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+++ S P E C I A L R E P O R T +++
"Your Website IS your Marketing Strategy!"
Robin Bassett, Publisher
Absolutely Victorian Greetings
http://robinsplace.com/
April 18, 2001

Since I do lots of consulting with small businesses new to the web, I was very interested in Marlene Windels' post in issue # 454  (see below) stating that she wanted to seek VC funding for a more aggressive marketing effort for her website at http://www.kazzam.com. I found this statement particularly telling:

"We have been in business for almost a year and have an exciting website, but are now looking for additional investment capital for a more aggressive marketing effort."

I just had to take a peek for myself, and I have to agree with you George that I don't see what Marlene is offering that might appeal to VC's. More to the point, rather than being "exciting," the kazzam.com website, while quite pleasant to look at initially, misses the mark entirely when it comes to some real basics of online marketing/presentation - really the same thing. Long before Marlene wastes her time chasing VC money for a more aggressive marketing effort, she needs to devote some time and energy to fixing a few easily corrected problems that won't cost the first penny of outside capital to change. Aggressive marketing of any website starts with some basic construction and presentation principles.

I can't begin to tell you how many times I hear "I know the website has a number of problems (could be better.) We'll fix that as soon as business picks up (we're sure we'll make money with it.)" All too often folks new to the net forget - or never realize - that their website IS their marketing campaign. Business won't pick up, you won't be sure you'll make money with it until you fix the problems, which by the way, is an ongoing process that is done only temporarily under the best of circumstances. All the expensive, aggressive, outside marketing strategies in the world won't do the first thing for either your conversion ratio or your ROI if you have a fatally flawed website.

There are some very effective basic marketing strategies that Marlene will find far more effective than chasing the VC Pie in the Sky, so let me first give you a rundown of 10 critical flaws at kazzam.com that popped right out at me in the first two minutes on the site. 

1. Marlene is using a doorway page that displays a logo, an image map and the short message that the page should autorefresh (the correct term is redirect, since the viewer should be sent to another page) into the "lobby." Fortunately, the page does NOT redirect - the site's designer failed to include the correct Meta tag to make it do so.

Why do I say "fortunately?" Simple - many search engines these days hit a redirect meta tag and they LEAVE, especially if they find that redirect meta on the first page that they load. 

Redirect tags can be very useful when you've changed the URL of a particular page by renaming the file or moving it to a different directory, but they have also become a favorite trick of search engine spammers, one that the search engines compensate for by simply not indexing some sites.

NEVER put a redirect tag on your front page - and consider the consequences carefully when you install one elsewhere.

2. Say-nothing entry pages like the one at kazzam.com are usually a mistake. Many search engines follow links only to the second level - IF they find what they are looking for on the first page. (One of those things is a minimum of 150 words.) Rare is the search engine that tunnels even to the third level. A number of popular search engines will ban you if you dare to submit more than one page and lots of them penalize you if you submit any URL other than a basic www.mysite.com. Every single page that you want spidered should have a link on the FIRST page of your site - the one that you see when you type http://www.mysite.com/ Any of a huge number of jump menu formats provide a space saving solution.

3. A visitor cannot see so much as a single picture of the first thing to buy at kazzam.com without clicking at least 3 times and waiting for new pages to load. Netizens don't like to click and they really don't like to wait. And they are visual creatures, associating the web more with TV than with reading a book. Three clicks to see a thumbnail of an item is two too many. Displaying your virtual merchandise like this is much the same as building a brick and mortar store and then making your customers rummage through the cartons to find the merchandise.

Worse, there is no back button from the individual item pages that will take you back to the immediately preceding page. Lots of new Internet users can't figure out how to see that page again unless you put a signpost directly in front of them. Once they get lost, they get frustrated - and then they leave.


4. The photos that are being used are not of high quality in the first place, they're fuzzy and they are unoptimized, making them far too slow to load. Some of these are so bad that Marlene might actually do better by eliminating the graphic alltogether. One picture is worth 1000 words, just like the old saw says, but the qualifier here is "good". If you're trying to sell me a T-shirt, then I want to see the whole t-shirt. 

5. The item descriptions are scanty at best. I know from experience that these are hard to write, especially when you have hundreds to do, but if you want to sell product then you will devote lots of time to doing a really good job on these. Think of your item descriptions as 150 word ads for the product that you're going to spend $1000 each to run once. There is NO second chance here - this is the last (or maybe the only) sales message that a viewer will see before pushing the Buy Now button - or taking a hike.

6. The product mix is an eclectic mixture of birding and Native American/New Age. This makes it extremely hard, if not near impossible, to target an audience for the site. Better Marlene should have two distinct sites. Even if you're selling giftware, focus your offerings as tightly as possible to a specific target audience. Find a niche.

7. Kazzam.com does not have a Privacy Policy - an absolute must if you are collecting any information at all about your Guests. Online Safety experts invariably tell folks to simply leave sites immediately should they fail to locate a prominently posted privacy policy and never to even consider a purchase or subscription. Smart netizens listen to that advice.

There simply is no excuse for lack of a privacy policy, which can range from a simple "Grandma guarantees that any information that you provide will never be sold or released to any other individual" to an entire document. You'll find the original Privacy Wizard to help construct your own privacy policy quickly and easily at http://www.truste.org/wizard 

If you go with the long document version, make sure that you post it with wide margins both sides and a reasonably large typeface for easy reading - real people really do read these.

