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Sales, marketing and the Internet

Pretty much everyone in business these days uses the internet for sales and marketing purposes, whether purely for communication, such as use of emails or for market penetration through their website, social media or even virtual sales visits.

Websites and Internet security

However, given that so much data is now ‘in the cloud’, it is hardly surprising that some businesspeople doubt the security of their information and some are even concerned about putting too much into the public domain and could be asking the question:

Do I need a website?

The short answer is ‘yes’.  Without a website, how do people outside your locality know you exist? However, it does not need to be a fancy site with flashing images, if that’s what you would prefer. 

It could merely be a single homepage with your business name, what you do and contact details on it, rather like a Yellow Pages entry.  Conversely, it could be an all singing, all dancing site where customers can actually buy your products.  It really is a matter of individual taste and budget.

However, as with any other purchase, get the best quality you can for your money, as nothing looks worse, or gives a poorer image of your business, than an obvious DIY effort that is slow and hard to navigate.

Generally speaking, you have a choice of three types of site:

  • Simple homepage, as described above
  • Showcase, that gives more detail and sells the business
  • Webstore, where customers can actually buy your products online

Simple homepage

Although we call it ‘simple’ this is still an internet entry, so is a great deal more interactive than a print advert and gives you more scope for getting across more information – although still remember the old adage of plenty of clear space.

On your page you should include:

  • The name of the business and your logo, if you have one
  • A summary of what you do, written in plain English
  • Contact details, including the address of the business, an email address and telephone numbers and the name of the person customers should call or email, as everyone likes the personal touch
  • Opening hours, if applicable
  • Any relevant images of your products or services
  • Words that customers might be looking for to help push your site up the rankings

You could also include a webform on the page so that prospective customers can fill in their details and send their query to you with one click.  Internet shoppers have a notoriously short attention span, so if they can get to you with a click but have to resort to writing an email to get to your competitor, you are more likely to get the business.

This is the most cost-effective type of site and would suit companies on a tight budget with simple products and services.

Showcase

This acts as a form of online brochure and can be much more informative.  Generally it is a multi-page site with various tabs describing the business, maybe its history, if it’s an interesting story, and something about the staff, as well, of course, as descriptions of the products and services.

However, don’t fall into the trap of cramming it with every available piece of information you can think of, as less is more in the Internet world and we’ve already mentioned the attention span deficit!

Keep paragraphs short so that people don’t immediately click off the minute they find you and write in an engaging style with your audience in mind – don’t just re-cycle the wording on other promotional material, as what works in print doesn’t always work online.

Best practice is for links to open in a new window so that users don’t have to keep going back to their starting point.  Always keep in mind that the site should be easily navigable and quick to upload. 

Have a look at your competitors’ sites and see what works for them.  Chances are, a similar approach will work for you.

Webstore

This is more of a bells and whistles site and needs to be tested to destruction before you go live, as there are so many components.  Also, because it involves taking confidential information from customers it is essential that it is put together by professionals – this is no site to cut corners on.

There are three main things to consider with this type of site:

  • Can you fulfil a customer order within a few working days to anywhere in the country?
  • How will you deal with problems, late deliveries, refunds or exchanges?
  • Have you set up the site to accept debit and credit card payments in a secure environment?

Although this is the most expensive type of site, it might be the most lucrative, as you’re actually getting the money before you send the goods, rather like in a shop.  However, in order for it to work properly, you must have all the safeguards in place and will need to write a really tight brief for the web developer.

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Your website is your greatest selling tool

Unlike your sales force, your website is working 24/7, 365 days of the year. However, unlike your sales force, you probably won’t get any feedback unless it’s a complaint, as we Brits are notorious for only commenting on the bad things.

Therefore, you have to ensure that your site is always looking at its best and working properly.  Check it for ease of navigability, speed, broken links, up-to-date information and spelling, as any one of these can put off a prospective customer within seconds.

Think of it as your shop front; you wouldn’t have customers come into a clearly run-down shop and be greeted by an uncouth, slovenly sales assistant, so why would you have a website that doesn’t reflect your standards of professionalism and customer service?

Most website users want the following questions answered:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • How are you different from your competitors?
  • What’s in it for me?
  • How can I get hold of you?

As long as your site answers these questions, you’re halfway there.

Know your users

As we said earlier, you need to know your audience so that you can tailor what you write and how you write it to resonate with them.

There are lots of ways you can find out about who is visiting your site, such as Google Analytics, which can tell you how many people arrive at your site, whether it’s their first time, where they’re from and what time of day they call in.

Your web host or site designer should also offer regular reports on visitor numbers, most popular pages and which search engine phrases they used to get to you.  You can also usually access web statistics as part of your hosting package for little or no extra cost, or use one of the free tools available online.

