How do you know if your web site is good for your company?
By first answering the question: "Why do you have a web site?"
If you are in business today you do need a web site. It may be only to provide a "lookup" presence - equivalent to a (nearly obsolete) phone book listing. But there is no longer any doubt that without a web site you have no credibility as a current, active, enterprise. At a minimum, you need a one page web site that provides contact information and a summary of what you do or sell.
Where you go from there, in terms of web site development, depends on the rest of your answer to the question: "Why do you have a web site?".
A few of the most common reasons are:
- To generate leads.
- To get sales.
- To save on printing costs.
- To provide customer support.
- To reduce nuisance phone calls.
- To qualify leads.
- To provide/establish credentials.
- To educate.
- To satisfy your ego.
If generating leads is the top priority for your web site then Search Engine Optimization has to be your #1 overriding factor when designing the web site and creating the content. You cannot get leads from a web site that gets no traffic, no matter how beautiful the design or how perfect your grammar.
Contrary to first impressions this is not the same as, or even a necessary follow on, to leads. Many companies will never be able to make a sale directly from their web site. Some products or services just do not lend themselves to a "self service" model. By the same token, you may not need to generate leads with this web site - even though you are making sales. You may be generating your leads in another way and just handling the sales transactions online.
If you are selling on your web site, then you must concentrate on making that experience the best it can be for your visitor. Every page, the design, the function, and all of the content is there solely to assist in the sale.
Saving on Printing
Catalogues, brochures, portfolios, instruction sheets, etc., can be very costly to print and to distribute. They also have the annoying habit of being out of date the instant they are printed. Your main reason for a web site may be to save time and money by providing materials (that would have otherwise been printed) to your visitors. If this is your priority then the organization of your web site and the ease of finding and printing off the materials will be most important.
This can be as simple as providing driving instructions and business hours to your place of business, and as complicated as a fully automated help desk. Providing (at least some) service to your clients 24/7, is a task that your web site can do at very little cost when compared to hiring people to be available around the clock. To be effective you need to put yourself in your client's shoes and ask yourself what are they going to want - that you can provide easily - on your web site? Better yet - ask your clients!
Providing customer support on-line (as above) can help reduce the number of calls your staff many need to field. But it may be that your company is strictly wholesale - and you currently get a lot of unwanted phone calls or emails from the public. If done correctly your web site could identify you more strongly as wholesales only - or better yet direct your nuisance leads to a company that wants them! You may even be able to work out a referral deal for the leads you send their way.
Perhaps your challenge is not too few leads but too many leads that go nowhere. Your web site could be put to work qualifying your leads for you. A questionnaire, a test, or a "referred by" form could be used to your advantage. Or some well written text that describes what you do not do - or who you do not serve will satisfy this requirement.
Many service oriented companies and professionals live or die based on their credentials. Often these credentials are complicated and lengthy and need to be added to, or updated frequently. A web site is the ideal place to expound (ad nauseaum if need be) on your experience, training, affiliations, certifications, memberships, published work, samples, past projects, research, etc.
It may be that providing information is your best bet to business success (at Back2Front we sure think so). Or maybe you are an educator by trade and providing some for free is your best way to sell more for a fee. Either way, a web site based on education will likely grow over time, and could end up being a very large web site - so plan for this in advance. Consistency in style, naming, and presentation, as well as a good navigation system will be necessary for success in this type of web site.
Satisfy Your Ego
I put ego on the list because its better to acknowledge and prioritize it than to pretend it doesn't exist. Let's face it, if you are the owner of the company, it is your baby and you are justifiably proud of it! Your company is a reflection of you, and your web site is a reflection of your company. So of course you want it to be impressive, beautiful, unique... as awesome as you are! OK, feel better now?
Just prioritize the needs of your ego appropriately with your other goals and make sure your ego does not get in the way of the success of your web site. For example: if lead generation was your highest priority - then you would decide not to include that impressive, animated, flash, intro-page that prevents the search engines from indexing your site properly, no matter how much your ego wanted it.
There is usually more than one reason for having a web site, and therefore the web site may have to satisfy more than one set of requirements. Identifying your reasons and then placing them in order of importance will help you prioritize when resolving conflicts between requirements.
Knowing why you have a web site in the first place will go a long way to helping you decide what kind of web site you need, or whether or not the web site you already have is good for your business.
By Candace Carter, Back2Front - The Web Site People, 2007