What is the Purpose of Your Website?
by Kevin Hofer
Despite the fact that it’s easier today than ever for businesses to have a website, nearly 46% of small businesses still do NOT have one for their business (Source).
We believe that your business website matters more today than ever. But just having a website is not enough.
Just having a website is not enough
It’s a situation we’ve heard about quite often in this space. Heck, it’s even happened in our business. A client asks you to build them a new, cool website … and you do it. Everyone seems happy at the end of the project, and the new website is launched.
Fast forward 12 months, and your contact relays a conversation to you that they just had with their boss.
Boss: “How are things going with the website?”
Contact: “Pretty well, I think.”
Boss: “Can you quantify that for me?”
Contact: “ … ? "
You work with your contact to pull together some reports that show how much traffic the site has generated over the last year. But, ultimately, your contact is not able to articulate - in a meaningful way, anyway - the value that the site has delivered.
It’s no longer enough to just HAVE a website. It’s not even enough to have a COOL website. If you want to set your next web project up for success, you have to get serious about why your website exists in the first place.
Your Hardest Working Employee?
When discussing websites - or when agencies are trying to sell you one - you’ll often hear people refer to a site as your "hardest working employee". After all, the website never takes a day off, and is on the job 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
If we build on that analogy, would you ever just hire an individual off the street without first knowing, or planning, what work they will do for you? Of course not. The first thing you do before hiring a new employee - after identifying the need - is draft a job description.
That same approach should be applied when thinking about your website. A job description clearly articulates specific job duties, responsibilities, and how the new hire will contribute value to the business. Can you do the same for your website? What functions will your website perform? How is the site going to help your business? The more clarity you have around this, the more successful your website project will be.
It’s not about you
What most people get wrong when thinking about their website is making it all about them, or their company. A lot of companies approach this from a very self-centered standpoint. What they are selling, or offering, and why it’s better than their competitors. However, your website really isn’t about you. It’s about your customers, or your prospective customers, and their needs.
Over the last few years, website visitor behavior has changed dramatically. Attention spans are getting shorter, not longer. Combine this with advances in search technology and the consumer is more in control over their decision journey than ever before.
It honestly doesn’t matter what you want to say to your website visitors. Put yourself in your customer’s, or your prospect’s, shoes. Why should they visit your site? How can you help them accomplish what they want to achieve when they visit? Understanding your target customer will help shape your website strategy.
Your strategic optionsCombining your knowledge of your business, with an understanding of what drives the behavior of your target customers, you can narrow in on a specific website strategy. There are a number of strategic options available to you, this is how we describe some of the most common:
- Sell things - the classic e-commerce play, your business sells directly to consumers. You can use your website to enable the purchase process allowing customers to buy directly from you online.
- Entertain / Inform - the primary goal of this type of site is to disseminate information, or content, that is interesting to the target visitor.
- Generate leads - you may not sell product directly to consumers, but your website can act as the conduit to get a prospect to call you, or a distributor/dealer. Most common in the business to business environment, these sites might showcase product catalogs, as well as ways to contact the appropriate entity to express interest.
- Establish credibility / authority - a variant, or blend, of the entertainment and lead-generation strategies, the goal of this site is to establish credibility and trust with your target audience. This is most commonly done by publishing content that exhibits thought leadership, or authority in the space. However, if you are a driver, or team, seeking sponsorship, your website can be an avenue for you to build credibility about your racing program.
- Customer support - the primary goal of this type of site is to support customers during the buying process, or more commonly, after a purchase has been made. The site would primarily be comprised of text-based knowledge sharing posts and/or video tutorials, as well as tools that allow customers to interact with company support staffers.
This might seem obvious, but it is crucial that your website strategy is not developed in a vacuum. Your website, and it’s purpose, must be a reflection of your overall business strategy and internal capabilities.
What good is it to sell a lot of product online if you don’t have sufficient fulfillment infrastructure on the back-end? If your site generates a lot of leads, and you don’t have the level of marketing and sales support to deal with those leads, your efforts will be wasted.
Your strategic direction will also dictate what features and content should be made available. It is critical to think about this up-front and be honest about the company’s ability to deliver. If your goal is to create a website that establishes your business as a thought leader in your industry, you will likely want to publish blog content on a regular basis. This is, after all, the tried and true way to establish authority online. However, if you do not have the resources available to produce this content, you won’t have much luck building up that credibility.
When defining the purpose of the site, you should also document measurable goals to ensure that you are on the right track. As Peter Drucker has famously said, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”. Meaning, it’s impossible to know whether or not you are successful unless success is defined and tracked.
Imagine how different the conversation will go in 12 months when your contact’s boss once again asks “how’s the website doing”? Armed with metrics driven out of an agreed-upon strategy, they will be able to answer that question definitively … for better or for worse.