The short answer is both. You need a Web site and you need to market it. A Web site without online marketing is a little like the proverbial tree falling in the forest — it’s there, but will anyone find it?
If I were forced to come down on one side or the other, I’d say spend more on marketing. What form that takes and where you put those dollars depends to some degree on whether you’re selling products or services. However, the challenge is that if you have an inadequate Web site or one that doesn’t provide consumers with the right information or enough of it, all the online marketing in the world may not help.
Online marketing, whether on directories, specialized vertical sites, shopping engines, or through search can deliver a potential lead to your door, but if you don’t deliver what the consumer is looking for, you may never get that call or close the sale.
Even sophisticated marketers and large companies often have trouble taking the hand-off from, say, Google or Yahoo! and closing the sale. What the consumer or prospect sees when he or she lands on your site is critical. That’s why you must address both your site and online marketing; the two must work together.
Think about the entire process from your customer’s point of view. Where do you direct consumers when they arrive from third-party sites or search engines? Is it your home page, a deep link, or a specialized landing page?
Here’s what online marketing authority MarketingSherpa said about the comparative effectiveness of specialized landing pages vs. deep links or links to merchant home pages (in a paid-search context):
Specialized landing pages without regular site navigation get the highest conversion rates. Marketers who send traffic to their regular home page get pitiful conversion rates. Folks who deeplink but leave standard navigation are usually somewhere in the middle. Our July 2004 survey clearly shows the paid search trend is toward . . . stupider marketing. Here are the numbers for paid search campaigns:
- Marketers using specialized landing pages — 42 percent
- Marketers using deeplinking — 32 percent
- Marketers sending to a home page — 26 percent
In other words, specialized landing pages performed the best, followed by “deep links” (to specific information on your site). Links to merchant home pages performed worst.
All this goes to the question of taking your customers’point of view into consideration in designing your site and your campaign. As the data above indicate, the two must be integrated.
If that all sounds complex, it is.
Your site should be clear, simple to navigate, and include search functionality. Before deciding how and where to spend your money, decide whether your site is usable or needs an upgrade. Conduct a survey of customers, friends, relatives, and colleagues. What do they honestly think of your site, its strengths and weaknesses?
Web design and hosting are becoming commodity products and it may be possible to upgrade your site or redesign it altogether relatively inexpensively. If you’re a product seller with a huge catalog that may be a more complicated matter.
Do some research online, talk to business associates and, after you’ve narrowed it down, call some Web hosting companies. Increasingly, small business Web hosts are also offering marketing services in simplified packages. Those include:
I’m not endorsing any of the above. But these firms try to simplify the online marketing process and offer a range of services along with their Web-hosting packages.
If your site doesn’t need a makeover, you’ll have to decide whether you want to outsource your marketing or do-it-yourself. There are an increasing number of companies, in addition to those mentioned above, that offer simplified online marketing for small businesses. And there are agencies that cater specifically to small business (mostly service providers). Among them are:
Whether to use these agencies depends on the nature of your business, your budget and your orientation to marketing. For those who are more ambitious and want to take a hands-on approach, there are a dizzying array of options and considerations.
Many of those considerations and approaches are explored in articles on Internet marketing on AllBusiness.com.