How to Build a Small-Business Web Site, Part 4: Web 2.0 Tools
Interactive tools can add tremendous value to a business Web site, but it's not obvious where to begin -- or where to stop. Blogs, social networking connections and widgets will not only keep visitors coming back, but also provide conduits for increasing your site's exposure across the Internet.
When it comes to Web 2.0 tools and your business Web site, there's a time and a place for everything. Web master wannabes with businesses to run often go overboard with the plethora of social networking tools at their disposal and end up wasting a lot of time and effort on frivolous undertakings.
"It's important not to get carried away and implement every last widget you can find," Jim Keller, CEO of Context Technology Solutions, told TechNewsWorld. "If it's not going to be relevant, then you are investing time that could be better spent on other aspects of running your business."
On the other hand, some business owners with an aversion to social networking and all associated tools might be missing out on opportunities to improve sales, increase traffic to their sites, and engage in one-on-one communications with their colleagues and customers.
Know Your Traffic Patterns
As a small-business owner and consultant, Kathleen Gilroy, cofounder of Swift Media Networks, is all for leveraging what you can to build relationships with customers.
"Some very basic Web 2.0 tools can be remarkably effective in getting your message out, communicating your vision and direction and driving people to your site," she said. "You can get a lot of leverage for very little money."
She has her own personal catalog of favorite Web 2.0 tools that she uses to improve the effectiveness and reach of her site, starting with Google Analytics.
"To get started, you want to track traffic to and from your site," said Gilroy. "It's free and easy to set up, and is an important first step in creating a Web 2.0 strategy for your business."
A good analytics tool can show you why people are visiting your site, what they're doing when they get there, what keywords they're using to find you, and even if traffic is going through social media sites such as Twitter, noted Gilroy. "You can look at where they are coming from geographically, which can help you formulate a strategy to reach them."
Moving Up the Ranks
Leveraging tools is not just about creating outreach programs. They can play an integral role in moving you up the search engine rankings as well. "Getting your site visible on search engines is critical," Gilroy said. "Having a blog embedded on your site is a great way to do that, because search engines like to see new content. If you are posting on your blog regularly, using the right keywords, you'll push up your ratings."
"Blogging is very important for search engine optimization," observed Dan Hobin, CEO of G5 Search Marketing. "The problem, however, is that it's time consuming. If you have a blog and do it right, it's great. Before you start one, though, be realistic about how much time you can put into it. Don't have one if you can't update it regularly."
If a business does want to get into blogging, it needs to make sure it also has some checks and balances in place, advised Shawn Moore, CEO of Solodev. "Sometimes you can leak too much company information, or a disgruntled blogger in your company could wreak havoc."
A social networking vehicle -- whether it's Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter or any of a multitude of others -- can be an effective way to drive a steady stream of traffic to your site and keep your business contacts up to speed on your activities.
"If you are a consultant, you need to try and get your message out -- and as frequently as possible across as many platforms as you can," Swift Media's Gilroy said. "These can be really powerful for advancing your interests, and the best part is they're free or very inexpensive. For the amount of dollars you spend, you can get very, very powerful returns."
She particularly likes Yelp.com, a community site for posting reviews of local services. "A consultant or service provider can send customers an e-mail asking them to post reviews of their business on Yelp, which includes links back to their Web site to drive traffic and help improve their ranking in search engines."
Even the simplest of tools can make your site stand out and deliver some compelling reasons for people to stick around.
"Perhaps the best 2.0 application on a Web site is Google Maps," said Solodev's Moore. "Just about all businesses are taking advantage of that on their sites."
Another application that is rapidly gaining momentum with business owners is AddThis. A simple copy and paste of AddThis code to your site lets visitors click on an icon to bookmark and share your Web site content with others. It also sends content to social bookmarking services and networks, and it includes analytics on how visitors are sharing content from your site.
Digg is an aggregate news site where visitors explore and share content from anywhere on the Web. Yahoo Answers provides the opportunity to post answers to questions, which can help boost the credibility of your business or service. Disqus is another comment system that tracks conversations across the Web; it also bridges discussions with services such as FriendFeed and Plaxo.
"Regular RSS feeds to readers are also worth investigating, because it's quick and simple to implement," Keller adds. "People can follow what goes on your site elsewhere, and gain a little window into how they can view your site."
Google Custom Search Engine is a low-cost subscription service that allows you to create a customized, branded search engine on your site. "You get a great-looking search engine and actually increase your ranking in Google when it's used," said Moore.
Universal login capabilities with the likes of Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect can engage visitors more deeply with your Web site. "The whole idea of getting people to socialize on your site without them having to register will do wonders for encouraging people to interact, building communities and encouraging adoption," said Scott Aikin, founder and lead developer of Hawkee Technology Social Network.
"It's really nice to have something that facilitates a higher level of social networking functionality," he told TechNewsWorld.
Whatever the motive behind your Web 2.0 tool choices, common sense should always prevail, cautioned Context Technology Solutions' Keller. "The one mistake I see businesses make is overusing integrating links and tools, and getting too involved in their own development. If you monetize your time, you might find it's worth your while to hire a developer instead."