‘A business without a sign is a sign of no business” has long been a standard phrase in business marketing. Without a sign in front of your shop, nobody will know you are there. In the Internet age many want to alter the phrase to include websites. Surely if a business does not have a presence on the Internet, it must not truly exist. Unfortunately, like a sign that has been overgrown by brush, a website can easily disappear behind the billions of pages among which it stands.

“Build it and they will come” no longer applies to websites. Everyone has one and no one has time to look at them all. How then can a company maintain a website that will help increase business instead of draining resources?

To sort it all out Thomas Edison State College hosts “Pods, Blogs, VOIPs, and More: Using Internet Tools to Advertise Your Business,” a free seminar by Nancy Vinkler as part of the Trenton Small Business Week on Tuesday, October 17, at 10:30 a.m. at 101 West State Street, Townhouse Room 104.

After graduating from Penn State with a bachelor’s degree in education and earning an MBA from Villanova, Vinkler embarked on a 25-year career in information technology. Specializing in business development and product marketing, she managed websites for several large corporations including, Quadritek and Lucent Technologies.

In 2002 Vinkler went out on her own, purchasing a franchise from WSI: We Simplify the Internet (www.WSIsimplyROI.com). Vinkler works with companies to tailor a marketing package that suits both their needs and budget with a “focus on business strategy.”

Vinkler points out that Internet marketing is not very different from standard print marketing as far as strategy goes, and that return on investment is still the most important consideration. The biggest difference is the flexibility of the Internet. As an example, Vinkler says that a traditional Yellow Pages ad run can cost $1,000 a year and once printed cannot be changed. Web content can be updated as frequently as a business has a new message its customers.

Websites are a business’ home base on the Internet. To make them work Vinkler stresses three key steps:

Traffic is the number of potential customers who click to a website. There are a number of ways to build traffic, starting with search engine optimization. A typical Google search can easily return several million sites. A quick search for “furniture,” for instance, returns more than a quarter-billion hits. This number is way too large to wade through, so a consumer is most likely to click on one of the first few results. While optimization has been around for a while, “it’s more complicated now that it ever has been, because of volume,” Vinkler says. “If you are not on the first three pages you are not considered to be on the Internet.”

Luckily there are a number of tools that can help a site improve its ranking, the easiest of which is sponsored links. Search engines typically return two sets of results, the “organic” or free listings, and the sponsored links. Sponsored links are paid advertising and premium space on the results page. Vinkler explains that “the top left position is the most desirable and can cost upwards of $5 per click.” The upside is that the link is free if no one clicks on it, and because the Googler can see a brief description of a company before deciding whether to invest time in a click, he is not likely to click if he is not interested.

Content is what will keep a surfer on your site. Vinkler asserts that “the average time spent on a site is eight seconds.” This is not a lot of time to grab a potential customer’s attention. No one is going to spend much time on a boring page, but Vinkler warns that “overly salesy sites” can also be a turn-off. The key to balancing between bland and bling is useful information.

Vinkler says that both blogs and podcasts that inform or entertain will keep surfers on a site. Both are now easy to set up. Podcasts have the advantage of letting potential customers take you away with them in the form of audio that can be downloaded onto a portable media player. Keeping new visitors around long enough to fall in love with your product will greatly increase your chances of advancing to the conversion phase of the relationship.

Conversion, the holy grail of Internet business, occurs when a person has found a web page through the sea of competition, stuck around long enough to realize that he wants your product or service, and has decided to make a purchase. It’s not easy to get far. This is akin to the “close” that real-world salesmen use to bring a deal home. An Internet entrepreneur who has gotten a potential customer this far has to pull out all the stops to turn him into an actual client — and, if at all possible, a loyal, repeat customer.

Vinkler suggests using VOIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, to connect directly with prospects, and to add the personal touch lacking in most internet businesses.

VOIP links on a web page let visitors make a free phone call to a company representative right from their computers. Vinkler says that VOIP system can even be set to find the business owner, ensuring that he is able to close the deal.

If you own a business, it is a solid bet that you have a website. You have already spent time and money developing it, and it probably looks well tended, but not much else. Now is the time to send it out into the world and put it to work. Vinkler says that the tools to take your website to the next level are now inexpensive and easy to put in place.

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