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On the Internet content is king and always will be. This is because the Internet is the information superhighway and most people use it for information of some sort.

door: David Callan

Content is king


The information on a website is its content. Generally the more useful and interesting content a website has the more successful it will be. This is because more people will want to visit it again and again, this is especially true if a website is constantly adding more and more content on a regular basis be it articles, tutorials, news and opinion or whatever.

Content is what drives the web. OK, OK, what about the vast variety of products that can be bought on the web? It's true there are millions and millions of products available to buy on the web but only the odd surfer goes online to specifically look for a product so if you gear your site to simply sell your product and do nothing else you won't be very successful.

This is because nobody will even visit your site unless they're looking specifically for your product and they just so happen to find it via a search engine. Now you know content is king but do you know what good content is? Well the first trick to creating good content for your website is to be sure that your content will have specific appeal to your target audience.

Next you want original content, if someone asked me what I considered good content I'd say that it was content that's different and unique and not the same as the content on the other website I just came from. Good content will show the writers own personality and flavor in it. It will be interesting and very informative, if it's not what's the point of putting it online in the first place, nobody will benefit from it and it won't help you get more repeat visitors.

Your content should be easy to understand and use regular English as far as possible, if you've to use topic specific words that could cause trouble for some visitors make sure you explain them. To create content you simply write news and articles about the industry your product is in. This ensures that visitors who read your content are also the visitors that are likely to be interested in buying your product. If you feel you're great at creating products but don't feel the same way about your writing skills and think you can't write your own content there are hundreds of places where you can get content for free, usually all that's required of you is that you place a small bio of the original writer at the bottom of the article or tutorial.

To find free content like this simply visit any major search engine and type in "free your keywords here content" and then visit a couple of the returned sites. You'll be surprised at the amount of free content you can get for your site. Remember before you publish new content always always check spelling and grammar. If your content has misspellings and poor grammar your website and company will appear unprofessional and people don't generally buy from companies they think are unprofessional.

Don't just use the spell checker in Macromedia Dreamweaver, Microsoft Frontpage or any other website creator you use because the spell checker will do just that, spell check, it won't be able to tell you that you've used 'there' when you should've actually used 'their', so you always have to actually read all your content, usually twice is enough to spot errors, also to make sure try and get some friends to proofread it for you. On a final note, always try to update your content as much as possible as more people will become regular visitors and will be exposed to the products and services you offer. This is turn will equal more sales and profit for you and that ladies and gentlemen is what it's all about

Webdesign do's.

You may have read the article entitled Webdesign don'ts, the article as the name suggests covers some of the things you should avoid when designing a website, things that will likely cause visitors to never want to visit your site again. This article concentrates on the things you should do when designing a website to add to the experience of the visitor and make your site easier for him or her to use. This is important because each visitor to your site is a potential customer and the more they enjoy their visit to your site the more likely they are to buy from it. As with the don'ts of webdesign I have put these do's of webdesign in a point by point format so they can be easily read.

Do tell your visitors what your site is about on the main page. This saves them time if they're not interested in what your site offers and gives you the chance to use some keywords when describing your site. Do optimize every page for the search engines by including keyword rich titles, keyword rich meta tags, a keyword rich introduction to each page and by using heading tags around your most important keywords wherever possible. Do have a constant style and navigation system on your website. If your style and navigation is not constant then visitors will find it difficult to know if they're still on your website and may just leave

Do have an email address or at least a "Contact us" link on every page. Make it easy for people to contact you, if they've to search for an email address they'll become frustrated and probably leave altogether. Do link home on every page. Not all users will enter your site via the home page, many will come through other pages via the search engines and when they get there they will be stuck unless you direct them back to the home page

Do make navigation as easy a possible, every page should be accessible via two links from the home page and no more than three from any other page. This enables people to find what they want quickly. Do use alt text to provide people with images turned off an idea of what your images are, also some search engines index keywords inside the alt tag so including alt text may actually help your rankings. Do define height and width in all tables and graphics as this aids download time. Nobody wants to wait an eternity for a page to load so this is a must. Do use space to break up long pages of text as long paragraphs look unprofessional and are hard to read. If something's hard to read people just won't bother reading it. Using all or most of the above when designing your website will surely enhance a persons visit making them more inclined to buy from you

Webdesign don'ts.

