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Not just a Web presence, one that does the job

Specialists on Miami panel share their expertise on what it takes to create a dynamic site

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These days, companies need more than a simple Web site to draw in potential customers. Videos, blogs, social networking components and more are features business owners should consider.

That was the message a panel of Web experts presented at the Marine Marketers of America general meeting Feb. 13 at the Miami International Boat Show. Panelists included Glen Justice of MadMariner.com, Courtney Chalmers of BoatTrader.com, Leonard Boord of TheBoaters.com, and Jared Jester of Jester Communications.

All agreed that having a multimedia component is important. Video, for example, is the mark of a modern Web site, said Justice, and is always among the most viewed features on his site.

"It's more art than science," says Boord, in explaining what makes a good site. Google and craigslist are two of the most popular sites, yet they are vastly different in terms of how content is presented, he says.

Content is king

"I don't think that there's any one standard," says Boord. "In the end it is truly a lot of hit and miss." However, content will draw in an audience better than anything.

Justice recommends user testing to see what works and what doesn't. When building his site, Justice used college students to help with user testing. He asked them to do simple tasks and find certain information, and by doing so he found out what worked and what needed retooling.

Search engine optimization, which is the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a site through organic search results, also was a hot topic. Typically, the higher a site's page rank, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine.

Chalmers says the important thing to remember here is to make a site content rich with keywords that are specific to what you are trying to sell. Go after exact words, such as, "Boston Whaler, Key West, Florida," not just "boat."

"The more dynamic content you have, the more successful you will be, because the spiders will keep coming back," she says.

Also, Boord says, getting people to visit your site is more than just coming up No. 1 or 2 in a Google search. For example, YouTube is one of the most searched sites, he says. Post a video to drive traffic to your site, he suggests. MySpace and Facebook are other sites that can help drive traffic back to a company's site. "There is a huge audience in other places [besides Google]," he says.

A nation of bloggers

Regarding blogs, "I think every company should start one," Boord suggests.

There are approximately 133 million blogs, with an average of 900,000 blog postings each day. More than 75 percent of active Internet users read blogs, he says.

A blog gives a company a way to respond to concerns, answer questions and, when needed, address critics.

"It really does add another dimension to your company," says Justice, stressing that it's important to make sure a blog is updated and moderated regularly. A "dead" blog, he says, can do more harm than good.

Jester says seeing a company address negatives head-on in a blog can leave a positive impression on consumers. Blogs generate leads, he says.

In talking about online listing sites, such as BoatTrader.com, Chalmers advises posting photos of the actual boat, not a manufacturer's model of a similar boat. Provide as much information as possible, include a price, and always provide links to a Web site, she recommends.

The Facebook phenomenon

Panelists also encouraged the use of Facebook and other social networking sites, such as MySpace and LinkedIn. Facebook, alone, has more than 175 million users.

"Facebook is becoming as important as e-mail," says Justice. "It's no longer really an option to have a presence there."

Facebook is also useful in testing which ads will draw people in and which won't, since it's free and easy to create ads on the site. The site provides guidance for creating ads and a target audience for your ad, allows you to see who's clicking on it, and allows for modifications to maximize results.

"You have a little lab at your disposal," Boord says.

Panelists agreed that social networking is the "hottest thing" in online marketing these days, with Boord calling 2009 a "Twitter year." Twitter.com is a microblogging site that is less than two years old and receives about 3 million "Tweets" a day.

Twitter describes itself as a "service for friends, family and co-workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?" Twitter allows users to post 140 characters of text at a time.

"It's very, very powerful," Boord says.

Justice maintains that businesses shouldn't jump on every trend, but take time to look at everything and see what works best for them.

This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue.

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