New Year’s Resolution #1 for Rural Businesses: Update that Website

by Joanne Steele on December 28, 2010

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It’s that New Year’s Resolution time of year.  Here’s a suggestion that will increase your rural business profits this year:

I resolve to update my old worn out website. Or, I resolve to stop dragging my feet and GET a great website for my rural business.

I’ve talked about this in the past, “Is Your Rural Tourism Business Website a Marketing Asset or Liability?” Today I grand canyon is big as the internetwant to get into the “how-to” of either updating or creating a great website.

In Marketing For Free in 2010, which will be coming down to be updated in a few days, I didn’t stress building a decent website.  2012 update: click to get the latest update of Marketing for Free. I focused on other things because most rural business owners are pretty economically stressed these days. In 2010, I didn’t want you to turn your back on the internet for lack of money for a website.

The jig is up now. Trying to run a small rural business without a decent web presence is a little like trying to work without an address.

A website is your homebase. It’s where you get to talk directly to your customer. You set the rules. You own the content. You are the one in charge, not some web wonk in silicon valley, or that disgruntled visitor whose children you had to ask to stop running in your business.

I know how overwhelming it is to consider starting over or updating that old thing that your nephew built for you 5 years ago. But it’s time, and here’s how to get started:

1. Know your ownership information about your website.

If you’re starting fresh, buy your name yourself – I use GoDaddy, but don’t buy anything else from them. Let them store your name until you decide where to house your website, but don’t use them as your ISP. See below about that.

If you have an existing website. Be sure you have all the passwords and hosting information. I just finished a website rebuild and it took two weeks for the owner to locate the old webmaster and get all this info! It’s yours, you pay for it, you must keep and store that info yourself.

2. Use WordPress for your new website.

Don’t get talked into anything fancier. WordPress is a content management system that allows you to easily update the info on your site yourself. If you have any tech savvy yourself, you can even create your website on your own using WordPress.

DON’T use the free blog service at WordPress.com. Go to WordPress.org and download the software, or get a webmaster to help you with this. More on that in a moment…

With WordPress, you use a theme to help you create the look you want for your site. I recommend using a premium theme you pay for rather than one of the free ones.

I started RuralTourismMarketing.com with a nice free theme I liked the look of, and one morning I woke up to a jumble. I had updated, as suggested, and my theme didn’t support the new WordPress updates! EEK!!

I suggest using the Thesis theme by DIY Themes. Why? Because it’s incredibly flexible and easy to design, and the search engine optimization architecture built in means I don’t have to spend tons of time thinking about on-page SEO.

Your web master might have other ideas. Just be sure it’s not going to be full of special CSS that you can’t update yourself. The whole idea of this is to make it easy for you to schedule time weekly to add new content and pictures without having to pay someone.

3. Get help setting up your WordPress site.

Setting up a WordPress site shouldn’t cost you more than several hundred dollars. If you can’t find a local web master that can help you, stay tuned. RTMG will have an online program to help by the end of February.

Your web master will help you find an internet service provider. We like HostMonster because they are inexpensive and have some nerdy features like a CPanel etc. that will be easy for you to use and understand.

Whichever way you go, there is much you need to do to prepare.

MAJOR TIP #1 Search for sites online that you like and use them to design what you want before talking to your web master.

MAJOR TIP #2 – SIMPLE, SIMPLE, SIMPLE.

Forget Flash animation. It’s expensive and useless now with nearly 50% of the population is accessing info on their smartphones. Flash shows up as a big blank. You can, of course, pay extra to get a smartphone fix for your flash site so it appears in simple form. But why not start out inexpensively with a simple, elegant design that can be seen by anything.

MAJOR TIP#3 – IT’S ALL ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMER, NOT YOU

Quick, download Marketing for Free in 2010 before it disappears and read about how to identify and write for your perfect customer. (Sign up in the form to the right of this post.)

NOTE: Within a few weeks, an updated version will be available if you miss out.

Write your content from your customer’s perspective, and select images that show your ideal customer using your products or services. Don’t know what I mean? Look at cruise ship ads. Those images are selling happiness, connection and fun to very specific audiences. Note the differences between the images for Carnival Cruises and those for Crystal Cruises.

Your website should instantly show who your customer is and how they’re going to experience your product or service. You have about 3 seconds to capture a visitor to your site. If they instantly see themselves on your home page, they’ll probably stay and look around. If they don’t they’ll be off to one of your competitors.

4. Take your time building out your site and resolve to keep adding to it and enhancing it on a weekly basis.

It will become another task associated with doing business. You take care of your shop or equipment. You manage your accounts. You update your website.

Let me know if this has been helpful. Questions? Ask away. Suggestions that might be useful to others. Please add them.

Here’s another previous post on WordPress and the Thesis theme:

Musings About SEO, WordPress and Thesis for Rural Tourism Businesses

Photo on Flickr by Alan Levine

1 Dennis Lively January 3, 2011 at 10:16 am

Hey There and Happy New Year Joanne!

I was just finishing a long conversation with a CVB exec. director as I pulled up your site (like I do AT LEAST once a week).

Are you SURE you weren’t listening to our conversation?

This particular CVB here West Virginia had paid GOOD money for a website back 5 years ago. At that time, they were very proud of the site. Now, not so much!

No calls returned from the contractor who was supposed to be updating the site for a HEALTHY monthly fee…no response when they threatened to cancel the contract…no response when they asked for login information so they could start working on their site themselves…no nothing!

Does that sound familiar? Unfortunately WAY too familiar!

Your advice here is VITAL! What CVB or chamber has extra money laying around that they can throw at a worthless website designer? None that I know of and I talk to a BUNCH of them!

SO…I threw together a post for the CVB people using a video I had purchased the rights to a few months ago.

Your readers can see they video at: http://tourismlearningcenter.com/facebook/building-a-cvb-website-with-wordpress/

Hope that helps in the conversation. We need to actively and aggressively address these “web designers” who have been giving those of us who are making an honest living on the Internet a black eye!

That turned out to be a little rant, didn’t it?
Sorry, but it was needed.
Dennis Lively
http://www.tourismlearningcenter.com

2 Joanne Steele January 6, 2011 at 11:50 am

Thanks Dennis, This transition to CMS is a real benefit for rural CVB’s, but, as you pointed out, that first step – taking control of your website – can take weeks to accomplish. It seems overwhelming to CVB staff to take on the extra work of updating a website until they realize that it takes less time than trying to connect with a webmaster who has flown the coop!

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