Effective websites are needed more than ever
The popular television show Mad Men, which explores the business and personal lives of the employees at a top-notch Manhattan advertising firm, took the top prize at the 2008 Emmy Awards ceremony.
The glitzy drama takes place in the early 1960s, a time when marketing, advertising and office romance — spurred by the influx of women in the workplace — were booming in this country.
Setting aside the issue of office romance, marketing and advertising are once again experiencing a heyday in the United States, but this time it isn''t on television.
Instead, now the Internet is seeing a boom in the use of marketing and advertising.
Building service contractors (BSCs) looking to grow their businesses — especially in what might prove to be a difficult economy — must focus on the importance of their websites.
No longer just a source of information, a website is now an important marketing tool; taking full advantage of it will pay ongoing dividends.
That''s because we are now entering the world of "Web 2.0," which is a new era in the way people use the Internet.
In the past few years, the Internet has evolved from a one-way communication tool, like an electronic brochure, to become an interactive tool, opening up a variety of opportunities for BSCs.
A vast array of tools for giving and receiving information, such as blogs, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and other sites, has surfaced.
Although some may not work for BSCs, they should be viewed as new and promising ways to get your company and its message before the eyes of literally thousands of potential customers.
First things first
Before exploring what this new, more interactive version of the web might have to offer you and your company, it is important that BSCs already have an effective, well-structured website.
This does not mean an elaborate and typically expensive site.
Rather, the site should be high-quality, yet simple to use and navigate, easily providing viewers with the information they need to get to know your firm.
As a matter of fact, as the Internet has matured, some of the more expensive, high-tech site introductions — with all the "bells and whistles" the web''s most innovative techniques can offer — have proven to be considerably less effective than originally believed.
An effective website becomes a part of your sales force and should communicate the same standards of excellence that you would deliver in person.
Always remember, your site may be a viewer''s first "meeting" with you.
Often, it is a good idea to ask a third-party company or a web professional to evaluate the features of your website.
Any outside comments should be taken constructively.
Remember, a website is a business marketing tool and must be treated accordingly.
As simple as it may seem, one of the best ways to promote your website is to place your web address (the "URL") on your business cards, mailings, advertisements and other external documents.
In fact, the more ways you can find to get your URL seen, the better.
Another way to get noticed is through link sharing.
This was very common in the early days of the Internet, when websites would provide links on their sites to other like-minded or business-related companies.
This simple tool is still effective for one reason: It increases your website''s chances of getting picked up in search engines.
Consider linking with other sites as an online networking tool.
As your online partners get more web exposure, it can generate more visitors — and more sales leads — for your site as well.
Your potential online customers must also be able to find you easily; this means your site must be well-placed in the various search engines.
The key to search engine optimization (SEO) is well written, educational content and meta tags.
"Meta" refers to data that holds a description, keywords and other important information that the search engines use to catalog your site.
These are picked up by the search engine "spiders," which provide information to search engines about websites.
Think of the meta tag as food for a search engine''s spiders. They help tell the search engine''s spider:
- The name of your site
- A description of your site
- The keywords under which you would like your site to be found.
Often, the best way to gather your potential keywords is to start with the most common, generic terms and then hone in on more specific words.
Imagine you are a potential customer looking for a cleaning service.
What key search words would you use to locate a contract cleaning company?
Keep in mind, it is important that the keywords/meta tags be specific and relevant to your website.
For instance, for a BSC, "cleaning," "office cleaning" and "store cleaning" would be generic terms.
Adding words such as "green cleaning," "restroom cleaning," "Day Cleaning," "cleaning and health," "commercial cleaning," "affordable cleaning," and so forth opens the door to more visitors.
Additionally, phrases of two or three words tend to have a greater impact on SEO.
Once you have selected 10 to as many as 50 keywords, they must be encoded into your website.
Invisible to the visitor, the meta tags are picked up by search engines so visitors can find you and learn all about your website and company.
Now let''s talk about Web 2.0.
A good example of Web 2.0 is how JanSan manufacturers now place video demonstrations of their products on YouTube.com and similar sites.
This may work well for manufacturers and even possibly distributors, but it would probably not be effective for a service business, such as a janitorial contractor.
However, Web 2.0 possibilities that might work for BSCs include:
E-mail marketing. View this as permission advertising.
Your customers and potential customers have agreed to receive your newsletter.
Provide them with valuable information that can help them and at the same time promote your company.
E-mail marketing creates online relationships that can prove very beneficial in attracting and retaining customers.
Virtual product demos. Internet videos have become one of the most effective — and cost effective — ways to demonstrate the features, benefits and possibilities of cleaning tools and equipment.
They "bring the products to life," helping the end user better understand the product and how it can help them.
Additionally, if well crafted, they can also be used for training purposes.
Blogging. Some businesses and organizations in the JanSan industry have started blogs, finding that they can be an effective way to position their company and share their point of view.
Blogs can enable you and your visitors to discuss business-related issues.
To be most effective, your blog responses should be neither too polished, nor too promotional.
You need to sound authentic, be helpful and provide valuable information.
Blogs also need to be updated regularly in order to keep them "alive" and worth visiting.
Additionally, blogs help improve your rankings with web search engines.
This is often most effective if your blog is a separate website that links to your business'' main site.
Viral marketing. This refers to any strategy that encourages visitors to pass on your marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message''s exposure and influence.
One retail store, for example, sent out an e-mail "blast" saying that anyone with a name starting with a "J" could take 30 percent off any purchase on a certain day.
The e-mail was forwarded to scores of people with names starting with a "J," and proved to be one of the most successful sales events the store ever had.
There was once considerable debate as to how effective Internet marketing and advertising would be.
That debate is long over.
The Internet has already become one of the most powerful —potentially the most powerful — marketing tool ever invented.
BSCs cannot afford to overlook this essential element of any good overall marketing plan.
While building a new or improved website with our current economic uncertainties may seem like an expense that can be postponed for the time being, many experts believe companies that invest in marketing — including the Internet — often ride out economic downtimes better than their peers and are therefore in a stronger position when the economy improves.
Nick Wiebe is marketing manager for U.S. Products. Included in his duties are development and maintenance of the company''s website, SEO optimization, printed and electronic communication and producing online videos. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.