Working the web
How a website makeover can help Canadian companies soar
(NC) In a few short years, the Internet has become indispensable for business. Today, a website is a vital tool for many companies. However, Canadian entrepreneurs lag in using the Internet to boost sales and reach customers. Only 40% of small businesses in Canada had a website in 2012, according to Statistics Canada. And even those with a website often don't use it effectively.
It means Canadian businesses are missing out on huge opportunities, says Michel Bergeron, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Public Affairs, at the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC). “This is how customers find products and services today, when more than 50% of the purchasing decision process takes place online. A website is your digital storefront and lets you showcase your products 24 hours a day to a worldwide market.”
Start with a plan
To get started, step back and create an online strategy for your website, Bergeron suggests. It doesn't have to be fancy or incredibly detailed. The idea is to sit with key staff and hammer out your website's goals, target audience and key messages.
You don't need to invest in a big, costly website at the outset, Bergeron says. Free and low-cost services such as WordPress and GoDaddy allow businesses to design and update a site quickly, with no programming know-how. Social media pages also let companies promote themselves with no upfront cost.
Make sure your site is aligned with your online strategy and tells visitors the essentials of your business—what your company does, what your main products are, and what makes you special. Also, prominently display your contact info and a “call to action”—for example, a button or pop-up that invites visitors to call you or sign up for a newsletter.
“As you become more sophisticated, you can expand your site and add content,” Bergeron says.
If you use one of the free or low-cost website design services, it's easy and cheap to test different layouts, photos and text to see what gets the best reaction from web visitors, he adds.
“That's why digital marketing is so powerful. It gives you great tools to measure, learn and optimize.”
George Tsopeis says a website makeover helped his employer, Zenith Jet, boost annual sales growth from single digits to double digits. Zenith Jet is a Canadian aviation services consulting company whose customers are almost all outside the country. They often get their first impression of the company from Zenith Jet's website.
But the company's site was bland and dated. It was bogged down with too much text, but gave only sparse details about Zenith's services. The company hired a website design firm to improve its site and then brought in a web consultant to help develop a strategy for getting more prospective clients to visit the site.
The result: a new site with a clean, sharp look. Stunning aerial photos pull in visitors on every webpage and underline the fact that Zenith is in the airplane business. The redesign made it easier to quickly find information with a minimum of scrolling and clicking. Zenith's contact details are prominently displayed on every webpage.
Sprinkled throughout the new site are so-called keywords—terms that Google and other search engines use to rank sites in web searches. Zenith learned that choosing the right keywords is a science—and is critical in ensuring that a company's site ranks high in web searches.
The changes caused Zenith Jet's site to shoot up exponentially in web search results—where it had gone virtually unseen—to the top of the first page. “Traffic to our site went up from double digits each day to triple digits,” Tsopeis says.
Even more important, Zenith was finally drawing in the right visitors—ones likely to contact the company and become customers. “To say we hit a homerun is an understatement,” Tsopeis concludes.
Bergeron says Zenith's experience shows how critical a good website can be for a business. “The first judgement of a brand is online right now.”
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