5 Ways To Prepare Your Website For 2003

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Most online businesses experience seasonal highs and lows. Retailers experience a boom during the holidays, and a big drop in late December. For the rest of us, holiday spending often leaves us “out in the cold” for a month or two.

We can’t control the coming and going of the seasons, but we can control how we react to seasonal lows. After 15 years in a very seasonal industry, I’ve learned that how we handle the holiday (or post-holiday) slowdown can determine the future of our business.

I once knew a man we’ll call Bob, who had taken over the management of a small print shop in early fall. Heading into the holidays, business slows down in that industry. His employer (a large chain) wanted him to cut back on staffing, but Bob had a better idea.

Instead of reducing his work schedule, Bob had everyone on his team work a full 40 hours a week through the first weeks of December. The pressure mounted to cut staffing, but Bob even paid overtime to some workers so that everyone could take paid vacation as needed.

Although Bob’s job was on the line, he stuck to his plan. During this critical month, Bob’s team implemented several key quality control and training programs that they simply hadn’t had time for during the busy fall season.

When January came around, Bob’s team was able to achieve record sales without increasing staff. In fact, business increased more than 50% in the following year. Payroll costs were actually lower than the prior year.

With his better trained staff and more efficient operations, Bob was able to reduce overtime and handle the added business without increasing his staff. By the end of the year, exactly 12 months after he nearly lost his job, Bob’s shop was named the best of the year by his employer.

No matter when your seasonal lulls occur, you can learn a lot from Bob’s example. Even the slowest business day can be a blessing in disguise, if you know what to do with it. Whether you’re running a Fortune 500 company or a one person startup, there’s always something to do.

If you’re operating a website, this is the perfect time to make it more profitable. Here are a few simple ways to take advantage of a slow day.

1. Take Your Site’s Temperature

One of the best ways to improve your results is to measure the success of each step in your sales process. If you have an order form, compare the number of visitors to your home page to the number who actually visit the order form – can you improve this? Sure you can.

How many times do folks click on the order form, or add an item to their shopping cart, but leave without buying? The answer may surprise you. Can you strengthen your guarantee, or provide other assurances or benefits that would help more shoppers become buyers?

Digging into your website’s traffic logs can be time- consuming, but you have some time. You’ll be amazed at the stories your log files have to tell. Many hosting providers offer free site statistics, and there are also many low cost (even free) logfile analysis programs available online.

2. Improve Your Search Engine Rankings

Analyzing your log files will also tell you where your visitors are coming from. If your site’s search engine referrals are less than you want, it doesn’t take a lot of time to do something about it. Even changing the titles and headings on a few key pages can pay off dramatically.

The Google search engine updates its listings at the end of every month, then crawls the web in preparation for the next update. If you finish by New Year’s Day, there’s a very good chance that Google will include your changes in their January update. Now is the perfect time to start.

Optimizing your site’s content actually takes very little time once you understand how. I know folks who have achieved remarkable results in a single day’s work. Once you’ve optimized, you can continue to improve your rankings by working on links.

3. Upgrade The User’s Experience

Take a walk through your website. Better yet, get a friend or family member to do it. It it easy to use? Do they have questions that aren’t clearly answered? You may be shocked at what they have to say. Teenagers make great usability testers, but be prepared for heavy sarcasm.

For example, if you’re a retailer, do you offer free shipping? If so, is that fact obvious to visitors? If not, can you provide some reassurance that low-cost shipping options are available? When will the order be shipped? If it’s same day, tell them!

Is it easy for visitors to find what they’re looking for? Can they find answers to their questions quickly and easily? Many sales are lost because a single simple question was not answered. Does it do this or that? Does it have this feature? Who can I call if it breaks?

4. Work On Links

Most visitors to your website come from… another website! Finding related websites willing to link to yours does take time, but it’s well worth the effort. Links from other sites will not only boost your traffic immediately, they’ll also improve your search engine rankings.

Start by submitting your site to free directories like the Open Directory (www.dmoz.org), GoGuides (www.goguides.org), JoeAnt (www.joeant.com) and Gimpsy (www.gimpsy.com). If you have a good deal of free content and information, you can also take a crack at submitting it to the free areas of Yahoo (www.yahoo.com) and Looksmart’s Zeal (www.zeal.com).

Finally, search the web for related sites – some may have directories of their own, others may be willing to swap links. A personal message to the webmaster is all it takes, if they don’t have an online form for this purpose. Always add the other site’s link to your site before asking for a link swap – you’ll get far better results that way.

5. Thank Your Customers

If you’ve gotten your customers’ permission to contact them, an email thanking them for their business and wishing them well in the new year is a great gesture, especially at this time of year.

If you can combine that with a free gift, a discount offer, or other response mechanism, you may generate a few more sales that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. You can also use this as an opportunity to ask for their feedback.

Make A To Do List – Then Get Started!

Whatever you’re going to do with your slow time, make a plan before you get started. If you have a lot of things on your “to do” list, set some priorities, and include time for your family as well as yourself.

The holidays are a great time to improve your business, but don’t forget to rest and recharge your batteries. After all, another busy season is right around the corner!

Naturally, I hope that everyone reading this jumps onto the web today, buys my book, and gets to work on their search engine rankings. But most of all, I’d like to wish you all great success in 2003

Dan Thies is a well-known writer and teacher on search engine marketing. He offers consulting, training, and coaching for webmasters, business owners, SEO/SEM consultants, and other marketing professionals through his company, SEO Research Labs. His next online class will be a link building clinic beginning March 22

5 Ways To Prepare Your Website For 2003
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