Are Websites Over-rated? A $500 website and email strategy (Part 1)
Three years after the internet boom, many businesses have not ventured past the brochure website phase. Even fewer use email to reach their customers and prospects. The question these companies face is whether to spend more on their websites. Many of them paid high rates for their static online real estate. Even more companies never went online because of the high cost of a static site.
What are these priced-out businesses to do about the internet? Are they shut out? How should they sort the flood of offers for low cost websites and webhosting? A basic multi-page website still costs around $1,000 USD to do right. That does not include ecommerce. In other words, it is still too easy to waste thousands of dollars on a website.
Companies that are cost-concious can still use internet technology to reach customers. The trick is to balance the cost and potentials of different tools, specifically, websites and email. An October 2002 study by DoubleClick found fifty nine percent bought something offline after their received an email from a merchant they knew. This suggests that email is a more effective tool than websites for many businesses.
Therefore, a one page website with the right content could be enough for any business whose customers and prospects visit their stores or offices, for example, florists, law firms, dry cleaners, restaurants, and hardware stores. The website becomes a business card with contact information, directions, a small set of product offers, and a signup box for email newsletters. In the store or office, the business can use sign up sheets for their email newsletter.
The sign up process also becomes a way to connect with customers who can’t find what they want that day in your store. Without the possibility to sign up for email contact, these potential customers are usually lost. The same dynamic applies for websites that do not have an email signup box.
With email addresses gained from face to face contact with prospects and customers, in the context of a sale, a business can devote their scarce time and money to send coupons and product offers to their list of email addresses. The response should be higher and more consistent over time than relying solely on a multi-page website.
A single page website is somewhat of an oddity online despite its logic for many businesses. Costs and maintenance of a one page site are more easily controlled than a site with many pages. If money is tight, a one page site with contact information, directions, selected product information, and a signup box for email newsletters is enough information for most visitors to a website.
For example, look at the website for Dina, a restaurant (www.dina.bz.). Once you get past the landing page, their one page site conveys their restaurant menu and their brand very effectively. However, without a signup box for email newsletters, they have to rely on people to find their website. Their internet efforts would be more effective if they collected email addresses from diners, especially frequent guests who might view email offers as a reward for their loyalty. Email could be used to generate great word of mouth.
Where does one begin with a one page website and email newsletters? I spoke with two graphic designers about what they would charge to develop a one page site. Here is the cost breakdown:
$300-395 for web page with logo, html coding, basic copywriting
$ 72-180 for webhosting
$ 10-35/year for domain name
$ 99 for authoring tool (Macromedia Contribute)
According to both designers, one big cost factor is whether or not a logo exists in electronic form or would have to be created. If you have a logo, product photographs, and even copy, your costs might be less. The designer still needs to create a page layout with columns to hold your logo and other information.
The process to build a one page website is straightforward. The web designer creates your web page and post it to your webserver. To change content and images over time, you would use Contribute, an editorial software tool that enables you to drag and drop images and re-size images, without knowledge of html and without requiring anything special from your web server.
Finding space on a webserver can be done through your web designer or on your own. A one page site with minimal to modest traffic can use the basic accounts offered by HostingMatters.com, GearHost.com, PHPWebhosting.com, or Linkstream.net. They all have accounts with plenty of features for $6-15 USD per month with the ability to upgrade services if needed. GearHost.com also includes live website reporting and the ability to track website activity by user defined time periods. That would allow you to, for example, track results from your online (email, search keyword buys) and offline marketing efforts.
Each of these webhosting services also provide web pages to create and modify email addresses. If your business is large enough to have its own email server in-house, however, you will need to ask your internet provider to give you an IP address for your email server (you probably have one already) and you’ll need to let your webhosting service know the IP address so they can route your email.
If you do not have an in-house email server, you can use the control panel provided by your webhosting service to configure your email addresses, for example, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, as well as addresses for individuals (e.g., email@example.com). Custom email addresses can be used to reinforce your marketing, using campaign or brand slogans as an address (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org). While any email address can be pointed to your AOL, Earthlink, or other main account, most webhosting services include web based email so that email is sent to and from your company email accounts.
Beyond effective use of email addresses, there are other elements to consider with your one page website.
“Excellent copy is more important than a great design for a one page website,” according to Komra Moriko of Design4Results, one of the designers I spoke with. “You need to make a good offer to your customers and make it easy for them to respond. You absolutely need your copy to have AIDA: attention, interest, desire, and action. Credibility from BBB Online or similar source also helps.”
Lisa Grey, of Grays Web Design, has developed many sites for small businesses along the coast of Oregon and elsewhere. When I asked for her thoughts about one page websites and what her customers needed most from the internet, she responded, “Another important cost-effective strategy is search engine ranking. Many designers are not aware of how to build search engine marketing techniques right into the website. Their sites rank lower as a result.” Lisa recommends that business owners choose a web designer who can answer the question, “What are your techniques for making my site rank higher in the search engines?” The answer should not be simply “Meta tags.” For one thing, search engines rank other parts of a website and website copy far higher than meta tags.
Reporting and measuring success of your one page website is an important factor to consider. As mentioned above, GearHost.com includes LiveStats, a robust website activity reporting tool that lets you configure reports by date ranges you specify. This type of reporting allows you to measure the impact of your offline and online marketing activities. At the least, you need to know over time how many unique visitors visit your one page website, how much time they spend on your site, and if they were referred by another website.
In addition, you can construct your website copy and offers to help you track response rates. Ask customers to mention that they saw your offer on your website to get additional benefits. You also can ask customers who call or visit to see if their visit is based on your website offers.
A one page website with active email newsletter campaigns could be a win/win for businesses and website designers.
For businesses, this strategy can solve the internet cost and learning curve issues for many companies. It is a useful way to get started. Even more important, if your customers respond to either your internet efforts, this strategy allows you to migrate upwards. You can go back to your graphic designer to add pages or ecommerce if needed. But you are not required to do so until you have proven the need. You’re in control.
For designers, a one page website plus email strategy could be a good way to attract clients with clearly defined needs. Some of these clients will grow, too, which promises additional long term revenue if they need more web pages and ecommerce. This strategy also works well for designers who currently have little kids in school and find it hard to take on clients with big demands.
Read Part 2 of this column: how to write and use email to reach your customers.
Resources mentioned in this article
http://www.dotster.com (domain names)
http://www.register.com (domain names)
http://www.netsol.com (domain names)
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