The Secret to a Profitable Web Site

Posted on April 14, 2000

by Angie Dixon
Internet Copy Doctor

"Ron, we're giving you a new assignment. You're in charge of the company web site. It's a big responsibility, but we know you can handle it." Everyone in the room smiles and nods, and then everyone gives Ron a big round of applause. This applause, of course, is mostly joy at not being in Ron's shoes. Comments like "Man, that's a tough job," "I wouldn't want it," "Where would you even start?" ripple through the room.

Ron says, "Thank you, sir, I'm really looking forward to the opportunity, and crosses his fingers under the table. The company president smiles at Ron and continues, "The main goal is to increase the site's profitability. We're bleeding money through that modem. You're our best manager. Figure out what's wrong and stop the hemorrhage. Understood?" Ron nods numbly. "Understood."

Many executives, like Ron, are responsible for the company web site but don't clearly understand one key factor in making money from a web site. Site management is important; so are selling products and building advertising/branding partnerships. But one of the most crucial factors in the success of a commercial web site is repeat traffic. Just as movie producers hope to attract repeat viewers, a commercial web site has to attract repeat visitors in order to make a profit.

One element of web design and planning that is often overlooked, is the site's purpose. Many companies think of their web site as "a place to sell our products." That's a fine beginning on purpose, and will succeed with people who are online specifically to shop for-and buy-exactly that type of product, right now.

But a profitable site should also cater to people who are just looking for information on a general type of product or who would like to buy, but aren't sure who they'd like to buy from. The most successful commercial sites even reach people who don't know they need that product-but know what they need to accomplish.

Selling to people who are not buying right now is harder than selling to "ripe" customers, but is essential to maintaining a profitable web site. The key is to sell these people on the web site itself, and keep them coming back to that site until they're ready to make a purchase. When they do make a purchase, they'll be the very best kind of customer-loyal and happy-and they'll spread the word to other potential customers.

The best way to keep people coming back to a web site is to provide interesting content and update it regularly. A company which sells widgets should provide as much information as possible about widgets--what they are, how they're made, what they do, where to find them, how to take care of them, and where to get them fixed. This information should be current and relevant, and should be updated regularly-at least once a month. Visitors should feel that this company cares about them, wants to keep them informed, and isn't only interested in selling them widgets.

"Content" encompasses a lot of territory. One excellent way to add content to a site is to create a "newsstand." This consists of articles written in-house or submitted by visitors, and a "menu" page linking to each article. Articles give existing visitors more content when they return, and listing the articles themselves with search engines pulls traffic from people who are looking for an article on the care and feeding of widgets, for example.

Email newsletters are another excellent way to build repeat traffic. Many web sites offer a "subscribe to our newsletter" button right on the front page-because it works. A weekly or monthly newsletter containing two or three articles and a plug for the sponsoring site, is a very inexpensive marketing tool and an excellent way to build community and draw repeat traffic. Another way to become a popular widget site is to set up a section providing links to widget resources. This section should include as many widget-related links as possible, in all the various widget areas--production, maintenance, etc. The best way to start a resource section is to find as many links as possible, write one or two sentence descriptions of each, and begin the resource section with at least 10 links in each category. The resource section should be updated at least twice a month. This resource section will soon become one of the major "widget information locations" on the Internet-and will attract ripe customers as well as potential customers requiring some time to "ripen."

Interactive "community-building" features are another good way to build repeat traffic for a site. Chat rooms are very popular; scheduling a regular moderated chat on widgets is an excellent way to generate repeat visits. So is inviting widget experts for special chats and promoting these special events heavily.

Another way to get people talking about--and on-a web site is to set up a bulletin board system. Web sites with successful bulletin boards have webmasters who work on the boards constantly. They "seed" the boards with messages to get people talking, and then drop by frequently to keep the conversation going. Sites with "hands-on" bulletin board operators get a reputation as being "a good place to get information," and have one more mark in their favor with prospective customers.

One final item that is crucial in providing content is to provide a list of trouble-shooting tips, known problems, and frequently asked questions. What? Let people know that XYZ widgets don't work 100% correctly 100% of the time? Sure. Chances are, they already know that. Nothing is perfect. But providing a list of common issues and questions lets potential customers know that XYZ, as a widget producer, cares about their widget-related problems and is interested in providing information on how to solve those problems. And if they still have problems, they can email the widget support staff at XYZ and get personal attention from widget experts. This attention to potential problems will sell a lot of widgets-possibly more than any advertising campaign..

The key to getting people to come back to a web site-any web site- is to give them a reason to come back. Fresh articles, updated links, chat rooms, bulletin boards and a robust support area will all serve to create a "must-bookmark" site for many people interested in widgets--even if they're not interested in buying a widget right now.

Article by Angie Dixon of Internet Copy Doctor. Angie is a freelance copy writer and Internet business consultant.

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