A decent website usually represents a significant investment for a small or medium sized business and it’s pretty hard to get by these days without an on-line presence. But I wonder how many opportunities are missed for the sake of a bit of thought about what exactly you need a website for and how it fits into a broader marketing strategy.
‘We need a website to explain what we do,’ seems to be a common reason based on the amount of information that many companies try to pack in. And it may be that what you do is so self-evidently unique and valuable that just describing it will have customers queuing around the block. Most businesses, however, have a website as part of a mixed marketing strategy - consciously or unconsciously. So it’s worth asking a few basic questions before designing your new site or to review the effectiveness of what you already have up on the web.
1. Where will my website traffic come from?
Will it be from people typing certain search words into a search engine? Will it be people responding to direct mail? Will it be people attracted through networking and social media? All of these would come to your site with different levels of pre-existing knowledge and looking for something different, which may well affect the information you want to put on your site.
2. What type of business are we – and what does this mean for planning our web content?
If you are mainly an e-commerce business people are likely to want to get straight to the products. A service business will need to think very carefully about the site structure and content. Service businesses are unlikely to be selling directly through the website, so think about the various stages in the sales process where potential customers will be accessing the site – are they going to find something that will take them to the next stage? It will pay to do some research with existing customers to make sense of this.
3. What do we want the website to say about us?
Spend a few minutes with your team to capture all of the things that are great about your business. Would customers get the message about your strengths by looking at your website? Think carefully about cutting out everything on your website that is not related to these key messages. If you must have some detailed descriptions of things that you do then think about using sub-pages and hyper-links. On-line publishing has the great advantage of not having to have every piece of information in a continuous narrative – make it easy to access additional information but don’t let it clutter up your message. A useful image here might be Michaelangelo’s description of the work of a sculptor: “A piece of stone contains a statue – it is my job to remove everything that is not the statue.”
4. Does the copywriting reflect who we are?
Vocabulary. Adjectives in particular. Are the words you use appropriate for your business? Are you streamlined, efficient, caring, meticulous, creative, traditional, innovative, off-beat, fast, methodical, technical, trustworthy…? Have a think about it and check you are using the appropriate words to reinforce the impression you want to create.
Successful businesses know exactly what they want from their website and make sure that it is designed and written to produce exactly those results.