thumbsdownMeet Marie. Marie is the owner of Marie’s Ceramic Palace, a workshop where customers come to create artistic masterpieces of their very own. It’s in a prime location and does very well bringing in local community members.

About three years ago, Marie decided that it was time to take her shop to the Internet hoping to bring in customers from a wider radius. Once her website was up and running, she purchased advertising at restaurants, in the penny saver, in the newspaper – everywhere – and included her new website address. And yet, business did not pick up. She was ready to give up.

This is not an uncommon experience. Many of my potential clients come to me with the same story and 99% of the time my answers are as follows:

(1) your website address is hosted at a free website provider. Many people look for the easy way out. They decide that they do not wish to pay for a domain name and go to a free hosting site. This is a big no-no. If you want customers to take you seriously you must spend the ten dollars a year to purchase your own domain name and then pay to host your site somewhere. For example, Marie’s Ceramic Palace should be located at www.mariesceramicpalace.com and not at http:// mariesceramicpalace.free-web-host.com. Just look at the difference. Customers will judge you based on your domain name and if you have not proven that you are serious enough to buy one of your own, they will not think you are serious about doing business.

(2) your domain name does not accurately represent your company. On the most basic level, your domain name should match your business name. Sometimes, that is not possible, but your domain should at least match the general idea. This is where branding comes into play. Hire a professional to find the best solution for you especially if your exact business name is not available as a domain name. Don’t try to get cute and choose a domain name that is ambiguous or one that can be mistaken for something else. And remember, before you decide on a domain name, make sure that you understand what the domain name suffix (the part that comes after the dot(.)) means.

(3) you think a website is the same as a blog. This is such a common mistake. Blogs have become so popular that every business owner thinks that he/she should have one. The thing is, not every business needs a blog. A blog is a conversation between you (a person) and other people. It is an extension of your website providing practical information or tips regarding topics important to your business and your target market. It is a tool to get to know your clients/customers on a more personal level. In addition, it allows your customers to put a “face” to the business. It is a sub-site to your website. Before you add a blog, decide if what you have to say is best heard by another medium.

(4) you designed your website yourself. Stay away from What You See is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editors (think Microsoft’s now abandoned FrontPage) and HTML for Dummies books unless you actually know what you are doing. Creating eye-pleasing, artistic, functional, and accessible websites takes more than just slapping some Clip Art (which should NEVER be on a business website anyway), colorful fonts, and a textured background on a page. In fact, if you have done any of the above on your website you have probably caused more harm than good. Web designers and web coders (especially good ones) are skilled in creating sites that compliment your business. Web developers follow the standards. Your website is the face of your company created by piecing together your best assets.  Web developers and designers are like plastic surgeons and you get what you pay for! In addition, it is always obvious if a website is using a free template. To stand out, hire a professional.

(5) the content on your website is stale. Even the most attractive, well-planned website will cause customers to go running in the opposite direction if the content is boring and lacking in creativity. If you want your potential customers to become current and recurring customers, you have to use engaging language that subtly pushes the sale. You have to know what to say and what not to say. In addition, you need to update your content as the products/services offered changes. There is nothing worse than contacting a business about something on its website only to be told that it’s no longer being offered.  Hire a copywriter and if possible, a content manager to update your website content as needed.