Your website is the life and soul of your Internet presence, if your website appears and acts unprofessional your company will seem unprofessional and people won't feel confident buying from you. With that said webdesign is a complex issue and I could discuss it for days with you but for this article and for the moment anyway I'll concentrate on sharing the things you shouldn't do when it comes to designing your site as ultimately bad webdesign affects people more than good webdesign. These don'ts of webdesign are in point by point format.

Don't use frames. Frames are a thing of the past and are out of fashion, they mostly confuse visitors and they basically destroy your chances of getting good search engine traffic, not to mention the problems associated with bookmarking and printing pages that use frames. Don't limit access to your site by requiring visitors to already have or download a certain plug-in, this is the same as increasing download time and most people won't bother to wait for the download, they'll just visit your competition instead.

Don't have scrolling pages which require the visitor to scroll sideways to see the whole page. This is so annoying to most visitors that they'll leave straight away. This happens when you design your site at a certain resolution and someone visits with a resolution lower than that. Design for a resolution of 640x480 if you want to be sure that your pages avoid having scroll bars. You're pretty safe however designing and maximizing your pages for an 800x600 resolution because most people nowadays surf in that resolution.

Don't annoy your visitors with blinking text, pages full of banners, continuous background music that slows down everything, pop-up windows, text that's hard to read because it's a similar color to the background etc. If you do annoy them you can bet they won't return. Don't use under construction pages, you're only wasting peoples time if you direct them to a page that's not ready so never link to pages unless they're finished. Don't make visitors wait, if people have to wait for a page to download because it's bogged down with too much graphics and other media they'll just leave. Avoiding the above don'ts of webdesign will at least give you a chance of retaining visitors and maybe even have a few of them return.

Your domain name.

Your domain name is imperative to the success of your website, if anyone tells you otherwise they're either lying or don't know what they're talking about. You need a domain name if you're serious about being an online entity, it's where you'll direct all your potential customers to. For them to become customers you've to make a good first impression and having your own domain name rather than some free geocities address that's long and cumbersome will enable you to do this. There are lots of other benefits of having your own domain, here's just a few of them.

A domain name is your own unique identity and always will be as long has you continue to use that name. Say for instance you hosted your free site with geocities and you found that you needed a more advanced host because your website was becoming successful. Visitors and links to your site would know you by the long geocities URL and you'd have to start promoting your new URL all over again. If you had your own domain name you could change hosts as often as you like and people would still be able to find you simply by typing in your domain name. You can promote your website instead of someone else's when you're sending emails as your domain name will be in the email address, for example admin@akamarketing.com is helping to promote akamarketing.com while akamarketing@aol.com is helping to promote and brand AOL.com

Your likely to have more traffic to your website with your own domain name because more people will be returning as they can remember your address and because many search directories such as Yahoo only index websites with their own domain name. Another advantage of having your own domain name is that you can use custom error pages to prevent people from leaving your site because of broken links and other errors. Domain names are so cheap nowadays that there's no excuse for not having one. Now that your ready to get yourself a domain name here's some pointers to help you choose a good one.

.com is best.

You should always aim for the .com version of a name, that's what most people will go to after doing a search or after typing something directly into their address bar, if you register .tv or .net or any of the other available extensions and your competition has the .com version then you've just lost a potential customer.

Choosing a host.

You've spent a couple months developing a really great site with pages and pages of excellent content and now all you've to do is choose which company you want to host with, beware however that choosing a host isn't usually an easy process, if the decision you make is not the right one all your hard work could be wasted. This article will go through first what a host actually is and then go through the features and qualities most good hosts have. Well then what is a host? A host is a company that rents you space on their server for you to store your webpages and files on. There are thousands of them on the Internet and they all differ somewhat between pricing, features and customer service.

With all the hosting companies and options out there for you it's tough to know which one is for you. The three main properties or features however which will determine a hosts quality are easily examinable. They are:
Web hosting features.
Customer service.
And of course price.

