Jan 04

Yesterday, Merge was visiting with a prospect, who had their senior salesperson at the table.

We asked, “If your web site had to establish trust-highlight your company’s expertise and credibility-what would it communicate?”

The veteran salesperson looked at us with a blank stare. He slowly replied, “I don’t know. When I sell, I’m selling myself. People work with people. If they don’t trust me, then they don’t trust the company. So I don’t know how a web site would establish trust.”

It was an interesting outlook, and one that was not lost on us, because he made a good-but not totally accurate-point. To Merge, we believe a web site is quite capable of establishing an adequate level of trust. For 9 out of 10 companies, a sale is still going to involve human interaction. But the relationship with your company will begin on your web site.

The question is, does your web site extend the personality (your brand) of your company, or is it just a web site? Depending on who you believe, 70% of prospects will check your company out on the web before they ever contact you. Your web site is the first “person” from your company that they will meet. Don’t let your web site be the last person they visit. Do what it takes to communicate your brand, expertise and credibility and you will build the trust necessary for them to take the next step to speak with someone who counts-you.

Jan 02

The current Harvard Business Review magazine issue has a a great article on Strategic Leadership. The main point of the article is that Strategy is more than a plan or an idea. It’s a way of operating a business.

The article concludes that at the heart of Strategy is purpose. The author asked a compelling question: If your company disappeared tonight, how would the world be different? What would happen to your customers? Would it really matter?

How you answer that question tells you alot about your business. Obviously, if your answer is that no one would notice or not much would change, then your purpose isn’t all that compelling.

Imagine if Google shut its doors tomorrow…or Starbucks…how about Wal-Mart? The world would go on, but each of these companies would be sorely missed.

Now apply this same line of thought to your web site: What’s your web site’s purpose? What is its main job? What if it disappeared and your company had no web site tomorrow? Would any one care? Would your business miss a beat?

Like the purpose Q&A for your business, the same is true for your web site. If you don’t have a compelling purpose, then why have a web site? If it’s not purposefully contributing to the business, then isn’t it just a waste of money?

Review-and possibly renew-your purpose. Do so for both your business and your web site. A compelling purpose will change everything.

Dec 31

December 31, 2007. Absolutely nothing different from today other than the fact that tomorrow we flip the year to 2008. But so much hinges on this last day. It is the last day for most corporations’ years. For some individuals, it’s a day to reflect over the last year and set New Year’s resolutions for the upcoming.

The power of 12/31 is this: it puts a stake in the ground as a means to measure the past 364 days.

It’s the power of measuring. It provides the individual or company a consistent timeframe to size themselves up. It answers the questions: How are we doing and what do we need to be doing differently?

Most people or organizations that go through this each year gets a significant benefit from the exercise. So why not shorten the timeframe and therefore get the benefit more often?

Consider shortening your timeframe to a monthly or quarterly review and ask yourself the timeframe questions. Make adjustments throughout the year instead of just once at the end of the year.

And why you’re at it, schedule your web site for a monthly review. How did you do? How many visitors and what was your conversion rate versus previous months? What do you need to change to your web site to make sure it performs better for the next quarter?

May 2008 prove to be a great year because you’ve measured and adjusted on 12/31. And instead of waiting another year before your next review, I hope you have some of the best months or quarters you’ve ever had because you choose to review more often in 2008.

Dec 17

This weekend, Merge engaged Rob Ketterer of Visionworks Consulting. Rob is the former world-brand manager for Coca-Cola, and the founder of Visionworks, a team building and strategic consulting firm.

Team Merge met for about four hours on Saturday, and came away with some great clarity and direction for Merge in 2008. It was amazing to get the perspective from someone who not only does this professionally, but from a trusted third party. We have been so deep in the woods, Rob simply provided us the ability to take a couple of steps back, and uncover the vision that was already there.

A wise man once said: “Where there is no vision the people perish.” As Rob and I were on a run Saturday morning, we noted that this holds true whether you’re talking about your business, your personal life or spiritually. When you have a clear vision, life is so enjoyable. Without it, life becomes purposeless meandering. I know, I’ve been there.

What’s your vision?

Dec 11

On my drive into work, I saw a great sign, like this one I found on the web:

The reason I think this is great is because of the call-to-action. “Google” of course is now a verb, so “Google Ron Paul” is a call-to-action. Why is this so slick? It creates intrigue. It provides a sure fire answer: if you Google Ron Paul, you’ll know who he is and what he stands for.

Think about calls-to-action on your web site. How compelling are the following?

