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eMarketing 101: the nuts and bolts of building your own website: are you one of the 41% of agents without a website?

It's hard to believe that with the explosion of the Internet, email, and social networking, that there are so many agents who still don't have a website--or who have a website that needs a major upgrade. Many insurance consumers are turning to the Internet to search for information on insurance products before buying them from an agent, and more and more consumers are purchasing coverage directly from agents online. Insurance agents shouldn't fear the Internet or creating a website. In fact, those agents who don't have a website or embrace technology probably won't be around much longer.

The good news is that it's not as hard as you may think to build a professional-looking website.

Make the commitment

The first step is to make a commitment to building a website that will reflect you and your business. It is extremely important to remember that your website is a direct reflection of your business--and in our business, first impressions are everything. If you just throw together a website in a day, chances are, it won't provide the first impression you're looking for.

Count your pennies

Once you've decided to build a website, you need to determine your budget. The cost for building a professional-looking website can vary greatly; you can spend thousands of dollars hiring a top-tier Web developing company, or just a of couple hundred of dollars using a smaller firm, purchasing a turnkey site, or building your own website. Figure out what makes the most sense for you, do a little bit of research, and establish your limits and goals.

Develop your presence

Now that you have your budget, it's time to come up with your domain name and register it. There are a number of different sites you can use to see which domain names are available and purchase the one that works best for you. A few of the more popular sites are GoDaddy.com, NetworkSolutions.com, and Register.com. You want to make sure that you purchase your own unique domain name; try to choose one that is simple and applies to your business.

Hire your help

The next step is to decide who will design and develop your website. If you have the time and want to take on that task yourself, I would strongly recommend looking at a site builder such as Intuit Website Builder or GoDaddy Website Builder. These types of services provide professionally designed templates that you can customize by adding your logo and content. Another option is to work with a company that provides turnkey websites designed specifically for insurance agents. One of my favorite companies that provides these turnkey sites is Norvax--not only are their sites professional-looking, but they can also provide you with such additional tools as online quoting, online application processing, and office management tools.

If you want to take your website a step further and develop one that's completely custom, you'll have to shop around and find a website designer or developer with whom you're comfortable. The first thing you should do is look at the portfolio of websites they've built. Ask if they've built any sites for other insurance agents. Also, ask for references and check those references to see if they've been satisfied with the company's work.

Once you've decided on a website designer, you should provide them with a few different websites that you like. They won't just copy the other site, but doing this will provide them with an idea of what you're looking for. Remember that your website will be a reflection you and your business image.

Plan your content

Just as important as a great website design is the site's content. Remember: People are going online to search for answers and obtain information on the insurance products for which they're looking. If your site fails to answer their questions or provide them with the information they seek, they will move on to the next site--which means that someone else will get that business. Include content in your site that is pertinent to the products you sell and, more importantly, that is clear and easy to understand.

Get it live

It is now time to launch your site. You need to find a company that will host your site, which means that they'll take your site and store it on their servers so that the public can view your site. It's important to note that website builders, turnkey websites companies, and website developers may offer hosting services--so check with them first. If they don't offer hosting, they may be able to direct you to a reputable company.

Follow up

Now that your site is up and running, however, doesn't mean that you can just drop everything and watch the leads roll in: You have to make sure that people can find your site. Include your website address on all of your marketing collateral, and register your site with the major search engines--Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

Now you're off and running, but this is just the start. Remember your website provides much more than just a professional image--it can be an incredible marketing tool to help you grow your business.

>> The 3 Biggest Lessons I Learned While Creating a Website

In 2009, InsuringCT.com went live. The brainchild of siblings Tim Tracy Jr. and Sheena Tracy, both of Gerard B. Tracy Associates, the site was designed to fill a gap that its cofounders saw in the local marketplace.

In the 10 months between when the Tracys came up with the idea for the site and it launched, there was a lot of work to be done. Here, Tim Tracy Jr. shares his three biggest lessons learned while launching a new site.

* Make the time commitment. "I thought that just getting a website up and running was good enough--but I was wrong. Your website will need to be updated throughout the year."

* Focus on the content. "You may know what you want to include on your website, but the trick is turning it into content that is easy to understand optimized to help you show up frequently and with a high ranking in search engine results."

* SEO is very important. "Simply having a website doesn't mean that people will be able to find you online. Search engine optimization helps improve your search engine ranking so that people can find your site. You need to focus on SEO both while your building your site, and after it goes live."
>> Which of the following do you offer on your business' website?

Contact information
  and/or contact form       52%
An "about us"
  page or bio               50%
Helpful links for
  clients/prospects         36%
Educational articles
  from other sources        27%
Quote engine                22%
Video and/or audio          12%
Signup for electronic
  newsletter                11%
Educational articles
  I've written              10%
Blog                         4%
I don't have a website
  for my business           41%

SOURCE: 2010 Independent Brokerage Study; Agent Media/NAILBA


Tim Tracy is the vice president of Gerard B. Tracy Associates and the cofounder of InsuringCT.com. He can be reached at 800-788-0241.
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Title Annotation:2010 TECHNOLOGY SELLING GUIDE
Author:Tracy, Tim
Publication:Agent's Sales Journal
Date:Dec 1, 2010
Words:1171
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