If I could fill a room with hundreds of business owners or marketing executives, and ask them how many thought a company needed a good website, nearly every hand would go up. But if I asked a simple follow-up question – “Why?” – probably fewer than half could give a good answer.
In 2017 “having an online presence” has come to mean something like “always eat your vegetables.” Business people know it’s a good idea, and that it affects the health of their business, but they can’t always describe the science behind it.
You might be thinking to yourself that this is a silly notion. You may know, as most of the people I meet do, that the purpose of a website is to attract sales. That’s a good answer, but an incomplete one. It misses some of the other important roles a website can fill and isn’t nearly specific enough.
When you’re trying to “increase sales,” it’s difficult to decide which activities you should pursue. Search engine optimization and social media marketing are the most popular and important, for example, but what percentage of business owners could tell you precisely how a better Google ranking or a strong Facebook following will turn into a healthier bottom line?
If you want to succeed in today’s digital world and to make your website a profitable part of your company, it’s important to have defined goals and objectives. Your website needs to have a job, and you need to know what that job is. Then, you can create the kind of layout and user experience needed to achieve those goals.
With that in mind, I want to use this short chapter to take a look at what specifically you can do to zero in on the purpose of your website. Then, you can be sure it’s well-designed for the job.
Everything Starts With Your Business Model and Target Market
Hard as it might be to believe, I talk to a lot of new clients who have trouble describing what it is their company is all about. Or, they can tell me exactly what their plans and profit models look like, but haven’t identified any group of buyers that might be interested in working with them.
Designing a website, much less a full-fledged internet marketing plan, is virtually impossible under those circumstances. If there’s nothing to market or no one to market it to, then why should the details matter at all?
The construction and philosophy of your business website have to have two sources or intersecting points. The first comes from your business and the advantages or strategies that separate you from your competitors; the second has to do with the kinds of buyers you want to attract to your website, and who will make up your base of revenue for years to come.
Everything follows from those two points, and one is virtually meaningless without the other. I constantly hear from people who want a “great website.” What that means, however, depends on their budget, style, and marketing needs. A minivan is great for hauling kids to soccer practice, but a terrible choice on a construction site. A pickup truck can move tools and equipment but isn’t as well-suited for a family road trip. The aforementioned is an obvious analogy, but it gives an easy way to show an important point. In the same way that four wheels and an engine don’t make the perfect automobile for everyone, one layout and color combination doesn’t meet every marketer’s needs.
Take the time to figure out what your company is about and who your customers are; do this before you meet with a web designer or get too deep into this blog series Someone with the right creative and technical background can help you take your business to the next level, but they can’t do so if basic questions are left unanswered.
Use Design to Achieve Specific Outcomes
When you know what your website is about, you can ensure that the layout choices, font selections, and color preferences all encourage the right outcomes. For instance, a dental office wanting to attract new patients could work with calming tones of blue, feature pictures of happy patients and their bright smiles, and (most importantly) have phone numbers and insurance information prominently displayed on every page.
These may seem like relatively minor details, but they make all the difference. Most business websites you come across, whether they were built from an online template or created with the help of a professional team, have a more or less generic feel to them. They don’t suggest any particular action, and certainly not one that is measurable.
Design matters because the job of your website should never be to simply “give information.” A brochure could do that, and the world of internet marketing has gotten to be far too complex for businesses of any size to be content with putting nothing more than a marketing overview online. In addition to telling people about your company, your website should build your credibility, drive walk-in traffic, generate online sales, or trigger inquiries over the phone.
You might want your website to do all of these things or none of them. What matters isn’t the specific outcome you’re looking for, but that you know what the result you are seeking. Just as every employee on your payroll should have a defined job description and key performance indicators that tell you (and them) whether they are succeeding or not, your website should be created and maintained with a specific set of goals in mind.
Make Your Messaging a Unique Strength
For far too many business people, the messaging on a website is an afterthought. Page text is something that’s put into place to attract search engine traffic, educating users, and enhancing the user interface (UI).
It’s certainly true that the copywriting on your website should do both of these things. However, it’s also true that your messaging needs to inform and persuade. No one is going to visit your website because of the way it looks; potential customers are searching for insights into what problems you may or may not be able to solve for them. Likewise, even the best images and graphics don’t convert visitors into leads or buyers. It takes a strong sales message for that to happen.
Of course, good messaging is just like good design – it’s the result of a strong, unique selling proposition and the right target audience coming together. If your business has nothing interesting or compelling to offer, then your messaging is always going to be lackluster. Without a group of potential buyers who can respond to your offers, even well-crafted headlines and bullet points will fail to generate revenue.
