It’s Not Just A Web Site Anymore

This is a true story. A well-funded IT start-up had decided to rely heavily on its web site for the launch of both the company and its product. The company selected an award-winning design firm to execute the site from the ground up.

The site looked terrific from a design perspective, so management was happy. But the president realized the company needed to ramp up marketing, so he hired an experienced professional to spearhead the effort as vice president of marketing.

When the vice president arrived on the scene, one of his first tasks was to analyze the effectiveness of the web site. Although it appeared that the site was generating a good number of hits, it seemed that people were spending very little time on the site.

The VP wondered why, so he took a close look at the site from every angle. It did not take him long to figure out the problem: The site was crowded with graphic images. Large, sophisticated graphics took a long time to load. Also, the site was difficult to navigate. The worst part of it was when the VP saw what the company had paid for the web site. He nearly fainted.

A Painful Decision

The VP made the obvious but painful decision: He trashed the whole site and started over again, this time with marketing objectives and usability in mind.

He directed a freelancer to design a clean and simple site with modular graphics that would load quickly. Graphic links were kept to a minimum, with text links predominating. Offers and response paths were very prominent on the home page. He bought electronic rights to articles and product reviews so that he could post them on the company’s site instead of sending visitors elsewhere to read them.

The impact was enormous. Not only did traffic increase, but visitors were staying on the site an average of six to nine times longer than before. The web site quickly became a major lead generator for the company, with lead quality improving monthly, and the redesign of the site cost a mere fraction of what the fancy design firm had charged. This marketing tale had a happy ending, but the price for success was steep.

Direct Marketing Techniques Make Your Web Site Work for You

I hope the story you just read doesn’t sound too familiar. But pause for a moment to think about the implications. What it really suggests is that marketing professionals who are responsible for web sites need to take control of them…and, if necessary, make tough decisions when they aren’t working.

That’s why it pays to consider the direct marketing aspects of your web site. For a web site to be used as a lead generation and qualification tool, it must follow the basic principles of good direct marketing. Here are some ideas for how to take advantage of dm and improve the marketing potential of your site:

  • Make promotional offers.

    A Web site can be designed to highlight or emphasize certain areas so that the visitor is drawn to them. The design of a page can assist the visitor in locating offers and finding a web response form.

    One possible way to influence the visitor’s navigational path is to make one of the most prominent parts of your home page a special offer, highlighted by an animated graphic. If it stands out from the rest of the page and leads to a web response form, the offer could potentially draw a majority of visitors to that area. Another way is to feature a promotional area that makes the same offer to visitors as a current direct mail or direct response-advertising campaign. Tie in offers with direct marketing campaigns by leveraging the copy and graphics used in other media and “Web-izing” the creative for use on your site.

    Many web sites either bury the response area or do not even have one. A prominent response area on a web site, even a simple web response form, will encourage prospects to identify and potentially qualify themselves. Reinforcing that response area throughout the web site by providing links across many of your site’s pages will remind prospects of the offer and give them multiple opportunities to respond.

    The web provides the distinct marketing advantage of speed. An offer can easily be posted on a web site in time to coordinate with any direct marketing campaign before the campaign even appears in print. If the offer is prominently featured on the home page, perhaps through an on-site banner ad that ties in creatively with the direct mail or advertising, you would gain from the power of integrated media.

  • Write dm copy.

    Good direct marketing copywriting can improve the effectiveness of a web site. Direct marketing copy tends to be written in a friendly, me-to-you style with a heavy emphasis on benefits. It uses short sentences and an informal structure that makes it easier to read and follow. It makes liberal use of “graphic signals” and eye rests, such as indented paragraphs and bulleted lists.

    As you explore web sites, read the words carefully and evaluate the structure and quality of the writing. Notice how tedious it is reading lengthy copy on a computer screen? A good site will take that into account by keeping sentences and paragraphs short; using frequent subheads in bold or in color; breaking copy into sections; using bulleted lists, tables, and indents; and bolding or italicizing appropriate words and phrases.

  • Use banner advertising on your own site.

    Place an “on-site” banner ad, promoting your own products or services. A banner ad is a promotional technique most often used as advertising on other web sites to draw people to your web site, but you can also create and place a self-promotional banner ad on your own site to draw attention to a response area on your site. The banner ad could reinforce a campaign in other media or promote a free offer independently and could link to an on-site Web Response Form.

  • Offer a free subscription to an email newsletter on your site.

    An email newsletter is really an electronic continuity program that gives you the ability to communicate periodically with prospects and customers. Offer an email newsletter to prospects who provide you with contact information and answer questions on a web subscriber form. Then build a list of subscribers and send them the email newsletter regularly. Use the email newsletter to convey valuable information, as well as to make offers and further qualify prospects.

  • Drive traffic to your web site via traditional media.

    Once you invest in a web site, be sure to capitalize on its existence. Promote the web site aggressively, especially if it has informational or educational value. Include your web site address in all promotions and on business cards. Drive traffic to your web site using other media. For example, more and more marketers are achieving significant success generating web site traffic by mailing an oversized postcard promoting an offer and driving prospects and customers to the site. If you have a special offer of any kind, make that offer on your web site and promote it to generate site traffic.

Does this stuff sound pretty basic? Well, it is…and it’s amazing how many web sites don’t follow the basics. Let this be a lesson to all those who design a web site first and ask tough marketing questions later. You need to be ready when your management asks that most dreaded question: How do we know our web site is working?

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