
Editors won't print a blatant ad that is not accompanied by newsworthy information.
Well-designed, content-rich web pages are imperative if you wish to have success in marketing your website.
Dedicate yourself and recognize that you will need to spend the time and energy required promoting your website and services, both online and offline.
This "extra work" may seem daunting when you are first planning the development of your website and online marketing strategy, but it is well worth the effort.
Mark Cermak is a cleaning and restoration industry veteran of more than 20 years. He is webmaster of www.OCIBR.com Cleaners Community, a training, consultation, and marketing club for cleaners, and webmaster of www.Andrechelle.com, specializing in website design for cleaning service businesses. You can contact him at (440) 257-6705 or mark@theEZhost.com.