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New Year’s resolutions for your Web site

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As we begin the new year, the dot-com shakeout is in full swing. If you’re like most Web marketers, you’ve probably spent a few sleepless nights worrying about layoffs and wondering if you are doing all you can to make your online efforts succeed.

By now you have already done the things that most folks do. You’ve redesigned the site to be easier to use. You’ve optimized the pages to be search-engine friendly. You’re linked at the right places and written about by the right people. You’re a member of all the Web marketing e-mail discussion lists; you attend the right trade shows; you read the right magazines.

But there are two areas that you may be overlooking, and both are right there on your site—probably on the home page. They are part of your outbound e-mail communications with your site visitors. This area, more than any other single thing, is what will make or break you in 2001.

I’ll focus here on the two most critical types of outbound e-mail communication that should be taking place. The most obvious is the customer feedback/inquiry link. It’s so obvious that you probably think I’m silly for mentioning it. But it’s not just having a customer service link that matters. It’s the speed and method with which you respond to those inquiries that will make or break you.

How many times have you used an online customer feedback/inquiry link and never heard a peep back from the company? Or heard back via an automated robot reply, only to be told they would get back to you as soon as possible, which then never happened or happened two weeks later? The response turnaround time for online-generated customer questions must be less than 48 hours, or it’s just too long. Make this your goal for 2001. Why seek new traffic when you have existing traffic that’s being ignored?

If you do not offer at least one e-mail newsletter from your site, then you are teetering on the edge already and you need to get busy. E-newsletters are the most powerful way to build business with those who have been to your site. So let’s assume that you do offer an e-mail newsletter or two from your site.

Never mistake a subscriber for an engaged reader. I am subscribed to so many e-mail newsletters I can’t keep up with them; most I ignore or delete the moment I see them. I don’t take the time to unsubscribe because that would require clicking a link, remembering a password and then replying to an "Are you sure you want to unsubscribe?" e-mail message. I don’t have time for that. So I do the same thing everyone else does. I don’t unsubscribe; I just ignore them as they arrive.

Take a candid and harsh look at the content of your e-mail newsletters. Are they of any real utility to anyone? Do you publish it just because preachy people like me say you should in our so-called "expert" columns? Your e-mail newsletter should both illuminate and entice. Provide content that is relevant to the reader, and make a useful offer with a link back to your site. The newsletter is used in this way to make it easier for the user to get back to your site with a call to action.

What’s the NetSense in all this? While the Web is here to stay, e-mail is more widely used than the Web and, in many ways, more important to your long-term success. Your site is useless if your users aren’t treated well. Make a marketing resolution in 2001 to answer inquiries, send useful news and make worthwhile offers—all via e-mail.

Eric Ward creates vertical URL announcement, submission and linking plans for major Web site launches. Contact him at AdAge@netpost.com.

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