First off is web hosting features, these are the features and options which come with your hosting account. In this case the saying ''the more the merrier'' has great merits because the more features a webhost has the more advanced you can make your site. One Common feature is access to your own cgi-bin directory. This is vital as this is the directory from where scripts are carried out. CGI scripts are the backbone of all the functionality of the web. Every time you fill out a form, buy a product, use a forum or engage in a chat room conversation you're running a script of one type or another. This feature is very important so never go with a host that doesn't provide it.

Another is the ability to FTP your webpages instead of simply having to use an online manager which takes a lot longer when transferring large amounts of data. FTP will provide you with much more flexibility when managing your website, however if your not the technical type always look out for a host that provides a good online manager too. If you plan on selling anything on your website then your potential customers will expect nothing less than a secure server with https:// capability. If you go with a host that doesn't have this feature then visitors will never become customers because of the insecurity to their credit card number.

Any serious webmaster likes to pay close attention to his or her website logs. All good hosts will provide you with the ability to access your website logs via download, however even better hosts will have a dedicated online website log analyzer from which you can check your stats directly without having to purchase expensive website analyzer software. This feature is quite important so be on the lookout for a host that provides it. Another feature that's very important particularly to ecommerce websites is email services. It's best to go with a host that provides lots of email services such as unlimited autoresponders, lots of pop mailboxes, email aliases etc. You need these services to stay in touch with your visitors, potential customers and indeed your past customers in the hope of back end sales.

The last of the main features of good webhosts is the amount of space they provide you, this isn't that important at the start but if your website grows bigger than allowed you'll have to move hosts which can cause a lot of problems. Always look for a host with at least 25MB of space available and one that has the option to buy more space should you use your allowed amount.

The above six features once again are:
Access to your own cgi-bin.
Ability to use FTP or online managers.
Access to a secure server.
Access to logs and log analyzers.
Access to lots of email services.
Lots of space for your website

These features form the basis of all good webhosts, if a host you're checking out has these features then you could be on to a winner. All that's left to do now is check out the hosts customer service and pricing. Good customer service from a hosting company is vital especially with today's availability of scripts and advanced features for websites. Good customer service usually includes lots of help pages and FAQ pages, 24-7 telephone support, 24-48 hours reply email support. Support is vital because the questions "not if problems will occur" but "when they'll occur". When they do occur you could lose lots of sales and customers if the problems aren't fixed immediately. Never go with a host that has a reputation for poor quality customer service.

Finally there's the pricing issue. What I'm about to say next is second nature to most if not all of you, but I have to say it just to make sure. Never host with a free web host, they're simply more trouble than they're worth, they usually host thousands of sites on one server meaning that your site is always slow, what's even worse is the fact that they fill up your webpages with banners and pop-up banners making you seem very unprofessional indeed. That's just two of the problems associated with free hosts, there are plenty more so the message I'm trying to get across is avoid them at all costs

What should you pay for quality hosting with the above and more features? Well like all services on the Internet it varies but generally it's going to cost you $20 - $30 a month to host your site with a quality host. Don't pay more than $30 unless you need very powerful features available to you because chances are you could find another webhost with the same or similar qualities for much less simply by searching on one of the major search engines or directories. There you have it, hopefully you now know what to look for in a web host, this is vital as your host will play a big part in your success or failure as a webmaster.

Favicon.ico file guide.

Favicon.ico is the name of the icon Internet Explorer 5+ uses in the address bar when someone's viewing their favorites. There should be one beside the address of this page now if you using IE5+. If you want to see favicon.ico in action among your favorites bookmark akamarketing.com now by right clicking and selecting Add to favorites Explorer looks for this file in the same directory as the HTML page currently displayed, if it can't find favicon.ico then the default Internet Explorer icon will be displayed in the address bar. Regarding the viewing of favorites Internet Explorer will check its temp folder to see if favicon.ico is there again if it's not it will display the default white background with a blue 'e' icon

For a webmaster there are three main advantages to using the favicon.ico 'trick'. Number one is that it helps brand your site with a nice little icon that is easily recognizable. Number two is that it makes your website more professional and cutting-edge. The third advantage is that your entry will stick out among all the others when a previous visitor scans through his or her favorites which is always a good thing as people can revisit your site, maybe this time they'll buy. Many people have tens and tens of sites bookmarked so you need to use favicon.ico to give you the edge. I highly recommend using it. Now I'm going to tell you how to use the favicon.ico feature in IE5+.

