Is your website working? Avoid these basic marketing mistakes

If there ever was a keeping up with the Joneses moment in the history of consumerism, it came with the advent of smartphones. If your fingers aren’t flitting and your eyes fluttering over a shiny, hypnotic, miniature screen, you’re probably feeling like the world’s last Luddite.

It’s been less than eight years since the iPhone first hit the market, and there’s been no less than an explosion in smartphone adoption since then. According to digital marketing research company eMarketer, the number of global smartphone users reached 1.64 billion in 2014 and is expected to top 2 billion by 2016.

“A lot of people will do online marketing, but they haven’t really cleaned the house or laid the right foundation in the website.” — Jody Hartwig, senior account manager, Acumium

So if you’re not on the smartphone bandwagon yet, you’re probably feeling left out — though in the end it’s not going to affect your life all that much if you’re truly happy with your old cellphone … or your rotary dial phone … or your old-timey telegraph machine.

But if you’re running a business, you can’t afford to leave your blinders on. Mobile is undoubtedly the future, and that future is smacking you right in the face as we speak.

“It’s something to definitely pay attention to, and you should look at your statistics,” said Jody Hartwig, a senior account manager with Acumium, a Madison-based Web technology and online marketing company. “Do you have a growing number of mobile users? If so, what’s their user experience? Because that’s truly where things are going. Users are using their smartphones for email, for research — particularly local research — and if you own a business and you’re not paying attention to mobile trends, you’re going to miss opportunities to gain someone’s attention.”

Hartwig, who gave a presentation titled “How to Turn Your Website Into a Marketing Machine” last fall at the IB Expo & Conference, has plenty more to say to businesses about staying relevant in a digital landscape that seems to be changing faster than the world itself can spin.

With respect to mobile, for instance, Hartwig reminds businesses that Google rewards more mobile-friendly sites.

But there are a lot more factors to consider, she says. Everyone has heard about search engine optimization (SEO), of course, but not everyone knows quite where to start.

The first, and most basic, step is to track traffic at your website through Google Analytics or some other statistical package in order to establish a baseline. Beyond that, business owners can improve their SEO results by signing up for Webmaster Tools, a free service offered by Google.

“If you don’t have an account through Google Webmaster Tools, go ahead and set one up, because they will basically tell you what they don’t like about your site, and if you can use that as a checklist and just kind of go after some things and improve that, then Google will think more highly of you.”

Build it right and they will buy

While some of the tips Hartwig gave at her IB Expo presentation may have seemed like Website 101 to business owners who have kept up with all the latest trends, plenty of businesspeople are still making rookie mistakes, she said.

While every business worth its salt has a website, plenty of business owners are doing it wrong. Too many sites still fail to engage potential buyers, and some even run the risk of creating a negative perception among the customers they’re supposed to be wooing.

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The biggest mistake businesses make “is they build websites without SEO in mind,” said Hartwig. “So they kind of go by that old adage ‘build it and they will come.’ Well, that’s no longer the case. So they may invest a lot of money in a website and not achieve the traffic and the sales that they need.

“The other thing I see is that they dabble in a lot of things — online marketing being one of them — without a plan. So a good example of this would be, businesses are out there in social media with no plan, and they just flounder around. They may post, but they post infrequently and they post off topic with no real clue as to how to generate traffic to their main site, and then it just becomes a time sink or they give up on it, and then they have this old Facebook page out there, for example, that starts to actually become a negative rather than a positive.”

Whatever your marketing efforts, though, Hartwig notes that your website is a vital part — perhaps the most integral part — of them.

“I think it’s important [for business owners] to understand that typically their website is the hub around which all of their online marketing and other marketing efforts revolve, and they need to understand how their users want to interact and what their users are expecting of that, and then make sure that their website allows that, through branding and navigation and functionality,” said Hartwig.

In the end, says Hartwig, you have to make sure your website — the cornerstone of your marketing efforts — is ready for prime time.

The best sites, she says, tell a compelling story; have a “personality”; effectively showcase what your company does; are fast, visually stimulating, and easy to navigate; support your marketing; are mobile-friendly; give your customers a clear call to action; and in particular are optimized for search.

“A lot of people will do online marketing, but they haven’t really cleaned the house or laid the right foundation in the website, and so they’re spending time and energy directing people to the website, but then they’re not converting well,” said Hartwig. “So our overall advice would be to start with the website to make sure it’s laid out well, it’s going to convert well, and then spend your time and energy through online marketing to drive traffic.”

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