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Is your Web site in a high traffic area?

The famous slogan in real estate is "location, location, location." Businesses thrive and die based on where they are located; whether they are successfully anchored on the corner of a busy street, in a prime location in a popular shopping mall or sitting woefully in the middle of nowhere.

Since the implementation of the Internet back in 1992, and the subsequent boom, businesses are slower to follow the trends their customers are creating. Some manufacturers and retailers build Web sites that contain only the bare bones of information; barely engaging — much less demanding — the attention of the millions of people who want to shop with you. The slogan made popular by the movie "Field of Dreams" — build it and they will come — does not even begin to apply to the rationale of customer behavior online. Think about it this way: You have spent hundreds of thousands designing a store or showroom to engage, inform and please the senses of people as they wander among your products. You create signage with colorful lettering, place floral arrangements on tabletops and put soft, welcoming cushions on metal and rattan chairs to beckon people to sit and relax. You do all of this in the hope people will not only want to shop with you, they want to come back repeatedly.

Yet, all of this is done for only a small percentage of your business potential. Many business owners will budget less than $5,000 to design a Web site that more than 67% of potential customers will see instead. The same attention to detail that's so lavishly placed on the store is completely lost on its largest audience.

In other words, if you spent $700,000 to open a retail store and $5,000 to create a Web site, you spent less than 1/100 of your store budget to reach 67% of your audience. Ouch. There has to be a middle ground.

According to one September 2006 eMarketer report, 66% of shoppers will research outdoor furniture online before making a decision. Thirteen percent will buy from a Web site once they've made their selection, while the remainder — 87% — will then walk into a store to buy it. Business owners, justifying their budgets, have said to me, "See? This is why I spend so much money on my storefront." Yes, I tend to respond, I understand, but if your Web site doesn't match the standards of your store (and if people can't find you while searching), their first impression of you is severely tainted. Hence, it doesn't matter how wonderful your storefront looks, nobody will ever venture that far to see it in person. Location in real estate is only part of the equation, location online makes up the bulk of the difference.

Most business owners understand how the location game works, but many stumble when it comes to online. Being constantly bombarded with e-mails and ads about sponsored search, search engine optimization, e-commerce and affiliate marketing, it is easier to run back to the brick-and-mortar store and stand solidly behind the welcome sign, hoping that this other stuff will one day make sense. It will, I promise.

The first step is to figure out what type of Web site you have and, if changes need to be made, what type of Web site you want to build. There are three types: basic information, merchandise and eStore. The basic information site is a brief overview of your store, what lines you offer and where you are located. The merchandise site has features, pictures, pricing, coupons, promotional details, etc. The eStore has all of this, plus selling online, order tracking, e-mail updates, deliver, satisfaction surveys and more. The second step is generating traffic.

Twelve-step process to help utilize a Web site

  1. Include your web address on everything possible, for example, shopping bags, business cards, coupons, sales notices, etc.

  2. Gather e-mail addresses by your cash register.

  3. Send out coupons via e-mail to drive traffic into your store (or to your site).

  4. Create printable coupons on your Web site for use in your store (helps to measure web traffic, too).

  5. Send out your eCatalog instead of a print catalog — saves paper, postage and headaches.

  6. Start a blog and send it out to your database. Include tips, features, decorating styles, gift ideas, etc. Don't think you have time? Your competitors do.

  7. Advertise on other Web sites.

  8. Search engine optimization. Keep it simple to begin with — use keywords that you would search for.

  9. Visit social networking places to research how consumers are pitching products to each other.

  10. Paid sponsorship. Don't get conned or go hog wild to start. Research and ask questions.

  11. Implement ads for other sites to host. Pay a small percentage for each sale they generate for you.

  12. Update your site often.

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