Web development software has entered the mass market, creating e-commerce opportunities for every type of business, explains Wilfried Beeck, CEO of ePages.
In the last twelve months, web development software has matured to offer businesses a pay-as-you-go service that is affordable, easy to install and easy to maintain. This now means that every business can take advantage of this important revenue stream irrespective of its size, location and product or service range.
Small and local businesses often curse the growth of larger conglomerates and multinationals as they take away their trade with lower prices and a wider range of products.
However, it’s also likely that some of the trade they are surrendering to these larger companies is due to an inadequate web presence which lacks a means of booking their products or services online.
This absent functionality means they are bypassed in favour of alternative providers whose offerings are there to see and reserve as impulse strikes, at any time of the day, from anywhere. Another problem is that small business websites can look unprofessional, suggesting a lower standard of customer service.”
The days of assuming an organisation is too small or in the wrong market to benefit from Internet-driven business are long gone; no business can afford to offer its customers an inferior online presence.
Professional websites have now entered the mass market, with the result that it is now more possible than ever for small businesses to match their larger counterparts. Regardless of how modest their budgets are few companies can afford to persist in ignoring this critical sales channel.”
10 Top Tips for a successful website
1. Understand the web development options available
The range of options has grown dramatically in recent years, and the relative merits of Software as a Service, Open Source and proprietary solutions can be difficult to understand.
While it is tempting – especially in the recession – to buy purely based on cost, businesses should be cautious of low price points and consider the long term implications of an e-commerce solution.
Often – for example with Open Source solutions – the cost of ongoing support and maintenance, including compulsory upgrades or upgrades to keep up with the latest “trends” can run into the £10,000s. It may even become cheaper to switch from your existing service provider to an entirely new system, defeating your investment and hard work to date.
For small businesses, web development software is now available as a service which means no costly installations, ownership, upgrades or maintenance, or being tied into a proprietary solution.
These DIY web-build solutions are available for as little as £10 a month and give 100% control to the business owner, over every aspect of the website now and for years to come.
2. Demand a demonstration
Before committing to a solution, ask for a demonstration of the functionality that covers every stage of the web development and management process, from the initial set up to updating the site content. The demonstration should show you exactly how the software works, and how easy it is to keep the website going.
3. Be loyal to your skills
You no longer need any skills or training to set up a professional website, with easy-to-use web build solutions that offer templates, familiar commands and the ability to update information at will.
And if you run into any difficulty, simply tap into the remote hosting company’s helpdesk – since all the software is owned and hosted (and therefore also automatically secured and backed up) at the hosting company’s premises, the burden falling to your own shoulders is miniscule.
4. Templates save you time and money
The owner of an SME has little time to set up and manage a professional website, with a number of other business critical roles to perform. Website layout and design is a specialist skill – one that is constantly evolving as online shopping behaviours and search engine systems change – and can have a significant impact on the user experience and customer conversion rates.
With other business-critical roles to perform, a small business owner is unlikely to have the time to ensure that website layout and design meet the latest recommendations.
Thankfully, hosted DIY web-build solutions now include hundreds of industry templates that can be customised with colour charts and drag and drop features, making it possible to set up a competitive website in just two to three days with little or no specialist skills.
5. Show your full range of products
When exploring options, prices and the most convenient outlet, most people will now use an Internet search engine rather than a paper directory or strolling down the high street.
If you don’t have a website that displays everything you sell, along with availability and price information – and ideally a means of ordering or booking the product or service online – there is a strong chance you will be bypassed in favour of another company.
Product portals are highly recommended, with clear and logical product categories, to make it easier for the user to find exactly what they are looking for.
6. Include services
These days, it doesn’t matter if you’re a retailer, hairdresser, restaurant or hotel, the days of assuming that you are in the wrong market to benefit from Internet-driven business are long gone. As a service-oriented business, software exists to enable you to offer a means of booking and managing appointments, rentals and other services online.
7. Display all relevant information
Drop off rates increase when users cannot see the information they are looking for. Put yourself in their shoes, and make sure they can access all of the relevant pages and information from where they are, including home, log in, personal profile, basket, checkout and your company contact details.
8. Enhance the online experience with Web 2.0
Internet users have come to expect a degree of Web 2.0 functionality from every online business. Even on a budget, websites can and should offer a selection of these, from corporate video clips, RSS feeds, blogs and guest books to product zoom, 360° rotate, customer recommendations and product ratings.
9. Cater for everyone
If a company is operating in more than one country, it must choose web development software that will cater for every nationality, including the various languages, currencies and payment methods used locally. It is important to offer payment by credit card, debit card and PayPal as an absolute minimum.
10. Let’s get personal
Customers are more likely to keep coming back if you reward them for their loyalty. If your business model supports this, you should choose a web-build package that enables you to offer preferential terms and conditions, preferential rates and special offers to certain individuals.
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