From Citation Solutions president, Margie Seaman
When I was 15, I lied about my age and got a job at Levy Bros. department store in Houston, Texas. I worked Monday, Thursday nights and all-day Saturday. After 2 weeks, I knew that retailing/marketing would be my career.
Fast forward to the 1960s. I started working for Foley's Department store. Foley's had been around since the early 1900s when Houston had wooden sidewalks and unpaved streets. When I started with Foley's, there were only 3 stores – the main store downtown and two branches. I worked in the corporate buying office and had the good fortune to work with retailing giants like Milt Berman, Stewart Orton, John Utsey, and Don McNaught. Foley's was very successful and the whole organizational culture was built around sales. Buyers were required to spend time on the floor with customers every day at the noon hour which we all referred to as "holy hour." Every employee knew that if customers were in the store, they would be their only job - all other tasks would be put on hold until the customer was served.
The opening of the Greenspoint store in 1976 was the beginning of my stint in the branch stores. The opening set a record for Federated Dept. Stores and again, I worked with more talented people like Bob Oliver and Teresa Byrd. In 1982, I was promoted to the Sharpstown store which was the highest volume branch at that time. During my time there, I was fortunate enough to work with Kathy Knott and Roz Pactor among others. All of these people "got it." They understood what retailing was and they were all the tops in their jobs – so good in fact, that Sharpstown experienced the first million-dollar day on a Saturday before Christmas in the late 1980s. All during my career, I quietly observed every person I worked with and learned as much as I could from them. Later, I continued opening new stores and had the pleasure of being involved in 43 store openings. There was nothing like the thrill of opening day. We regularly exceeded our sales and customer service goals and that made all the long hours and work worth it and also demonstrated what team work could do.
Through my observations as I progressed in my career, I had learned the philosophy of selling, the importance of properly merchandised sales floors, how visual displays impacted sales, and how to get the most from advertising. All of this information from 50 years ago is now the foundation used to build the Citation Solutions customers' websites. I've learned the technology necessary to build an attractive website but it is the lessons from long ago that have influenced the success of each of our clients' sites. Our custom design websites of today reflect the very best of a merge between practices and precepts of the past with the modern technology of today.
How lucky I am that my dream of working in retailing has carried me to this point. The thrill of digital marketing is equal to the thrill I felt when I began my very first job and I'm looking forward to continuing to learn as technology advances. We live in an exciting time and every day offers new vistas to be explored.
Why Can't I Build My Own Website?
Building a website can be a relatively simple task with all the templates and instructions on the internet. Just pick your design, pick your colors, put in a couple of photos, and write up some information about your company. That's it. Now all that needs to be done is to find a hosting service that will add your website to a rack with thousands of other sites. You are finished and ready for all the business you will get from your new website. There's only one little problem. What is going to drive the traffic to your site? In January of 2018, there were 1.8 billion websites on the internet and the majority of those sites get almost no visitors. The competition among businesses for first page search engine results has caused the creation of new businesses that offer to get you the best results for a charge. Large companies are paying thousands of dollars in Google AdWords and other advertising to increase the visibility of their websites. Those dollars are usually not available for small businesses. However, a well-designed website with all the necessary search engine optimization, clear and concise content text, the use of SEO friendly coding and tags can also help your website achieve the coveted first page search results. Citation Solutions builds websites that conform to the algorithms of the various search engines and many of our clients are enjoying the benefits of first page results without spending the big dollars. In summary, yes you can build your own website but there is a good chance that no one will ever see it.
Fall Season is Almost Here!
Is your website ready?
For many businesses, the Fall Season offers the most opportunity for increased business. Kids are back in school, sales are coming out of the summer doldrums, and industries are gearing up for the end of the year push. Your website is a significant tool to help generate new and repeating business and is important that the information on your site is up-to-date. Citation Solutions recommends using the Fall Season as a time to review each page of your website for accuracy, relevancy, and to remove outdated information. Look at your home page with the eyes of a potential customer. Is your site attractive? Does the home page give a clear understanding of what your business offers and the benefits to the customer to use your company? Do the images need to be changed for a fresh, current look and feel? The home page is the first impression your customer has of your business. The page needs to be clean, easily navigated with concise content text that is relevant to your services. Do your headlines capture the viewer's attention and make them want to learn more about your products and services? Is your page weighed down by lengthy text? We live in a fast-paced society and viewers want information to be presented short and sweet with just the high points. After their interest is piqued, the secondary pages can be used to go into more detail.