Once you find the right message to take to the market, and the tone and personality you want to present to the world, you have everything you need to make your website sing. That doesn’t mean it will convert every searcher into a buyer; it just means that when the right people read your words or see your videos, they’ll know they have found their solution.
That type of fit and branding is invaluable on your web pages, but it also carries over to social media, email marketing, and other tools you need to compete in the digital age. So, don’t settle for communication that’s bland or generic. You don’t want to match your customers point for point or word for word. Instead, you want to let the public know why you’re different and turn your message into a unique advantage.
Give Your Website Part-Time Jobs, Too
I’m going to assume that the main job of your website is to help you find potential customers and convert them into active accounts. That’s the goal of 99% or more of all business websites out there, regardless of whether they take e-commerce orders directly or feed new opportunities to a sales staff.
But, assuming that your big priority is generating revenue from your web presence, don’t overlook the fact that your website should have other part-time jobs, too. Because it’s going to be your main point of contact for both new and existing customers, not to mention the public at large, there are other roles it could fill.
As examples, your website could be your chief tool for recruiting new employees. It can offer information for vendors who want to work with you. It could function as a customer service hub, letting buyers check on their order status, read frequently asked questions, or even download how-to guides, manuals, and videos. Your website can be a press agent, a source of industry news, and even a social hub for people who want to trade ideas and reviews. Best of all, it can do all of these things while still providing you with leads or sales.
Regardless of what your website’s one main job description might be like, don’t forget that it can do a lot of things that help your company run more smoothly and profitably. In fact, the more you can automate your business by using the internet, the less time and money you’ll have to invest in other parts of your company. Generating revenue is important, but don’t forget you can improve your bottom line by cutting costs and making better hiring decisions, too.
Keep Making Improvements and Renovations
Through the course of time, it’s only natural that your website is going to change and evolve. Its purpose might shift. Perhaps you’ll decide to go after a different segment of the market or change the measurable outcome. Changes to your business or market might happen because you discover a new tool or technique, or simply as a result of your underlying business model going through changes.
Regardless of how you arrive at that point, it’s important that you keep making improvements and renovations to your web presence. In the same way that you might touch up the paint in an office every year or two, you should consider adding pages or taking away outdated content from time to time. You wouldn’t let carpets in your business get to be dusty and faded, so don’t let the photos on your website paint your business in a shabby light, either.
No website is ever truly finished. At a certain point, clients are satisfied, and designers put their layouts online, but continual improvement is always needed. Even an employee who knows their job and is wonderful at it will need ongoing training, in both their specific skill set and in general business knowledge (like time management or using productivity software). Your business website will need some upgrades that are specific to your industry, and others that are required to keep up with the times.
That’s especially true in 2017, and it’s only going to become a bigger driving force in the coming years. The best practices in web design and internet marketing change these days quickly. So even if your business weren’t in a state of flux, you would need to review your web presence once in a while to ensure you’re still relevant and up to date.
Don’t Let Your Website Slack Off
Although there is a lot to think about when planning, building, and maintaining a website, the one idea I want to leave you with in this chapter is that the Internet-facing portion of your business has an important job to do. Every page and piece of content on your site should reinforce that measurable goal, and you should always be looking for new ways to be more efficient and effective at achieving it.
If you can carry that mindset with you throughout the rest of this blog series, you’ll have an easier time understanding why it matters that you stay ahead of your competitors in 2017 and how you can do that. It will also guide you toward the best ideas in search engine optimization, social media, pay-per-click advertising, and other marketing activities.
When you have a well-defined target, it’s much easier to hit the bullseye. Ensure your website has a concrete job to do so all the pieces that make it work can fall into place.
10-Point Strategy Guide to Small Business Website Design and Internet Marketing is a ten part Blog series by Founder and Owner of WebWize, Inc., Glenn Brooks.
Glenn has been part of the website design and development industry since 1994, over two decades. Before WebWize he spent more than 15 years in the Advertising, Marketing, and Print Industries. Don't miss this opportunity!
10 Part Strategy Series TOC
Strategy #1: Give Your Website a Job
Strategy #2: Emphasize Website Performance and UX
Strategy #3: Build a Sales Funnel for Bottom-Line Growth
Strategy #4: Understand the New Age of Search Engine Optimization
Strategy #5: Make Your PPC Campaigns as Efficient as Possible
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