White-in-article.jpgby Cindy Waxer.


As the president of Author Marketing Experts Inc., Penny Sansevieri has a way with words, especially when it comes to web design. “Our website was so bad,” recalls Sansevieri, “it looked like a dog had designed it after a tequila bender.”


But all that’s changed since Sansevieri overhauled the San Diego-based marketing and publicity firm’s online brand more than a year ago. Today, visitors to www.amarketingexpert.com can find compelling content, and a vastly-improved user interface.


Sansevieri joins a growing number of small business owners who are recognizing the power of a well-crafted website. In fact, according to a September 2011 survey of small business owners by ORC International, an Infogroup company, when asked to rank the importance of marketing techniques in an effort to grow one’s business, 32.6 percent of respondents ranked “company website” as the “most important” strategy while a mere 9.1 percent similarly listed Facebook.


“A company’s website is one of the main building blocks of a small business’s marketing plan,” says Lourdes Balepogi, president of Miami agency Chispa Marketing.


Fortunately, it’s easier than you think to create a website that promotes your products, draws traffic, and ultimately drives revenue. The best part: Small business owners need no longer invest thousands of dollars in marketing agency fees and high-tech bells and whistles to attract eyeballs. Rather, by following the eight simple steps below, you can ensure your website doesn’t go to the dogs, intoxicated or otherwise.


  1. Make it action-packed. According to Sansevieri, adding brief and straight-forward video clips to AME’s website that explain the firm’s services helped “change our conversion rates drastically.” Long gone are the site’s meandering “tire kickers.” Instead, Sansevieri says video clips draw “a lot of traffic” from “really serious buyers”—a change that’s helped AME boost its online conversion rates to nearly two percent.

  2. Plan ahead. Before you start tearing down your existing website for a new-and-improved version, take the time to figure out what you wish to accomplish. Warns Balepogi, “Small business owners often spend money on a [web design] vendor that makes them all these great promises when they really don’t have any idea what they’re signing up for.”


  1. Go mobile. As of December 2010, 302.9 million Americans reported that they own a mobile device, according to the wireless telecommunications trade group CTIA. Yet many small business websites aren’t optimized for mobile devices. That’s a huge mistake, says Kevin Zicherman, president of Brick&Mobile, a Toronto-based mobile web provider. “Most small business websites are built in Flash which doesn’t work on an iPhone. So if I’m a customer visiting a website and it’s a Flash site, it’s literally a blank screen,” warns Zicherman. A firm specializing in mobile web optimization such as Brick&Mobile, however, can ensure a website is built for a small screen, features the right search words for a high search engine ranking, and delivers the best end-user experience possible.

  2. Cross-promote for maximum impact. Many small businesses lay claim to a website, a Twitter feed, and a Facebook profile. The trick, however, is “you’ve got to integrate them,” says Sansevieri. “You really want to use your website as a hub and link your Twitter account, Facebook page and blog together so that it’s all part of the same family.” Balepogi agrees. “Social media is an effective way to communicate and can easily be integrated into your website,” she says.


  1. Add a personal touch. Whether it’s complementing your website with a blog, or putting yourself front and center in every online video, a personal touch is critical to winning over website visitors. Says Sansevieri, who stars in AME’s own videos, “A blog really personalizes your website. In a world where we’re being inundated with so much stuff, we still really want to feel connected with the people we’re doing business with.”


  1. Showcase your customers. Rather than post customer testimonials that always “seem very fake,” Jonathan Kay, Ambassador of Buzz at Grasshopper, “thought it would be awesome if we took a page and just highlighted our customers for who they are.” Today, many of the Needham, Mass.-based virtual phone system provider’s clients are profiled on the site’s ‘Happy Customers’ page—a feature that he says has boosted the site’s conversion rate.


  1. Update often. From new product launches to emerging market trends, it’s easy for a website to fall behind the times. That’s all the more reason to update your online presence on a regular basis. “I have someone on my team make sure that every time our firm is mentioned in the news, it’s put up on our website immediately,” says Sansevieri.


  1. Know your audience. Video might spell success for AME’s bookish customers but, in the case of Grasshopper, Kay says, “we found that while some people spent more time on the page, the bounce[-off] rate was pretty high.” So today the 20-second videos are gone, replaced by a few clean—and motionless—illustrations.