Another point that detracts from the validity of your website is information that is dated several months or even, years old. If you have a dedicated News section on the home page, check the date of the last entry. Articles that are more than three months old give the page an outmoded look. If you do not have enough new articles to update the News section at least every three months, it would be better to do without that category and use the space for something more germane to current business procedures. This also applies to an Announcement category. It is confusing for a user to see announcements for events or sales that occurred months ago. Ensure that all announcements have been removed after the date of the event.
Your website is an important tool in your success. A tired, stagnant website will not portray your business in an exciting, forward-looking manner. Work with your webmaster to ensure that your site always presents your company in the best way possible.
Value of a Website
To have, or not to have, that is the question
Anyone who searches the web knows that there are about as many websites on the internet as there are visible stars in the sky. In light of this, many business owners understandably question whether websites are really necessary to increase their company's revenue growth. But while having a website doesn't necessarily mean that potential customers will come knocking down your door, the reality is that not having a website can certainly cost you business.
A common misconception among many businesses is thinking that a website will be a massive business producing machine that will lead to substantial, immediate increases in sales. When the business owners realize that this is not happening and thinking that a lack of traffic on the site is the problem, they turn to internet companies that advertise services purporting to bring more traffic (or hits) to the site. But promotions of this type can cost the website owner anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars each month just to see credible results and Citation's experience is that having a large number of hits on a site does not necessarily lead to a large dollar increase in business. With the high cost, such advertising becomes out of the reach of many small businesses and it leads to the owners of these small businesses doubting whether or not having a website is even necessary at all.
If that type of marketing were the only way to ensuring website viability, it certainly would not make fiscal sense for a small company to invest in one; however, this is not the case. There are internet businesses like Yelp, Home Advisor, Angie's List, and Google Plus which display a company page with address information and directions for the business. These pages are useful in that they provide a first line listing for a business based on a specific need of the viewer. However, to get more knowledge about a business, the majority of the viewers click on the provided website link where they can get complete information on the company. This is where it becomes critical to have a website. If the company lacks a website where it can provide detailed information on the business and services, the viewer will usually go to another listing for a company that does have a site. Judging from the vast number of people who use these types of websites in order to find information about businesses relevant to their needs, this tendency of the consumer to favor businesses with a website means a significant loss of business for any company without one.
Again, having a website does not necessarily mean that it will get crazy amounts of hits; and even if it did, these hits may or may not lead to substantial revenue growth. The importance of having a website then, is found in the availability of your company in online searches when consumers are specifically looking for your type of business. If they can't find you online, they will almost certainly not give you their business.
Website marketing is not for the novice or faint of heart. The rapid growth of online shopping has contributed to the rise of internet service companies that offer to make your website number one on search results with guaranteed first page placement. This is wonderful and possible; however, the caveat is that most web marketing campaigns are not cheap! Your business can expect to spend upwards of $1,000 a month to maintain the desired results. Even then, an increase in hits on your site does not necessarily equate to an increase in legitimate potential sales dollars. In truth, even if you have a limited advertising budget, you can use methods that are low-cost or free to drive customers to your sight with efficiency.
Having a website is a must in today's world. Potential clients who have heard about your business will certainly want to visit your website to learn more about your company. If there is no viable website the likelihood is that there is no customer appeal for your business. Additionally, for successful web marketing, your website listing must be included on all free services such as Google Market Place, Bing Places for Business, or YP Marketing Solutions.
Good placement on search results will help potential clients find you on the web but there is still a need to get potential customers to the internet to look for your business. This means actively extending the reach to your customer base beyond the reach of the internet itself.
Print media is still a good way to get your company in front of the customer. Consider advertising in your city's newspaper or in local neighborhood newspapers. Many of the smaller newspapers enjoy a substantial readership and ads are not as costly as in larger city papers. Print media also includes advertising through trade journals, email advertising, post card mail outs, flyers, and social media.
Other inexpensive ways to promote your business are:
- Promote Your Web Address: Include your URL on stationery, business cards, and advertising brochures. Ensure that all the collateral for your business has the same look for faster business identification. Potential customers may have questions or concerns after the initial sales call and the ability to quickly locate your web address is beneficial.
- Strength in Numbers. Contact your vendors or other related businesses to share links on websites to provide better visibility and enhance search engine results since the number of links to your business becomes a part of the search criteria.
- E-mail newsletters to existing customers offering information on latest market trends in your industry. This keeps your name active with clients and gives the feeling that you are focused on your customers. Good customer retention is as important as getting new business.
- Community Involvement: Participate in community activities by sponsoring little league teams, holding blood drives, volunteering with local charities, etc.
