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The big picture

A plethora of websites is springing up to change the way construction gets its information and does its business. Construction firms not surprisingly want a piece of online action.

Many of the bigger firms are investing heavily in terms of both time and money in search of an effective electronic marketing strategy.

For smaller firms, the decisions are just as important but the resources available are never going to be on the same scale.

Promoting a firm is already an expensive business in today's paper based society. According to marketing consultant Wedgwood Markham's report Targeting the specifier, the average promotional budget within the construction industry is currently £288,900, with literature accounting for £47,000, advertising £38,000 and websites £21,100, slightly behind direct mail, exhibitions and media relations.

The internet can save on printing and mailing brochures, but what will this achieve? Will you get enough online coverage simply by sending information about your firm to websites covering the industry? If so, should you reinforce it by advertising? Or should you be developing your own web site?

In theory, a firm can make its own web page for next to nothing - if the right people are on the staff, or the information is so useful it does not matter if it looks amateurish. And professional design services need not cost a great deal. For instance, very slick sites can be created through Construction Plus from £3,000.

In developing a site companies need to consider whether they want to get as many people as possible to visit it just once.

Can the aim of planting their capabilities in the visitors' minds be done by presenting a single nugget of data - rates, a software demo, or a list of the parameters of a top selling widget? Or should it provide information that will keep the visitors coming back? Is the idea to walk them through an entire track record and dazzle would-be clients with the firm's sheer brilliance and versatility?

Do not forget that details should be easily changeable to keep the site up to date. A beautiful online brochure might be expensive to change later when you want to promote a new more prestigious project, or just change some of the information.

Once you have your website, you need to get people to visit.

There are now plenty of opportunities to advertise your name on other people's sites, some of which will work better for some aims than others. Well positioned, well designed banner advertising is an obvious way of building brand awareness. People who click through are demonstrating genuine interest and can be further encouraged when there is a decent offer being promoted.

Sponsorship opportunites can associate your name with something you respect. But do not think of the internet in isolation - integrate your off line advertising.

There is no right answer that suits every firm, but there is certainly a right answer for each.

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