Outdated news and product data on your site are sure to turn off potential customers. If you want to create a positive experience for your customer while they're visiting your company's Web site, you must include timely information. But most sites' content is either completely outdated or simply too stale. The first problem is easy to solve: update your site! What if you visited a travel site that advertised "New Trips for 1997"? You wouldn't be very impressed, would you? Get rid of those old dates and add the latest news on your company.

The second problem is not quite as severe as outdated information. Stale sites have no dates on them. Of course this makes the site easier to maintain, but it also invites questions from visitors. Visitors will want to know what is new about your company and products or services. If all you ever post on your Web site is your business address and telephone number, you should have just bought a Yellow Pages listing instead!

So, we've determined that you need to keep your site up-to-date with your company's latest news and product information. Just how often should your site be updated? That all depends on the type of business you're running. As a general rule, you should update your site whenever you send out a press release, add new products or services, land a big client, or receive recognition from community or business organizations.

Is it possible to keep your site fresh without going broke? Of course! If, like most small businesses, you can't afford a dedicated Web manager, try these three simple and inexpensive ways to make sure your customers receive the most current information from your company's site. As always, there are several (more expensive) alternatives to the ideas offered here, but these are excellent starting points.

Script It!

Use JavaScript or an ASP script to add the current date to your site. Type "free scripts" into any search engine, and you are bound to find a script that will display the date and time on your site. This is a simple approach to the "timely info" dilemma, but when used wisely can pack a powerful punch. Let's say you are the owner of a family restaurant that has a daily dinner special (Monday's special is always meatloaf, Tuesday's is always grilled chicken, and so on). You would like to display the specials on your site, but don't have the time to update the site every day. Modify the date script so it shows the date as well as the special for that day. You'll only have to update the script if the weekly specials change.

Schedule It!

Buy a file transfer protocol (FTP) program that has a scheduling feature, such as FTP Voyager. This program allows you to configure it to automatically upload pages to your Web server. The original purpose of this feature was to avoid slow data transfer times by uploading Web pages during off-peak hours. But you can also use it to post pages that must be updated on a specific date and time. For example, you may have a sale on your site that ends at midnight on Sept. 30. You do not want the sale to be advertised after that time. Simply create a new version of the Web page (without the sale information) and then schedule your FTP program to post that page at midnight on Sept. 30. Now you don't have to worry about confusing your customers with outdated sale information.

Borrow It!

Use a content provider to give the illusion that you update your site regularly. There are many Web companies, such as iSyndicate.com, that allow you to display their content free of charge. The drawback? You may have to display a small advertisement for the content provider. Of course, if you are willing to pay a monthly fee, the content will be ad-free. You simply need to select the news or article topics that pertain to your site, choose the layout, and then cut and paste the JavaScript into your site. The content is dynamically updated as often as every 15 minutes. Your site will then display up-to-the-minute news!

It's all in the preparation. Once you set up your script, FTP program, or content provider's JavaScript, you no longer need to use valuable resources to keep your content current. The time you dedicate to the upfront work will pay off in the long run. With your always-fresh site, your visitors will want to keep coming back for more!

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