Live chat, Web counters, embedded tools, and more to help you make the most of your cyber presence.
Since 1995, Absolute Automation of Casco, Michigan, has been upgrading homes with driveway alarms, temperature alarms, hidden cameras and home automation devices. More recently, the firm has been upgrading its own website.
"The single-most-useful add-on has been the use of live chat, as both a sales and technical support tool," says Chief Technician Nathan McBride. "Customers who may have broken English, or for other reasons would not call, are likely to use the live chat service to ask any pre-sales questions."
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For many, live chat is just the beginning. The range of website add-ons has grown exponentially in recent years, with a wide range of new tools available to help small business owners get the most muscle out of their sites.
- Web counters started out as just that: Mere counters. Today’s versions can do so much more, tracking popular pages, recent visitor activity, where visitors came from and how often they return.
- Site search tools can be a boon to e-commerce. When visitors can easily find their destination category or target product, they’re more likely to stick around.
- Quote of the day: Various services will generate a joke, cartoon or sage saying of the day to appear on your welcome page. Function: Warm-n-fuzzy.
- Knowledge base: Assemble your FAQs in an easy-to-access format.
- Embedded forms. These allow for quick construction of questionnaires, surveys, order forms and similar items. Simplifies record- keeping for the business owner, and streamlines interactions for the visitor.
Tread With Caution
Not everyone is a fan of the add-on for small business. Some caution that these tools can in fact be a detriment to the users’ experience or may, at the very least, be an unnecessary distraction for the business.
"I'd recommend small businesses thoroughly think through including add-ons before doing so," says David Erickson, an online marketing strategist and publisher of the e-Strategy Trends Blog.
"Guest books and online forums need to be monitored and staff needs to be allocated to live chat, so if a business isn't ready to devote the resources to make such tools work, they shouldn't implement them," he says.
Others see ample reason to make the effort.
"No website leaves our development staff without analytics. With your website being as real and useful as a bricks-and-mortar location, analytics are the only way to gauge your marketing efforts," said Crystal Coons, a principal at Tempe, Arizona, website design firm HyperionWorks.
"Let's say I have an online clothing store. My analytics are telling me that I get 1,000 visitors per day, and 800 of them are going to the shoe section, but I really want to put a focus on shirts," Coons says. "Having that information can guide me: If I want to sell more shirts, then I need to do something to that section of the website."
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The lesson here is that, in the best scenarios, add-ons are not mere "nice to have," eye-catching gadgets that dress up a site. In fact, such elements can add vital business intelligence or functionality.
At Absolute Automation, the live chat has more than proven its business worth in terms of improved efficiencies. "One salesperson can converse with multiple customers simultaneously using live chat," McBride says, and the same holds true for the technical staff. The technology literally makes staff more productive.
Virtually all add-ons can be found in free versions. Paid versions come with more bells and whistles, naturally, and so this question of practical return becomes a significant consideration. Before shelling out for big-time analytics or sophisticated forms, small business owners will do well to consider the possible boost to the bottom line.
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