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Do You Need a Website? (Answer: Yes!)

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If you’re a small press and are selling books, a website can be an effective sales channel. We sell a considerable number of our business-related books via our website, The Small Business Advisor, at http://www.isquare.com. A website can be very effective as a marketing/sales tool or a bust. This article will list the steps we have taken that have resulted in a successful (read as “we sell books!”) website.

First, the Basics

1. Decide if you are going to develop your own website or contract with a developer. If the latter, search the web for possible candidates. If you are doing it yourself, visit a bookstore or search the web and pick up one of the many excellent references on web publishing and html. If you don’t have the time, hire someone and be sure they have the required expertise. A child can write html code. Designing an effective website takes an expert.2. Apply for a domain name. You can do it yourself over the Internet via the Internic, http://www.rs.internic.net, or have your Internet service provider do it for you. Think up three names; it is likely you will not get your first choice. Take your time-this domain name becomes your identifier!3. Carefully outline and organize the material you want to place on the web. Don’t do it “on the fly.”4. Decide on the “look” of your pages. Browse the web for ideas.5. Your website MUST provide a service as well as present your book or other materials that you are selling. In our case, we provide useful, small business related information (tax advice, start-up and money-saving tips, etc.). We then gently steer the visitor to our books. It works!6. Your website must be EASY to use. The design of the site must make it easy for the user to navigate and not get lost. A confused visitor will simply leave.7. Your website will go nowhere without a sustained marketing effort. See below for what has been successful for us.

Website Tips

1. Loading Time. Users will not wait. You have about 10-seconds to catch and keep a visitor. Your home page should load quickly. Ensure this by: (1) keeping graphic files small (optimize all graphics with “Gif Wizard” at http://www.gifwizard.com), (2) utilizing simple backgrounds, and (3) using height and width tags with every graphic. The height/width tags will force the text to load first, giving the user something to read while the graphics load. It is also a good idea to use ALT tags with the graphic tag so that the graphic is identified to the user while it loads.2. Browser Friendliness. There are many different browsers in use. Your home page should be friendly to all of them. You can make sure of this by keeping your page simple and if you are using frames, tables, image maps, and other enhancements, have an alternate page available for browsers that cannot display the enhancements. For example, we use frames so we provide a “non-frame” gateway for those users with older non-frame friendly browsers.3. Organized Message. The user should be immediately presented with a description of your site-what it is for and what’s in it. Also, make it easy for the user to navigate your site. For example, make certain there is always an obvious way to return to the home page from anywhere within your site.4. Meta Tags. These html tags are used to define the name and content of your site. Proper use of META tags will ensure that some important (large) search engines can find and properly index your site. Also, each webpage should be properly “titled” within the header tags. Learn about meta statements at http://www.metatag.webpromote.com.5. Update Regularly. Visitors are more likely to return to your site if it is constantly updated. This cannot be stressed enough-a static site will not grow.6. Ask for Feedback. Make it easy for a visitor to e-mail comments to you.


Marketing Ideas

We have found the following to be very effective in building and sustaining traffic to our website. I hope it goes without saying that website sales are directly proportional to traffic!1. Get listed with the major search engines. Don’t do it yourself; it is very time-consuming and there are plenty of inexpensive ways to get it done. I like the folks at 1-step (http://www.1step.com).2. Utilize traditional and Internet-based news releases.3. Engage in strategic mutual link development. This is quite important-25% of our traffic comes to us via these links! This takes time but is worth the effort.4. Participate in newsgroups and listservs. Don’t advertise; provide useful information. Let your “signature” do the advertising. Don’t become a pest.5. Include your URL on EVERYTHING. your telephone answering machine message, literature, business cards and stationery, traditional advertisements, etc. We had some T-shirts printed with our homepage on the front and URL on the back-they are great conversation starters!6. Develop a newsletter (preferably e-mail based). We did, and in about a year generated a mailing list of over 5,000. This brings traffic, and sales. Got a new book? Let your list know about it-at no cost.7. Write articles for journals and periodicals that relate to what you do. Include a byline with your URL, of course.8. Make sure you are using a “signature” with your e-mail and include your URL.You can build a successful website if you pay attention to what has worked for others. The ideas presented here worked for us and I bet they will work for you. All you have to lose by operating without a website is sales. Think about it!You can visit Bob Sullivan’s website, The Small Business Advisor, at http://www.isquare.com or contact him at bobs@isquare.com.

This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor February, 1998, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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