8. Well known, effective, low cost marketing strategies that have become near universal on successful sites are ENTIRELY missing, with the sole exception of a newsletter subscription button, unaccompanied by so much as a description of the newsletter. 

A newsletter/ezine can be the single most effective vehicle for generating sales, especially repeat sales, available to many websites. Remember, though, that newsletters with no subscribers are a useless waste of time, resources and energy.

If you are going to have a newsletter at all, then you need to spend ten times more space and energy marketing the newsletter itself than you do any other single product you sell. This is where your loyalty base - therefore your repeat sales - will come from. A single loyal subscriber can be worth $10 or more annually, hundreds over a lifetime.

How do you get subscribers? Well, definitely not by just putting up a button that says "Subscribe to our newsletter." That is a tactic guaranteed to take you years to reach even a minimal subscriber level. There are billions of websites these days - and millions of them have newsletters. Why should I subscribe to yours? Where is the sample newsletter - or even a blurb telling me what I'm subscribing to? How often do you send it out? What topics do you cover? Why should I read your newsletter rather than site X's? What are you going to do with my email address??? All of those questions are very important to answer if you expect people to trust you with their personal information. 

9. Kazzam.com has NO significant content other than the shopping cart and a bulletin board that has gone unused for nearly six months because it is nearly impossible to find. One of the most basic principles of selling - online or off - is that people will visit you, window shop, interact with you in some way several times before they will ever purchase from you. The magic number online seems to be somewhere around four to seven visits. If you're selling giftware, remember that you and a couple hundred thousand other folks sell coffee mugs.

Think about when you yourself might buy a coffee mug: your kids just broke the next to the last mug in the house and you need them, cheap, because they are going to break more - or as a completely spur of the moment item. Chances are pretty good that I'm not going to come back and window shop any particular coffee mug 4 or 5 times before I buy it. What kind of information or resources can you add to your site to bring people in the door more than one time - and how can you integrate resources into your shopping cart (or vice versa) in order to keep sales products in front of content users? 

More importantly, what unique - keyword UNIQUE - resource can you add that will make people bookmark you? Nobody remembers the URL for some site they visited last week without a bookmark.

10. On the very first page, kazzam.com violates the most basic of sales principles. My Dad, who in his younger years could have sold a pre-dug post hole in a can to a man with no fence, as well as any number of other top salesmen, will tell you that the absolute worst thing you can say first off to a potential customer is "Buy this!" or "Let's Start Shopping!" I'm positive that you've never heard a car salesman tell you the bottom line price of a car he wanted to sell you before he pointed out all the wonderful features and took you for a test drive. Highly successful car salesmen never even ask you to buy the car.

What DO you say? Talk about the beauty of a particular item - or the benefits. How will owning this product benefit the buyer? Will it make them prettier, sexier, more popular, more efficient, save time, save money? Will it fulfill some unspoken, unrecognized need? Will it do any of those things for the recipient of a gift - or make them feel loved, important, special? When you create the desire to own an item in your potential customer, then you never need to say "Buy this!" because they will ask you to sell it to them - in far greater quantity than you could ever beg them to buy.

Next time I'll tell you about a couple of very effective strategies for bringing folks in the door in the first place that Marlene can easily add to her site at a very low cost.

Have a wonderful day!

Robin Bassett, Publisher
Absolutely Victorian Greetings
A Letter From Grandma
http://robinsplace.com/


==== From issue #454 =====
------------------------------------
+ Retail software solutions
-----------------------------------

Subject: What will help you?
From: Marlene Windels 

We are looking for software that specifically outlines a format for a business & marketing plan for our etail business that would be directed to potential capital investors. 

We have been in business for almost a year and have a exciting website, but are now looking for additional investment capital for a more aggressive marketing effort.

Thank you.


Marlene Windels
kazzam.com - your online nature gift store
http://www.kazzam.com/

+++++ [Moderator's Comments] +++++
I looked at your site Marlene, and I just don't see what you are offering that would appeal to VCs. Since last April, capital has been very difficult to obtain. Too many startups did too many dumb things, and investors finally got tired. Even Amazon is running into difficulties. 

However, it is not impossible. If you have a unique business, with a good plan, and a decent ROI within two years, you may get funding. But don't bring in another retailer (like Pets.com - remember the sock puppet?). Rather, come up with a new process, or a new product or an expansion on an existing successful business. 

There are sources for VCs available online, including a service that will get your plan in the hands of at least six VCs. And there is software available at stores like CompUSA for developing a marketing plan. But you will need a lot more than a plan - you will need to prove it works. 

Last summer I met up with a company who had another "me too" business, which had 54 competitors. After learning more about the business, I recognized that we could direct our efforts into different channels, and target a different customer group. I took on the President's role and re-organized the business, developed a new plan (with no competitors), executed the plan and produced results. The results: we now have 20,000 sales reps on board, and we recently closed another round of funding with a promise of almost unlimited funding in the future. Why? Because we developed the plan, tested it, surpassed the goals and proved the plan works. And our's was very difficult, since our margins are less the 2%.

Good luck

George

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