First you need to create an icon file which is exactly 16 X 16 pixels. If the icon is larger or smaller IE5+ will just ignore it. As for the amount of colors in it, 16 is standard. You can use more colors if you want but the more colors you use the larger the .ico file gets and the longer your webpage takes to download. You know the standards the favicon file has to be, to actually create it you can take one of two routes. The first is to convert an existing 16 X 16 BMP or GIF graphic with 16 - 32 colors into a .ico file using converter software, making sure to save it as favicon.ico.

The second is to use software specifically made for creating .ico files. This is probably the best way to go as some BMP and GIF converters produce poor quality .ico files. You can get plenty of software which will either convert or allow you to create from scratch .ico files by going to tucows.com , download.com or any search engine and searching for something like "icon creation tool" or "icon converter tool"

Once you've created your favicon.ico file all you need to do is upload it to any directory on your website that has HTML files. This way when IE5+ searches for favicon.ico it'll be able to find your icon no matter what page from your site the visitor has bookmarked. Well that's nearly all the areas of favicon.ico covered, except for one. What if you want different icons for different pages or sections on your website? Can it be done? The answer is yes. All you've to do is place the following HTML code in the head and /head tags of your webpage. . SHORTCUT ICON should be kept in uppercase

Now when someone adds a webpage with that code to their favorites IE5+ will not look for favicon.ico but will look for differenticon.ico and if it's there it'll display it otherwise the default icon will be displayed. Using favicon.ico or the SHORTCUT ICON code is a nice way to add a unique touch to your site and of course will result in more repeat visitors than if you weren't using it, which is always good for any webmaster.

Custom error pages.

Link Rot is everywhere on the Internet. Link rot is the name often used to refer to broken links on the web, by broken I do of course mean links that don't work. When someone is trying to access a page on your site and either the page has been moved or the link was misspelled both Internet Explorer and Netscape will display error pages. If this happens that someone will most likely leave altogether and you'll never see him or her again.

You can prevent this happening as a result of broken links and other errors however if you own your own domain name by setting up what's called custom error pages. This way when someone try's to access one of your pages through a broken link they'll be taken to your custom professional looking 404 error page instead of the basic ''page not found'' one. If they try to access a page that is forbidden they'll be taken to your custom professional looking 403 error page instead of the basic "Access Forbidden" page. On these custom pages you could have a link back to your home page so the visitor could go there and take a look at what your site has to offer. Custom error pages are simple normal HTML pages and therefore can be created just as easily as the other pages on your site, however getting them to show up is a little more difficult and as mentioned before you must have your own domain name.

Here's what to do.

First off you need to check out the website directory where your index.html file is located for a file called .htaccess. Most of the time you'll find it but sometimes you'll have to create it yourself. If you have it you should look for code similar to below and change it to suit your directory. If the below lines of code aren't there simply add them below everything else. If the .htaccess file isn't there simply create it and then type in the following lines: ErrorDocument 400 URL/error400.html
ErrorDocument 401 URL/error401.html
ErrorDocument 403 URL/error403.html
ErrorDocument 404 URL/error404.html

Keep each piece of ErrorDocument code on one line with a space on each side of the number 40?. This code is case sensitive so be sure to check the case of the E and D in ErrorDocument before you proceed. The code in black stays the same all the time, the URL is the address of the directory in which the error page is located and the error40?.html page is the individual error page itself. The individual page can be called anything but for convenience sake it's best to go for a descriptive name like error40?.html.

When your done creating a new file make sure to upload it. If you've edited the current one make sure to save it, then be sure to use the CHMOD command through your FTP program or online file manager to set the permissions to 644. ErrorDocument 404 is the code associated with link rot which we talked about earlier but here's a run down.
400 - Bad Request
401 - Unauthorized
403 - Access Forbidden
404 - Page Not Found

Nearly finished now, but before we are you should test your new error pages by typing in a URL that you know doesn't exist on your server. You should get your custom 404 error page (if your 404 error page works all your error pages should work) ready to bring in the lost visitors that may be out there.

