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Top 10 mistakes: What not to do with your website

Know What to Avoid

So, you're ready to bring your small business to the internet. It's time to create your online presence, your marketing face in the online world.

Lots of businesses have walked this path already. Here are 10 common mistakes many companies have made, but that you can avoid.

Ebusiness Sin 1: No-Name Nobodies

Many small businesses choose to set up in the online world using a scrap of free webspace from their internet service provider, rather than having their own web address (called a domain), because it's a bit cheaper. Which company would you feel more comfortable buying from - www.someone-else.com/myonlineshop or www.myonlineshop.com? It's easy and cost effective to register your own domain name; and these days the cost is negligible.

The same goes for email addresses. If you're running a small business, it's a great idea to set up an email address that uses your business web address (e.g. me@mycompany.co.uk).

TIP: When buying a domain name, beware a sneaky scam. Domain names cost from around �20-�50 per year. They become your property so long as you keep paying the annual fee. There are some less reputable agencies who charge a lot less, but register the name to themselves and give it to you under licence. It may cost less today, but they can choose to increase the license fee later on. It's perfectly legal, so watch out. Reputable providers will cause you no trouble.

Ebusiness Sin 2: Pokey Pages

Many small business web sites load far too slowly. If your web pages take more than 10 seconds to load over a 56k modem, your eBusiness runs the risk of losing visitors. Graphics with large file sizes are usually the culprits. Use creative imaging software to reduce the file size of individual graphics on your web site to no more than 10Kb if possible. The propagation of high-speed broadband internet connections is making this less of a problem, but a fast-loading page is always better than a slow one; and in any case, slow pages are invariably overloaded with junk.

Ebusiness Sin 3: Picture Paucity

You wouldn't send out a marketing brochure that's all words and no pictures. Photos of your store or office, your products, your employees make your business feel "real" to online visitors. Images give you a tangible presence and let visitors get a sense of the kind of business you run. Consider it this way: how often have you judged a high-street shop by its window? Your website is part of your corporate image, so give it the attention it deserves. However, make sure your pictures' file sizes are small enough to load quickly.

Ebusiness Sin 4: the "If I Build It, They Will Come" Delusion

One of the most common mistakes is to assume that customers will miraculously flock to your website. Don't wait to start marketing your firm online. It is recommended you at least consider these five eBusiness marketing efforts when you launch a web site:

Be proactive in listing on search engines

Start an affiliate program to encourage and reward other businesses for sending you online customers

Be proactive in finding sites with which you can trade links

Consider joining a banner exchange

Start collecting visitors' email addresses on day one, so that you can lure them back to your website.

Ebusiness Sin 5: Phoneless in Cyberspace

There are few things more off-putting to customers than an eBusiness that doesn't seem to exist in the real world. So put your phone number prominently on your website. Many customers look at sites while calling up the company- referring to the site, but buying by phone. Unless you are working out of your home, it's also a good idea to put your mailing address on the site. Consumer groups such as Which quite simply tell the public not to buy from websites not displaying contact details.

Ebusiness Sin 6: a Barrage of Banners

Joining a banner exchange can help bring traffic to your website, but don't make the mistake of putting loads of banners on a page. Along with lots of buttons for affiliate programs, this will just make your site look cheap. You'll hardly ever find a large-company website with multiple banners on a page. If you join affiliate programs you'll probably find that you get much better results if you provide links to specific products in context, rather than a generic button to those companies' home pages. If you must use banners, put them neatly in the same place on each page (top-right is usual).

Ebusiness Sin 7: Disappearing Acts

It is amazing how many small business websites are here today, gone tomorrow, and back again next Tuesday. It's vital that your site is available when customers look for it. Many customers will come back to a site several times before actually making a purchase- if it's disappeared, you can kiss the client goodbye. Make sure your site is up by either assigning an employee to check it several times a day, or using a service to notify you if it goes down.

Your hosting provider (the company which provides the computers where your website lives) should give you as part of your hosting agreement a document called an "SLA". This stands for "Service Level Agreement", and in it they will guarantee that your website will be active for a specified time, usually 99.99%. In eBusiness Sin No. 1, we discussed free hosting services- they don't offer SLA's.

Ebusiness Sin 8: Antique Information

Don't make the mistake of leaving dated content on your website. Keep the information on your site current. Remember to update phone numbers and take off dated special offers or coupons. Make sure someone on your staff is responsible for the site's information and checks and updates it routinely. There are plenty more tips on maintaining a fresh and invigorating site here.

Ebusiness Sin 9: Background Noise

For some reason, many websites make the mistake of using busy background wallpaper. People think the designs add interest and panache to their sites, but all it does is interfere with the message. Stick with a clean, basic colour for the background, one that is consistent with your site's image.

Ebusiness Sin 10: You Do What?

One of the most common mistakes small businesses make online is neglecting to tell people what they do. Make sure your site quickly conveys the kind of business you are in and the products and services you offer. The so-called "Mission Statement" is an awful Americanism, but you can easily get a few good words on what you do from your staff or customers. Use those words somewhere on your home page (the front page of your site), and any confusion will be avoided. Use pictures if necessary; and if you can, use logos to boost your image. A good example of this is the plethora of small independent hardware shops who display manufacturers' logos (Bosch, Dremel, Makita, Black and Decker) to paint a much bigger picture.

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