by Tim Knox
Copyright © 2005
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Last week we talked about how a bad website can do your business more harm than good. That column brought several emails asking what is the key to building an effective business website. I replied with the same answer I always give: building an effective business website is a simple matter of definition.
Before the first graphic is drawn or the first line of code is written, you must define the website's budget, purpose, target audience, design, navigation, and content. And when that's all said and done you must define the marketing that will bring visitors to your site.
It sounds easy, but you'd be amazed at how many really bad business websites there are out there. Yours might even be one of them. If so, listen up. For nearly ten years now my company has been building and rebuilding websites for every kind of business you can imagine: from mom-and-pops to multinationals. We've designed (or redesigned) a couple hundred websites and along the way I have come to the conclusion that most business websites do a pitiful job of working for their owners.
What's that, you didn't know your business website should work you? You think it should just sit on a server somewhere taking up digital space and collecting digital dust?
Wrong. Every website, business or otherwise, must serve a purpose, and that's usually where most websites falls short. They serve no purpose because the website owner never gave much thought to it. It's not the website's fault. A website is inanimate. It is only what you make it. The only life a website has is the one given to it by its designer and owner. If the human element doesn't do a good job of defining the building blocks, the website will serve no purpose and eventually die a digital death.
Building an effective business website isn't brain surgery, thank goodness, since that's how I make a nice percentage of my living. Building an effective, well-designed website that works for its owner, that actually serves a purpose, is all about definition.
Define the Budget
Every website, no matter how large or small, must have a realistic budget, with "realistic" being the key word. I can't tell you how many times I've sat with a potential client as they listed off the eight million cool things they wanted their website to do, only to find out that their budget was just a few hundred dollars. I always feel like saying, "Well you just wasted three hundred dollars of my time, so here's your billï¿½"
Define the Purpose
Every website must have a purpose. Purpose drives everything: the audience, the design, the navigation, the content, and the marketing. I could do an entire column on purpose, but suffice it to say that there are five categories of purpose under which most websites fall: the purpose to inform, to educate, to entertain, to generate leads, to sell, or a combination thereof. If you fail to define the purpose of the website, all else is just wasted effort.
Define the Target Audience
Your target audience refers to that segment of the public that you hope to attract to the site. For example if you sell shoes, your target audience would be anyone with feet. Taking it a step further, if you only sold women's shoes, your target audience would be women (with feet) Why is defining your target audience so important? If you have no idea who your audience is, how can you expect to design a website that will appeal to them? Your target audience could be customers, investors, job seekers, info seekers, etc. Define your target audience, then figure out how to serve them.
Define the Design
Website design theory has changed over the last couple of years, primarily because the search engines now ignore graphic heavy websites and give preference to those that take a minimalistic approach to design. If you look at some of the big boy websites like GE, Oracle, Raytheon, HP, and others you will see that in many cases the only graphic on the homepage is the company's logo. Search engines now give higher preference to websites that offer keyword-rich text over flashy graphics. Don't fight the design trend. You will lose.
Define the Navigation
Bad navigation is the number one reason website visitors abandon a website. Navigation refers to the chain of links the visitor uses to get around your site. If your site has an illogical navigational hierarchy or too few or too many links or is simply impossible to get around, you've got problems. We live in a microwave society. We stand in front of the microwave tapping our foot and glaring at our watch wondering why it takes so damn long for a bag of popcorn to pop. Why can't a three-minute egg be done in thirty seconds? If it takes a visitor more than 3 clicks to get to any page on your site, your navigation needs improvement.
Define the Content
Content refers to the information on your website, be it graphics, text, downloadable items, etc. Since the top search engines no longer use HTML Meta tag data to index websites, it is vital that your website content be text heavy, succinct and well-written to appeal to the search engine spiders.
Define the Build Method
Next, who will build the website for you? Will you do it yourself using one of the point and click website builders or will you hire the kid next door? Will you hire a freelance designer or a professional firm? Budget usually dictates the build method, but be warned, when it comes to website development, you get what you pay for. Sure, the kid next door will throw up a site for you if you buy them a pizza or make your daughter go to the prom with them, but you will end up a with a website that looks like and performs like it was designed by the kid next door.
Define the Marketing
If you build it, will they come? Not on your life, at least not without a good marketing campaign. Your website should become a part of all your marketing efforts, online and off.
Put the website address on your business cards, brochures, letterhead, and all collaterals. Include the address in your ads; print, TV and radio. If you prefer to do online marketing, figure out where your target audience surfs and advertise there.
If marketing is foreign to you, do yourself a favor and call in an expert. Many businesses fail because they simply do not know how to market their products and services effectively. This is also the downfall of most business websites.
Here's to your success,
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