- Advertise Through Your Employees: Have employees wear shirts in the color of the company and with the company logo and web address. That is free advertising whenever an employee goes to lunch or works with a client.
Web marketing for small businesses depends on a variety of methods to be successful. It is all based on an informative website that is optimized for the best search results and continues with many different methods of getting the company's name in front of the public. If small businesses link together they can make a sizable presence in the high-tech world of internet marketing.
Search Engine Optimization
When a new website is published, the expectation is that the site will be displayed on the first page of all browser searches. Unfortunately, the reality is that browsers display only about 15 - 20 businesses on their first page of results and the top sites have paid for the privilege of being in the first positions. How does a business get top billing without paying a lot of money each month? Everyone has heard of Search Engine Optimization but what it means and how it affects your website is a little bit of a mystery.
Search Engine Optimization is the way the website is built to provide information to the browsers on the deliverables that your business offers. Good results from a search will give your website a better position on search results when a viewer types in information that relates to your type of products or services. Search Engines try to display sites that meet the requested search of the user. To find those sites, the search is centered on:
- The content of the site
- The use of meta tags for keywords and description information
- Content-coding tags that prioritize the importance of text
- The look and feel of the site i.e., is it easy to navigate, do users spend time on the site and visit secondary pages, is the site a link for other sites
- Does the site provide a good experience for the user in terms of fast response and working links
As a designer, I think of a website as having two-sided web pages. The front page is the side that is displayed to the viewer in the browser and the back side is the source code that controls the front page. If the source code is organized, clean, and uses the latest best practices for non-text content such as PDF files or Flash videos so they can be read, then your site will get recognition for the efforts. Many sites dedicate their optimization to just the home page; however, for better search results all pages should be optimized with title tags and descriptions that are relevant to the individual page. Descriptions should give timely and clear information on your business' products or services. Keywords should be used that are relevant to each individual page. It is very important that web designers take the time to build the site using the most advanced techniques to enhance the visibility of the business on the Internet
Good Search Engine Optimization can help your website get more "hits" but unless the site gives information to the viewer as to what you do, how you do it, and the benefit to the customer to use your business, then the site is not effective. Having a lot of traffic visit your site is the goal, however, if those hits do not produce an increase in business, then you are not getting the results you want. At Citation, we strive to build your site to SEO standards and we partner with you in adding the type of content text that will help your business grow. Many of our Citation clients enjoy first page Google search results and the benefits to their businesses that come from Internet exposure.
New Year Resolutions For Your Website
A New Year is always motivating with plans for improvements and changes in our life. It is also the time to look at your website and ask these questions:
1. Does your website accurately describe your business?
It is important that a website effectively explains what a business does and the benefits to the consumer to use that business.
2. What are your expectations for your website in terms of your business?
Realistic expectations are important. Websites are not stand-alone marketing tools; they support the marketing efforts of the business. A website should reflect the trends and current strategies of the business.
3. Who is your target audience?
Define your audience. Are there specific segments that need to have more focus than others? What are the needs that your target audience brings to the site?
4. Does your website have a 'tag line'? Everyone knows the tagline "Just Do It" refers to Nike. You probably also recognize "Betcha Can't Eat Just One" and "Melts In Your Mouth Not In Your Hands". Tag Lines serve as a reinforcement of your company's branding.
5. Who are your competitors?
It is important to understand who the competitors are and what features of their websites would be a good model for your business.
6. What makes your business different and does your site emphasize that difference?
Some differences might be:
- scheduling appointments during weekends or evenings
- experienced long term technicians
- Senior discounts
- speak Spanish
These differences should be on the home page to attract your viewers.
7. Is your site optimized for Search Engine Optimization?
Does the site have each page individually titled? Are there meta tags with descriptions on each page? Does the page content reflect the keywords used for the site? Are appropriate html tags used in the design? These are all important parts for good SEO.
8.How do you currently measure the effectiveness of your website?
Is your site currently on Google Analytics or some other monitoring site to record the activity on your website? How often do you review the results and what actions are taken based on the results?
9. Does your website match your business' existing collateral?
A good cohesive branding of any business is very important. All collateral should use the same logo and reflect the colors of the business. Proper branding gives a professional look and feel to a business.
10. How often do you update your site information?
Obsolete information, outdated news articles, and old photos give an "I don't care" feeling to a website. Keeping a site updated and current is a must for marketing your business.
11.Does your website have a 'Call to Action' feature on the home page?
A 'Call to Action' feature is a request that the visitor perform an action. These features should be simple, straight-forward, and feature an enticing action. Examples are: Call Now for a Free Consultation, See How We Can Save You Money, and Call Us Today!
