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Build a Website That Drives More Business

I own a travel and tour-operating company that sells tourism packages and air and railway tickets. I have capital and want to use it in a unique way. I would like to stand out with an unusual travel website. Do you have some starting tips? —P.K., New Delhi

The best way for your business to stand out is not through a quirky website, but through a value proposition that differentiates you from your competitors and appeals strongly to a well-defined target market.

Since you’re already in business, think about what unique offerings make your company successful. Are you the best-priced option for family tour packages? Do you have personalized service that makes life easier for your corporate clients? Are you a terrific resource for cultural information on visiting India or another destination?

Define your niche and then design your website to maximize your appeal to that niche, making sure that your marketing campaign emphasizes your company’s strengths, says Gabriel Shaoolian, founder and chief executive officer of Blue Fountain Media, a New York website-design and online-marketing agency. "This is not about smoke and mirrors. There are no gimmicks to doing business online. Your website isn’t going to drive your business model. It is your business model that will drive your website," he says.

One trend that you might consider is incorporating mobile Internet applications, such as iPad and iPhone, into your site, says Brian Morgan, CEO of Adventure Life, a boutique travel agency in Missoula, Mont. Especially when they are on the road, your customers are likely to access your site using mobile devices.

Target Specifically and Energetically

By the way, take a look at the Adventure Life website to see how it immediately conveys Morgan’s niche: Latin American destinations for active, adventuresome travelers. His business clearly appeals to a narrow slice of consumers and his website reflects that target audience accordingly. Your clientele may be totally different than his, but that’s the kind of messaging clarity you want to aim for in your own site.

Morgan recommends also that you incorporate social networking into your site from the start. "Use any way that you can to encourage users to share what they find on your website: Cool travel tips, travel journals" and so forth, he says.

Kristin Lamoureux, director of the International Institute of Tourism at George Washington University, agrees. "All the research shows that social media is where the travel and tourism industry is investing its marketing efforts. Your traditional website has to be well done, clean, and neat, but it also has to be fully integrated into social media," she says. "Give people a place to tell their travel stories, share their best photos, and talk about things like their favorite vacation meal. It can even be a quirky thing like a poll on what tourist site has the cleanest restrooms."

Hospitality and travel businesses have introduced a lot of clever ad campaigns in recent years, including contests and charitable tie-ins. Some offer a hands-on volunteer experience as an option for corporate conference attendees or vacation travelers, for instance, Lamoureux says. Others hold competitions that give away trips that are then documented on video and posted online. Once your own site is up and running, take a look at some of these to get ideas.

Since you have some capital budgeted for the website design project, look for an agency that has experience at not only building attractive, functional websites but that also understands how people shop and buy online, Shaoolian says. "They should understand the principles of effective online messaging and the science of online user behavior." You will save money on your website if you can present clear goals and a success strategy up front, rather than paying the design firm to help you define those things. Good luck.

Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.

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