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By Tema Frank

Seventy-eight percent of small and medium size business in the United States report that their business is healthier — has a competitive advantage or stronger economic footing — because they have a Web site. Seventy-six percent say their Web site generates leads for their business.

Is your company in the majority? If not, here are a few thoughts on ways to turn the situation around:

Make your home page shine. Your home page must clearly state what you do and why people would want to deal with you. What makes you different from your competitors, whose sites they can so easily click over to? Why should they trust you? What results have you achieved for others? Be specific. Think from their point of view, not yours. Don’t talk about your offering’s features, but rather speak to the problems you solve.

Look professional. Avoid animated cartoon figures or scrolling words. Those are sure signs of amateurs. If your site looks amateurish, they’ll assume your company is too. On the other hand, don’t go overboard with slick Flash animation. The search engines can’t “read” it and neither can a lot of users who are on dial-up connections and/or just don’t want to bother downloading a special Flash reader or wasting time watching something “cool”--but irrelevant.

Introduce yourself. Put a picture of your president on the website, even if the president is the only employee. (They don’t need to know that!) Put an e-mail link right below it. Add a personal note. It helps build confidence that your business is for real, and that there is actually someone they can go to if they have a problem.

Give complete contact information. Make it as easy as possible for people to get in touch with you, in any way that works for them. That means providing:

• an e-mail address (that somebody checks and answers at least once a day),

• your phone number (including area code),

• a toll-free number (makes you look more professional, and encourages enquires from other cities), and

• your physical address, including city, state or province, and even country. (Remember, your site visitors can be from anywhere.) If you run a business from your home, rather than providing your home address, rent a mailbox and use that as your address. Get one from a private mailbox company so that you can put “suite #” instead of P.O. Box number. The latter is sure to make you look shady.

• a map or driving directions and the hours of operation to the store or retail outlet

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Tema Frank is the Founder and President of Web Mystery Shoppers Inc.
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