Many business owners rushed into creating Web sites, perhaps because "my competition has one", or because "it's the hot thing right now".
Often, these sites are little more than online brochures - and maybe that's all you really need.
But have you really considered whether you're making the most of the online opportunities that exist? As with any aspect of your business, some preliminary thinking will help to maximize the return on your investment in this key part of your marketing mix.
Here are seven key issues to consider from the outset:
1. Are your markets online?
In February 2003, Jupiter Research reported that 61% of business decision makers use the Internet to look for information on products and services. Does that include your buyers? Try a customer survey if you don't know the answer to this.
Alternatively, there may be new markets that you would like to tap, who are already online.
An excellent Web site for researching Internet demographic information is at:
2. Where is your geographic focus?
Is your operation confined to a local area, or can it have national or even international appeal?
It is not currently possible to restrict display of Web pages within geographic boundaries (e.g. "only Illinois"). So if your business is only local, or you only serve the U.S., you should state that clearly on the site, otherwise you might receive leads and orders that you can't fulfil.
On the other hand, perhaps there are ways that you can modify your "real world" offerings to reach online buyers everywhere - perhaps by packaging your knowledge into e-books or downloadable white papers.
3. What are the specific goals of your site?
What outcomes do you want from the visitors to your site? Will you be selling product online, or are you generating leads for a product or service? Do you want visitors to leave their contact details? If so, how will you encourage them to do this? Do you have a newsletter that they can subscribe to, or a competition, or a free offer of some kind?
And don't forget your existing customers. Will your site also be providing ongoing support and education for these clients?
4. How will you engage your visitors?
Remember that your Web site may be the first contact that a prospect has with your business, and if they don't relate to your site, it may well be the last! Make their experience as close as possible to actually speaking with you, and engage them in all the ways that you might do offline.
Incorporate answers to the questions that are most frequently asked during the buying and support process. If you don't know these, have your staff keep a log of customer interactions for a few days - you'll soon see a pattern.
And, if you usually help the customer through product selection, ask them to make their choices in an online survey that can be e-mailed to you as a lead.
5. Do you want "hits", or qualified leads?
It's important to know whether you want as much traffic and as many responses as possible from your site, or whether you would prefer only to hear from serious buyers. A nonprofit organization might want as many people as possible to see its message, but most businesses have a specific focus.
If you decide to qualify the responses that you get from the site, what criteria will you use to do this?
6. Do you have a promotion plan and budget?
Even the best-designed Web sites require effective online marketing and publicity to generate traffic. You'll need a strategy to position your site as well as possible in the Internet search engines and directories.
There are also many ways to promote your site "Beyond the Search Engines" - check out my free tipsheet with twenty-three proven ideas for doing this . . .
Remember that marketing your Web site is an ongoing activity, and allocate time and resources to this.
7. How will you measure your success?
If you've made decisions on all these issues, you'll need a way to evaluate the results of your site and your promotional efforts against the goals and outcomes that you set. Your Website traffic reports can provide really valuable information about your visitors - in fact, I'd suggest that without this data, you're shooting in the dark with your online investment.
The reports will tell you how many users come to your site, which search engines and keywords they're using to find you, which pages of your site are the most popular, and which are rarely accessed. You can use this information to tweak your site, and to make strategic development decisions which can often impact not just your Internet marketing, but your entire business.
So, think before you leap, and may your business prosper in Cyberspace!