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Getting Help to Build a Vibrant Web Presence

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                   SoHo NEWS & TIPS
Helping You Make the Most of Your Small Office/Home Office
        SoHoTIPS.com
------------------------------------------------------------

Greetings,

If you have a website for your business, you might want to 
think about getting creative with your site to attract and 
keep customers. Today's issue offers stories and solutions 
to help you build a vibrant web presence.

Best,
Mandi

P.S. You can discuss this issue or any other topic in the 
new SoHo News & Tips forum. Check it out here...

SoHo News & Tips Forum

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NEWS & TIDBITS

- GE sends notices to 50,000 employees, whose 
names and SSNs were on a stolen laptop...

- The United States Air Force plans to cut 40,000 
jobs by 2009, two years earlier than previously 
planned...

-  Verizon Communications Inc. celebrated the 
first anniversary of its FiOS home broadband 
launch by disclosing subscriber statistics at a 
New York financial conference...

- British tycoon Sir Richard Branson has urged 
airlines and airport operators to join his Virgin 
Atlantic carrier... 

- Gambling regulators awarded the first slot-
machine licenses in the state of Pennsylvania...

- Spanish-language media company Univision 
Communications Inc. got shareholder approval for 
its sale to a group of private equity firms...

- About 640 hourly workers at Delphi Corp's west 
Columbus plant have accepted the company's job 
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Getting Help to Build A Vibrant Web Presence 
By RIVA RICHMOND
Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal. 

Albert DiPadova is facing a population explosion.

Mr. DiPadova is a co-owner of Due Maternity, a San 
Francisco purveyor of hip clothes for pregnant 
women. In the past six months, he has seen 24 new 
competitors emerge on the Web -- which makes it 
harder for his store to stand out in search-engine 
results and has driven up the price of ads on Yahoo 
and Google.

So Mr. DiPadova decided on a new strategy to 
distinguish his business. He would supplement his 
online ads with a site makeover.

His Web developer used do-it-yourself design tools 
from Yahoo Inc., which hosts Due Maternity's site, 
to give the online store an assortment of features 
for expectant mothers. Among them: a baby-name 
finder, photo-sharing service and "Jiggy-O-Matic" 
calculator that helps women figure out the date 
they conceived. The centerpiece -- and money maker 
-- was a wish list that women could share with 
friends and family.

"You have to give something more back" to custom-
ers to get them to return, says Mr. DiPadova, who 
also owns five brick-and-mortar Due Maternity out-
lets with his wife, Shannon.

As conventional online marketing gets tougher, 
many small businesses are coming to the same 
conclusion as Mr. DiPadova: They have to get more 
creative with their sites to attract and retain 
customers. But most small businesses can't afford 
to hire their own Web developers and marketers to 
add new features to their sites or increase their 
online exposure. Even companies that do have on-
staff help want easy-to-use tools that keep the 
job simple and inexpensive. So many entrepreneurs 
are looking outside their walls for help.

Some, like Mr. DiPadova, are using services that 
let small businesses create and manage sites them-
selves despite minimal technical expertise. Others 
are turning to full-service design houses that not 
only create sites for them but also manage their 
marketing campaigns -- everything from buying 
online ads to customizing the sites so that they 
attract the attention of search engines.

In Mr. DiPadova's case, the efforts have paid off. 
Since Due Maternity added the new features in 
January, about 50,000 people have registered with 
the site, and traffic and sales are up. He expects
his company to reach $5 million in sales this year 
-- two-thirds of it online -- up from less than $1 
million in 2003, Due Maternity's first year in 
business.

The push to get more sophisticated online reveals 
just how vital the Internet has become to small 
businesses. According to Yankee Group, a Boston 
consulting firm, 66% of the 5.5 million U.S. 
businesses with two to 499 employees have a Web 
site of some kind. The Web has opened up huge new 
markets for entrepreneurs, giving even the small-
est companies a global reach. In addition, the Web 
is often the first place that potential customers 
turn for information about companies.

With the stakes increasingly high, businesses are 
finding that it's no longer enough to have a 
simple home page. Customers expect a professional, 
efficient, engaging and secure site -- and they 
expect to be able to find it easily using a search 
engine. "If they're going to survive, [small 
businesses] have to get on to this" idea of 
improving their site design, says Sanjeev Aggarwal, 
an analyst at research firm AMI Partners Inc., of 
New York. "They need a more professional presence."

