“Set it and forget it,” is definitely not the way to think about your business’s online presence.
A successful Web site, like a finely tuned engine, requires regular and routine maintenance to ensure continued peak performance. A well-maintained online presence is simply too important to be ignored these days. That’s because, among other things, Web sites are often the first impression your company makes – where someone actually discovers your business. And Web sites are a primary way to reach out and touch customers within local communities and around the world.
Whether your online storefront provides the means to process sales orders or simply serves up electronic brochures, the goal is ultimately about turning visitors into customers. A lousy Web site can surely turn them off.
Poorly maintained and obviously ignored sites rarely get more than one passing glance. A second visit rarely results from a poor first impression. Sites with rich content and are interactive, multifunctional, current and continually changing create a lasting impact.
The latter point is particularly important. A Web site can’t rest on its laurels and must be made continually appealing to visitors. Refresh is critical.
But what sort of routine maintenance is required? And where to begin? The first step forward is a step back, says Steve Grushcow, the CEO of edit.com, a Web site maintenance services company, based in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Ask, ‘what do I want the Web site to do for my business?’ A lot of people don’t even know,” Grushcow says. “We say that you need to hone in on another step. Should the site just give background information or should it generate leads for me? And how do I get leads from my site?”
You need to strike a chord with your specific type of customer, he says, adding that the main challenge is to translate your storefront business into something that likewise serves customers on the Internet.
It’s a process where, among other things, every month you brainstorm new ideas that add to and improve your site, according to Grushcow. So consider whether the site looks fresh or whether updates are required. Is there new content to be added and does the site function the way it should?
A checklist of regular Web site maintenance includes tasks like verifying the function of outbound links from your site. Did these change and do these continue to work? Is the site fast? Do images used still look good or do they seem dated and old?
Check the content. Are there date-specific items that haven’t been updated or replaced? Does a successful advertised event lend itself to a Web treatment, like posting photographs that might have been taken? Has your company received testimonials from your customers or press coverage that should likewise be posted?
Does the Web site have a professional look? Check to see that formatting is consistent, that the site is displaying properly in all standard Web browsers and that your company logo and general design give the right impression.
Consider how to improve your customer service – especially with existing customers. Grushcow suggests creating hidden pages that only certain customers can access. These special value-add pages, set up just for them, might include items like photographs taken at a customer’s event. Sometimes you can serve current customers better by creating member-only or custom pages. What about surveys that you might post online or e-mail newsletters?
Have you considered better ways of capturing leads? Leads and sales generated through the site can be improved by enhancing the way a site captures information. Look at Web site statistics to discover who visits your site and where your visitors are coming from and which search engines are directing traffic to you?
Web site maintenance means regular analysis, updating and improvement of the site to keep it in synch with your “offline” business, stay relevant to the search engines that potentially will direct traffic to your site and continue to be effective in both keeping and attracting customers, Grushcow says.
“Productive Web sites are immediate. Stale Web sites taste like wood shavings and sell about as well,” says Patty Barnes, who breeds dogs as a business and routinely revisits the content on her online storefront – logcabinlabradoodles.com.
According to Barnes, 98 per cent of her sales take place over the Internet and have increased four-fold as a result of a concerted effort to regularly update and maintain the site. Log Cabin Labradoodles breeds and sells Australian Multigenerational Labradoodles.
“I add new photographs and text daily. Customers comment that my Web site is professional, creative and current,” she says.
Barnes does most of the Web maintenance work herself, through an online set of editing tools. According to Grushcow, it’s the sort of thing that most non-tech savvy people should be able to do.
There are many simple tools available today that let people create images and content on a Web page. In addition, tools like Microsoft’s MS FrontPage and Macrosoft Media’s Creator are more functional products for the more technically astute.
“But you (might) also need to be able to pick up a phone and call an expert,” he adds. “If you are setting up forms to capture information, you’ll probably need an expert.”
The annual cost for basic Web site maintenance for a small business probably won’t amount to much more than $500 a year, according to Grushcow.
“Some sites really don’t require much maintenance,” he says. “(But) they should look at it once a month, just to rethink it. It’s not that there’s always something to improve, but you should take a look at it, routinely.
“If a business doesn’t know that (statement) to be true, then they’re probably not doing a good job in their business.”