|Bruce Isaacson, President, Homestore.com Inc., Home Services
So, you’ve decided to join the Internet boom and establish an online presence for your business. This is a smart move. Many of your toughest competitors are there and prospering already. By next year, more than half of U.S. households will be on the Web and more than one-third will have made a serious online purchase. These households are your potential clients, looking to obtain remodeler and contractor services.
If you understand the business implications and want to do more than just a directory listing with your association, there are many ways to proceed with a sophisticated Internet marketing program. A clear, well-targeted online presence can increase your exposure and name recognition, support lead qualification and ordering, aid the expansion of your market share and help generate serious leads.
There are generally three ways to create your own presence online. First, you (or your brother, cousin, neighbor, son or daughter) can build your Web page and launch it on a reputable hosting service. Second, you can hire a professional contractor or experienced Web design firm -- there are probably dozens to choose from in your area. Finally, you can turn to a company like mine, Homestore.com Inc., for customized online marketing pages linked to a site that has a large traffic base and lead referral program.
Of course, each method has pros and cons. If you are on your own, depending on your skill level and complexities of your design, you’ll need an image editor, an illustration program, a word processor, HTML (hypertext markup language) experience and a browser to view the finished product. You might need Web page software, from basic programs such as FrontPage to more elaborate Dreamweaver or Java technology for interactive scripting and graphics. Do-it-yourselfers also need to decide the content and personality of the site, locate appropriate images or pictures, determine the name of your Web address (or domain) and pick the site flowchart or navigation. Tools for interactivity -- the ability to jump from page to page using hyperlinks -- are built into the HTML code, but anything beyond that -- such as collecting data from online forms or returning a response to a user, for example -- might require programming.
Once you have finished crafting, editing, reviewing and testing, the final step is finding a host for your marketing materials. Many companies choose general search engines such as Yahoo!, Excite, Infoseek and others, although Yahoo! is relatively selective. If you can clear the performance and business criteria, consumers can then find your online brochure by hunting under the name of company, URL (Internet address) or industry category.
Renting space on the Web for your presence can be relatively inexpensive. Some providers offer their customers space on their servers for free. Large design firms also may host your page, and this might be the way to go if you want more detailed interactivity, updates or help with technical trouble-shooting. Successful Web design firms come in all shapes and sizes. Some companies offer only "design," including site layout or architecture, navigation and artwork. Others take on HTML production as well and/or offer a complete set of services, including programming and production. Design firms that specialize in simple layouts are best for contractors or remodelers who are looking to get one or two pages produced, or might need only the necessary talent to bring a rough draft to life or to help launch their materials on the Web.
Yet often, placing your Web page on a general search engine can be like dropping a sign in a wide online forest: you cannot guarantee your clients will be able to navigate through the trees of cyberspace to find you. The third option: have your Web page designed and placed on a site such as Homestore.com’s, and for a modest fee you can obtain a multipage online brochure that will showcase your major projects. My company and others will let you update your page with a quick e-mail or phone call, and provide care and assistance 24 hours a day. With this strategy, you’ll want to talk to the provider to make sure it will offer you a quality online presence, an audience that cares about qualifications and professionalism, and lots of online traffic.
In the end, your success or failure online will be determined by how you market your Web site. You don’t need an extensive marketing campaign, but you should put your URL on all advertising materials and company stationery. Whether you choose an industry-specific host already visited by many homeowners or decide to develop your own Web site, make sure you have a strategy to draw your targeted audience to your new online front door. Make sure that if you build it, they will come.
Homestore.com Inc. (Nasdaq: HOMS) is the leading network of sites on the Internet for home and real estate-related information. Homestore.com Inc.’s family of Web sites includes Homestore.com, Realtor.com, HomeBuilder.com, SpringStreet.com, Remodel.com, Home Improvement and HomeFair.com. Homestore.com’s remodeling area covers home improvement needs for both consumers and remodeling professionals.