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Building your website

As we mentioned before, the best advice is to get professional help, as an obviously homemade site can actually put customers off.  However, if you’re feeling confident and do decide to go down the DIY route, here is a list of basic Do’s and Don’ts:

Make a sitemap in advance

You wouldn’t build a house without a plan, so don’t build a website without a sitemap. The hardest websites to navigate are usually the ones that evolved over time, starting as something simple but with pages and sections added as the business grows and generates more content. Like the house, bits and bobs tacked on to a site as an afterthought don’t look great.

By creating a site map, which is effectively a blueprint of your website and its navigation, you will be able to keep it clear, uncluttered and easy to use. When you want to add new sections, plot them on the site map first so you can see how they will fit into the overall site and where they need to link to and from. This could save you a lot of time and money rebuilding your site to make it user-friendly again.

Navigation

The navigation is the menu system by which users will find their way around your site. It should consist of a menu bar across the top and an optional menu at the side, known as a sidebar, depending on how much content you have. The navigation should be the same on every page so users can get back to where they want easily and predictably.

Colour scheme

Your website colour scheme should reflect your brand identity and gel with your logo. Don’t use garish colours that will cause eyestrain, and don’t assume that a loud colour scheme has more impact. Think of your users – ever tried to read yellow print on an orange background…?

The type of business you have will dictate what colours are appropriate. A bright blue website with chunky red graphics might be great for a children’s entertainer but would not give the right image for a firm of solicitors. Avoid strong contrasts like white on black. Ideally your text should be black on white space with colours restricted to design elements like buttons, menus and logos.

Fonts

You have little control over what font your user sees, as that will be dictated by what they have installed on their machine. The best font to use is a universal sans serif font like Arial, as, unlike on printed material, serif fonts like Times New Roman do not work on the Internet because they are harder to read on screen. As we’ve said, it’s all about the users, so adopt a clear, uncluttered font that will show up better and be easier to read.

Also, avoid ‘funny’ fonts like Comic Sans, as these are generally considered unprofessional and corny. If you use an unusual font, the chances are it won’t show up on most users’ screens and will just default back to Arial, so it’s best to stick to the simple stuff.

Avoid using italics as these are hard to read onscreen, and never use underlined text for anything except links. Web users expect underlined text to be a link, and will get annoyed if they hover over it and discover it’s not.

Use photographs and descriptions of staff

As we mentioned earlier, customers like the personal touch and also to put a face to a name.  Putting pictures of your staff will create a friendly, personable environment on your site and will let users see who they are dealing with. Try and use a professional photographer if possible, or save some money by using a good quality digital camera to take your own snaps. And remind your staff – a smile costs nothing!

Write for your audience

Sorry to keep on about this but you wouldn’t speak the same way to one of your friends as you would to your maiden aunt, so once you know who your audience is, speak to them in a language they’ll understand.

Don’t fill your site with wordy, jargon-filled descriptions if all that’s needed is a short overview of your core products and services. You only have a few moments in which to sell your company to a prospective customer, so get straight to the point and keep it simple.

As we’ve said before, a website does not demand the attention of a printed brochure, so avoid using the same wording for both. Create snappy copy for your site, or employ a professional copywriter, and remember to have it proofread to avoid spelling, grammar and punctuation errors!

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Choosing a domain name

Your domain name is your unique Internet address and should be a reflection of your company name, products or services. Choose your domain carefully, as it will be costly to change at a later date if you have already printed stationery or bought advertising.

What makes a good domain name?

Domain names may only include lower-case characters, numbers, and hyphens. You can choose a domain type based on the sort of business image you want to portray, such as:

  • .com – a global corporate suffix, this is the ideal domain for international or larger businesses. It’s also likely to be the first domain your customers input if trying to guess your web address
  • .org – usually used by non-profit organisations
  • .net – often indicates an Internet or computer-related organisation although it is sometimes used when the .com version of the name is not available
  • .co.uk – the principal designation for UK-based commercial sites
  • .biz/.tv – these newer suffixes are often used by entertainment companies and fun sites.

It can be worthwhile registering a few domains types and having them redirect to the one you want to use. This stops other companies or individuals using them and causing confusion in the marketplace.

Keep your domain name short and sweet, as it will be easier for customers to remember. It’s OK to abbreviate your business name - the Internet is all about being quick and adaptable. Check to see if your chosen name is available using a WHOIS search. You can do this easily online through your domain registration company.

As with choosing your company name, you should do a bit of homework before paying to register a name. Check out similar domain names to ensure they don’t lead to unsavoury sites that might impact on your good reputation!

