How to make sure your website doesn’t work for your business
If you’re not in the business of making websites, it might surprise you to learn how many people decide they need a website, seemingly for the sake of having a website. As a freelancer, I get lots of enquiries for small-budget websites, most of which can’t clearly articulate WHY they need a website, other than to check it off the list. Even at Bluewire Media, a high-end web strategy company, the “Website Goals” section of our getting started questionnaire is all too often left blank.
But this just won’t do. Even for small projects, it’s important that we begin with some goals.
- So that we have something to base future decisions on.
- So that the website becomes an asset to your business, rather than a liability (yes, an out-of-date website is a liability).
- So that we can gauge the value of the website to your business.
- So that the website actually has a purpose, other than to “simply exist”.
- The number one way to ensure your website doesn’t work for you is to not define any goals.
Note: when I say we, I don’t mean Bluewire Media specifically, I mean the business and the web company (whoever they may be) collectively.
So, what might your website goals be? And how should you go about setting them?
Start with your business goals
A good place to start is with your overall business goals. These might be something like:
1. Become the biggest seller of XYZ widgets in the Asia-Pacific region by 2014
2. Grow to 100 staff in the next 3 years
Now these might not sound like website goals, but they’re certainly things that a website can help you achieve. We can now say that our overarching website goals are:
1. Increase sales.
2. Attract high-quality staff.
What we’ve just done has probably already been the difference between having a ‘Careers’ page (if not a whole careers section with job listings) and not having one. We also now know that we need to figure out what we can do on the website to increase sales.
Of course, not every business goal can be assisted by a website, and not every website goal will be related to one of your specific business goals, but business goals are a good starting point. Some other examples of goals could be to:
- Improve your reputation as a trustworthy, industry-leading organisation
- Coerce people into using your services
- Build your database of contacts to whom you can market your products/services
- Generate leads for a sales team to follow up
- Any number of other things
Now that we have our goals, what do we do with them?
It’s pretty simple really. For each goal, lets see what we might be able to implement on the website to help achieve it.
If you have the time, money and available staff, you might decide you actually want to sell your products online. If not, that’s ok, your website can still help by providing detailed information about your products (or services), and why anyone would choose them over your competition. You can also point people towards where they can buy the products, and make it easy for people to contact you with questions.
If you’re looking to increase sales, it’s important that you provide as much information as possible about your products or services – whether you’re going to be selling them online or not. Remember, you need to cater to customers at all stages of the buying process, and the more information you provide, the more likely they’ll be to keep your product or service in consideration at later stages of their decision process.
If you’re looking to attract staff, it would be a good idea to have a “Careers” (or similarly named) page on your website that explains the perks of working for your awesome organisation. This page could also link to current job openings (whether they’re on your website or SEEK, MyCareer etc), and encourage anyone to apply even if no positions are currently being advertised. Some companies even put up a more noticeable menu item “We’re Hiring” when they have a job opening.
Improve Your Reputation
The internet makes it easy for a potential customer to research your company before ever contacting you. Fortunately, it also makes it easy for you to make sure they like what they find. If you’re looking to improve your reputation, start a blog.
Blogging is a great way to demonstrate your knowledge, culture, leadership etc; and the chances are, if someone is researching your company online, they’ll probably come across your blog.
Build Your Marketing Database
If you’re looking to get more newsletter sign-ups, you might want to include a little feature box somewhere on your website (E.g. the sidebar, or under each blog post) with an incentive to sign-up. For example, Bluewire Media offers a free Ebook to anyone who subscribes to our newsletter. The more enticing your incentive is, the more sign-ups you’ll get!
A whole blog could be devoted to covering ways of generating leads online, in fact there is already at least one very popular one; the hubspot blog is devoted to “inbound marketing” (a term they coined). Inbound marketing is an online lead-generation method that focuses on attracting potential customers (leads) by creating content that they will find useful.
The hubspot blog is itself an excellent example of inbound marketing. Hubspot have a software suite (called hubspot) that helps marketers generate and nurture leads online. By constantly publishing content and resources on their blog that marketers find useful, they are attracting potential customers to their website. If you haven’t been to the hubspot blog before, I highly recommend that you do. This is a good post to get started with.
The second step in online lead generation after creating fantastic, useful content, is to capture those leads. A good way of doing this is to publish a downloadable resource (for example an ebook, template, checklist etc), then require at least a name and email address before allowing the resource to be downloaded. You now have the names and email addresses (at least), of a whole lot of potential customers. Remember though, the more closely related your resource is to your actual product or service, the higher quality the leads will be.
So how have our goals changed the final outcome?
If we’d decided to go ahead and design our website without thinking about our goals, it might have looked something like this:
If, however, you’d gone ahead and defined some goals like the ones we discussed above, your website could end up looking more like this:
It’s pretty obvious at first glance that the “with-goals” outcome looks like a much better website, but there’s more to it than that. The second design specifically attempts to address our goals, and is therefore much more likely to become an asset to your business – increasing sales, attracting staff, improving your reputation, building your database and generating leads.
To sum up, setting goals is an absolute necessity before beginning a website project of ANY size; whether you’re a one-man plumbing business or a multi-national widget corporation. Just setting some simple end-goals could make a huge difference not only to the look and functionality of your website, but also to the return you get on your investment.