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Friday, March 19, 2010

SBF: How To Promote Your Small Business Online When Your Website Sucks

Ok, so you’ve decided to start using the Internet to promote your business more actively and most people you talk to who know about the web tell you the same thing … you need to redesign your website. The problem for many small businesses is that getting to the point when you actually have the budget or manage to get the right help to do it may take some time.

In the short term, this leaves you with an interesting challenge that there just isn’t much advice for – the moment when you realize that you still need to promote your business despite having a website that you hate and which you know is less than ideal. Can it really be possible to use the Internet effectively for marketing without a good website?  Yes, definitely.  Here are a few ideas on how to do just that.
  1. Announce a non-existent redesign. The first thing you need to do with a subpar website is to give customers the impression you are working to improve it (which hopefully you are). The only thing worse than a bad website is one that seems like it will be bad forever. So put a note on your homepage in some way sharing that your redesign is “coming soon.” If you think about it, this is exactly what retail destinations do when they hang those signs saying “please pardon our progress.” Progress takes time, but the first important lesson is that your customers need to know that it is coming ... even if you have no idea when. Just by putting that sign up, you may also find that it helps motivate you to get that redesign done sooner.
  2. Create other homepages. The nice thing about the web today is that you can get up and running on a host of other sites to create a branded presence for your business in less than an hour. What this means is that your website doesn’t need to be the only place that you share information about your business.  Need a page telling people where you are located? Populate that information into Google Maps and use that link. Want to tell people about your business and share some images? Create a Facebook fan page for your business. There are lots of sites out there where you can share information about your business without needing to just point people to your site.
  3. Fix your homepage first. The homepage of your site is the gateway to your business and the first impression someone is likely to have. While a full redesign may be some time away, getting some help to recreate your homepage can be a good investment to start people with a positive experience of your site and then potentially drive them to other homepages as mentioned in #3.
  4. Use more direct communications. When you can’t rely on your website to reach your customers, you may want to consider a more direct model. Email marketing certainly fits into this category – but starting a Twitter account and sharing updates directly can also be a way of offering a more consistent stream of content or information without relying on your website to do it.
  5. Leverage your other materials. I have seen more than a few small businesses struggle to create a quality website while at the VERY SAME TIME they have an expanse of good printed materials such as brochures and other collateral they use in the real world to promote their business. If you have these kinds of materials, work with someone (or buy a relatively inexpensive scanner yourself) to digitize some of the best of your content. Then you can upload to your site or post it online in another location to make it available for customers and prospective customers.
NOTE: This post is part of Small Business Friday (SBF) - a weekly feature to share marketing ideas for small businesses and was originally published on the Amex Open Forum site.

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Comments

Rohit, rather than put out a soft lie about your Web site (coming soon/under construction) why not just forego it completely and build your presence in social media? You allude to it in your second bullet, but you seem to hold on to the small biz/corporate Web site as a must have. It seems to me like something easy to let go of, especially if it's bad or not nurtured.

I've seen some small local businesses whose Web sites are actually blogs. They post small stories or notes, and that's the home page. They're far better than "regular" Web sites.

Or go the whole social media route, like Zeus Jones did (I have to stop talking about them) when they launched: their home page was a list of their social media presences.

My advice is: If your Web site stinks, and you don't want to sink more money into it, do something completely different.

Rich

Rich -

Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I do agree with you that many businesses could let go of their main site and simply focus on launching their presence through social media. In some cases, for less social media savvy business owners, the website can still offer a much needed security blanket while they experiment with social networking profile pages or blogs on the side. I wonder whether some of these businesses even need the traditional site as well ... but launching a good branded profile on social networking sites can take a significant amount of time and even cost if you hire experts to do it for you. In the near future, I think more business owners will hold on to that website and need real ways to improve it without necessarily overhauling everything - but I'm glad you added this important reminder to any small business owners who read this that social media offers a great way to throw that crappy website away and replace it with something different.

As part of an interactive agency I am a bit biased and believe that most consumers want to go to a reputable company site before making a purchase decision.

However, to Rich's point we are seeing more clients ask about blogging platforms such as Wordpress because of their flexibility with customized design as well as CMS capabilities that allow for easy updates. Though I would argue these blogs then become company websites.

Quite an interesting concept - the key ingredient being that you actually need to change your sucky website!

I'd love to include a video I recently produced on 10 Split Testing Tips to Improve your website Conversion - good resource to start changing your website:
Split testing landing page

Best,
Ana

Hi Rohit,

Thanks for sharing such valuable advices! I share your thoughts. What I do when I don't have the time or budget is exactly that, I go through other resources. I have created several business accounts for different businesses on Facebook and we are running well with Fan Pages so far.

There are lots of things to do there and it results more interactive to our target audiences!

I would say also put something up simple if you don't have the time, money, energy, whatever the excuse-of-the-day is.

For example: Tumblr or Posterous.

Depending on your traffic and how bad your site is (I agree many are horrible), you can leverage a simple-to-use blogging platform for the time being.

Also improving a one-way awful website doesn't make it automatically social, interactive and interesting. A re-design aesthetically plus a plan content wise might be the greatest strategy for success.

Just my .02 or .03 cents.

Thanks for the post....

Wow...This one always gets me. In today's internet marketing enviornment, a website is one of the most critical part of any Brand Strategy. - http://www.stellarpointgroup.com/marketing-strategy-ideas.html

With an inexpensive website running around $500 - not a great one - but it works and it can get picked up in the search results - I would think this rates right up there as either priority #1 or #2 for any company.

The alternatives will help - but don't avoid the real thing...Thanks Again

Awe-inspiring bequest! it is attention-grabbing. I feel affection for it.

Rohit, these are some smart ideas and I'm already using many of them. Yet I still think you gotta fix your website. Like you say, even if it's just the home page. Your email marketing, Google map links, all point back to your home page anyway.

Some of the other suggestions, and in the comments, like a Posterous page or simple blog could also work. FWIW.

hi

very interesting this article, very helpful advice. thks

Interesting post but why would any company knowingly hold onto a bad website? i have seen plenty of websites that are dreadful but their owners seem oblivious to that fact.Or perhaps they just forgot to add the "under construction part.

Homepage is the lobby of your website. Make it attractive and put interesting stuffs on it that your guest will not leave as if they have visited a haunted house.To have an idea of a good website why not browse for a good looking website and make it your model.

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