Who’s minding the store?

The Ontario Volleyball Association is hoping to attract more people to its Web site by rotating content on an almost daily basis. For an organization with only a handful of permanent staff, such site maintenance — done internally and through a third-party provider — is a commendable achievement. But it also provides payback, giving the organization a professional image while keeping members up-to-date with current events.

But the scenario is not the same for a lot of SMBs. Many have sites with information that hasn’t been updated in a year. Many contact names are out of date and some listed services are no longer offered. Such site negligence makes people (read: your customers and your potential customers) believe that no one behind the site really cares. And this inattention to detail puts you at a huge disadvantage.

Today it’s quite realistic to expect to develop long-term business relationships with clients you’ve never met in person. A strong Web presence is critical in establishing those relationships.

Toronto’s Ontario Volleyball Association, which has been working with Web designer Firesnacks Inc. for 18 months, launched a new site in May. Firesnacks also trained one employee, membership services administrator Marilyn McMonagle, how to use a content management system to publish new content on the site.

“Of course you’re limited to whatever material you have available,” she says. “Sometimes you run into a dry spell, but other times you’ve got more than enough and you can rotate it on a daily basis.” But if anything involves coding, she’ll call Firesnacks.

When it comes to site maintenance, SMBs have a couple of options. They can set up a maintenance program with an outside provider (usually their Web designer) or build a program to maintain it themselves. Or, they can do a combination of both.

It will of course depend on what kind of site you have. Is it a storefront where you sell products or services, or is it mainly there to provide information? Do you want minor changes from time to time or do you want to make constant content replacements? Ongoing maintenance will also depend on your budget and how much in-house expertise you have, says Lawrence Smith, senior account manager with Toronto-based Firesnacks.

Consider the economies of scale. How much content do you already have? If you’re trained to maintain the site, are you going to stay trained? Do you have a backup? Also consider turnaround time. Real estate agents, for example, aren’t often willing to wait a day or two to get content up, especially if it’s a small amount, so they are more likely to train someone in the office to do it.

But make sure your designated person has the right training, preferably from the outside company’s Web designer. “A lot of times — and I’ve had this happen — a client will decide to maintain their own site and end up making a mess of it, or finding it takes more work than they expected,” says Shirlee Bucknall, owner of Anicca Web Design in Victoria, BC. “What they’re struggling with for a couple of hours I can do in 15 minutes.”

If you’re providing a service or selling products, she recommends making small changes daily, if possible, or once a week at the very least. SMBs can do this by offering a tip of the week or posting an events calendar. Offering a newsletter sign-up is also a good idea, as long as you’re willing to take the time to actually send out a regular newsletter. For a site that’s simply providing information, it’s still important to update that information about once a month. It can be as easy as providing a tip or new fact about the business.

Search engines check to see if a site is changing information and will come back more often to those that do — so it’s definitely in your best interest to keep your site current. Otherwise you drop off the search enginesí radar screens.

Bucknall is part of a consortium of Web designers that are looking to offer annual maintenance packages to clients, which would cost around $266 a year. On an as-needed basis, she charges about $60 an hour for maintenance. Often, if it takes less than 15 minutes, she won’t charge clients.

SMBs should allocate about $100 a month to their Web sites, says Smith, of Firesnacks. Then, when you have to do something to the site, it’s not a big production. It’s really as simple as providing some news items about the organization or talking about new customers, he says — “Just something to show you’re alive and kicking.”

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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