12. Do you have a news feature and a link to testimonials on your home page?
A news article feature is a good way to provide your viewers with the latest industry information, sales promotions you are having, and product information. This lets your website serve as a resource. Testimonials are a good way to help your customer make that decision to use your business.
13.Do you use Social Media?
Does your business have a Facebook page or a link to your Twitter? It is important that all social media links are kept updated and offer pertinent information to your business.
14. What plans do you have in place to keep your customers coming back to your site?
Most website visitors will never return to a website. To get return visitors your site should have sufficient quantity and quality of content, continually add or change the content, and provide special promotions or offers. A stagnant site will not attract repeat viewers.
15. When is the last time you visited your website?
It is very important to view your site on a regular basis to ensure that everything on the site is current and correct.
Another important point is to remember to think like the customer when thinking about what content would be good to have on the site. What kind of information is a potential customer looking for? Information about services offered, brands that are sold and serviced, experience of service personnel, company history, etc. Does the site help answer questions about the company and the products and services that are offered? Following these website resolutions will help make your site a favorite among your viewers.
Anatomy of a Website -
We've completed the home page design so let's move to the secondary pages. If the home page can be compared to the outside entrance of a brick and mortar retail store, than the secondary pages are the individual departments of the store. The basic concepts of merchandising apply to these pages and they should be set up to display all of the information about your company and your services or products in a visually attractive and easily understood format. In order not to bog the viewer down with long paragraphs and over-written pages, the information should be presented in short paragraphs using bullet points where applicable. Title sentences using different color and size font add interest. If several columns of information are presented, there should be adequate white space between the columns to keep the information from looking bunched together and difficult to read. A page with too much text can appear over-whelming and cause the viewer to leave the site. Links to other pages or websites should be labeled to provide interest and make the viewer want to click on the link. Just adding a "Read More" link lacks the excitement that "Click here to learn how you can save $$$!" generates. Carefully worded links also enhances search engine optimization.
Secondary pages also benefit from the use of photos or illustrations that add to the explanation of the text. As with the home page of the site, the use of in-house photos of your business adds a personal selling touch to the page. The styling of the secondary pages should complement the look and feel of the home page. Some sites are designed to use the same header as the home page on all secondary pages while other sites have a different look for each page. Whatever the preference, it is always advisable to keep an identifying logo or image common to the site to provide a cohesive feel to the pages. Information on the secondary pages should be reviewed regularly to ensure all information is still correct and up to date. Pages that display dated information such as News pages must be reviewed to timeliness of news articles. Leaving a dated News item on a page for 2 - 3 years does not convey a good message to the viewer.
Secondary pages on a website are the site's sales force. Their purpose is to sell your company to the viewer by explaining all information from the home page in an energetic and exciting manner. The content on secondary pages must be current, honest, and answer all questions the viewer might have about your company.
Anatomy of a Website -
Building the Site
We have discussed the home page design in a previous blog. Now, let's look at how our designers build sites. Websites are dependent on users being able to find the site on the internet. To achieve maximum clicks, the site should be developed with the user as the top priority. To begin, your designer will develop a list of words or phrases that a lay person might use to find your business. To support the keywords, the designer will use code that is easily read with text that relates to the key words. Each page of the site will have a meaningful title and a page description that is relevant to the content it contains. The focus of the site will be on quality content and placing the most important information at the top of the page or "above the fold" in advertising terms.
Every business and every website has a personality. Your designer will work with you to capture the essence of your company through text and images. At Citation, we prefer to use actual pictures of your business rather than purchasing stock photos. This gives an individual look and feel to the site and personalizes your company to the user. The home page should not contain too much text. If your business requires a lot of technical information for the user, it is better to have a link from the home page to a secondary page with all of the necessary information. Basically, your home page should tell the user who you are, what you do, how to contact you, the latest news, and have an easily navigated menu that clearly defines the secondary pages on the site.
Your website home page provides the first impression that a user has of you and your business. At Citation, we strive to present the best possible look to give the user a positive impression of your business. We know that Presentation Influences Perception.
Anatomy of a Website -
Home Page Design
The convenience of the internet has changed the way modern business is conducted. Websites have made it possible for entrepreneurs to open businesses without the expense of a brick & mortar building. Today's websites are the virtual corner stores of yesterday. As important as a storefront window display, your website reflects your business to your customer. It provides company information, offers services, and ultimately sells products. It is important that your website reflects your operation in much the same way as a physical store. To achieve that goal, there are a number of key points that should be incorporated into the design of your site.