.htaccess file guide.

You may have already come across the .htaccess file while on akamarketing.com, we used it in the article Custom error pages to enable you to set up custom error pages so visitors will be taken to a custom error page on your site and not your hosts error page or what's even worse the default page not found type of error page. Using the .htacces file for custom error pages is however only the tip of the iceberg, the file can be used in a lot more ways but before we go into the nitty gritty of what can be done with it lets first explain what it is and where it is found.

The .htaccess file is a file that enables you to control how your hosts server deals with your website and webpages. This usually involves adding lines of code to the file or editing lines already present. You should be aware that editing the .htaccess file can seriously alter your website and webpages so always make a copy of the original and store it in a safe place so if anything does go wrong you can easily revert back to the old file. As for the location of the file, the file is usually found in the root directory of your website, if it's not there don't worry as it can be easily created. Simply open a blank text document and call it .htaccess and then upload it. Even if you use an online manager instead of an FTP program the process is still similar, just select new file and call it .htaccess.

You can if you want upload two or more different .htaccess files to two or more different directories, each file will affect the directory it's in but will not overwrite .htaccess files that are in other directories. This means that a .htaccess file will affect all sub-directories unless that sub-directory has its own .htaccess file. This property of .htaccess files is useful for example if you wanted to set a directory's default page to something other than index.html and have different default pages for all sub-directories too, but more on that later. Now we'll go through some of the more useful things that can be done with the .htaccess file, we'll also tell you how to do these things. Well first we have the custom error page feature, if you want to learn about this check out my article entitled Custom error pages.

File protection is also another use of the .htaccess file. This enables you to protect certain directories and files by way of a username and password. We used to use it here at akamarketing.com for our free ebook directory which in the past required that you be a member of the AKA Marketing webmaster community before being given access to the directory. It involves placing a small file in the directory you want to protect. It's very easy to implement, here's how it's done. Before we start you need to be able to Telnet your site. If Telnet is not available then you should look into a CGI script to protect your files.

This is what should be in the .htaccess file
AuthUserFile /usr/www/dirname/.htpasswd
AuthGroupFile /dev/null
AuthName "The ebook directory"
AuthType Basic
Limit GET POST
require valid-user
/Limit

You only need to change two of the above lines. Change the AuthUserFile line so that the UNIX PATH matches that of your system. This is where the password file will reside. AuthName is the name of the thing your protecting, the popup box in this case would say 'Enter your password for The ebook directory', you of course should change this to something which correspondents to the section of your site which your trying to protect. Using Telnet go to the directory your AuthUserFile path is pointing to and type 'htpasswd -c .htpasswd username' to create the file and add "username" as the first user. The program will prompt you for a password then verify it by asking again. You'll not see the password when entering it so be extra careful.

htpasswd -c .htpasswd username is only used to create the initial .htpasswd file, after the first username and password is entered you've to type in 'htpasswd .htpasswd Jack' leaving out the '-c'. The above code would add the username Jack to your .htpasswd file and again you'll be asked to input a password. To delete usernames you'd simply open up the .htpasswd file and remove the appropriate lines.
If you want to discontinue the protection of a directory simply type the command 'rm .htaccess'
If you haven't got a Telnet client you can get the puTTy client for free here!
The next thing we can do with the .htaccess file is change the default page from index.html to one of your choosing.

By default most web servers will load index.html as the default page, some webmasters will not want this on all occasions. I myself wanted a CGI script as the default page for one of my directories to enable a short address to go in my signature file. I changed the default file in the sub-directory 'webmaster-forums' to ikonboard.cgi so the forum address would be akamarketing.com/webmaster-forums and not akamarketing.com/ webmaster-forums/ikonboard.cgi which is longer and harder to remember. Here's how it's done.
Simply insert the line
DirectoryIndex ikonboard.cgi index.html

