Seven Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Internet to Market Your Products

Why is it that some companies just don’t get it?

Over the past week or so, I’ve been doing some research into coffee carts. You know what I mean — those movable carts you might see in office building lobbies or airports or malls that sell espresso and other hot and cold beverages. I’m working on a business proposition where I might just need one, so I’m been trying to see what my options are.

Trying is the correct word in the previous sentence. I’ve been trying hard to use the Internet — including Google, of course — to find businesses that manufacture or sell the kind of cart I want. What I’m finding, however, is that very few companies that make or sell this equipment have a clue about how they can use the Internet to make information about their products available to the world 24/7.

Why This Really Irks Me

Putting Your Small Business on the WebYou have to understand my frustration with this. After all, back in 2000, I wrote a slim book for Peachpit Press titled, Putting Your Small Business on the Web. I wrote it primarily to help small business owners understand how the Web could help them so they wouldn’t be victimized by unscrupulous Web developers. Back in those days, the Web was relatively new and people simply didn’t understand how to take advantage of it. My book explained what the Web could and couldn’t do for them and provided advice for making the most of what the Web offered.

Please understand that I’m not trying to sell anyone on this book. It’s old and terribly out of date. One of these days I’ll revise it and release it as a ebook or possibly a print on demand project. If you really want it, you can find used copies of it on Amazon.com. (That’s where I found this picture of the cover; I’d discarded my old scans of it.) My point is, I wrote a book about this eight years ago and I’m still finding people making the same mistakes I told them to avoid.

But They Just Don’t Get It

One of the things I advised was putting all of your product information on the Web. Photos, descriptions, dimensions, and yes, even pricing. This is the information people want when they’re shopping for solutions. Having complete information helps people decide whether to take the next step — which might include buying the product.

Yet in my search for coffee carts — and yes, I did use all kinds of appropriate search phrases in Google — I did not find many companies that provided the information I needed. Instead, the search results included companies that made one or more of the following mistakes.

  • They didn’t sell the product I was searching for. Yes, my search phrase was one of the phrases that appeared in the site’s meta tags or in page content, but that’s not what they sold. They sold vending carts that might or might not be used for coffee. Not what someone serious about building a coffee business wants. In this case, they’d used their meta tags to enhance search engine results in their favor, thus wasting the time of people who pulled up their pages. Just another example of SEO gone bad.
  • Blurry CartThey didn’t include images of their products. In this category, I’ll include companies that included blurry — yes blurry, as shown in this actual image from a site — images of their products and companies with a lot of broken image links. And how about a company with an embedded movie that simply wouldn’t play? I’d say 50% of the sites I brought up had insufficient illustrations of their products. Because I’m very interested in how my coffee business might look, these sites wasted my time.
  • They required you to fill out a form fully describing your business before they’d give you any information at all. WTF? Needless to say, I didn’t waste much time there because I certainly wasn’t going to provide that kind of information just to see what solutions they might have.
  • They provided vague information about some products but required you to contact them by e-mail or phone to learn more. So much for 24/7 information. I’m the kind of person who often does research at 5:00 AM on a Sunday morning. Will someone be answering the phone when I call? I don’t think so.
  • They listed so many products that it was hard to distinguish between them. One site, for example, offered eight different 7-foot coffee carts. I couldn’t tell the difference between them. There wasn’t enough information about any of them. And since the same company listed over 100 vending products, I started wondering whether they had any coffee expertise at all. Surely a coffee cart has different features than a hot dog cart.
  • They forced you to go to a different site — or multiple sites — to get complete information about a product. One site, for example, showed a blurry image of a coffee cart and listed specifications, then listed three individual Web sites where you could get pricing. Why three? Why go elsewhere at all? Of course, when you got to one of those sites, you’d have to search it for the product you were interested in. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the time or patience to waste chasing information.
  • They have bad links on the site. For example, “Click here to get manufacturers specifications.” When you click “here,” it takes you to the home page of another site that lists hundreds of products — not the specifications you expected to find. Yes, it’s yet another way to waste my time.

I did find one company that had PDFs online that could be downloaded for specific products. The two-page PDFs had good photos and were relatively clear about the product’s specifications. They did not, however, include pricing. To get pricing, I had to e-mail the company. They responded quickly with yet another PDF. My question: Why wasn’t the pricing PDF also on the Web site?

Good Information Results in Sales

The result of all this is that after spending about two hours searching for a product that might meet my needs, I found only one company that makes a product I’d consider buying. I don’t know about those other companies — there wasn’t enough information on their sites to convince me that they knew the business and made a quality product I could rely on and afford. The company with the good information is the one I’m seriously considering doing business with.

What companies don’t understand is that their Web presence is almost like a storefront. If its shabbily maintained and doesn’t deliver the information people expect, that reflects on them. (I wrote about that in some length in the book, too.) By failing to make the most of their Web presence, they’re just adding more useless information to the Web — branded with their name.

One thought on “Seven Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Internet to Market Your Products

  1. Funny you should mention “Putting your small business on the Web” I have the book, and I was looking at it only two weeks ago fo tips about starting a web site for a business.

    Not only was it very helpful, but it’s still out there, and still being used.

What do you think?