-Contact Us
-Click here
-Learn more

-Get your question answered
-Increase your sales
-Get more traffic

Think compelling. Ask people to act. Google Ron Paul. Brilliant.

Dec 09

As Merge is wrapping up 2007, I’m planning for 2008, and looking at lessons learned from the last twelve months.

This weekend I analyzed my sales efforts for 2007, and I noted the following:

For companies that I had established an average or better rapport with the decision maker, I was 318% more probable to successfully make the sale. I also noted that I did not lose one sale where I didn’t have an average rapport or better.

Hmm. I think that’s a key observation. Application: Spend a lot more time developing rapport before jumping into a quote. It’s a waste of time otherwise. I’ll be 318% more effective if the relationship is there first. So I’ll be working harder on those relationships. It’s much more fun and rewarding anyway.

Before you sign-off and say, “nice lesson,” there are some things to consider how your web site can help you in the rapport building process.

Take the typical web site: it’s static, factual, and has little ability to build rapport to help the sale’s process. Consider these options to develop rapport with your prospects through your web site:

-Newsletter: Consistently sending a newsletter every month will continually put yourself in front of your prospect.

-Blog: Be transparent, let your personality show, and provide value. Do this a couple of times per week.

-Podcast: Your chance to be a radio star. By publishing at least monthly, you get the rare opportunity to speak directly to your prospect. Your credibility will go through the roof. Think of your competitors who are doing podcasts. Exactly.

Look at your last year’s sales. Think about increasing those sales about 300%. What will it take? By simply publishing a newsletter, a blog and/or a podcast. If you do one of them, you’ll not only close more sales, but you’ll also have more prospects. If you do all three, you’ll leave your competition in the dust.

Dec 07

We all know about marketing plans…it’s the end of the year, so you might be doing one now.

What about your web marketing plan? Have you thought about it? With the web becoming businesses main marketing tool, a plan might be a good idea.

If you haven’t done one, here are twelve very easily implemented and practical ideas that you might find useful. Just implement one per month, and you’ll be on your way to web strategy success:

January: Decide what your web site needs to accomplish.
Your web site should help you achieve your business goals. So what are your business goals? (If you don’t know, you might want to define them for goodness sake). Okay, what does your site need to do to help you with your business goals? (i.e. if you want to do $1M in sales, and you average $50,000 per sale, you need 20 sales. Let’s say you want the site to help generate 50% of all leads. You close about 20% of your leads. Your site needs to generate 100 leads per year, or about 8 leads per month). How many visitors do you need to generate 8 leads per month? With a conversion rate of say 3%, you would need about 275 visitors per month. Now that’s knowing what your site needs to accomplish!

February: Clean up your calls-to-action.
Most likely you’re using lame calls-to-action like “Contact Us” or “Learn More” or the dreaded “Click here.” Stop it. Change these into compelling calls-to-action so you actually get users to act.

March: Sign-up for Google .
You might not use this for three months, but start tracking your stats now so you can use them later. Do this. Measuring is key.

April: Set-up your Google Adwords.
After you create an account, create a campaign. If you’re a local company, restrict your campaign to your local area or state. Lastly, create 3-4 advertisements, so you can go back later and find out which ad is performing the best.

May: Review your competitors’ web sites.
This is an easy one. But review your competitors’ web sites and at least know what they are doing. If you have the bandwidth, implement one or two things that they may be doing to remain competitive and improve your site.

June: Keyword review.
Review your web site’s keywords. Hint: Look at the Title (of the browser), your meta tags (do a right click, view source), check out our headings and lastly, roll over your images and check out your Alt tags (the little yellow box that pops up). How are you doing? Not so well? Correct these with the appropriate keywords. Now.

July: Review your adword advertisements.
Okay, it’s been three months since you set up your adwords. Now it’s time to see how they are performing. In the campaign manager, review conversion rate of the ads. If you created 3-4, you may be surprised what one or two ads are leading the field. Pause the non-performers. If you want, create a couple more to further analyze at a later date.

August: Look at your Google .
You’re going to find a wealth of information in here. Let’s focus on one statistic, your bounce rate. If you see a bounce rate on your index page (home page) in excess of 25%, you will need to fix your index page. This means of all your users that access the site through your home page, they don’t go anywhere else and then leave your site. Nothing grabbed them. Review your site and change your home page to encourage users to take the next step.

September: Create an email signature.
What does this have to do with your site? Traffic. You probably send multiple emails out per day-as such, you’re losing valuable advertising space. At least have a link to your web site in your email signature.

