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8 Common Misconceptions About Business Websites

Ready to continue your branding efforts online? Our expert tells you what you should know before you build your website.

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If you're feeling pressure to create a website for your company, you're not alone. Even if you don't want to sell your products or services directly over the internet, simply maintaining a professional-looking, well-functioning site can help a new company seem more established. (Conversely, having an unappealing, poorly functioning site can hurt business.) Before you get started developing the online component to your business, though, consider the following common misconceptions:

1. "If I build it, they will come." Marketing your site may not be as easy as it seems. You'll need economical ways to direct traffic to your site on a national--or international--level. Perhaps the most obvious way is to advertise on search engines like Google and Overture, but this can get expensive. Unfortunately, it can take months or even years for your URL to turn up near the top of organic searches. Investigate other ways to get eyes to your site, like affiliate programs, e-mail newsletters and partnering.

2. The more you offer, the more you'll sell. Trying to be all things to all people rarely works. It may seem logical that the more things you have for sale online, the more people you'll attract. But even if you attract them, will they buy? The "general" aspect of your offering will communicate that the value of your product or service is equal to that of others--so price becomes the only issue, and branding becomes more difficult. In today's marketplace, there's a powerful demand for specialized products and services. The point is to differentiate your company from your competitors, so determine your niche and stick to it.

3. The best way to generate sales is to copy the competition. It can be tempting to copy your competitors in everything from marketing strategies and positioning to sales offers and design choices. Remember the adage that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? This means that when you imitate, you're not just reminding your audience about your competition--you're suggesting they're better! Certainly you can learn things from what your competition does, but blaze your own trail if you're serious about branding your company.

4. Your home page should explain everything about your business, or you'll lose visitors. You've got about three seconds to hook visitors--not bore them with visually overwhelming text. Grab their attention by being concise clear and compelling.

5. Once I get my site up and running, sales will skyrocket. Yes, your potential customer pool has grown exponentially--but so has your competitions'. How will you stand out? How will you locate the people most likely to buy your product or service and get them to visit your site?

6. Websites should be slick, with lots of bells and whistles. On the internet, functionality is king. High-tech gimmicks may look great, but they load slowly. It's best to find a good balance between form and function.

7. Building a website is easy--I'll just buy a how-to book. Whether or not you can do it yourself depends on the type of site you want and your own experience and skills. For example, will you require shopping cart functionality or database programming? Building a website is deceptively complex and requires a variety of skill sets, from HTML savvy to good artistic taste. You might want to think about hiring a web design pro.

8. Everybody else has a site, so I should, too. Determining the real purpose of your site is crucial. Is it to sell your product? Increase awareness of your business? Provide information to drive local sales? Add credibility? Despite what some critics say, creating an "online brochure" is a legitimate reason to build a site. However, that's a very different purpose than selling directly over the internet.

Clarifying your purpose for wanting a website is a perfect starting point. Good luck!

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