Because we develop Web sites, not surprisingly, the first words we often hear from people are: “I need a Web site.” My response is often “why?” The answer to that question can be quite telling. I can almost guarantee that you won’t end up with a good Web site if you don’t even know why you need one in the first place.
People waste a tremendous amount of time and money on pointless Web sites. The reality is that a Web site should be treated like any other business or marketing expenditure. As with any other advertising medium, you should set goals for your Web site. For example, suppose you sell dog treats. You spend a bunch of money printing a brochure that explains why your dog treats are healthier or tastier than the ones at the grocery store. The goal for that brochure is to give people information on all the fabulous benefits of your special dog treats.
In much the same way, your Web site might explain why your dog treats are great. In fact, it might be nothing more than an “online brochure” with a lot of the same information as the paper one. That’s a reasonable goal for a new site. Since lots of people surfing around online have dogs, later on you may decide that you want to expand your horizons outside of your local area and use the Internet to sell your marvelous dog treats online. In that case, you might need to learn more about ecommerce, merchant accounts, and shopping carts.
As a general rule, people go online to find information, to be entertained, or to buy stuff. If your site lets people do one or more of these things, it has a reason to exist. However, unlike your paper brochure, a Web site has only about four seconds to get your message across (according to a recent report from Akamai and Jupiter Research). If you have no clue what information people are supposed to glean from your Web site, neither will your site visitors. Four seconds later, they’re gone and they probably won’t return.
Your site goals have a lot to do with your business. Many businesses put up Web sites largely for people who are outside of the community and looking for products or services. The most likely visitors to these sites would be tourists and people moving or new to the community, so the information on the site could include frequently asked question (FAQ) pages, pricing, driving directions, and contact information
When setting Web site goals, it makes sense to think about the visitors you are hoping to attract to the site. Who will be reading it? What do they need to know? Why would they visit your site in the first place? What terms would they type into a search engine to find your site? If you don’t have good answers for these questions, you should reconsider the question I asked at the beginning of this article: “Why do you need a Web site?”
Not every business needs a Web site. Many service businesses that rely exclusively on local customers and word of mouth may not. You know your business better than anyone, so before you pick up the phone to call a Web designer, think about what you want your Web site to do for you and why.