Registering a domain can be as cheap as a few pounds, or you can pay a bit extra and have server space included (which will allow you to host your website on the Internet). Dot coms are typically more expensive than other domain types and are usually the first choice for commercial enterprises.

The time and money you spend on a domain should be proportionate to how important your website will be to your business. Keep your business plan in mind, and if your goals include developing your business using marketing techniques, be aware of how vital the Internet has become.

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Be search engine friendly

There’s no point in having a wonderful website if no one can find you. To be seen on the net, you must become search engine friendly. There are several strategies you can employ to get your site further up the rankings.

  • Identify the keywords and phrases you want to be associated with your business. These should include your business name, your key products and services and your geographic area.
  • Ensure your website text uses these words and phrases as often as possible. This is called your keyword density and is a major factor in search engine optimisation (SEO).
  • Get linked. The more places on the web you are linked from, the higher up the ranking you will appear on search engines like Google.
  • Avoid all-Flash content. Search engines can’t read the content of Flash pages or graphic items unless they are tagged, so keep trendy content to a minimum.
  • Use a professional. Although you don’t need to pay for regular search engine optimisation, having your website written and designed by a professional will ensure it has the best chance of being ranked at the top by search engines. You can also pay for one-off search engine registration.

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Building website traffic

Once your website is built and online, start promoting it everywhere. Have your stationery and business card reprinted to include the web address, and add it to your email signature so people can access you with one click.

Search engines

Being search engine friendly is an important part of having a visible website. Many people go straight to their favourite search engine to find a company rather than rely on old-fashioned methods like the telephone directory.

Search engines use software called a spider to read your site looking for keywords known as metatags or meta descriptions which are then used to build your search engine ranking.

Advertise

You can advertise on other, relevant websites by using a banner ad. This is a graphic with an animation or information about what you do, which takes the user to your site when clicked. Banner ads are best used on sites with an appropriate target market.

Email marketing

Used with caution, email marketing can be an effective way of publicising your website.

Creating reciprocal links

Ask for a link to your website to be put on a relevant website, such as a supplier’s and offer a link in return. This is a very effective method of driving traffic to your site and increases your search engine visibility.

Tell the world

Don’t just talk about your website, shout about it! Make sure the address appears everywhere that your business name does, including your newspaper advertisements, flyers, signage and directory listings.

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Is email marketing spam?

The average person in the UK gets and sends around 40 emails a day, so it’s important that you don’t clutter up people’s inboxes with advertising they don’t want. However, email marketing can be a legitimate and useful business tool - the key is to only email groups who may have a requirement for your business. One way of finding them is to purchase email lists, although these go out of date very quickly, so caution should be used.

If you want to send marketing emails, which can be extremely effective, do a bit of research about the person or company you are mailing. This is essential for business-to-business emailing, and you can be cheeky enough to say you have identified them as a potential customer and would like to supply a quote.

If someone has come to your company via your website, they have already demonstrated that they like to communicate via the Internet, so by including a simple form whereby they can input their email address for further information, you can build a mailing list and keep in contact.

Email provides a fantastic opportunity to reach customers on a regular basis for minimum cost. For example, a quarterly or even monthly newsletter, emailed to customers first and uploaded to your website a few days later, is a great way of ensuring consistent communication and delivering news about new products, services or company achievements.

A newsletter adds value and keeps your name on the radar. Even a basic “hello, remember us” every six months could turn into a sale.

However, data protection law states that any marketing email you send must include an opt-out facility, so make sure you include a link or instruction on how the recipient can stop your emails if they choose. It is also vital to act immediately on any opt-out request you receive by removing the customer’s email address from your mailing list database or address book.

You can add it to a ‘do not mail’ list if you want to keep the details for reference, but make sure you do not contact the customer with marketing emails again once they have opted out.

In conclusion, the answer is no, email marketing is not spam if done in a considerate, relevant manner. Respect your customers’ privacy, don’t bombard them with emails, and ensure it is easy for them to suppress any mailings from you, and you can take full advantage of the useful and cost-effective tool that is email marketing.

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The basics of Internet security

Firewalls

Almost all businesses utilise the Internet in some way, whether it’s for research, e-commerce or email. Yet many of them leave themselves vulnerable to security breaches, a hazard when computers often contain sensitive information like customer details. If your computer system were hacked, how would you cope with the disruption, embarrassment and cost?

One of the best ways to avoid unwanted, undetected intruders is to install a firewall. A firewall is an invisible shield that filters the information going out of and coming in to your computer via the Internet. It’s not infallible, so you will still need to employ common sense and avoid suspicious websites, but an Internet connection without a firewall is like a wallet left on a dashboard. Why take the risk?

