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Hairy's Salon owner Melissa Randall uses in-store signage and conversations to send her customers to the company's Facebook page, where they can learn about specials and see before and after photos.
Hairy's Salon owner Melissa Randall uses in-store signage and conversations to send her customers to the company's Facebook page, where they can learn about specials and see before and after photos.

Companies refine online efforts

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The “gold rush” of the early 1990s and 2000s was virtual, as companies and entities hurried to stake claims to Internet domains, whether they were .com, .biz or .org.

As the Internet has matured, some companies have struggled with creating the right Web sites to reach customers – or weighing whether social media in lieu of a Web site is the best way to establish an online presence.

“I think any type of a company would need some sort of Web presence,” said Jonathan Groves, assistant professor of communications at Drury University. “But if they’re going to do it poorly, it would be better not to do it.”

Find a purpose
Before launching a Web site, a company must first decide what they want it to accomplish, said Barron Hilton, president and CEO of Global Web Design. He said Web sites should serve in at least one of three ways: providing a professional reference for the company; creating a tool for e-commerce; or enabling interaction between the company and its clients and employees.

“If you don’t have a Web site, or it is outdated or unprofessional, it might show that you’re not up with the current times,” he said.

Martin Sansom, owner of Diamond Mind Web Design said if colors clash, there are typos in the copy or there are too many fonts or a lot of scrolling text, it leaves the same impression as walking into a retail store that is cluttered and messy.

“It’s the first impression of your business,” Sansom said.

Small companies, Groves said, can start out with a brochure-style Web site – sharing basic information about the company and its services – using free or inexpensive online templates or tools.

Self-editing sites are the new norm and one of the biggest changes in the industry, said Sansom, who has been in business since 2004.

If a company’s services don’t change often, a brochure-style site may work fine, but he recommended that update completed projects, add blogs or testimonials or change photos and content regularly – to keep sites engaging.

Solution via social media?
Some companies, including Hairy’s Salon at 1916 E. Sunshine St., are trading in traditional Web sites for social media platforms.

“(MySpace) worked pretty well and we jumped on Facebook last June,” owner Melissa Randall said. Her page now has about 200 fans.  

Randall uses her page to offer discounts, post notices, and showcase photos of new products and clients.

“The before and after pictures really generate a lot of comments,” Randall said.

While she didn’t disclose what she used to spend on Web hosting, Randall noted that since Facebook is free, switching to social media has brought some savings.

Sansom said service businesses such as hair salons, aestheticians and personal trainers might be able to get away with having only a social media page, but in general, he disagrees with using Facebook as a company’s sole Web presence.

“One of the problems is that you can only reach Facebook members on that site,” he said, noting that Facebook marketing is more indirect.

Randall, who agreed that Facebook’s members-only setup is a drawback, collects e-mails from existing customers, and tells them about the salon’s Facebook page. She said that approach works well since most of her new business comes from personal referrals.

“This is a very personal business, and most people come because they see someone’s hair and ask them where they get it done,” Randall said.

Back to the Web
Architecture and engineering firm Gaskin Hill Norcross Inc. had a Web site from the late 1980s until just a few years ago when the company updated its office software, said President Charles Hill.

He said other design firms that want to team up with his firm on projects are more likely to look for a Web site than potential clients, but he hasn’t had any complaints from potential customers or industry colleagues about the company’s lack of a Web presence.

Still, the company is working with a Web designer to build a new site that’s set to launch this spring, Hill said. Like with the company’s old site, he said employees would be able to post updates.

Groves reiterated that Web sites should be set up to allow visitors to explore, and some Web developers advise against using Flash, simply because it can slow users down or annoy them.

“If a business feels they need Flash, they should always have a skip intro option,” Hilton added.
Companies that opt for traditional Web sites also should make sure Internet marketing plans include search engine optimization, which puts the sites at the top of search engine inquiries, Hilton said.

Regardless of what type of Web presence a company has, though, Groves said it’s important to remember that online efforts won’t necessarily bring instant revenues.

“The power is with the user now, and I think there is a slow shift toward more of the subtle soft sale,” he said.[[In-content Ad]]


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