What type of website should a small business have?
What should a small business website look like?
What content should a small business website have?
The above are questions that many small businesses will be asking themselves when it comes to developing their own websites. They know they need to be on the web, they know that there is potential value to their business in being on the web, but their not quite sure how or what apart from the need for a website….
This article is aimed at helping small businesses use the web effectively and to get their first website up and running and working for them (or to redevelop an existing site).
We will use a series of steps which can help any small business plan its website and help to create that business an effective website.
Step 1: Define the purpose of the website
Believe it or not, defining the purpose of the website is something that is often overlooked by many small businesses when it comes to planning their website. Primarily this is because most small businesses think they know what they want, but because they haven’t defined it, they often miss the mark.
Simply put, only by defining a purpose of your website can you ever judge whether your website has been successful or not, or what you need to do to make it successful!
For example, you may want your website to deliver any (or all) of the following:
* sell your products or services on-line (an on-line shop)
* promote your business (advertising)
* support your business (many customers expect you to have a website)
* provide information to potential and existing customers (brochure site)
* provide support to existing customers (technical information, questions and answers etc.)
Once you have chosen what you want your website to deliver, you can then start to plan it much more effectively in terms of what you need to include on that website and how it should look and feel.
Step 2: What do you think you need to communicate to achieve your objective (purpose)
Having defined the purpose of the website, we now need to structure some relevant content to “sell” the business.
From a business owners point of view, this could include:
* What we do, what we sell – page(s) explaining the product or service that the business offers
* Our pricing for what we do and what we sell
* Where we are – if it’s a bricks and mortar business, then we need to tell customers where they can find us
* Our unique selling point (USP) – in other words what does the business do better than anyone else, or more simply – why you should do business with us (this could be one factor – “we are the cheapest”, or it could be a combination of factors – “we offer the best service in your community at the best prices”
A key thing to think about here is that the internet is driven by “content”. Google and other search engines index pages according to what they “think” there about based upon the pages content. Therefore, it is critical to get appropriate content on your website, explaining what you do, where you are etc.
Many pundits use the phrase “content is king”, so when your planning your website, think how you can get appropriate and relevant content onto your website that will both be interesting to your customers and search engine friendly. Many business for example have “how to” guides on their websites, the on-line equivalent of a friendly authoritative shop keeper.
Step 3: Get into your customers shoes…
OK, so we have decided what we want our website to achieve and we have decided on some appropriate content that will “sell”. Now for the harder part.
Some businesses will find this intuitive, others won’t. We need to get into the customers shoes and find out what they want to know, what they need to know about the business in order for them to interact with it and (depending on the objectives of the website) become a customer, be that make an order on-line, pick up the phone, or pop into your office / shop.
Key things to consider here are:
* trust – how does a potential customer know that they can trust you?
* professionalism – how does a potential customer know you have expertise in your particular market or that your a professional business
* image – your website will be a shop window to your business – is it dressed to impress?
Typical ways of trying to overcome the above barriers include:
About us pages – you will find many sites with “about us” pages on them, it is a good way of communicating that your business has some substance to it / has been in business / has happy customers and staff. This helps to give your website visitor confidence in your business.
Testimonials – another excellent way of building trust and demonstrating professionalism. If visitors are unsure about your offering, one of the best ways of reassuring them is to show them what others have said and done.
Case studies – a great way of demonstrating expertise and professionalism, this builds on a testimonial in terms of trust building, but depending on the way it’s structured can significantly help in demonstrating your professionalism.
Terms and conditions – no need to make this high profile, but having T&C’s, which include a refund policy for example, can greatly help in the building confidence stakes.
Contact details – whether your business is based at home or anywhere else, having full contact details – address and telephone number – is important. The majority of visitors will probably not contact you (depending on the objectives of your business), but its reassuring for them is they can.
Presentation counts – having a well designed website is critical. Whilst “content is king”, unless it’s highly relevant and appropriate content, visitors won’t read it unless it presented well. Remember, for many industries, presentation will matter more.
Step 4 – review and simplify
After following the above steps, you probably have a huge list of things you want on your website. However, very few people will want to read a huge list of things on a website (unless they are really really interested).
Therefore, you need to review, simplify and review.
For your home page, you want to focus on one thing alone – your proposition to the customer. By all means have other things, but keep the focus simple and concise. Engage your customers in increments, so instead of making a do or die pitch for their business in two paragraphs, try to get them to click onto another page for more detail. In this way you can then focus the page the customer clicks on to that specific service, product or feature without overwhelming them.
You navigation structure – the way your pages link to each other needs to be simple too. There is a reason why the majority of website navigation bars are at the top of the page underneath the header – that’s because people expect them to be there and it’s now intuitive.
Your presentation – don’t try to crowd too many things together. Keep it simple clean and concise. Your customers will thank you for it. Too many times you see web-pages crammed with everything under the sun, from animated graphics to news wires.
Step 5 – peer review
Your an expert at your business, unless that business is communications or web design, don’t expect to be an expert in that too. Ask for peoples advice, your peers, your colleagues, your family. You might not agree with them, but they can provide a different and important viewpoint.
Above all, check out what your competitors are doing, whether there local or not. See which ones you would do business with them (from just looking at their websites) and then ask yourself why!
Hopefully this article has given you some food for thought if nothing else. It’s not designed to be a how to guide, or a technical guide, but more a guide on structuring and focusing your content and overcoming some of the barriers you as a business will face in the on-line world.
Further, always keep a foot (or two) in reality, if your business isn’t viable in the real world, don’t necessarily expect it to be viable in the on-line world. Likewise, having a website doesn’t guarantee thousands of visitors, you will be shocked at how few visitors the average business website gets!
And (nearly finished), when you have published your website (whether you have done it yourself (bad) or used an agency (good), remember to keep track of how it’s doing. Web statistics are critical here. See what works, what doesn’t and review regularly.