Solution: It's no longer enough, if it ever was, to just have a Web site up and running. You need to ensure that people who are important to your ongoing success actually get to your site, experience and learn what you want them to and, ideally, act in your favor. Whether you're building a new site, renovating an existing one or just think you could do better, here are a few ideas to consider:
Analyze the competition. What are they doing well, and not so well? Understand the needs and expectations of your constituents; what are the opportunities to deliver more useful information and a better experience than your competition?
Get inspired. What sites do you like-in any industry? What works for you in terms of visual presentation, navigation, behavior? Can some of what works be "borrowed?"
Keep a clear external focus. Plan content and navigation to provide "tours" that will make it easy for constituents to find what they are looking for. Acknowledge that people have different relationships with you-some know you, some don't-and plan accordingly. The more you can "narrowcast" within a broadcast medium, the better.
Build a site that search engines will find. Know your keywords and those of your competitors. Learn the different criteria that search engines use-such as relevance, how many sites link to yours, etc.-and build your site accordingly. The much-ballyhooed metatags and metawords are now less important than what HTML page titles are saying. Remember that search engines can't decipher Flash; it might look cool, but it's invisible to search engines.
"Shop" yourself. Using words that your constituents might use to find you, see where you rank in different search engines-and where your competitors lie-so you can plot any change.
Leverage all other communications to promote your URL. Investigate and negotiate with other organizations with which it would make sense to have mutual links.
Give them a reason to come back. The more your site can be a resource and not a brochure, the better. Keep your content fresh and relevant. Invest in a content management system that allows easy editing and updating by your people, so that you're not held hostage by an outside firm.
Roger Sametz is president of Sametz Blackstone Associates (www.sametz.com ), a Boston-based strategic communications practice.
Problem: We've used e-mail to acquire leads, but now we need a cost-effective strategy for customer retention.
Solution: A regular e-newsletter can be an effective way to build customer loyalty. In addition, it can help expand your customer base, reduce customer service costs and increase revenue.
Start by building a list for the newsletter. Use an existing customer list or implement an online survey to capture e-mail addresses (with permission, of course). If you have a large customer base, consider dividing your list into smaller segments based on customer profiles, and create appropriate retention-focused messages for each segment. Recent studies show smaller lists deliver higher open and click-through rates.
Add new subscribers with an e-newsletter sign-up on your Web site. Sign up prospects at trade shows you attend. Have your call center ask customers if they'd like to receive your newsletter. Co-promotions with a complementary vendor can help you cost-effectively acquire new subscriber lists because you're accessing a list without the cost while also sharing promotion costs.
The key to a successful b-to-b e-newsletter is content-relevant content that your customers want and can use. Implement a low-cost online survey to find out what content they value. When a customer opts in to your newsletter, ask for their content preferences. Keep in mind that recipients appreciate a newsletter that acts as a first-to-know vehicle.
Don't include so much content that your readers miss the message. Keep it simple and quick to read, and be sure to include a call to action. Drive traffic to your Web site or call center. Add tracking mechanisms to help you measure the newsletter's effectiveness.
To keep your newsletter targeted to customer needs, continually seek their input. Test the newsletter by creating A/B versions with different messaging, graphics or content, and use the results to achieve the optimal content mix, format and frequency.
Jennifer Modarelli-DeVoe is principal and CEO of White Horse (www.whitehorse.com), a Portland, Ore., interactive agency.
Problem: Minimizing a Web site redesign's negative impact on organic search traffic.
Solution: Some of the biggest improvements in organic search traffic and revenue come following a redesign of a site. It's one of the best times to make those difficult changes to your URL structure, source code and internal linking-all of which will benefit your site long term. Ideally, URLs should be concise and contain relevant keywords. Source code should allow spiders quick access to your content, and internal links should be keyword-rich and text-based.
If you are changing your URL, you will also need to update any important links from other Web sites to your site. A good way to identify these is to type your URL into the search field at Google; you'll then be given the option to find Web pages that link to you. You can also check the list of referring Web sites in your analytics package; contact these sites and ask them to update their link. This request works best when it is accompanied by some sort of reward for changing the link. The incentive does not have to be monetary, as access to special content or a new tool often works just as well.
In addition, during this time many companies re-evaluate their content and messaging. In general, a page of your site should target no more than two keywords. Tools such as Wordtracker and the Yahoo! Keyword Selector Tool offer query information that will help you identify good keywords.
After your site is launched, you should see fluctuation in your rankings as traffic and your new pages are indexed and the linking value is transferred over. However, following these tactics will allow you to get the maximum benefit from organic search during your site update.
Brian Kaminski is managing director of the San Francisco office of iProspect (www.iprospect.com), a search marketing provider.