Spinning new business through your company Web site

by Julia Kuzeljevich

TORONTO, Ont. – When it comes to business-to-business Web marketing, knowing your audience well will put you ahead of the crowd. But a surprising number of businesses aren’t reaching potential customers, or even properly servicing existing ones, because they have not paid attention to their Web presence.

Lee Palmer, president and creative director, Palmer Marketing, has launched over 25 transportation-related Web sites over the last year, and said that Web development now makes up 60% of his company’s business.

A speaker at the Transportation Workshop, an annual event put on by Motortruck Fleet Executive in partnership with Dan Goodwill & Associates,  Palmer noted that some in the transport sector are a little behind the times on their Web marketing.
If you think you can’t drive your sales with your Web site, you are wrong, he stressed.

“We focused 100% of our energies in branding and Web development starting in June 2009. We’ve gone from distributing to producing product. It’s a dramatic shift. The Web is now a very key part of our overall branding efforts. We believe in an integrated approach to marketing, combining print with Web advertising. Some people still like to see things in print and to hang on to brochures,” said Palmer.

But if your site was designed more than four years ago, it is likely out of date and it’s time for an overhaul.

Sam Cockcroft, creative director and account manager with Palmer Marketing, offered pointers on figuring out how successful your company’s Web marketing is.

“Is it moving you forward? Is it instilling confidence in your brand? Or is it moving you backwards? Is it underperforming, outdated, and creating a negative effect?” he asked.

Far from just holding real estate online, a Web site should be created with a strategy behind it.

“Maybe there is also an opportunity to do some cross-selling,” said Cockcroft.

A Web site can often draw in new prospects to your business, he said.

“These are the people you want to attract – you want to show off a bit. Do you have a concise message in which to present the brand, or a demonstration of the brand?” he asked.

Your well-crafted Web site may also offer a lot of opportunity for partnerships, or even for hiring.

“You really want to establish that you’re at the top of your game. With driver shortage a big issue, are you using your Web site to recruit?” asked Cockcroft.

Template sites may be cheaper to create but you’ve got to do the work of writing the content. Custom, one-language sites tend to start in the $6,000-$8,000 range, noted Palmer.

There are several steps to consider in your approach to Web site building.

Do you have a message you’d like to get across?

Palmer said there are “front door messages,” which demonstrate the main thing you’re about, and there are “side door messages,” which may list secondary areas of business.

Other messages may include initiatives your company has undertaken, or awards you’ve won.

But make sure your message is not too general.

“If people come to your site and don’t instantly get what they’re looking for, you might lose an opportunity to educate a potential customer. What you do must be up front and clear,” said Palmer.

You want to do your due diligence when you select a developer. Ask for recommendations, advised Palmer.

You should get an e-mail signature with a link to your site, and you should engage proper SEO, or search engine optimization, so that your customers find you when they do a search for the type of business you run, and so that your name comes up among the top five or so.

“Google analytics is the single most powerful tool in your arsenal,” said Palmer. “If you can imagine having a Web site with no SEO, you need 75% of all searches to go through Google. If you’re not being found there, there is a very good chance you won’t be found,” he said.

Once you’ve established a look for your Web site, you should carry your new look over to your sales division. Make sure the look is on any brochures you create, for example.

Remember that changing your mind always costs time and money, stressed Palmer.

There are some common mistakes that occur across many Web sites that you will want to avoid when and where possible.
Some Web sites are “IT-driven,” said Palmer. In other words, there’s no SEO, no contact, only a vague message, and an outdated look.

“With IT-driven Web sites, it is more about function than form. Some IT-driven sites can be robotic, not business-driven. The (IT department) won’t necessarily design a look to sell your business, but they want to control the process and they are not good at going beyond what they are comfortable with. It takes a lot of people to build a house, and a lot of people to build a Web site too,” said Palmer.

He said that one of the most common problems in transportation companies’ Web sites is an outdated look.

Part of being ‘outdated’ can be as simple as not doing the work to keep information current.

Surveying Web site functionality across several transportation company sites, Palmer Marketing found some of the following issues: a 50th anniversary logo still on a site from the year 2000, continuous error messages when customers clicked on certain sections of a site, a ‘left-justified’ page look that was dated, a company name that was so faded into the background font as to become invisible, and a carrier Web site advertising itself as “new” but that was 10 years old.

Certain sites, noted Palmer, have decided to focus their message on one area of business, for example owner/operators.
“But does that mean, to other markets, they don’t have a fleet to run the freight?”

Other sites neglect to speak to their existing customers, focusing in on driver recruitment or selling used equipment, and ignoring their other market segments.

Perhaps one of the most obvious aspects of a business, the contact information, is too frequently ignored when it comes to the Web site.

Consider that the purpose of your site is to get in contact with your customers, or vice-versa.

Without making the contact information visible “you’re turning your customers into bloodhounds, making them do work to talk to you. If you don’t make it easy to get into communication, you’re going to frustrate some people and lose business opportunities,” said Palmer.

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