LAS VEGAS — Hey, newbies: Seems there's more to building a successful Web business than simply buying a domain name and building a site — and this morning's audience of more than 250 got the traffic lowdown from some of the best in the business: Albert Lazarito of CECash and Silvercash; Jax Smith, CEO of SugarDVD; Lisa Weinberger of online marketing company Pearly Whites; and Jackie Strano, director of Web operations for Babeland.
Directing the discussion was moderator LAJ, VP of YNOT Network, who noted that marketing is "one of the single most important things that can make or break your business" — and also that he's even used his own hair as a branding tool.
"There are endless ways to brand yourself," he said.
Yep. branding is one of the most important activities a successful Web business can engage in — but Lazarito made the point that branding won't do much good if customers don't think they can trust the brand. That's why, even with 10 years in the business, Lazarito makes it a point to put in appearances at conventions to personally meet his affiliates and customers.
"It takes years and years to build a solid brand," agreed LAJ, "[but] it only takes one incident to kill it."
That's why Babeland has never outsourced its customer service or fulfillment functions, Strano declared, and why they keep close tabs on their customers' levels of satisfaction.
But while trust is important, both Strano and Weinberger put ease of navigation a close second, noting that all aspects of a site should fit together and support each other as parts of a whole.
Branding is only the beginning of marketing, though; there's also the problem of getting yourself known on the Web, and the panelists advised using everything from social networking sites to e-newsletters to being part of the blogging community — but all warned that if all you're going to post on blogs is meaningless noise and a link to your site — what LAJ referred to as "sigwhores" — you'd be better off keeping silent. Similarly, Smith also cautioned that participation in social networking sites requires "authentic interaction," noting that his early attempts at using those sites was unsuccessful because he hadn't yet learned that lesson.
Strano noted that the social networking sites can easily serve as a doorway to a company's main retail site, and can also serve as a source of email addresses — as can mining blog threads.
Another major topic was search engine optimization (SEO), and how difficult it can be to find the right keywords to elevate a company's presence in search results. Several of the panelists noted that their companies employ analysts whose job it is to figure out how customers will ask for their products, and tailor key words to bring their sites to the top of such search lists. Weinberger advised that every time new content is added to a site, a plan to embed certain key words in the text is a necessity.However, Strano added, simply adding multiple variations of the same key words don't fool the spiders; uniqueness counts.
All in all, it was a lively session, with the panelists all interacting well with each other and spurring each other to provide more detailed information. It took more than a rudimentary knowledge of Web dynamics to follow the sometimes jargon-laden statements, but the audience seemed pleased with the insights being offered from the stage.