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Q & A : 5 Must-Haves for Promoting Your Products and Services Online

5 Must-Haves for Promoting Your Products and Services Online

Using the Web to Your Promotional Advantage

By Chris Dunmire

(continued from part 1)

I'm acquainted with a handful of talented artists and writers who put endless effort into promoting themselves online. Many (but not all) have made their own Web sites and spend hours each week e-mailing prospects with their articles, artwork, and other creative offerings.

Week after week I listen to the experiences these creatively-endowed people relate to each other. Some complain that nobody is interested in what they do, and others wonder why they are being overlooked when they have Web sites showcasing their talent online. One writer has even published a book, but still doesn't have a Web site to promote it!

As an objective observer, I often see obvious reasons for their lack of promotional success. They are creating barriers with their prospective clients and customers without even realizing it. If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are a few things you should take a look at when it comes to promoting yourself or your products online. Before I discuss them, I want you to review the following two scenarios:

Scenario 1: Maria is a practicing massage therapist with the dream of becoming a greeting card artist. She creates beautiful watercolor illustrations and has them printed on high-quality card stock. On the back of each card is printed:

Maria's Watercolor Greeting Cards
www.populardomain.com/~maria/cards/
cutemariagirl@yoohoowoo.com

When people visit Maria's Web site, they arrive at a poorly designed page full of populardomain.com's branding and advertisements surrounding huge graphics and choppy information about her massage therapy services and watercolor greeting cards.

Maria's products, prices, and ordering information are buried deep in the site's pages after scrolling down several screens. Some hyperlinks click through "404 Not Found" messages or "under construction" pages with no useful information.

Is Maria making it easy for her visitors to find her Web site and more information about her beautiful watercolor greeting cards? No. She loses potential sales because visitors get frustrated trying to find information and quickly leave her site.

Scenario 2: Sara is in her third year of selling one-of-a-kind beaded jewelry creations online. With every purchase customers receive a handwritten thank you card with her business information printed on the back:

Sara's Beaded Beauties
Unique Handmade Jewelry Pieces
www.beadedbeauties.com
sara@beadedbeauties.com

Visitors to Sara's Web site find it attractively designed with easy navigation to main sections about her jewelry pieces, pricing, ordering information, and related items she makes. The images on her site are consistently sized and displayed in a gallery-like layout, first as thumbnails and then as larger images when clicked on for more detail. She has testimonials from previous customers praising her work.

Is Sara making it easy for her visitors to find her Web site and order products online? Yes. And she will have returning customers.

These two scenarios illustrate the differences between successful and unsuccessful Web promotion. Having a Web site in itself doesn't guarantee success. Presentation becomes key. Think about it like this: a scrumptious lobster dinner can be served on an elegant serving dish or on the backside of a grungy garbage can lid. I think you know what I'm driving at.

Keeping these scenarios in mind, let's discuss the top five things you can't do without when it comes to promoting yourself or your products online.

Your own Web Site domain ("www" address).

When the Web was new, it was okay to piggy-back your Web site under someone else's URL. That all changed when having a Web site became a standard in the business world in the 90s. If you want to be taken seriously, you're going to have to spend the $10 or $15 dollar yearly fee it takes to register and renew your domain name. Be sure to choose a name that is memorable and represents best what you do. Sara's beadedbeauties.com is perfect.

In Maria's case, she's hosting her site under some popular domain with a difficult to remember address. How many mistakes will people make trying to type it in for the first time? And guess what? Due to the host's branding and ads on her pages (which is why it's "free"), she's competing with other products right on her own site! Plus, if the site goes defunct or limits daily visitors, she has no control over her Web site going into oblivion.

(See also: The benefits of Social Networking Web Sites in part 1.)

Your own Web Site.

Once you have your domain name registered, you need to get your own Web site established online. You do this by finding a Web site hosting company who "rents" virtual space out to you on a monthly or yearly basis (again, typically $10-$15 a month). Just like renting an apartment, you have to stay current with your hosting bill; otherwise you'll find your Web site "unplugged" and unavailable to visitors.

You need your own site because if people are interested in what you do from your initial contact, they're going to want to see more. Having your own Web site on your own domain will demonstrate that you're up-to-date with the times and are on top of managing your business.

If you're design savvy, you can design your own Web site or buy easy-to-use templates that will do the job. If you're not, don't. Your Web site is a virtual portfolio presentation competing against a sea of other sites and should look professional and trustworthy. There are also critical search engine optimization (SEO) design details you need to be educated on in order for people to find your site from major search engines. This is one area you shouldn't skimp on.

A professional e-mail address.

While it's tempting to be cute when choosing an e-mail alias like Maria's, you'll fare much better by keeping it on a professional level and tying it in with your Web site domain. Your Web site hosting package will come with a specific number of addresses you can set up with your Web site. The e-mail names you choose will add to the overall impression others will have of your company.

Work samples.

If you're an artist, your Web site must show samples of your artwork. The same applies if you're a crafter, designer, or other product maker. You can scan your work or take digital photos and create Web graphics out of them. If you don't know how to do this, learn (or have your designer do it for you). Understand the importance of compressed, fast-loading graphics that don't take up the whole screen. It's invaluable to your Web site promotion and visitor experience. And if you're a writer, providing articles or excerpts of your work is mandatory. How else will people get a feel for your skills?

If you offer non-tangible services such as coaching or massage therapy, be thorough in explaining your philosophy and approach, general practices, and other important information new clients need to know when contracting with you. Make it easy for them to contact you with follow-up questions and be professional and courteous in your response. Important: This is not the place to be showing cute pictures of your pets.

Testimonials.

Build credibility for your business by offering testimonials on your site for your products or services. This is as simple as your last customer's satisfying experience with you:

"Sara's beautiful beaded jewelry bracelet made a lovely gift for my granddaughter's birthday. She wears it every day!" — Veronica Gribbles, Ashton, Massachusetts

Don't make up fake praise for your testimonials. Seek out authentic comments from people who love and support your work and post them on your site with their name and/or a link to their Web site.

If you want to be more successful in your online marketing efforts, and want to be taken seriously as a business, you can't do without these five things. Independence and presentation are key here. Having your own domain name, Web site, professional e-mail address, work samples, and testimonials will make prospective clients and customers feel more comfortable and informed about what you do.

Most of all, you'll be a notch above others who continue to piggy-back on other domains and present their work in other less-than professional ways. Remember the garbage can lid? •

© 2005 Chris Dunmire. All rights reserved.


About Chris Dunmire

Chris is a deeply engaged creative spirit, lover of wit, words, and wisdom, and the driving force behind the award-winning Creativity Portal® Web site. [...]


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