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HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com | Section: Business
SMALL BUSINESS Q&A
Web site starts with research
By JACQUELINE TAYLOR
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
Q: I'm ready to start marketing my products online, and I want to make sure that I develop an effective Web site. Can you offer me any tips?
A: The most effective Web sites are ones that are quick to download, easy to navigate and provide enough information so that potential customers can make an informed decision about whether they want to do business with your company.
Take a look at other sites to see what appeals to you as a consumer. Chances are good that visitors to your site will be looking for the same features you are. If your competitors have sites, be sure to visit them for ideas on what does and does not work. If you're not aware of who your competitors are, use a search engine such as Google or Yahoo to find them online.
Your site should reflect your business image. However, that doesn't mean that it needs to be fancy or complex. Keep in mind that many people will be accessing the Internet with a dial-up modem and won't be willing to wait for your elaborate graphics or videos to load. They will want to quickly find what they are looking for. Organize your site so that a visitor can easily browse around without struggling to figure out which button or heading to click.
Be sure that your site is more than just an electronic version of your print brochure. If you aren't an expert writer, hire someone to write the copy for you. Rather than simply describing your products or services, your site should clearly explain the benefits of buying from your company. Don't overwhelm visitors with long-winded explanations and detail. Use a brief question and answer format to keep readers interested, and include testimonials from customers.
If appropriate, allow visitors to come away from your site with something free but useful. Perhaps they could print a coupon for a discount on one of your products.
More tips can be found in How to Start a Business Website by Mike Powers (Avon Books). You can find an online Web site evaluation work sheet at www.inc.com/tools/2000/09/20011.html. You will have to join Inc.com to access the work sheet, but membership is free.
Also take advantage of the free weekly Internet Marketing Clinic at the University of Houston Small Business Development Center, 2302 Fannin, each Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. This informal meeting helps attendees improve their knowledge of online marketing tactics. To register, go to uh.sbdc.edu or call 713-752-8488.
Jacqueline Taylor is associate region director of the University of Houston Small Business Development Center, a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration and the UH C.T. Bauer College of Business Administration, at 713-752-8400. Information is intended to provide general information. Readers with business problems should consult professionals for advice. Send questions to Small Business , Houston Chronicle, P.O. Box 4260, Houston 77210.