Most small business owners want a website, but aren’t sure of how they’ll use it. Knowing the purpose of your business’s website is important to understand before you start building it or assign a budget to your project.
One type does not fit all
There are so many ways you can use your site. Most want a website to help promote and publicize their business. Some want it to function like a “Yellow Pages Directory Ad;” providing contact information. Some may want to use their website to sell their most popular products or services. Others may want to use their site as a customer service portal. Most, however want to use their web site as a brochure—and often don’t realize that there are many other options.
Brochures and more
A static brochure website functions like a printed brochure, sharing information about your business all day, every day. It usually features your products and services and a call to action. Additionally, you can offer free samples; white papers or valued added items that can help you convert your prospect into an interested customer.
This is a very simple type of site and if you don’t plan to update it too often, you probably won’t need a content management system (CMS) to help you change content, but it may mean that you pay your web developer to update your content for you. If you are somewhat computer savvy, using a CMS, you can keep your site’s information current and help you avoid the expense of content changes.
A couple of “web generations” ago businesses hoped to impress their customers with sites that use Flash. Many opened with a “splash” page which delayed the customer’s ability to see your products and services. It’s common that customers don’t want to wait and will abandon a Flash based site before they realize the full experience. With the use of iPhones that don’t support Flash, you may wish to avoid using Flash except to display small or embedded elements. There are many ways to use CSS (cascading style sheets) to provide motion on a page that may be preferable to Flash.
Given the interactivity of the web today, you can have so much more than a static site. Adding interactivity, such as comments and product evaluations or ranking as well as social media connections to your site helps people know more about your business, creating a higher feeling of trust.
Use a content management system
A website that is active and updated often may produce better results in search engine rankings. Google favors fresh content and connections from various kinds of rich media (audio or podcasts and video.) If you want the best rankings in search engines, having fresh varied content is primary. So, you’ll need a CMS to manage your data. There are many Open Source platforms that provide CMS functionality. These include Drupal, Joomla and WordPress. Usually one of these solutions is more than adequate for most small businesses. All allow for rich media, interactivity and easy updating.
E-commerce doesn’t equal a whole store
If you sell products as opposed to services, you may want an e-commerce website. Most small business owners don’t want or need a site with all the functionality of Amazon’s robust store, but there are ways to sell your business’s most sought after items. This is a good idea if you operate in a large geographic area. You can save them travel time while maintaining your relationship and get product evaluations too. Selling a limited number of items using Google Checkout or PayPal provides inventory tracking, the capture of customer information and even a way to refund money should you ever need it. Integrating either solution into your website is simple. Both solutions function well for small business websites.
If social media is part of your marketing communications plan, you should link to your profiles, feature your Twitter stream and demonstrate your social media activity on the website. Let your customers find you on Twitter, LinkedIn or your business’s Facebook page. These communication channels allow customers to know your business in an informal way. Truly, we are all busy and customers don’t often have time to linger in the store getting to know you. With social media you can share your personality to support your brand.
Adding chat functionality into your site provides people an immediate way to contact you if you are online when they wish to talk with you. You can also add a Google Voice widget that connects directly with your business phone so that people coming to your site can make a connection easily and for free.
Free is good
If you have expertise in a particular area, you can provide e-books or white papers on topics that will develop credibility in the minds of your customers. You can also put downloadable value added coupons on your site to stimulate a buy now attitude.
Know your goals
Knowing your goals for the website lets your web developer make efficient use of their time and yours, choose the appropriate tool-set to implement your site, while achieving your business objectives.