Businesses can feel such desperation to be "up on the web" that they rush to publish lousy websites. While I realize that successful business owners may prefer action to contemplation, it's important to sit down and think about your goals before you design and launch a website. Then, you can proceed to website construction with clear insight. Whether you are building a website or improving an existing one, here are four tips to guide your thinking:
1. Decide Your Website's Purpose and Act Accordingly
Do you want a quick one-pager that has information about you and a contact phone number—something you can put on business cards to show you're a twenty-first century company? Do you want a contact form to collect leads to follow-up on? Or do you have more complicated goals—to present bids and manage customer accounts on your website? Or do you want to start with something simple and build to something complicated over time? Decide now. The more you know about what you want to do, the better you can direct website production.
2. Understand the Internet as a Community
Just as buildings make a neighborhood, your website is part of a community. Think about how people will find your site. Putting up a website doesn't guarantee traffic. How will you generate interest—with pay-per-click advertising on search engines; radio spots; and/or word-of-mouth? Will you put it on your fleet vehicles and business cards and leave it at that? Will you have links on your site to partners, suppliers or subcontractors? Will you write a weekly blog? What kind of text and images will you include on your site to answer customer queries so they can find you when using a search engine? How will you update, add new features and improve your site based on customer feedback?
3. Make Sure Your Website Reflects Well on You—It's Your Internet Reputation
I have visited business websites that had personal photos and information about the owner's family on them that had nothing to do with the business, and I thought, “whoa, too much information.” I have been to ugly websites with flashing graphics that played music, and I left quickly. I have been to fancy sites that looked pretty but had no information and were hard to use, and I was disappointed. Make sure that your website says what you want it to about you. If you're a company that does great work but your website is not a piece of great work, you have a problem.
4. Put Yourself in Your Customer's Place
So many business websites are in love with themselves. "We have this. We do that. We've been in business for so many years." Your website is not a place to celebrate how wonderful you are. It's a place to engage people. Whether it's providing necessary information or convincing prospects you're the right company for them, analyze your site not as a proud business owner, but as a customer looking for a solution. Your website will either start a relationship that will continue in person—or it will continue a relationship that started on the web. It's vital to focus on customer needs and benefits. Customers don't care about the internal workings of your company or industry. They have wants and needs, and your job is to fulfill them in a way they understand. If your website makes doing business simple, easy and relatively trouble-free, educating just enough but not too much, your website visitors will respond.