I've a bunch more too. I wouldn't put alot of time and money into building and promoting these sites if these wasn't a return on my investment. A website is a MUST to anyone who runs a business. No website? Heck, just throw out your phone as well.
chinookservices - there are so many opinions out there about websites and thier affect on a business, all I can do is tell you mine.
I believe you need to divide the effect of a website into 2 categories.
A) People that you have never made a contact with, finding your website through a search engine, or a link from a other site.
(B) People you have previously made contact with and find your site from a link on your marketing, be it a classified ad, a flyer, your business card, ect...
In my opinion the effect on a local business with people from (A) will be tiny to nothing. The reason to have a website is for the (B) people.
I've been told that today a good percentage of people will research a company a bit on the web before they contact them. In other words they will see your flyer and go to your website to get more information about you and to get more comfortable before they make the call. Having a website allows you to make that connection with these people and gives you a chance to silently sell them on your services through examples of your work, customer testimonials and just the fact that people equate a professional website with a chance that the company will be professional to work with also. That being said, is it true to assume a amatuer, crappy looking website could do more harm then not having one at all?
Mike don't be too sure on your opinion about the effect of a local business. Do a web search for your citie's name and the word contractor and see what comes up. Better yet do a google or overture search term lookup and they will tell you how many people looked up that word in the alst 3 months. The internet can be very powerful for local businesses if you know how to target local customers. I'm living proof.
Your right about people researching yoru company but I get leads every week from people who have never heard of my company or seen a flier before. They find me in search engines... which is why I have so many sites, each one gets spidered differently.
What you said about having a professional looking web site is by far hands down the god's honest truth! If your site doesn't look professional, you don't look professional. Don't bother having a site if it doesn't look professional. If you haven't noticed I always get a little peeved when people suggest to someone else "Just do it yourself".
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