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Your Websites: Age-Old Problems; New Age Solutions

How to get maximum impact.
  1. You need to convert more browsers into buying customers
    Create an avatar
    Avatars, those animated characters like the ones you might see in video games, can now play the role of a virtual salesperson on your website, greeting visitors and telling them all about your products or services. Say Thank You with Coffee, a gift company based in Ponte Vedra, Florida, added an avatar to its site nearly a year ago (that's her shown in the top left corner) and saw its sales increase about 20 percent. "It's a great way to get a conversation started with a Web customer," says Leigh Somers, the company's founder. Creating an avatar is surprisingly easy. For $10 to $50 a month, you can use SitePal, a technology provided by Oddcast, a New York City--based company. The program lets you record voice messages using either your voice or professional voice-over talent. You can even upload a photo of yourself to create a virtual twin.
  2. You need to generate more sales per customer
    Offer recommendations
    Software created by CleverSet, a Seattle-based start-up, uses a site's Web traffic and sales data to recommend products to prospective buyers. It's not cheap--a decent-size website should count on spending at least $1,000 a month--but the company claims that users have seen an average increase in sales of 20 percent. And the recommendations often reveal unexpected buying patterns. For instance, an online wine store discovered that people who bought an expensive bottle of wine didn't act on recommendations for similarly priced bottles but were very likely to throw in a second, cheaper bottle of wine--an opportunity that merchandisers had overlooked.
  3. You need to draw more people to your website
    Build a widget
    A widget is a little software application--say, a little game with a link to your website--that you distribute over the Web. Widgets are seen as a hot new marketing tool because Facebook has made it easy for people to pass widgets along to their friends. Widget-making is not for everyone, but companies that play to a younger demographic have seen some success with them. Doostang, a job search site based in Palo Alto, California, created a game widget that attracted 1,200 new members to its site in three days. And Zazzle, a start-up in Redwood City, California, that makes custom hats, T-shirts, and other products, recently introduced a widget that lets Facebook users hawk Zazzle's wares on their profile pages. Zazzle pays a commission to the Facebook user for each hat or shirt sold. The site's page views have increased more than 300 percent.
  • provides free access to data on what your rivals spend on pay-per-click ads.
  • Among virtual sales reps, female avatars produce twice as many sales as male avatars.
Last updated: Feb 1, 2008

LEIGH BUCHANAN | Staff Writer | Editor-at-large, Inc. Magazine

Leigh Buchanan is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.

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