Websites should connect you and your business with people in a way that they will both enjoy and respond to, says Maggie Van Dagens of J&M Marketing Group, located at 177 Parkside Drive, Princeton.
Van Dagens will discuss “Hard Working Websites,” at the next meeting in the Successful Women Connect Luncheon Series, Wednesday, June 6, at 12:30 p.m., at Mediterra, 29 Hulfish Street, Princeton. Cost: $29. For reservations call 609-924-1083.
This is the final lunch in a series of six that Van Dagens organized to help women entrepreneurs connect and discuss a wide variety of business topics. She organized the series, she explains, because “every woman business owner has areas of expertise and areas where she does not have as much knowledge. I wanted to bring women together to discuss and learn from each other.”
The lunches, which began in March, have been held at either Mediterra or Eno Terra restaurants in Princeton and Kingston, and Van Dagens credits the staff of the two establishments for a large part of the success of the series.
“The staff have been terrific and so helpful in organizing these events,” she says. The lunches have averaged about 20 women at each meeting, and Van Dagens is considering continuing the series next year.
Van Dagens approaches website development from a marketing background. She began her marketing career as a copywriter in Detroit in the early 1970s, “back when no one thought that women could understand how to write about cars,” she says.
But since she lived in Detroit, working in the advertising industry meant working with the auto industry. After graduating from Northwestern University with a degree in English, she took her portfolio to a number of advertising agencies in Detroit, and finally landed a job with BBDO, one of the oldest and best-known advertising companies in the country.
She became a copywriter on the Dodge campaigns and eventually, she says, “the world of advertising began to see that women not only could write about cars, women also shopped for cars.”
She moved to another agency, Campbell Ewald, where she worked on the Chevrolet account — at that time the largest advertising account in the world. She and her husband, who was also in advertising, eventually decided to move to Los Angeles to work with agencies in that area that were marketing Japanese automobiles.
“It was the late 1970s and the Japanese auto makers were hiring people to help make their brands better known in the U.S.,” she says.
After her husband died, however, she decided it was a time for a change. “I’d never worked on the East Coast, so I decided to try New York City. It’s the heart of the advertising industry, after all,” she says.
In New York, she opened her own company and soon landed Prudential as one of her largest clients. After a business trip to Princeton she fell in love with the town and decided to move there in 1989.
She worked in traditional advertising areas up until recently. Her company began to focus on website development in 2008, when a client who had been downsized from a major corporation called to ask if she could develop a website for his new start-up business.
“I hadn’t worked with websites before, but of course I said, ‘Sure, we do websites!’ That’s the attitude I learned as a woman breaking into a man’s industry many years ago.”
The economy was changing in 2008, and many people might think it was the wrong time to change the focus of her business, but Van Dagens says it has worked out. Her company now focuses on website development and consists of a designer, a programmer, a copywriter, and herself.
The new focus has allowed her to work with smaller clients, rather than only larger corporations such as Prudential, many of which were cutting advertising budgets in the recession.
When Van Dagens got her first website client, she sat down at her computer and started doing research, looking for what she thought was both good and bad in current website design. She quickly decided that most of the business sites on the web were neither user-friendly nor did they get the advertiser’s message across. She used her own, extensive knowledge of marketing to come up with several principles of good website design.
Follow Classic Principles. Following classic marketing rules is one of the first things a business owner should remember when creating a website. A business site, according to Van Dagens, is no different than most other forms of advertising; it is just a different method for delivering the message.
“You must tell the viewer what he wants to know — not what you want to say about your business,” she says, explaining the basic “features versus benefits” principle of marketing. “You want to create communications that build your brand, tell people what unique qualities you can offer them.” The websites her company builds are noted for clean design and one simple, straightforward message.
Many websites use language that is so generic it is meaningless. “We offer great service,” is one phrase that makes Van Dagens cringe. “What does really mean? Nothing!” she says. Jargon should also be avoided. Make sure that the words you use on your website are understandable to your average customer.
Engage the Viewer. The next rule every business owner should remember when designing a website is that you must engage the viewer — and do it quickly. “This is a problem I see with many websites designed for larger companies, not just small business,” she says.
A visit to a website should be an enjoyable experience, with a site that is easy to navigate and offers the viewer the information he wants in a quick, intuitive, and straightforward manner. These days there is an enormous amount of competition on the web. “If your site isn’t easy to navigate, your customer is going to just move on to the next site,” she says.
Make Your Site Informative. The internet is about information. Make sure your site has the answers your customers are looking for. “If you are in business today you must have a website,” says Van Dagens. There is no longer a choice in the matter. “No one uses the Yellow Pages anymore; 80 percent of people shop online before they go to a retail store.”
If your website isn’t working for your customers, it isn’t working for you, adds Van Dagens.
“You must engage your viewers quickly,” she says. “You have about 15 seconds tops, before a person decides to stay on your website or click to another — use it!”