What do you wish to accomplish with your Web site? How do you plan to drive visitors to your site? How often will you need to update your content? What is your budget? Who are your resources?
These are some of the questions business owners should ask themselves when embarking upon the task of developing Web site for their company. A seminar sponsored by the Kenai Peninsula Small Business Development Center last week set out to help answer some of these questions.
David Edwards-Smith, owner of the Soldotna-based Borealis Designs, was on hand to give interested business owners some perspectives to consider before setting out to design or contract someone to develop their businesses' Internet presence. He said presenting a professional image can invite customers and make the difference in winning over business that might go to the competition.
"Now it's more important than ever to rise to the top with standards," he said. "Especially with the saturation of fishing guides and bed and breakfasts in the market."
Edwards-Smith said the seminar was not intended to teach attendants how to build or design Web sites using hypertext markup language or any programs that facilitate use of the Web format.
"This is about shaping your mind-set before you begin to design the site," he said. "It's about gaining credibility."
Edwards-Smith said many people upload their sites hoping to get a leg up on the competition by using elaborate graphical bells and whistles to gain the attention of browsers but don't consider a content format that's easy for potential clients or customers to read, understand and remember.
"It's wonderful to be able to hand somebody your card and know that they're going to go to your site and know what you do," Edwards-Smith said. "This tool is great for the (business) that just came into town."
Developing a style guide with consistent material and presenting easy to read content, including fonts, headers and text justification increase the user's ability to get the most from the site.
Edwards-Smith said simple tools like frequently asked questions, well-placed and well-used key words, success stories, product how-tos and travel tips also can be key in making a site user friendly.
He pointed out ways to optimize visibility on some of the major Web browsers like Yahoo! or Google. First, a business can partner with other companies and increase visibility by attaching links -- direct connections to that business's site -- to partner sites. The more partners displaying a link, the more link popularity the site has.
Frequently using key words that specifically and accurately describe the business in the content of the site, as well as on the description page when registering with the large Web browsers can significantly minimize the amount of time it takes for a site to show up, Edwards-Smith said.
This way, well-defined sites will be filtered to the top of a list. For example, an entry on a browser for "fishing charters" could pull up a number of links to charter companies that will be listed based on priority assigned according to the most specific information on the matter.
"It can take as much as six months now to get on a site," he said.
He said companies with the budget can opt to pay for top ranking, but this often is charged at a rate of a few pennies per click on the link -- which he said could add up.
A suggestion Edwards-Smith gave for targeting and building loyal customers was to generate e-mail lists.
"Get people to subscribe to a periodic newsletter," he said. "Then you can send out coupons or e-mails inviting them to log on to your site for coupons. Now every month or two weeks people (who receive these e-mails) are expecting to get information that other people don't get."
Mark Gregory, director of the Small Business Development Center, said he hoped the seminar, and subsequent ones like it, would encourage business people to promote a strong image of the peninsula to customers, particularly those Outside who are looking for Alaska businesses.
"About 80 percent of the tourism business is coming via the Internet," Gregory said. "What they see becomes reality."
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