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Give Your Web Site a Sales Tune-Up
an article by
Al Harberg

Selling your software is a three step process: You have to get your visitors' attention, get their interest, and get their sale. Your number one sales tool is your web site. You can increase sales by ensuring that your web site is clear, attractive, and well-organized. Here are some specific tips for increasing web sales:


(1) Focus on Sales

Tell your visitors immediately who you are and what you're selling. After reading the first two or three sentences of your home page, the visitor has to know the name of your company, the names of the programs that you're offering, a brief description of the programs, the platforms they run on, and the prices. If you use the first sentence or two of your web site to talk about your mission statement, or how dedicated you are to serving your customers' needs, then you've lost them. They're on another web page, trying to buy somebody else's software.


(2) Be Friendly

When writing your web site text, pretend you're talking to a friend. Paint your prospects into a pleasant picture so they can see how much their life would be improved if they were to use your software. Avoid slang and idioms. Think through how your message will be received in other cultures, and by people who aren't fluent in your language. Humor can be dangerous. Often, it does not translate well into other cultures and languages. Read your web pages aloud. If they don't sound like something that you'd say to a friend, then rewrite them in a less formal, more friendly way.


(3) Establish Credibility

Tell people who you are and how they can contact you. People are not going to buy from somebody who works out of the trunk of their car. Show them your postal address. People are not going to buy from an eleven-year-old whose telephone use is restricted by his or her parents. Show them your phone and fax numbers. People aren't going to buy from a company that uses a free email account, or a domain name that contains "/~users/". Register your virtual domain name. People are more comfortable buying from established companies. If you've been marketing software for a while, tell them how long you've been in business.


(4) Make People Want to Stay

Keep only the links on your web site that generate sales, boost your image, or help people who link back to your site. Get rid of banner ads that are unrelated to your site. Eliminate the links to your local weather and sports franchises. Remove the political, religious and social references from your site. By including off-topic information on your software site, you're diluting both your social and your software message. If your social views are important to you, spend $70 and register a domain name for your cause. Park your issue-oriented site on top of a page of your software site, and market it aggressively, too. You can present two separate, unrelated messages much more clearly on two different web sites.


(5) Be Entertaining

Give away free stuff. Provide valuable information. Tell people that the information you're providing is being updated every week, and suggest that they bookmark your site so they can come back and read your latest information.


(6) Be Up Front About the Price

Tell people how much your program costs, in terms they'll understand. There are dozens of countries that have dollar-denominated currencies. If you're in Cleveland, and your program costs $29, then say $29(US).


(7) Tell Them What They're Buying

If you're shipping shelfware to your customers, show them a photograph of the box. If you're sending them an unlock code, explain it to them. If they'll be receiving a totally new, registered version of the program, help them uninstall the old program and install the registered version.


(8) Make it Easy to Order

Have "buy now" links everywhere. Make your order page, phone, and fax numbers easy to find. Make it easy to find your mailing address so corporate customers can send you a purchase order.


(9) Be Secure

People are still uncomfortable about ordering online with their credit cards. And while the names of the shareware registration companies are household words for us in the software industry, end users have never heard of RegThis and RegThat. Tell your web visitors that you've selected one (or more) of the finest, most highly respected registration companies to process their credit card order. Your secure order form has to be secure. If it doesn't make a lock icon appear on their menu bar, most visitors, newbies and power-users alike, will click their bookmark manager and visit some other web site.


(10) Respect their Privacy

Privacy statements are fashionable, especially short ones that say that you won't share any information with third parties.


(11) Use Proven Technology

Frames hurt sales. Older browsers can't process them properly. Many search engines can't navigate through them. Many visitors get confused about how their browser's "back" button works with frames, or how to print a page that has frames. Many people just don't like them. Don't use frames. Java hurts sales. Java makes a lot of browsers crash. I have java turned off, for two reasons: I'm tired of badly-written java programs hanging my system, and I'm concerned about security. A lot of corporate users are sitting behind firewalls, and can't see your java applets. Don't use java. Whiz-bang plug-ins hurt sales. A lot of people simply don't have shockwave or realaudio enabled. Don't require your web site visitors to have browser plug-ins.


(12) Respect Your Customers' Time

Use only a small number of small images. Use size parameters on every image so your entire page will load faster. Use tables to break long pages into vertical sections, and make the first section so small that it loads immediately.


(13) Be Visible

Get listed in the search engines. In addition to the big search engines, there are hundreds of web sites that will list your software.


(14) Test Your Site from Every Angle

Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, and Opera display sites differently. Use all three to check out your site. Test your web site with all screen resolutions and all color depths. There are still people with 16-color VGA systems, and 640-by-480 resolution. Invite both inexperienced users and power users to navigate your site and give you feedback.


(15) Proofread Your Site

Spell checking is not enough. You'll find most grammar and usage errors by reading every word aloud, slowly, and listening to yourself. Eliminate your/you're and their/they're/there mistakes.


(16) Design for Consistency

Use a common color scheme and layout. Put your navigation controls in the same place on each screen. Keep it simple. Use simple text, simple graphics, and simple navigation. Don't use "under construction" signs. Create a site map so visitors have a simple, text-only way to find what they're looking for.


(17) Give People Alt's

Use the alt-text for each of your web page images. In HTML, the "alt" parameter contains the words that your web visitors see when they move their mouses over the image, even before the image has been fully loaded.


(18) Keep it Current

Make sure your copyright notices have this year's date. If you list Windows platforms, be sure to include the latest releases. Eliminate pictures of 5-1/4 inch disks. Check the validity of your hyperlinks. Every time you create a new product, or a new version of an existing program, check your entire web site for references to your software. Make sure they're all current.


(19) Do It Now

A little fine-tuning can bring in a lot of sales.


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