I placed this code in the .htaccess file in my webmaster-forums sub-directory, this means that when the webmaster-forums folder is requested the server will load ikonboard.cgi first and if that's not found it will load index.html. I left my main directory unchanged so the root directory's default page is still index.html. You of course would change ikonboard.cgi to the file you want to load first, maybe index.cgi, index.php or home.html, basically any file a browser can handle. That was easy wasn't it? Well that's it then. As you can see the .htaccess can be set up to do some very useful things for the webmaster. We've covered three of these in this article, these where custom errors, password protection and setting the default file to something other than index.html

There are however other uses of the .htaccess file including using it to restrict access from certain domains/IP's and using it to prevent people from stealing your bandwidth, but to be quite honest I don't really understand these two myself so I'm not going to try and teach you something I don't understand. If you want to learn more about the .htaccess file do a search for it on Google, you'll be returned with lots of good sites you can check out.

Banner design tips

Banner advertising is by far the most popular and widespread form of advertising on the Internet, almost every website has some form of banner advertising on it. There's just no escaping the banner on the net. Even though we've all read the news about the declining effectiveness of banners on the web I still believe that with the right 'ingredients' banners can be a good source of visitors and income for most webmasters. There are five of these ingredients that I'd consider the most important, using all or most of them will always enable you to get a higher click through rate for your various banners. I'll list each of these banner design tips and then continue to discuss each one in a bit more detail.

Banner advertising is by far the most popular and widespread form of advertising on the Internet, almost every website has some form of banner advertising on it. There's just no escaping the banner on the net. Even though we've all read the news about the declining effectiveness of banners on the web I still believe that with the right 'ingredients' banners can be a good source of visitors and income for most webmasters. There are five of these ingredients that I'd consider the most important, using all or most of them will always enable you to get a higher click through rate for your various banners. I'll list each of these banner design tips and then continue to discuss each one in a bit more detail.
1. Small file.
2. Call to action.
3. Animation.
4. Good ad copy.
5. Fake factor

Small file

This is one of the most important things you've to get right when designing a banner, if the .GIF or .JPG file is large it will take a few seconds to download and by then the visitor might have scrolled down the page meaning he or she doesn't even get to see your banner. If people don't see your banner they definitely aren't going to click on it. Therefore make sure your file stays below 10K, 15K at the absolute most, it's sometimes hard to do but if the others can do it, we can do it too.

Call to action

This is one of the easiest ways to increase the CTR (click through rate) of a banner, on this all the experts agree. Using a call to action simply involves having the words 'click here' or some other words such as 'sign up now' or something similar which urges to viewer to do something. My thoughts on why using a call to action increases the CTR so much include the fact that there is so much advertising off-line such as TV, Radio, billboards etc, etc. With advertising on these off-line mediums target audiences are generally just required to watch or read the ad. All ads online have a link and the purpose is to get people to click on the ad and visit the advertisers website, however with the world being so used to off-line advertising many people just see banners and think that's it, they don't realize that they're actually meant to click on it to find out more. That's way having click here or another call to action improves the effectiveness of a banner.

Animation

Banners with moving elements attract the eye a lot more than static banners do. The whole idea of designing banners is to grab the attention of website visitors, using small animation helps to do this. I say small because I don't want you to go overboard and fill a banner with lots of animation as this is a bad idea because one it increases file size and two it's generally annoying to people after a while especially when they're trying to read an article or tutorial. If your banner annoys them they'll most likely just leave without clicking on it.

Good ad copy

his one is kind of a given but you should always include good ad copy in your banner, lots of fancy animation and pictures won't entice them to click, elements such as these only look after grabbing the attention of the visitors. It's the actual text that will get people wanting to check out your product. Try to emphasis the benefits not features of your product or service. Tell people how your product will make their life easier. Keep your wording short and concise, if you can use words that have been proven to attract people such as 'free', 'proven' and 'secret' do.

