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Small Biz Quick Tips
Holiday Web Strategies

By Colleen DeBaise
November 22, 2006

HERE'S SOME HOLIDAY cheer for web-based businesses: A record number of shoppers will spend online this year. Online holiday sales are expected to reach $27 billion, a 23% jump over last year, according to Forrester Research. Is your web site ready? If not, it's not too late to prepare. While it's only days until Black Friday and so-called Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving, when shoppers return to work and use high-speed connections to order gifts), there's still time to deck the halls of your web site.

"It's not so much about technology as it is about applying common sense to your customers' online shopping experience," says Jim Collins, chief executive of Affinity Internet, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., web-design firm. In other words, it's probably too late to build elaborate tools or do a massive redesign, but there still are simple ways to improve your site. Here's how:

Put hot items front and center
Make sure your best-sellers are displayed prominently on your homepage, says Manvinder Saraon, vice president of marketing and developing at Homestead.com of Menlo Park, Calif., which designs sites for small businesses. And use colorful descriptions: Remember, the customer can't try on your hand-made fuzzy hat to see how warm it is. Organization is also key. Think about listing products by price, or under categories such as "Gifts for Mom," or in combination with other products for festive gift packages.

Make shipping details clear
As the holidays shift into high gear, these details will become increasing essential to the last-minute shopper. If you don't provide the shipping information, you might lose out to another site that does. And be honest: Make sure to inform the shopper if a product is out of stock or can't be delivered on time for Christmas. After all, an unhappy customer won't come back to your site in next year.

Boost the online marketing campaign
Advertising has never been simpler (or cheaper) thanks to pay-per-click advertising on the major search engines such as Google and Yahoo. Here's how it works: A small-business owner bids on search words that will make his or her listing pop up higher on the search engine; the business owner only pays when a user clicks on the listing. Keep in mind, popular search terms like "last-minute gifts" will likely be bid up this holiday season. If you're unfamiliar with the process, think about hiring a pro to get your campaign up and running for the holidays. The search engines also provide handy how-to guides.

Never underestimate the power of top-notch customer service
This is the time of year to make sure your customer service hot line and email are not only displayed on your web site but also staffed throughout the business day. Don't have enough warm bodies? Assign various staff members to shifts throughout the day, Collins advises. Remember, it's all about winning repeat business. "It's not a holiday customer, it's a forever customer," he says.

Cuteness counts
You'd decorate your store - why not the web site? Some design programs have a gallery of holiday templates for spreading cheer to your customers. A small-business owner who uses Yahoo Sitebuilder, for instance, can easily switch to seasonal background colors and add holiday images. When it doubt, add a snowflake or two.