The answer to this is actually driven by your customers. For most small businesses, customers will initially discover your business through word of mouth or some form of direct contact- the digital age has not changed that. For these customers, your website is actually a credibility statement which becomes more and more important as the age of your customer gets younger. If you are a real business, you will have a business card. If you are a real business, you will have a website. Simple as that.
A second, and probably more important function is as a source of information for your business. On one hand, this information could be the various ways that people can contact you – phone, email, physical address, etc. What times are you available and open for business, particularly if you have a shop front or office. On the other hand, the information could be about your products and services. Your potential new customer will remember approximately what you can do for them. One job of your website is to provide clarity to their memories so that they understand clearly why you are the best option for them. This can also work in the reverse, and weed out customers you don’t want. For example, if it is clear on your website that you deal with commercial customers, you are less likely to get calls from domestic customers.
Another big part of your credibility statement is showing that you are capable of delivering. How you do this will vary from business to business, but can include things such as:
- customer testimonials
- company history
- case studies
- bio’s or CV’s of key personnel
- customer lists
It depends on the nature of the business as to what makes a good capability statement. For example, a services based business may well use case studies, where a goods based business may well use customer testimonials.
Knowing what content to put on to your website is important. Knowing how to express that content is even more important. In this area, it is key to understand that a website is a business tool, but it is a tool used by customers. Being a business tool means it is not there for entertainment. It is important to get your customer’s attention, and you may use some fancy bells and whistles to do that, but bells and whistles are a means to an end. This needs stating, as there is a lot of emphasis by a lot of web design/development companies on the amount of traffic that will come to a web site. Traffic is good – if no-one see your website you have wasted your time and money. However if all they do is visit your website and never do any business with you, then you have also wasted your time and money. For this reason, you must have a clear objective for each page on your website, and you need to make this objective clear to your customer and easy to do. As an example, one web page we developed was to capture visitors from search engines and direct them to the “Contact Us” page. There was a big button on the page to do this, but when we added the simple caption “Click here to contact us” to the button, the number of people who went through to that page more than doubled.
While it is important to let customers know what you want them to do, it is vital that the page is written from a customer’s perspective. For some reason, small business people who do this all day long when in front of a customer, seem to forget this when writing the content for their web pages. Although they are two sides of the same coin, it is not about what your business can do so much as what problem is solved or benefit goes to the customer. For example, it is not how many machines of a particular type you have. It is about machines that deliver quality/speed/reliability/… to the customer.
The starting point in this is clearly understanding what it is that brings a customer to your business. Everything else is then framed around this reason. If you do not make this clear on your website, then you will get a lot of traffic, but not necessarily any business out of that traffic.
It should be clear by now that some thought needs to go into the website. It is very tempting to jump straight in to designing the first page. Resist the temptation. Get a plan together first. Identify your customers – what they are like and what their needs are – and plan your website around that. This is not new, and you have probably done something like this hundreds if not thousands of time already. In the end, it will also make the design and development process for your website both faster and more effective.
It doesn’t need to be a big website. It doesn’t need to be flashy with a lot of bells and whistles. It doesn’t need to be up with the latest trends. It does need to be what your customer is looking for, and that will then determine how big, how many bells and whistles, and how trendy it needs to be.