Fake factor

Many of the very successful banner ads of late have incorporated some kind of fake elements in them. There are various fake elements banner designers can use such as fake scroll bars, fake text links, fake selection boxes, fake text boxes and fake submit buttons to mention just a few. Banners with fake elements perform so well because people think they're clicking on a link to go to another page on the current site or they think they're clicking on a button but in fact they're actually clicking on a banner with a picture of a button and text link. These fake banners are made using the Print Screen button usually found on the right side of any standard keyboard. Simply open a webpage or application and press 'Print Scrn' then crop the image around the button or scroll bar area (the area you want to fake) and then paste it into your banner and that's it you have fake elements in your banner. Alternatively designers simply draw buttons, scroll bars etc. using their graphics program

Conclusion

Well there you have it, the five most important banner design tips to remember when designing banners. I'd normally end an article like this now but before we end I want to talk about targeting your banner. Always always place your banner on sites that cater for your target audience (ie - the people most likely to buy your product). There's no point putting a banner for a new golf club you sell on a site dedicated to software, visitors to the site simply aren't going to be interested and you're just wasting your money. You should be aiming to place the golf banner on golf related websites, this way you're much more likely to make money. If you're not exposing your banner to your target audience none of the above tips and tricks can save you.

People do judge web sites by their front pages

By www.marketingchallenge.com
A successful Web site is an extremely effective sales tool since it has the ability to gain the attention of a captive audience. Like all direct response marketing processes, it must first hook a reader's attention and then move them to take some action. However, when the mechanics of that very first page are ignored, it often causes visitors to click out of a site from the moment they arrive. And such Web sites, although some of which get a large number of hits, never seem to produce the anticipated level of response let alone deeper traffic. With just a few changes, you can turn your Web site into a more compelling and effective sales tool. Remember that, every single day, your customers are bombarded with a continuous flow of information and marketing messages, and that competition for their attention is exceedingly fierce. A Web site that captures their attention and stays active in your customer's mind will not only have them visit deeper into your site and generate sales but also have them visit your site again and again as well as refer your site to others.

Be Focused

Target your market! As the adage goes, "You can not be all things to all people." You can, however, position your site effectively to meet the needs of a specific group. It's a paradox but you will indeed get more with less. This means understanding who your customers/visitors are and what motivates their buying decisions. Therefore, do your homework. Know your customer. Appeal to their specific needs and psyche. Focus like a laser on your niche, and your site will burn into their minds. Web sites centered on a very narrow theme or idea will create visitors of greater interest, and especially leads that are much more pre-qualified and apt to buy. Look at it this way: When you narrow down your message and focus on a niche, visitors will be 50% sold the minute they hit your site's first page. Then, it is up to your content (copy, offer, and call-to-action) to take them through the remaining 50%.

Niche marketing on the Web is particularly important since people do not have the time to sift through an entire site -- let alone a search engine or even the Internet -- to find exactly that for which they are looking. If your site is unique, highly specialized, and focused however, people will be inclined to surf deeper into your site once they hit the first page. When focusing on a niche, the content of your site's first page will be far more credible than the mere see-through puffery of one's own blatant promotional message. Nevertheless, if you cater to a particular audience, it will then be easier for your first page to lead visitors to a successful outcome because, once they hit your site, they are in fact pre-qualified.

Be specific

Answer this skill-testing question: "What exactly do you want your visitors to do?" Simple, isn't it? But it doesn't seem that way with the many sites I've visited. The KISS principle (that's Keep It Simple and Straightforward) is immensely important on online. An effective Web site starts with smart planning and it must have a clear objective that will lead to a specific action or outcome. If your site is not meant to, say, sell a product, gain a customer, or obtain an inquiry for more information, then what exactly must it do? Work around the answer as specifically as possible. In short, have a plan when you design your site's front page.

Don't be vague and be specific. Is your Web site meant to be like a resume or billboard that only advertises the fact that you are "open for business"? It shouldn't, unless you are intimately involved with that specific medium (i.e., you are a Web designer or host, or in other words your site is the product in itself). If not, is it to generate qualified leads? Is it to sell a particular product? Are you trying to persuade your visitors to switch from another company to you? Do you want them to call you on the phone for more information? Are you trying to have them subscribe to some membership program? You get the picture. The mind hates confusion. If you try to get your visitors to do too many things, especially on the front page, they will do nothing. However, if you want to offer a visitor a variety of different options, then try to focus on one alone and create a secondary page (or more) that are each respective to a particular action, and then link them together at the appropriate locations for flow. In essence, keep your message focused. Do not try to communicate too much -- you will overwhelm the reader. Use one major theme and revolve your message around it.

