Build a Web Presence, Not a Website

webconstructionI spoke with a friend looking to put her business on the web. She stated that she only wanted two or three pages.  I asked, “What do you want from your website?”.  The response was a moment of silence– followed by a not so clear response.

This happens to many small business owners looking to build their first website. Often, the push to get on the web, overshadows the more important need for effective planning.

The Internet: Just Another Business Tool

Websites are business tools.  With all the buzz concerning the web, there exists a false expectation of the internet’s return on investement and websites. Entrepreneurs are better served viewing their website as a very useful and flexible business tool— one that can benefit the business in numerous ways.

A business owner should treat a website in the same manner as their phone, their computer or their word processing software.  Each has a purpose, you thought about your desired benefits before investing.  You could clearly elucidate the reasons you need a phone— to contact customers quickly, to be accessible to customers, to conduct business remotely. 

Make Your Website Work

You should take the same approach to your website.  Think about specific objectives of owning a website, just as you would when choosing a physical location for your business. The new office location would need to posses enough offices, electrical outlets, network wiring and room to expand as you grow. In fact don’t call it a website, but a web presence. Using the term forces you to think dynamically– your presence means you’re participating in the internet medium.

Taking this approach inherently means you’re investing in the long term benefits of the internet. You can start with one or two pages, but you also have built the foundation as your needs expand. Putting together an initial web presence can be difficult, simply because the internet allows you to do so much. You can minimize the pain of building a web presence by following “The 6 P’s”— Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

Useful Site Building Tips

I’ve provided some tips that others have used to help develop an initial web presence.  Obviously this doesn’t represent the end-all list, but hopefully it provides a good foundation upon which to build:

Define a Successful Site Visit

  • From your businesses’ perpective, define what a successful visit means to you.
  • Service based companies may desire qualified leads, maybe a request for quote.
  • Product based companies may be seeking a sale. For big ticket items you might want an appointment request.

Your Site is a Funnel

  • Site visitors start at the home page, decide what end point in their visit benefits you the most.
  • Prioritize information from the most essential to buying details. Make sure your essential information makes the first version of your site.
  • Identify the most important buying objections and questions. You can start to answer these in your secondary site pages.

Identify Your Visitor

  • Define the demographics of your target visitor. It plays an important part in how you design your site.
  • Estimate the knowledge level of the visitor concerning your product or service.  That helps determine what types of content you need to include in your site.
  • Understand how visitors in different roles benefit from your product or service.

Hire a Web Site Designer, Not a Graphic Artist

  • Find a designer that understands more than just web graphics.
  • A Flash developer is different from a web designer.  Flash developers can build web sites, but there exist some drawbacks to this. *see my post regarding search engine web crawlers
  • Make sure your site designer is committed to building your web presence over the long term.

Think Long Term

  • Determine how often  you believe the site will need to be updated.
  • Develop a schedule for writing new site content. This will help when talking about maintenance agreements with your site designer.
  • Plan a schedule for site features you don’t need now, but expect to incude as time goes on.

Additional Resources

Website Magazine
Very comprehensive advice from a business perpective on web design.

Web Design Library
Lots of general advice, with a lean to the more technical side.

Web Design From Scratch
Very plain advice, focused on results oriented web design. 

Internet Retailer
Practical advice for ecommerce based web design.

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