October: Start thinking about a blog or a newsletter.
If people want to buy your products and/or services, then they are looking for more information before they make that leap of faith before purchasing. Use Constant Contact to do at least a quarterly newsletter, or use WordPress to blog a couple of times per week. Yes, it will take time, but you’ll find the benefits outweigh the cost of the time to create the content.

November: Change your content.
Okay, it’s been almost a year. Have you changed anything on your site? Update your news section, change up your home page a little. Add a blog or newsletter sign-up subscription form (above). Change something.

December: Review your stats again.
Yep, I can’t emphasize this enough. You’ve been measuring your web stats for close to a year now. Measure the following: Unique Visits, number of form submissions (if contact us is the goal), and calculate your conversion rate. Congratulations, you now have benchmarks for the next year. Now change your site so you can beat the current year benchmarks, next year.

Nov 30

The Chamber of Commerce’s of the world, lead groups, Rotary, Sertoma and the like all have an annual fee associated with them. Some of these groups can be pretty pricey. Others can be under $100 per year. But the real cost-or should I say, the real investment-is the amount of time they require to generate results.

This couldn’t be more true for your web site.

There are different level of investments you can choose to make in your overall web strategy. Each level requires a financial investment as well as a good portion of your time. Of course the principal of “what you put into it is what you’ll get out of it” holds true.

If you “just” want a web site, it will probably cost you little in time and money. Your nephew can do this for you, or maybe even a freelancer. Of course, your return will be “just,” but you’ll have a web site. Mission accomplished I guess.

If you want a web site, but you have some level of expectations in terms of results, then you’ll be investing a little more time in planning what the web site should say and do, and this will in turn cost a little more money. You’re probably looking for a small web development company to handle this for you. Your break-even point will probably come within the first year. Not bad.

If you really want to shoot for the stars, and you want to have one of the best-if not the best-web site in your market, then you’re going to hire Merge-I mean-an established web development firm with a track record for producing such web sites. You will spend a good amount of time creating a strategy, developing your brand, determining the functional requirements and having a copywriter provide just the right copy. You’ll also probably invest in a search engine optimization campaign to make sure you’re getting the right type and the right amount of traffic to your web site to make it successful. Though the upfront cost is significantly higher than the first two options, your return on investment will be significant as well. What you put into it is what you’ll get out of it.

You have options. Each option has it’s own cost in time and money. The results will mirror your investment. What level of investment should you make in your company’s web site?

Nov 29

Recently I’ve had a couple of prospects ask if we could help them get more traffic to their web site.

“I’m sure we could. But can you tell me, how much traffic do you currently get and what are you trying to accomplish with your web site?”

Silence on the other end of the phone.

“Or another way to put it, how would you know your web site is effective?”

More silence, followed by, we want more sales…contact us…web 2.0 buzzwords…jibberish.

I wrote in an earlier post that more traffic isn’t necessarily the problem. Conversion usually is the problem, and the conversion problem usually comes because no goal or objective is set for the web site.

Here’s how it usually works:

Company puts up a web site, pukes all over themselves (they just talk about themselves and how great they are) and they stick a contact us link at the end of their navigation. When users don’t submit the contact form enough, they call wanting more traffic. It must be the traffic!

Now, if we sat down and said, “Let’s figure out what value we could provide, a specific action we want the user to take and how many times we want them to take that per month,” then we would be on to something! We would KNOW if the site was accomplishing its goal, and if not, we could do something about it-like get more traffic, change the call-to-action or change whatever the offering may be.

What is your web site’s objective? What is your monthly goal? How much traffic do you need per month? What should your conversion rate be? Is your web site successful?

Nov 20

The top request we receive from prospects is that they want more traffic, traffic, traffic!

When we look at their current web site, we often find that we can probably increase their conversion rate by over 500%.

Getting more traffic can be a pretty expensive and time intensive ordeal. Fine tuning your site to increase conversion rates can be instant and relatively inexpensive.

Here are 3 ways we help you increase your conversion rate:

1. Optimize your page load to be fast. Most sites we inherent don’t have optimized graphics and come with extreme code-bloat. Hire a real web developer to significantly reduce the file size of your pages, thus, increasing download speeds.

2. Reduce your copy! One of my favorite Far Side comics is the one with the owner scolding his dog, and it shows what the dog hears: “Blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah.” This is how web users read your web site. Use bullets, key words, bold, etc. In short, be concise and say only what needs to be said.

3. Make compelling Calls-to-action. Review your site and write down how you’re asking the user to act. Is it lame? “Contact us” or “Read more” or … you name it, it’s probably lame. Make your calls-to-action compelling, and lo’ and behold, you’ll get more users acting.

Once your site is properly converting users, then focus on increasing traffic.