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7 WAYS TO WIN ONLINE

Tip 1: Using Blogs

By Eileen Parzek

Everyone who has a web site for the sales and marketing of their business knows that the site should be regularly updated with information. Better yet, the content should be rich with information that the search engines like. This will generate traffic from Web searches. Having a blog on your site can make it easy to quickly add content such as articles, resources, reviews and news.

Blogs are essentially “content management systems” with a design template similar to your existing Web site. Once it is set up, you merely type, post and--voila--the content is added to your site with a link. Many blog tools provide a little tool bar so you can quickly add items you find online, for inclusion in your blog. It is possible to draft posts in advance. Better yet, the more search engine-friendly content you write and publish to your site, the more traffic you will get--and the more relevant your site will become to your prospective audience.

Three popular blog tools are MovableType.com, Blogger.com and Typepad.com.


Tip 2: Communicate Via Email

By Jason Baer

Email marketing is among the easiest and most effective communication tactics yet devised. Make collecting email addresses from customers and prospective customers dogma within your organization. A prospect's email address (and their permission for you to email them) is gold. If you don't have a natural way to collect this data, develop a contest or promotion that encourages people to provide this information in exchange for the chance to win a fabulous prize.

Once you have a list of email addresses, create and send (use one of the inexpensive email services, not your own account) a relevant email newsletter at regular intervals that keeps recipients up to date on key developments within your business. New services, special offers, featured client, new employees. All are great fodder for email newsletters, and enable you to keep your new business top-of-mind with customers and prospects.


Tip 3: Use RSS to Track Your Company, Customers and Competitors

By Eileen Parzek

The increased popularity of blogs and Real Simple Syndication (RSS), coupled with vast search engine capabilities present tools which allow you to efficiently track information that will keep you current and on top of trends. Services like Google News lets you set up a keyword search for whatever you want to keep tabs on, and get the resulting news stream in RSS in your favorite news reader. Then, whenever there is new news on that topic, the news reader refreshes with it.

Even more specific, NewsTrove.com is a searchable index of millions of news articles from 192,000 media sources, made available by RSS feed. What makes it really interesting is that you can filter the results you get by your political, religious and cultural leanings! And it searches both blogs and mainstream media.

Technorati.com let's you create an account with customized "watch" lists and RSS feeds that give you real time tracking of your key phrases, quickly and efficiently alerting you any time someone blogs about your company, industry, competitors or clients.


Tip 4: Understand Brand Impact

By Jason Baer

In some business categories, including travel and hospitality, real estate, and dining, prospective customers may often visit your Web site before determining whether or not to take the next step to call you or visit your physical location. For many people, your Web site defines their initial experience with your company. Your Web site is the sum total of your brand at this initial stage.

Consequently, don't have your sister's massage therapist's son design your Web site as a school project. Will you save money? Quite possibly, but the damage an amateurish Web site will do to your brand isn't worth it. Along the same lines, make sure your email address matches your Web site URL. This is easy and inexpensive, and nothing says "rookie" like a Web site address and an AOL email address for the owner.


Tip 5: Focus on Questions

By Jason Baer

Unless you're a very special kind of small business, people are not going to come to your Web site to be entertained. They will come to your Web site because they have questions about you or your offerings.

When developing your site, create a list of the 10 questions that customers and prospective customers ask you (or are likely to ask you) and incorporate those questions and answers prominently within the site. Ideally, these critical information pieces should be available on your site within a click or two. This isn't fancy stuff. The questions may include phone number, driving directions, hours of operation, etc. But nothing turns off a prospective customer faster than going to a Web site to find a simple piece of information and not being able to find it.


Tip 6: Promote Internally First

By Jason Baer

You've probably read advice about making sure your Web site address is included on all of your business materials including signs, stationary and the like. This is sage counsel, but overlooks the most important promotional effort for your Web site - your own people.

If you have employees in your small business, it is imperative that they know the address of the site, what is contained on the site, and why customers may want to visit it. Your company looks just a tad bit disorganized when your receptionist offhandedly remarks that "she never looks at it" when asked by a prospect about what information is available on the Web site.


Tip 7: Professional Printing From Your Desk

By Eileen Parzek

One of the best trends in recent years is the marriage of digital printing services and the web. Traditionally, printing in full color meant a large run and high costs. Now, a small business, no matter the size, can now have high quality, full color marketing collateral at any amount, without paying outrageous costs, and without even leaving the office. Even better than the advances in color printing is the fact that print-on-demand services and mail merging features are available so the business owner can literally send the files to the printer and conduct the entire process online.

AmazingMail.com lets the business upload a design and a mailing list, and they will print full color glossy postcards, apply the postage and addresses, and send at a per card cost. Printingforless.com is another solution, which will do just about anything a full service print shop will do, from proofing to printing, binding and delivery all online. They will happily send you a friendly and understandable package of samples which make choosing the right paper and finish practically dummy proof, and you can estimate your job in advance on their web site. The customer service provided by this Colorado company is such that you will feel like you're not only their best customers, but their only customer.


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