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Small biz needs to get connected


As more and more people turn to the Internet to research products and services, learn about companies and make purchases, having a business web presence has never been more critical.

“The web is now the first point of contact for many potential customers — this is your face to your customer,” says Julie King, president, CEO and co-founder of Biz Zone Internet Group, a web design company based in Gormley, Ont. “Business owners need to get excited about what they’re doing online and find ways to be engaging.”

King says many business proprietors treat their business website as a one-time project, when instead, they should view it as a revenue-generating tool.

“A lot of small business owners approach it as a one-off job,” she says. “You need to get passionate about it and treat it the way you would a real store — maintain it, keep the content current, and use the technology to achieve your business goals.”

The fundamentals of a good business website remain the same, King says: the design and content should clearly project your brand, objectives, and products or services.

“It’s not just about having pretty pictures — that’s just decoration. It starts with identifying your business goals and key messages, and presenting them in an engaging manner,” she says. “One of the most overlooked elements is clarity of message — every time you make a customer think, you’re making them work, which could cause them to go elsewhere.”

What has changed, King says, is the growing emphasis on making business websites more interactive.

“Last October, Facebook had more than three hundred million users worldwide, and Canadians are among the most engaged Facebook users. Perhaps social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter can help you meet your goals online,” King says.

E-commerce might also make sense for your business site, King says, adding that e-commerce tools are now much more accessible since they have come down in price over the years.

“Studies have shown that many people make impulse buys online, so having this facility there may help you turn a potential sale into reality,” she says.

Business owners seeking examples of highly effective and engaging business websites may want to check out the new Yahoo! Canada homepage. Built using a cutting-edge web design approach called Emotional Experience Design (EED), now provides users with a much more comprehensive and relevant website experience.

“Yahoo! Canada is better connecting with our vast and highly engaged audience through more personally relevant web experiences,” says Max Tremblay, director of marketing for Yahoo! Canada.

EED focuses on ensuring a website addresses customers’ real goals through relevant information and tools; emphasizes a coherent and human-like personality that exemplifies a company’s brand; and uses a mix of visual, audio and tactile elements to create a more meaningful experience for customers.

Not only is an example of an advanced business website other entrepreneurs may want to model, it’s also a tool business owners can use to expand their web presence beyond just a site: attracting 7.9 million Canadians per month, the site can be used by businesses to advertise to specific audiences.

“It’s increasingly important to have a broader web marketing strategy. A site like ours is a great performance tool for small businesses to leverage with display or banner advertising,” Tremblay says. “Businesses can use our portal to target audiences in certain geographical areas or who have certain interests.”

Other website must-dos for business owners, King says, are maintaining their website domain, using search optimization to achieve higher search rankings, and using web-based analytical tools to monitor site traffic.

When it comes to cost, King says clients often tell her they have about $1,000 to $2,000 to spend, but she advises them to first explore the various web tools available to them before determining how much to spend.

“It all depends on what you want your website to do,” King says. “First look at the tools you can use and decide which ones will best serve your business needs.”