Special Feature - John Giles' Digital Directions

What's on Your Website?

By John Giles

May 11, 2007 -- How many printers really use their websites? How many even have them? Do you have one?

Google.com offers a fast and easy way to find printers in any given city. Just go to Google maps and type in the name of a city. You can then use the Find Business and search for all the printers in a market. The red buttons will identify where the printers are located.

In most cities I have visited, almost half of the printers don’t even have a web address.

The printers will be listed on the left of the screen. Clicking on the printer will bring up additional information about the printer including the physical and web site addresses.

Now you can start having fun. First see how many printers have web sites. Google is good at listing the web address and, if a site is not listed, another quick search can help you find if the web site has been missed. In most cities I have visited, almost half of the printers don’t even have a web address. Visits to the printers that do have a site bring up some interesting pages.

Sites can be divided into different categories. The first category would be “home grown.” Usually these sites focus on the name, address and phone number of the printing company.  Links will send you to pages listing the equipment used to produce work and a listing of the type of work done (business cards, letterhead, envelopes, etc.). If the customer is lucky there will be some way to send a file, but usually it requires calling the printer to get special passwords and permissions.

The second category is the “mystery” site. This site is usually a members-only site that requires a visitor to already have a password to enter the site. The site might list a street address and telephone number, but then again, it might not. A customer can’t be sure what is behind the curtain unless he has been given special access before using the site.

One mid-western city, three different printers have the exact same site all the way down to the stock photos on the "Staff" pages.

The third category is the “unedited canned site.” A number of vendors sell pre-designed canned site that can give a printer a strong presence in the marketplace if used properly. The problem is that many printers buy the site, turn it on, and then forgets about it. The photos and layouts will look exactly like what the other competitors who haven’t edited their sites. On a visit to one mid-western city, I found three printers had the exact same site all the way down to the stock photos on the "Staff page." If a customer would visit all three sites they would think the same company owned all of the print shops.

The final category is the “storefront” site. This site combines the best features of the Internet to give a printer a way to push information to the customer as well as easily accept work via the web. Casual customers have a robust site that makes the print buying experience easier. Targeted customers are provided with password-protected portals that have been customized to their print buying needs. File transfers are simple and fast. Shopping carts make purchases easier or a customer can charge to their account. The site is easily edited with new features and services added as needed. This type of site is rare, but the most successful and profitable printer in the market area are the ones who usually have this type of site.

A storefront site combines the best features of the Internet, pushes information to the customer, accepts work via the web, and makes the print buying experience easier.

Into which category does your web site fall? Is it an electronic yellow page ad? Is it a fully functional storefront? Can customers send files 24/7 or do they have to get special permissions to transfer a file? Do you accept credit card orders? Can you create a customized site within your site for top customers? Too often printers put up a site and then forget it. The staff is never briefed about the services available on the site and can’t answer customer questions when asked. With a little effort, a printer can develop a web presence that makes them look like the most digitally savvy printer in the market.

Take a look at your site. What kind of site to you have? Visit your competitors’ sites. Are they better than yours? Is it easier to buy printing on their site or on yours? Do you offer the same services?

The day of the walk-in customer is fading. Customers want to communicate with a printing vendor from the comfort of their desk over the Internet. Your web site has to be as inviting and functional as the reception area in your print shop. If you forget about your web site, your customers may just pay a visit and forget about you. In the digital world, your website can be a door to a successful business.

Please offer your feedback to John. He can be reached at: [email protected].

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John Giles is an industry consultant who specializes in digital issues for quick and small commercial printers. Giles is currently conducting digital audits for quick printers around the country to assure the companies can accept digital files easily and price profitably. He also conducts training seminars for printing customers on how to prepare files properly for a commercial printer. He is the author of Digital Directions: a digital workflow guide for customer-created files and the Digital Original, a CD which focuses on teaching customers to create Postscript files as well as the other functions required to get a file to print properly. He is also the technology director of CPrint (r) (Certified Printers International). He can be reached at 304.552.5363 or [email protected].