Basic Mistakes

Indeed, many companies make very basic mistakes 
with their sites, says Justin Kitch, chief 
executive of Homestead Technologies Inc., which 
designs sites for small businesses and provides 
do-it-yourself tools for entrepreneurs. Sometimes 
the phone number on the site is wrong, a link 
doesn't work or the design looks sloppy, he says.

Those kinds of mistakes can ruin a company's
marketing efforts, he argues. Online advertising 
is "very important only once you have a site 
that's worth marketing," he says. It is "useless 
otherwise."

Helping companies create polished sites is 
becoming a big business. Yankee Group predicts the
U.S. market for Web services for small and medium-
size companies will grow 7% a year to $4.1 billion 
in 2010 from $2.9 billion in 2005.

Extending Your Reach

BUILD BUZZ: Invite regular customers to write a 
review of your business in their favorite online 
city guide or on sites like Yahoo Local, Citysearch
and Yelp, where local consumers share recommend-
ations.

MAKE AND MARKET: Don't blow your whole budget on a 
flashy site. You also need a presence on search 
engines to draw traffic in the first place.

HAPPY LANDINGS: Online ads shouldn't always send 
visitors to your home page. Choose "landing pages" 
that are more relevant to prospective customers' 
needs.

MONITOR YOUR RESULTS: Make sure your marketing 
efforts are working. Many hosting services help 
track where your online traffic and sales are 
coming from and offer tips for getting better 
results from your ads.

These services fall into two broad categories. 
First, there are do-it-yourself packages. You pay 
a third party to host your company's Web site, 
email and other services, but you put together the
site yourself, selecting a template and then add-
ing options.

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One of the biggest names in the field is Yahoo, 
which has more than a million small-business 
customers and hosts 40,000 e-commerce sites. Its 
do-it-yourself packages start at $11.95 a month 
for a basic site; Mr. DiPadova uses the top-tier 
offering at $299.95 a month, which carries a $50 
set-up fee and 0.75% transaction fee per sale.

Using Yahoo, people with no Web expertise can 
create a site from scratch or customize one of 380 
templates. They can, for instance, drag and drop 
images onto the page and move around elements such 
as the site's headline. Likewise, users can adjust 
color schemes, fonts and button styles, and add 
extras such as tables, maps, multimedia content 
and customer forms. Yahoo also offers templates 
to help merchants set up online catalogs.

A slew of other hosting companies, such as 
Homestead, of Menlo Park, Calif., and Web.com Inc. 
of Atlanta, Ga., provide similar template-based 
services. Packages range from $9.95 a month for a 
simple brochure-type site to $49.95 a month for a 
full-fledged e-commerce site.

High-End Help

Even with these customizable offerings, many 
entrepreneurs find they lack the time, expertise 
or staff resources to build their own site. So 
they hire Web professionals to create and market 
a site for them. A custom site can cost anywhere 
from a couple of hundred dollars to many thousands, 
depending on individual needs, plus hosting fees. 
Most of the hosting companies that offer do-it-
yourself templates also offer soup-to-nuts service.

"It's incredibly painful to build a Web site," 
says Greg Sterling of Sterling Market Intelligence,
a Web research and consulting firm in Oakland, 
Calif. "There's a lot of stuff going on, and it's 
very messy. It's wheels within wheels, and your 
head starts to hurt."

For Shane Gallagher, going with a design team was 
an easy call. Mr. Gallagher, a 27-year-old surfer,
founded Fringe Clothing LLC in Santa Cruz, Calif., 
with his father, Paul, a year ago. The younger Mr. 
Gallagher says it was clear that he had to have a 
site -- and a cool one.

Most of Fringe's products, athletic clothes for 
extreme sports, are sold in retail stores. Even 
so, the clothing buyers at stores and the kids who 
wear Fringe's gear needed "a face to the company," 
to reassure them that it was an established opera-
tion, Mr. Gallagher says, and they would look for 
that face on the Web. But Mr. Gallagher, who 
professes a "hate" for computers, didn't want to 
handle the site himself.