Be clear

When you are in the process of buying a book, for instance, the one thing that has attracted you is the cover (if you're not aware of the author beforehand, and even then the cover plays a key role). If the proverb "Don't judge books by their covers" exists, it is because we, as humans, have the natural inclination to do so. Newspapers capitalize on that intrinsic human behavior, which is why front-page headlines and news articles are always carefully selected. In fact, the most read part of a newspaper is not only the front page but also the top section (or what is commonly referred as "above the fold"). Therefore, the front page of your Web site is "the cover of your book," so to speak. It should entice readers to surf further into the site and not lead them to take action right then and there (unless your web site is a single page). On the front page, keep the written copy short (or its major benefit "above the fold") and to the point, allowing the reader to easily see what's in it for them. Use bold, attention-grabbing headlines and subheadlines to emphasize the major theme and the core benefit that your site offers.

In fact, list the benefits. Why should a visitor surf your site? What's in it for him/her? In other words, focus on communicating to the visitor the reasons why they should browse further. A great technique for doing so is to use a bulleted list of benefits (such as when it follows the words "With this site, you get," "in this site, you will find," or "here are the reasons why you should browse this site"). Bulleted benefit lists not only give a visual break for the reader but are also effective since they are short, to-the-point, and clustered for greater impact. Remember that customers buy benefits not products. Therefore, your first page should focus on the benefits of your web site and not its features. It must give specific reasons for surfers to venture further. Present a problem and emphasize it. Focus on an existing gap (the gap between a problem and its solution). And then show what your web site brings to the table by telling your visitors how, by surfing deeper, they will be able to fill that gap. In other words, the first page must confirm that there is a problem and how exactly you can solve it.

Be simple

Unlike the TV or radio, computers are still not considered as household items (not yet, anyway). While they are well on their way, the computer as well as the Internet are still in their infancy. Earlier, less-capable web browsers as well as slower modems are still the norm. If your web site includes too much background, Javascript, frames, plugins and dazzling but slow-loading graphics in an effort to impress it'll be counterproductive. Many potential sales are lost due to a slow-loading, unbrowsable site. Your site should download fast. Research by an on-hold phone message marketing company found that people start hanging up when put on hold for more than 30 seconds. The Internet is no different. If they have to wait for more than 30 seconds for your page to load, visitors will leave.

In short, if they have to wait, they won't.
People often say our society has entered the "information revolution." Not so. It's the "access to information" revolution. The ability to retrieve information in nanosecond speed is the underlying drive behind the Internet. For instance, that same ability has caused entire layers of middle managers to be wiped out. Therefore, anything that slows that ability down (such as having a front page over 30-40k), especially when compared to other, quicker-loading competitor sites, will cost you. Aside from load-time, you also have to deal with your prospect's very short attention span. In other words, you only have a few seconds to attract your visitors before they leave. As such, you must communicate and distill your message right down to the really important. Don't overwhelm them with so much information or glitz that they miss your central point. While your site may have entertainment value, if they do not take action you are still losing.

Be professional

They say that "you never get a second chance to make a good first impression." First impressions are therefore important to the degree to which visitors are positively impacted by the first or index page. It is where the selling process actually begins. Consistent color, well-balanced information, appealing and quick-loading graphics, and, most important, the right message targeted to the proper audience are the most important elements of a professional-looking, repeatedly revisited, and often referred Web site.

In fact, the site's front page message is the highest in priority. Don't let careless mistakes weaken the impact of your presentation, and always proofread -- and have others proofread -- your copy for typographical and grammatical errors. Use a language and project an image that your specific target audience can easily understand. In other words, are you trying to convey that you are informed, serious, professional, credible, fun, helpful, resourceful, or advanced technologically? The tone of your message should appeal specifically to a targeted market and help put visitors in a particular frame of mind.

A final caveat, though. The first page should not be the only one that follows the above rules. Applying most of these pointers to an entire site should be carefully considered. Needless to say, however, that if you are able to make them pass through that all-important first page hurdle, then persuading them to take action later on should be a cinch.

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