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Four tips to help small businesses determine the right amount to spend on their website…

Many small businesses I talk to – those with limited e-commerce capabilities or services that don’t lend themselves to online purchasing – have the same worry: Am I spending too much on my website? Am I not spending enough? How much is the right amount?

Wouldn’t you like to know?

The right answer, as always, is that the amount depends entirely on the return you’re generating from your site. Avinash Kaushik refers to connecting your website and your business as “the nonline world.” I like using the “phone bill” model: If your website isn’t as valuable to your business as your phone, you’re probably not getting the right return yet. But don’t assume your phone is more valuable just because your customers call you. They may have gotten the phone number from your website. Or from Google, after it crawled your site. Your website and your phone complement one another, or should in a well-designed small business website.

So, how do you do determine whether your site is worth as much as your phone to your business? You need to measure. It only takes a small investment of time and, often, a smaller investment of money.

Here are four tactics for measuring the value your site provides:

  1. Use promo codes or coupons. This isn’t about offering a lower price; it’s about tracking the sales generated online. Label each page on your site with a promo code and encourage consumers to reference this code when they call or visit your store. (Be environmentally friendly: don’t ask them to print anything if you can help it). You can offer a discount, but a value-add is often better for both of you.
  2. Try different phone numbers. Use a different phone number or extension on your website than the one you publish in the yellow pages. if you want to get sophisticated, you can use different numbers (or extensions) for every section/product/service on your site. Even a company without a sophisticated phone system can simply have their customers ask for “extension 1” or “extension 2”.
  3. Identify service rep names. This is another variant on promo codes, but tell your customers to ask for a specific individual on the site. It works best if you’ve got different sales reps for different products or channels. Simply provide their names on the appropriate site sections. But even a one-person shop can do this. For instance, I could tell my customers to ask for “Tim,” “Timothy,” “Mr. Peter,” and even “Timmy” on the different sections of my site. (Though that last is not my favorite tactic – and not just because of “Timmy”).
  4. Ask your customers. Survey your customers periodically and note whether they’re using your website to learn about your offering. Even simple “have you visited our website” and “did it help you decide to visit our store/call/what-have-you” questions can tell you a lot.

In any of these cases, you’ll need to record the information your customers provide you and tie that back to sales data. However, you should be pleasantly surprised by how valuable these techniques prove. Then the question won’t be if you’re spending enough money. It’ll be are you spending enough time to find out.

Let me hear from you in the comments. What other techniques are you using to determine the value of your site?

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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