Hackers use sophisticated systems to scan for unprotected machines and steal valuable data, hijack hard drives and cause damage that you may well be liable for – for example a breach of confidential customer information or the loss of a credit card number.

However, there are a number of cost-effective (many free) protection mechanisms on offer from dozens of technology companies.  Check unbiased consumer sites, such as PC Magazine to find out which one would suit your needs best.

Viruses

A virus is a self-replicating computer programme that is designed to damage your computer and the data it holds. It can also tie up your system by sending emails to everyone in your address book (thereby spreading the virus) and in some cases, deleting Windows or the contents of your hard drive. Imagine the cost to your business if that happened!

Viruses are spread by emails, from the Internet, or via documents. You should install a reputable virus scanner to automatically scan anything you receive and run a regular virus scan of your hard drive and ensure you update the software daily. New viruses are made every day so you should keep your database updated. Also, never open an email that looks suspicious or only contains a link.

Spyware

Another type of malicious download is spyware or adware. This is a self-installing programme that hides on your PC and monitors your activity, reporting back to an individual or exposing you to unwanted advertising. You should install a separate spyware scanner and run it alongside your virus software.

A common sense approach is best when dealing with Internet security. Only install legitimate copies of software for which you own the licence, don’t open chain emails or anything that looks suspicious, and virus scan any incoming documents before opening. You should also implement a policy to ensure your staff adhere to safe and sensible web surfing and make regular backups of all data.  What would you do if you lost all your records, apart from cry?

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Top tips for IT security

No business is safe from hackers, and these days you’re at the mercy of viruses, worms, Trojans, bots, ransomware and scareware, (generally called malware, as they’re malicious in intent) all of which are very nasty indeed. However, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce your risk:

1. Keep passwords unguessable

Don’t use the same password for everything, and avoid obvious things like names, pets or birthdays. Instead, pick a combination of letters and numbers, for example a favourite holiday destination and the year you were there.   Also, while you should write these passwords down somewhere safe, don’t put them under headings such as ‘Mr Pin’.

2. Update your software

If you are using any standard software such as Microsoft Windows you should look for software updates online. Most new versions of Operating systems, will automatically prompt you when an update is available. These are called patches and fix any known bugs or holes in the software which might allow hackers access.

3. Build a fortress

Invest in anti-virus and anti-spyware software and update it regularly to ensure it can detect even the newest intrusions. It is not expensive but could save you a fortune in lost data, customers and hardware.

4. Make regular backups

In the unfortunate event of a security breach, the theft of a laptop or even a fire, your business will not be able to operate without the contents of your hard drives. Make backups to an external drive or CD ROM daily or weekly and keep them offsite, or use a backup service for a small fee.

You can also store your data in the cloud, which means saving data to an off-site storage system maintained by a third party.  Cloud storage has several advantages over traditional data storage.

For example, if you store your data on a cloud storage system, you'll be able to get to that data from any location that has Internet access and won’t need to carry around a physical storage device or use the same computer to save and retrieve your information. With the right storage system, you could even allow other people to access the data, turning a personal project into a collaborative effort, which is particularly useful for business.

5. Emails are not always friendly

If you receive an unsolicited email and you are unsure, delete it immediately. Emails are the most popular way of spreading viruses, although, as we’ve mentioned, you can install anti-virus software to scan incoming mail for viruses and spam. However, you should regularly check your spam folder for legitimate emails that may have slipped through.

6. Install a firewall

A firewall builds a barrier between you and potential hackers while you are online. Use the Windows standard one or install a different free or purchased package.

7. Don’t input private data on public machines

Internet cafes or other public machines are a handy way of surfing the web while out and about, but are also vulnerable to hackers who can log on and steal your passwords or credit card details. Avoid using data like that on a public machine and stick to simple surfing.

Most password-protected sites warn you not to tick the ‘remember me on this site’ box, but, if you do have to use a public machine, just take extra care.

8. Use the latest versions of operating systems

Older versions of Windows are very vulnerable to attack, so you should consider upgrading your Windows package as often as you can to ensure you have the most up-to-date protection.

9. Encrypt your files

You can encrypt files through Windows or through specially purchased software, which makes sensitive data safe from prying eyes.

10. Call the professionals

If in doubt, get a professional out. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and there are many highly skilled IT consultants who can help you set up and maintain a secure online working environment for a reasonable fee.

For information of users: This material is published for the information of clients. It provides only an overview of the regulations in force at the date of publication, and no action should be taken without consulting the detailed legislation or seeking professional advice. Therefore, neither the authors nor the firm can accept responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the material.

© Copyright JE Consulting 2014. All rights reserved.

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© 2014