The web as a marketing tool

By Ollie Walsh MBS Managing Director

This week I will discuss the use of websites and the key elements to making a successful site, as distinct from online marketing which I will discuss next week.

Websites are an extremely powerful tool for marketing your business and selling product directly to customers. Online sales in Ireland have remained strong over the last few months, despite retail downturn. One and a half million million people are now online in Ireland, with an average of €12m being spent per day, but being online is about more than just online sales. On top of the 27 per cent of Irish consumers who buy online, 31 per cent compare prices online before going to a shop to make a purchase (source: Irish Internet Association ). It is about promoting your business as part of your overall marketing strategy and supporting your brand across all available media.

A common mistake I come across in small businesses is they treat their website as a separate entity to the other elements of their marketing strategy. This seems to be based on websites being technology based and therefore under the control of the IT team with most of the rest of the marketing, traditional advertising, etc, being controlled by marketing or business development. This is the wrong approach, websites are a powerful tool, but they are one of a range of tools available to the marketing person and will be more effective when the web strategy is part of the overall marketing strategy.

Site Design

Regardless of whether your site is for promotion only, is selling products, is targeting B2C or B2B customers, there are certain elements which will help market the site. These are internal to the site, as opposed to online marketing as mentioned above.

The first step is to make your site design attractive but also easy to navigate. Too many companies let their designers get carried away and build unnecessarily flashy sites which overwhelm the browser as opposed to focus on selling to them. A good example of this is a Flash welcome page/intro, which could cost as much as the rest of the site, most people skip because they are not interested in it and which Google ‘spiders’ (programmes they use to rate and then rank sites ) can’t see and so it totally negates your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO – more on that next week ). The key to design is making the site clean and easy to use.

Site Features

To bring traffic back to your site frequently, offer them information related to your business that will be of interest to them. A good example of this can be seen on The company offers surfing lessons and so the bulk of the site is about training. The site also has links for surf and weather reports for the west of Ireland which brings traffic to the site on a daily basis to plan their surfing. This constantly reinforces the brand, develops relationships with new potential customers and maintains relationships with previous customers. What is even better for this company, the reports are provided through other sites, so there is literally no work involved in keeping the reports updated.

Many sites offer the browser the opportunity to sign up for a newsletter or offer free articles/white papers pending signing up. This information is known as ‘freemium’ ie, giving away ‘premium’ information ‘free’ to capture browser information.

This information is then used for online direct marketing (as per last weeks article ). It’s an effective form of marketing as if the browser is interested enough to download your article, he is probably interested in your services.

Updating the site as often as possible is also good for site rankings and for returning browsers/customers. If you are selling from your site, each time you add a new product you update your site. Make sure new products are featured on the home page so browsers can easily see you’ve made changes.

If you are not selling from the site, add a blog or a news page. A blog is basically a news page with your thoughts, but it is automatically linked to other blogs and readers have the opportunity to comment on what you have published. As well as keeping your site updated, the blog keeps browsers coming back to read and comment on your news.

Finally, video content is now proving to be a strong marketing element on a website. This can be seen by the fact YouTube was the second most popular site in Ireland in 2008, after Google (source ). Using YouTube, video can easily be added to a site, check for examples of video footage of last years Cuirt festival. Last year Google bought You Tube, so on top of the footage itself being good for retention on a site, it is also good for rankings as Google has now increased rankings for any site with a You Tube link.

To conclude, keep your site as simple and easy to use as possible, while offering your browsers/online customers a range of features to keep them coming back.


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