The home page is essentially the front door to your business. This should be a clean, well-organized, and easily navigated page; eye-catching enough to make the customer want to come inside and browse through what the company has to offer. Advances in programming technology are constantly giving web designers the ability to add more visual appeal to a site. These advances then become trends in website design. A current trend favors large, rotating or flash video photos in home page backgrounds, as well as minimalist text, and larger size sites. The design of the site should take into consideration that certain features are appropriate for some types of sites but may not be the best choice for other types. While the minimalist approach to site design is more successful than a "busy" home page which overwhelms the visitor with text, the site needs to maintain a user-friendly balance of text versus white space or the selling message of the site could be missed.
Another point to consider when having a website built is the type of business offered and who the target audience will be. For example, consider a parts-supply company which sells to contractors. That site will be visited frequently by users looking for a specific item or items. In this type of business, the design should be straightforward and easy to navigate. Using a dramatic design with videos or flash videos will become a turn-off after the user visits the site more than once or twice. Your website is for your customer. You might like dramatic flair but selling widgets does not require too much drama! To summarize the design of the home page:
Choose a visually attractive design that complements your type of business
Describe your business and your products Offer an inviting and easily navigated menu Share the latest news or information that would be of interest to the visitor
Provide company contact information
Citation Solutions believes that Presentation Influences Perception. That summarizes how important a well-designed home page is to a website. If the user has a positive reaction to the home page, they will be ready to explore more information on the site.
Internet Hackers Viruses and Bugs
It has happened again. The media is full of stories about Heartbleed. This latest threat is not a virus as it has been termed in many tech stories; this is an issue with the OpenSSL software that allows a hacker to retrieve information on the memory of a web server without leaving a trace. This latest Internet threat only points to the fact that the Internet is vulnerable on many fronts and as users, we need to take an active part in keeping our information as secure as possible.
Modern technology has had a tremendous influence on today's society. Almost every individual in the world is touched by the Internet in some fashion. The Internet has opened the door to unlimited information, changed the way we interact socially, increased our ability to communicate with friends around the world, and has given private companies and government the means to conduct business faster and more efficiently. However, with the Internet, it is the best of times and the worst of times. The amount of personal information that is stored in servers around the world makes the Internet an attractive target for hackers. We will always be faced with viruses, bugs, and software issues as long as there are individuals who think they can compromise the system. A lot has been done to make the Internet as safe as possible but it is still up to the user to exercise due diligence in protecting their personal information and accounts. The Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Information website has very good information on how to keep your personal information secure. Other methods include changing passwords frequently, reviewing online accounts on a regular basis, and not opening any email attachments from senders you do not know.
The problems that the Internet presents are not unique. In the past, people were shredding personal mail to prevent the theft of personal information. Account holders were purposely not signing the back of credit cards to avoid having their signature stolen. Businesses asked for photo ID before processing charge purchases. As consumers, the general public is used to following some type of preventative measures with transactions so the ideas that are suggested now for Internet protection are not new; they are just a different way of doing the same business. The value of the Internet even at its worst times is mitigated by the societal benefits it has presented in its good times.
What is the Best Programming Language to Use for a Web Site?
We are often asked which programming language is best suited for building a website. This is similar to asking who makes the best car on the market. The truth is everyone has their own favorite based on individual experiences and familiarities. Web designers prefer to use language code with which they have had the most experience. However, coding alone is not the only factor which determines how the finished product will display on the web.
The challenge comes in building a website using code that is most compatible with the increasing numbers of browsers now in use. The more complex a web site is, the more difficult it becomes to maintain reliable functionality across all browser platforms. Therefore it is important to understand that a cutting edge computer language that wows on a certain browser may prove frustrating for a broader spectrum of Internet users. It is a problem which has come full circle. In the early days of IE, Netscape, AOL, and the like, there were a variety of browsers so coding a site was time-consuming and difficult. Later, when IE and Netscape accounted for most of the browsers, coding was easier. Now, with IE, Safari, Chrome, Firefox, etc. the task is once again more complex.
The majority of business websites do not require extensive, and expensive, programming. At Citation, we code our sites using language that both fits the needs of the site and has the added benefit of displaying and functioning uniformly across most browsers. In the competitive world of internet commerce, this can mean the difference between having a site that is visited only once or twice by an interested party or having one that is visited frequently. We understand that in order for a site to be interesting, it must first and foremost provide a user friendly experience; an experience friendly enough that visitors will soon become customers.
Any questions or comments, please contact us for more more information.