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Why Do You Have A Website

by Ron Walter

It's a given these days that your business is supposed to have a website. Therefore, countless amounts of money, resources and time are spent putting websites up, but too often, it is done without any thought as to what it is the website is supposed to accomplish.

A general rule of thumb for your website, if you are in business, is that it must make your company more competitive and/or more profitable. If it does neither of these things, you should not embrace the technology.

A few years ago, as a football fan I remember some of the Superbowl games not being very interesting at all as one team would be winning very convincingly. It got to the point where people were watching the commercials and ignoring the game. Some of the commercials were highly entertaining and humorous. There was one problem: Many of the 'best' commercials were ineffective, not helping generate much sales or interest in the company. People got so caught up in the humor or the entertainment that they lost sight of what the commercial was about.

Many businesses are having the same problem with their websites. They often spend a lot of money creating visually stunning websites, complete with fancy presentations and effects, music and all of the bells and whistles. When it is all said and done, the website looks great. But then, as time goes by, they wonder whether or not the website really has been worth the money they spent. Unfortunately, too many business owners or managers fail to take the time to determine what it is they want to accomplish with their websites. They just know it has to be cool. Like so many other areas in business management though, failing to have a target generally leads to not hitting any target. For a business, there are really four primary purposes to a website. Entertainment is usually not one of them. And, like the statement above, each business should look at each of these purposes to ask whether they help make the company more profitable or more competitive.

Purpose 1: Sales.

Personally, I don't believe this is the top purpose of a website, but I list it first because it is usually the first thing to come to mind. E-commerce is growing tremendously every day, and people are buying more and more products and services over the Internet. For many businesses, a website is an ideal avenue for sales. It may complement other sales channels, or it may be the primary channel. A well designed E-commerce website can make it easy for customers to purchase what it is you have to offer without all of the overhead related to more traditional sales channels.

Many businesses, however, are not a good match for online sales. In many cases, products and services offered involve a much more complex sales process. The offerings may not be conducive to being purchased online, or, there may not be a real way to deliver through online sales. In many of these cases, the website may be used as a tool for the sales process, offering a place to make payment, etc. Businesses will need to evaluate whether direct online sales are a reasonable goal for their business. If this is the best way to go, then obviously they need to consider how they will attract people to their websites, and design the website around the goal of directing visitors towards a purchase decision.

Purpose 2: Providing Information

Providing information is maybe one of the most forgotten or neglected purposes of a website. To forget this purpose can be a tragic and maybe fatal error for a company website. The fact of the matter is that many of the people who visit a company's website are not visiting for entertainment or looking to view a captivating site, and often they are not visiting with the idea of purchasing anything while they are there. Instead, they are coming to get information. It may be information about your company. It may be information about products and services you offer. It may be about totally unrelated matters and they just happen to stumble onto your site, which can often be a great opportunity to reach new customers.

In many cases, people will visit your site because they are considering a purchase from you. In fact, this is becoming one of the primary methods (if not THE primary method) now for people to evaluate a company, product or service. Many others will be existing customers.

The crucial reason for keeping this in mind is that people visiting your website tend to be very fickle. If they don't find what they're looking for, it often can create a negative impression. In many cases they will click away, often never to return. They will formulate their opinions about your company based on whether or not your website had the information they were seeking, and often will end up going to your competition to find what they could not find at your site.

Evaluate the people who would use your website, and ask what kind of information they need. If you sell products, is there information about how to use the products that would be useful? If you are having special sales, why aren't they listed on your web page? If a prospective client is visiting your site, what kind of information can you provide to them that demonstrates your company is competent in providing whatever it is they are looking for, or what information can you offer that will help them make a well-informed decision.

Purpose 3: Positioning

Because of the very fact that people do visit websites to try to get the information they need to make a purchasing decision, it goes to follow that the website is a perfect opportunity to position your company as the one that can provide just what they are looking for. In marketing today, there is so much emphasis on developing your brand, on deciding just what image of your company it is you want to portray to clients and prospects. The website is a perfect means to do this.

This is probably the reason that glitz and entertainment have become such a popular thing on websites. Remember those commercials in the big football game though as a reminder that while you can entertain and look good, if it doesn't help say something about your company, it doesn't really do much good.

The Internet is the great equalizer today. A well designed website can make a small company look larger and more professional than their larger competitors. Thoughtful layout and text can give the impression in seconds that your company is competent and qualified to do what it is that your visitors are looking for you to do.

What is it that sets your company apart from the competition? Why would someone choose you over anyone else? Identify those things and take the opportunity to emphasize them on your website. If you are trying to portray your staff's expertise, provide articles and information from your staff that demonstrates that fact.

For this reason, appearance is very important for a website. But while we often focus on the overall picture such as having a nice layout or great special effects, the small things are often neglected.

Is the font readable? Is it easy to find just what it is you are looking for? Is there a common sense layout to the site and its pages? Do the colors go together well? Do the links work? Is the language used in the copy on the site professional and understandable? Ignoring the small things can do more to position your company as unprofessional or incompetent as anything you can do to try to say otherwise.

Purpose 4: Advertising.

The world wide web is the greatest source of free advertising today. This is because of one very simple thing on the Internet: Search. Unlike the yellow pages, which place ads in order based on who paid the most, the main search results on Google, Yahoo, MSN and others are free. Because results are not based on who paid the most, people tend to trust those results often more than many other forms of advertising. While there are opportunities to pay for having your site listed on search results, for the most part people go right away to the actual search results.

As mentioned in the section on positioning, the Internet is the great equalizer. The smallest of companies can put up a website, if they do the right things, that ends up showing up ahead of the websites of massive corporations. By structuring their websites properly and by making sure the word is spread throughout the Internet about their site (through links and other items) it is possible to have your website be the first choice people find when they are looking for exactly what it is your business provides.

A higher percentage of people are searching the Internet today than ever before for everything including local businesses. Because of this, it is possible to use your website to be found in ways that other forms of advertising could never accomplish.


If you are one of those people wondering why your website doesn't seem to be making any money for you, or if you are considering starting a website, take the time and try to identify which of the above purposes works best for your site. It may be a combination of some or all of them. Once you understand what it is you want to accomplish, then you can start taking the steps towards making sure your website is one that will help your organization be more profitable and more competitive.

About The Author: Ron Walter works with Barnabas Communications, a website development company in Lincoln, Nebraska. With several years in sales and marketing in the telecommunications industry, he works now with businesses to help them develop their web presence and improve their overall communications. Barnabas Communications specializes in helping small businesses develop affordable, professional, content oriented websites. Learn more about Barnabas Communications at http://www.Lincoln-Websites.com

Tuesday, Apr 3rd, 2007