Web Site 101
Creating a web site for your business doesn't have to be an overwhelming task. In fact there are thousands of examples of web sites available with just a few mouse clicks. The problem is finding a web site "mix" that will professionally portray your company without you having to take out a business loan to pay for it.
Be sure to do online market research first. A few years ago, it was a chore to acquire information or brochures on the competition. Today, you can learn a lot about different businesses online. Start by looking at least ten web sites of your competitors or businesses like yours around the country. This will help you to get a feel for the kind of information being presented by others and the overall purpose of the web site.
This exercise is not to see what everyone else is doing and to copy them, but to see what is working well and what is not. It will also allow you to do be different from your competition. You may even want to e-mail the webmaster of the site and ask questions about the site, especially if you find a web site or two that has unique features. When reviewing web sites, look at them critically--look for static, unimaginative, difficult to use or web sites which have long downloads. These are all things you will want to avoid in your web site.
When you find a few sites that have that special quality or combination of features that all seem to work together well, bookmark the site for a later review and make a hard copy printout. Also, make some notes on specifically what it is that makes you really respond well to a web site. You may be surprised to find that it may not always be great graphics, but rather unique functions such as a database, great content or well-organized information.
Primary Web Site Goals
Now that you've done some market research, let's move to the next step: Define the primary goal of your web site. In the rush to establish a presence on the web, it's easy to overlook the obvious--what do you want your web site to do? Is the purpose of your web site to generate leads? Or is the purpose of your web site to tell potential customers simply who you are and what you do? Is the purpose of your web site to distribute information or offer on-line customer service? Or is the purpose of your web site to sell products and services? Or a combination of all of the above?
Write down the goals of your web site. Think of your web site as having one primary goal or function and perhaps two or three secondary goals. If you get caught up in trying to make your web site do too many primary goals, your web site will be all things to all people, and will probably not be very effective.
Use Your Marketing Plan
Whether you have an established business or you're about to launch a brand new business, make sure that your web site is integrated into an overall marketing plan. While there have been some great web site success stories, there have been many disappointed people who made their web site their primary or only marketing vehicle.
Another common mistake made by businesses today is to spend the entire web site budget on creating the web site and limiting the marketing of the web site to search engine listings. This is no different from a new restaurant spending all their startup capital on the furnishings and having no money to let the community know they're in business. It's always a good idea to have a marketing plan that helps you to drive visitors to your web site.
To Sell or Not to Sell . . .
Soft sell, hard sell or no sell? In many ways creating a web site is like creating a brochure about your business. In fact, many business web sites are created to work just like a brochure.
What does a good brochure accomplish? It tells who the company is, what the company does and where they are located. Other brochures actually sell. A web site can be a combination of these. But do not overlook the fact that your web site can do something no brochure can do. It can collect information about what a potential client is interested in. By letting the web site visitor request information (printed brochure, newsletter or other information) you can capture his or her e-mail address, phone number and area of interest and know more about the prospect when calling them.
Besides just listing your company's capabilities on your web site, be sure to profile your successes. Be sure to mention major accounts or names of businesses that a web site visitor might recognize. The fact that you have helped other companies large or small to solve a business problem will make them feel more comfortable with you.
Last, but not least, don't try to do everything at once. Create your web site in stages. First create a general web presence and accomplish the primary goal of your web site. Be sure to phase in additional content or capabilities over several months and be sure not to neglect marketing your web site to reach your target market.
About the Author: Vann Baker is the president of Design-First, a marketing company specializing in corporate identity and collateral development. Vann has been helping small businesses and Fortune 500 companies to create brochures, newsletters, catalogs, websites and more for over 20 years. www.design-first.com