The Art of Marketing
Last month I covered the topic of creating quantifiable and achievable marketing goals. This month I highlight the benefits of developing and maintaining an effective Web site. This is a very broad topic that I may come back to in the future because there is much in this area.
If you have a Web site (and everyone should), your goal is to accomplish four things:
To accomplish the first item on the list, you will have to engage in a lot of marketing activities to get customers to your doorstep and/or attempt some search engine optimization (SEO). You also should have other sources to bring traffic to your site, such as word of mouth/customer referrals, shows, ads, and e-mail marketing. But if you neglect the basic aspects of SEO, you’re ignoring a great potential source of new leads.
Simple ways to improve your Web site and keep it fresh:
You’ve spent a lot of time and energy getting someone to your Web site. This is your “special place,” and the last thing you want to do is lose the customer who is surfing your Web pages. Make sure your site is easy to navigate; that means it should be obvious and self-explanatory for potential customers to find what they came for while seeing the content that you want to show them. When you’re creating your Web site, your job is to get rid of the question marks—these are the decisions that users make consciously by considering the pros, cons, and alternatives.
Picture your customers walking down a corridor to your business; you can’t let them stray too far left or right or they will get distracted and go somewhere else. If the navigation and site architecture aren’t intuitive, the number of distractions grows and makes it harder for users to get from point “A” to point “B.” Providing clear structure, visual references, easily recognizable content, and links can help users find their path. Your reward is that they will stay on your Web site longer, and then there is a higher chance they will buy from you.
First-time visitors may be willing to spend some time investigating your Web site but may not be willing to register for your site and provide contact information just yet. Let users explore your Web site, look through your inventory, and discover your services without forcing them into sharing their private data. It’s not a reasonable expectation to force users to enter their e-mail address before you will disclose your prices. They’ve already made the effort to go to your Web site and look through your inventory, so make it easy for them to view your pricing. Don’t put up a barrier for them to buy.
Why would any merchant hide his prices when there is a customer right at the doorstep wanting more? Putting that extra step in front of them might be enough for them to move on—that’s not what you want! In fact, if you were to track what pages people are visiting, you’d find a tremendous drop-off (people leaving your Web site) when they are asked to register to get your pricing. Don’t do it!
Letting the user clearly see what functions are available (how to get around your Web site) is a fundamental principle of successful user interface design. It doesn’t really matter how this is achieved. What matters is that the content is well understood and visitors feel comfortable with the way they interact with your site.
Web sites provide both static and dynamic content, but some aspects of the user interface attract attention more than others do. Obviously, images are more eye-catching than text, so showing great pictures of your items in a respectable size (maybe 1" square) is of the utmost importance. You need to invest in quality photography (a good camera, not pictures from your cellphone) and show as many pictures on a page as possible. Don’t make people flip through page after page to see five items at a time. There is no reason for that when you can easily show 25 pictures at a time with a scrollbar. Make sure each image has a good description and comes with enlargement capabilities to closeups from multiple angles.
Strive for simplicity. The “keep it simple” principle should be the primary goal of your Web site’s design. That means that bright colors and spinning, talking, and/or exploding antique images may not make your Web site attractive to visitors. Users don’t visit a Web site to enjoy the design; they are looking for specific information, and your design will either help or hinder them in finding what they are looking for. Have a friend give you candid feedback before you publish.
I highlighted SEO a few months back. In short, it makes your Web site appear higher at the top of search lists when a certain keyword is used through a search engine. Why is this important? Consider what it would be like if no one could easily find your place of business or telephone number. Your business would not perform very well.
In the crowded digital world, the same thing can happen. Your Web site won’t get much use if people cannot locate it. Potentially valuable customers may never know you are there. Many small businesses make the mistake of thinking that because they created a Web site and mention it in their advertising, people will be able to find it. Yes, the people who see your ad will find it, but millions shopping on the Web may have no idea that your business exists. I collect a very specific segment within the “antique portrait miniatures on ivory” market. When I search for that specific phrase I see only two antiques dealers on the first page of the search results, and only one is in the U.S. I know that there are many more dealers specializing in these types of items, but I can’t find them.
You might think that your existing customers or those who are already familiar with your company would be able to find your Web site without any great difficulty, but this might not be the case. Many marketers would say that it’s not worth having a Web site unless you engage in SEO. While I do think it can make a huge difference for some businesses, I don’t think a big investment in SEO is imperative for the average small antiques-based business.
Many would tell you that it is crucial to do SEO on all the major search engines such as Google, Yahoo, etc. But that isn’t cost effective for many small antiques businesses because depending on the number of keywords you purchase, it could get pricey. So what is the low-cost way to get your items found on the Web? Number one on the list is Google AdWords. Here you potentially pay for each keyword or phrase. You pay Google only after someone has searched your keyword, your Web site came up in their search, and the searcher has clicked on your Web site. That means you pay only for actual performance, which could make this an ongoing effective option for your business.
But here is the catch—you need to be very specific. If you want one of your AdWords to be something very broad like “Antiques,” “American Antiques,” or even “folk art,” it will cost you much more because those words are widely searched. Better to focus on your niche specialties such as “Bennington pottery,” “Nantucket baskets,” “Vermont coverlets,” or “antique portrait miniatures on ivory” (hint, hint). Here you have an advantage because you have far fewer dealers with those specialties and you have a greater probability that your Web site will be high on the search list.
One other secret is to utilize other companies that spend tens of millions of dollars on SEO, such as eBay. Try this little test; take the item most prominently positioned for sale on your Web site and list it on eBay. Give it a day and then go to any Web browser and type that item in the search field. I’m willing to bet your eBay listing will appear on the first page at the very top of your search results while you will have trouble finding it on your own Web site. I’ll leave the topic of selling on eBay for another time, but this illustrates the fact that many large companies (including auction houses) spend a good amount of money on SEO to get the most exposure for the items they are selling.
These days there are more and more Web site design companies that provide one-stop service. This means they provide a proven initial design as well as a very simple interface to enable you to set up and run a Web site yourself. Being able to manage your own content is of vital importance to many small businesses. For most basic Web sites you should be able to manage all the content yourself (both text and pictures). This will keep your costs down and may be fun for you at the same time. There is no need for an expensive Web designer unless you want to move on to more advanced Web sites. In the antiques business where most of what you need to do is simply display and describe your inventory and maybe have a blog, there is very little need for an advanced Web site, as it can be expensive and provides few advantages.
I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail me if you have potential topics you want me to cover or if you have comments. I can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Originally published in the July 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest