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There is something you need to know about your website. If it is not up to the same quality as the rest of your business, it is hurting you, and yes in some cases could be killing your business. What is worse is that you might not even know about it. I will explain why in a minute, and what you can do to address it.

Let’s say you own a retail storefront. You have a prospective customer enter the store. She may have been attracted by your sign, display window, or some other advertisement. Whatever the initial impetus, she is now in your store as a result. As they walk in, you take note of them and after a few moments you walk up and introduce yourself and ask if you can help them. It is a common scene played out in tens of thousands of establishments every day. As you start talking to the prospective customer you sense she is uneasy. Her eyes are shifting around the store. First she looks down at the green shag carpeting, then to the faded purple walls, then to a sandwich wrapper on the floor nearby. As she turns, she knocks over a stack of empty boxes which only makes her even more uncomfortable. She then makes a quick excuse and exits the store having made no purchase.

If you have been able to build a business to any level of profitability, it becomes painfully obvious to you that you have a problem with your store. It is dated, ugly, and cluttered. The result is that it scares your customers away. In fact you just watched one scared away.

The cold hard reality is that an ugly website is doing the same thing, except in many cases the effect is even worse. When someone stumbles onto an ugly website, there is generally nobody watching to see how uneasy a person is when they look around. Instead people stumble in, see the ugliness, and leave without ever being detected. The person does not leave empty handed though. What they leave with is a negative impression. They in turn take that negative impression and through a bit of online magic they spread that negative impression through a series of viral social networks. In short order their MySpace contacts, Facebook friends, and twitter followers all know about the negative experience. Their friends internalize this, and it begins to immunize them from any positive marketing or advertising you do. They have been inoculated against your product or service, and there is little you can do at that point.

So how do you address this problem?

If you are not sure whether you have a problem, then there are a few things you can do. First, you can ask people. Ask some of your regular customers. Ask your friends and family. Ask your vendors. Make them promise to be brutally hones, but ask ask ask. If it is ugly, chances are that they are already talking about it when you aren’t around. You need to know about this, your business depends on it. The other thing you need to do is watch for the prospective customer who gets agitated and leaves. This can not be done the same way you do it in a physical store, but you can do it. If you do not have Google analytics set up on your site, then get it set up. Next learn how to use it, or delegate it to someone you trust with the life of your business. With Google analytics, you can track when a person enters your site and what they do once they get there. You can tell if someone starts to look at products, or just clicks away after they see the first blinking banner, or sky and clouds background. You can tell if someone has started adding products to a basket, only to bail out before they check out, and you can see the page that triggered them bailing out. Look at this information and study it. It tells you a lot about what is happening. You need to learn to read this data, the way you read a persons mood or emotions on their face. If you have trouble doing this, you need to find someone who can do it for you.

If you already know your website is a problem, then fix it immediately. Find a qualified designer who can put together an appealing site, one that does not scare people away. Then make sure it is developed in way that is bug free, stable, and looks the same across all the common browsers. Do not follow the mistake that got you into this, which means do not use your nephew, the neighbor’s kid, or the local $500 5 page website special. This is the face of your business. If you don’t care about it, people will assume rightly or wrongly that you don’t care about your products or customer service either. Think about it this way: If you were to interview someone for a job and they walk in without having shaved, wearing dirty sneakers and a stained shirt, what chance is there you would hire them. Don’t let your website turn into a stained shirt and dirty sneakers.

I know some of you are thinking that with a limited budget, you need to focus on getting people to your site. So you want to pour money into SEO or PPC campaigns. STOP. That is the worst thing you can do. If your website is ugly and stinks, you will just be paying to tell the world how stinky you are. You are not stinky, but that is still the message people will take away, It is like paying to have people inoculated against your products. Paying to insure that people will not buy form you ever. Doing your own SEO may not be as effective as having a professional work on it, but your mistakes will not kill you. Over time you will improve your skills, and may even get good at your own SEO/ SEM work. The bottom line is that if you have a limited budget, put it into the design and website first and the marketing and advertising second.

Now, before you do anything else open an email or pick up the phone and start asking.

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