So he hired Affinity Internet Inc. of Fort Lauder-
dale, Fla., to create his site, where customers 
can order items directly or find out which dealers
carry Fringe's clothes. The design features 
stylized midflight images of skateboarders, motor-
cyclists and snowboarders; customers can also read 
a surfer's tale of near death in the underwater 
grip of a 20-foot wave.

Now Mr. Gallagher plans to work with Affinity to 
set up a MySpace page. Many companies that market 
to young people set up pages on the popular 
social-networking site to build buzz. And Affinity
is developing ads for Fringe on the surfing portal 
surfline.com.

Indeed, another big appeal of the soup-to-nuts 
plans is that they usually offer online marketing 
as well. Many small companies are overwhelmed by 
the job, and are only too happy to turn it over 
to a professional. Affinity, for instance, manages 
a modest $100-a-month search campaign for Fringe.

What's so complicated about online marketing? With 
so much competition, it's getting harder for online 
businesses to maintain high placement in search 
results. And it's becoming more expensive to buy 
ads tied to search terms. Prices for these ads are 
set in online auctions and can jump on big bids 
from novices who don't know the going rates, as 
well as large competitors who can afford to drop 
lots of cash. Indeed, larger companies have for 
the most part cornered the market for the general 
keywords -- such as "clothing" -- that are most 
popular with searchers.

Choose Your Words

Many small businesses say Web-services companies 
bolster their chances by carefully choosing which 
keywords belong in an ad campaign and managing 
bidding to balance cost, ad ranking and results 
in Web visits and sales. Traffic to Deborah 
Williamson's six-month-old online store, 
ChinaGlassAndMore.com, based in Gillette, Wyo., 
rose to as high as 70 clicks a day on weekends 
from almost zero after Homestead began buying ads 
for her on Google. The ads are tied to keywords 
such as "china gravy boat" and "collectible dish-
ware."

Ms. Williamson pays Homestead $49.99 a month for 
a guaranteed 400 clicks a year, or about 33 a 
month. She is now generating about $600 a month in 
sales.

Pros can also design a site that attracts search 
engines and boosts their ranking in the so-called 
natural results, where ranking is determined by
relevance only. For example, the Web site for 
Pizza John's, a pizza restaurant in Essex, Md., 
gets the top ranking on Google or Yahoo for 
searches on "pizza johns." Crucially, it beats 
out the similarly named national chain Papa John's, 
which has many stores in the surrounding area. It 
also ranks at the top for searches on "pizza Essex 
Maryland."

Web.com credits this high placement to a few key 
elements. The site has a clear, descriptive domain 
name, pizzajohns.com. The site's design also 
avoids certain types of graphics and frames that 
can be troublesome to search-engine "spiders," the 
automated programs that scour the Web analyzing 
sites and help engines determine relevance, and 
therefore ranking.

And the site repeats keywords such as "pizza" and 
"pasta," as well as the restaurant's name and
location. Spiders like to see consistency and 
redundancy in the text on a site. That's where a 
small business, focused on one area or product, 
can gain a big advantage over a larger one. A big 
business's site often must emphasize the company's 
breadth of operations and services, leading to 
less redundancy in the text.

Similarly, when Affinity designed an online dating 
site for Matchmaking Moms Inc., the company made 
sure to repeat lots of keywords and use "metatags," 
invisible text that gives search engines inform-
ation about the contents of a page. Affinity also 
included a special Google site-map file that gives 
the search engine more information about the site, 
which lets moms set up their sons and daughters 
with potential mates.

That design may have helped the San Francisco-
based site get its big break. A producer for NBC's 
"Today" show spotted Matchmaking Moms while doing 
a Web search, and featured it on the show on Aug. 
9. The publicity sent 350,000 visitors to the site 
that day, says founder Dawn Miller, and netted 
about 200 memberships, which are free for now. 
Since then, she has been averaging 20 to 30 new 
members a day.


DID YOU KNOW?

Building a competitive edge into the fabric of your business 
is crucially important to long-term success. Some ways to 
get this edge are by knowing more than your competitors, 
making a product that is hard or impossible to imitate, 
being able to produce or distribute your product more 
efficiently, having a better location, or offering superior 
customer service.

So what did you think about this issue? Drop me a line and let 
me know at mailto:mandi@gophercentral.com 

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