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Online Presence Now Critical for Business Success

Marketing, sales and more for Mississippi business Web sites
By Becky Gillette
MBJ Contributing Writer
Mississippi Business Journal
Having a Web site used to be optional for businesses, and even some of those who did have a Web site might have hired a college student to do a simple site with bare bones information.
No more. Today it just isn’t professional to not have a Web site.
“It’s a new day and the times have changed,” said Laura Hasty, president, The Ad Group, Biloxi. “Everything is now technology oriented. That is how people find things. If people want to find out about rug cleaning, they get on Google. It is just easy. A Web site is very necessary for most businesses.”
Web site development is just one of the things usually in marketing plans these days. It is very inexpensive and one of the most cost-effective ways to advertise. Hardy recommends investing in good design and someone who understands the programming of Web sites.
“Your overall investment will be well worth it,” she said. “You will get the return on it. Always put that in your budget. Don’t leave that out because it is a very intricate part of your marketing plan. Keep it consistent and user friendly. Sometimes people want big fancy Web sites with a lot of flash. But it is hard for the average user without a lot of the hightech software to utilize that site.”

Keeping current

One trend of importance is that more businesses want to be able to update their Web site themselves to keep it current. Hasty said her company offers training to its clients so they are able to make updates.
“Things are always changing,” she said. “One thing that is so beautiful about the Internet is that it is fast paced, and you are able to put up new information expediently.”
The bottom line is businesses must have a Web site these days, said Scott Coopwood, president and CEO Coopwood Communications, Cleveland.
Increasingly popular now are minute or two-minute videos on a Web site showcasing products or services. For example, Coopwood Communications created the Web sites for actor Morgan Freeman’s businesses in Clarksdale, Ground Zero Blues Club ( and Madidi (
“We have video portions on both of those Web sites,” Coopwood said. “In fact, we are in the process of completely redesigning those Web sites, and you will see many more things video-wise on those sites such a portions of blues players performing at Ground Zero. Heavy video, that is the way things are going.”

Building a brand – and community

Another important trend is using Web sites to build a community, increasing brand loyalty at the same time.
“We are seeing a lot more smart, more effective Web sites trying to build a community,” said Philip Shirley, president and CEO, GodwinGroup Jackson. “A corporate site is trying to build a community with their customers. They are using a Web site as a branding tool as opposed to just an informational tool. The Internet at the beginning was a communication tool, then an information tool and today it has become so many different things. I think we now understand you can build a better brand relationship, which is what great marketing is about, and a Web site allows us to do it.”
An example is that the Web sites for Saltwater Fisherman and Cabella’s aren’t just about products. Now customers can post photographs of the fish that didn’t get away.
“That is creating some brand loyalty,” Shirley said.
The Internet has had a tremendous impact on ad agencies. Shirley said his company has restructured the entire agency around changes in the Internet. They no longer view the Internet as a media choice.
“There was a time period until the past year or so where the Internet was viewed the same way as television, radio, newspapers or magazines,” Shirley said. “It was a choice we made. Do we want some Internet marketing? That was the wrong way to view it. The Internet and Web marketing are now basically a given. It is the cornerstone of great marketing plans for virtually every industry. We don’t have a separate Web marketing department now because we no longer consider it a niche. It is integrated into everything we do. The Web plays a key roll in all the departments now.”
Shirley said the days are gone when a business will hire a computer whiz kid from college to build a Web site. People expect sophistication, elegance and easyto-use navigation.
“It has become a very sophisticated industry, and you can’t afford not to do the Internet right,” he said. “Do not short change your investment in Web marketing. Don’t relegate that to your IT guys. It needs to be a marketing function. If you simply let your technology guys handle your Web Site, you are shortchanging yourself and your customers.”

Dramatic changes

Advances in technology, such as the availability of broadband, faster processing with Intel and Flash programming, have dramatically changed the appearance and functionality of Web sites, said Liza C. Looser, CEO, The Cirlot Agency Inc., Flowood.
When creating content for a Web site, Looser said the following steps are taken:

  1. Assess customers’ needs.
  2. Design site architecture.
  3. Identify type of programming needed.
  4. Layout/Design.
  5. Programming.
  6. Usability testing.
  7. Delivery

“Twenty-five percent of time is the creative process,” Looser said. “The rest is execution. The message communicated through the campaign must be clear and consistent and must capture its audience. The look of the campaign must be consistent with the message. The site must also be fast loading and visually engaging. Advances in technology demand a more dynamic, engaging Internet marketing campaign.”
Looser said Internet marketing complements and increases the effectiveness of traditional marketing methods, such as print/ broadcast advertising, direct mail and brochures. A company’s Web site should be consistent in look and content with all traditional advertising pieces, with traffic to the Web site dictated by the traditional advertising venues.
“Marketing a company’s Web site, and in turn its products and services, can be done through services such as Google AdWords and pay-per-click Internet marketing services,” Looser said. “Internet marketing has allowed companies of all sizes to compete on an international level, adding a new element to business marketing. Many potential customers form their first impression of your company through its Web presence. Therefore, a credible online presence is critical to business growth.”
She adds that Internet first impressions are not just influenced by how your Web site looks, but also by how often your business appears or how high it ranks in a Web browser. That makes Web site content extremely important.
“Make your Web site a resource for your industry,” Looser recommends. “Feature useful information, such as articles, links, downloadable files, customer resources and anything else of use to your target market. Place articles on your site relevant to your company’s industry and/or its successes. Online articles position you as an expert in your field and convey a level of authority that establishes trust and sets the stage for sales. The most commonly used search engines rank Web sites by the number of other Web sites that link to them. Therefore, every article you publish that links to your company’s Web site can improve your search engine rankings.”