How users engage with a brand’s content and what they expect from that brand have made a business’ website the single most important marketing tool it has. There is no more critical piece of marketing infrastructure than the content your website contains and the experience its users have while engaging with that content. Period.
The fundamental definition of a website has changed dramatically in the eight years I’ve been immersed in this craft.
Not so long ago, businesses were embroiled in a debate over whether or not they actually needed a website, and if they got one, how it would even help. At that time a site was often merely a short welcome page with links to pages about the company, maybe the services or products offered, contact details, and if the brand was really forward-thinking, a blog or news page. Websites were seen as a sort of online brochure, since this was the closest parallel businesses could draw to current marketing techniques. Terms like “header”, “footer”, “page”, and “above the fold” came from this print marketing comparison.
Mobile changed everything. The near-ubiquitous access to internet and almost limitless information has fundamentally changed consumer behaviour forever. Today, 84% of all consumers will research buying decisions online, and through that process consume and engage with 5-10 pieces of information – websites. Your website, if you’re doing it right.
I love small businesses. I love the ingenuity, the grit and determination, and the spirit that goes into running a business, and the joy that comes from seeing it grow and flourish. But I’ve found that most business owners have lost touch with the ultimate purpose of their business’ website and the true potential that lies within it. They aren’t asking the right questions. I’m more than happy to share the questions you should be asking.
1) Why does your business need a website?
The concept of putting static, brochure-like content about what your business is and what it does just simply doesn’t work anymore. Today’s consumer doesn’t find this valuable or engaging since it rarely answers their questions, and they want those answers before they’ll be willing to contact you. They want to have conversations with businesses before deciding to buy from them.
The search engine game has also changed significantly, and Google and the gang no longer rank static sites. Your site needs new content every month, showing search engines that you’re active and providing value for their clients before they’ll offer your name up as a search result. In today’s marketplace information is gold, and your site should be a goldmine. Give them what they want and they’ll keep coming.
2) What should your website project scope include?
Your website should be at the heart of what and who your brand is online. You want to include trust and credibility, building content like team areas with friendly faces and information about the people that make up your business. Case studies, success stories, and client stories are extremely valuable ways to build trust, and are easily created regular content that satisfies the Google gods. A blog is a necessity; not having one actually counts against sites. Highlight areas that tell your product and service stories in a way that connects with users; there’s no such thing as too much information about your product. And finally, consider a resources area where you can answer questions, and provide information in the form of videos, links, or downloads to give customers as much self-service content as possible.
3) Should your business care about social media?
Whether you’re B2B or B2C, social media is a critically important tool for connecting with your audience. Google is no longer the only destination for search; it’s one of many tools users access when researching products and services. Consumers leverage social media to research a brand, gauge its expertise, read reviews, ask questions, and more.
Which channel is most appropriate for your business depends on where your audience is. For example a bakery could create tempting visuals for Instagram, whereas an office cleaning company could leverage Facebook and LinkedIn business pages. A business’ main goal for social media should be on conversation and content promotion, not on self-promotion. By leveraging social media to find and engage with customers and to broadcast the information and answers your site provides, and employing discoverability strategies like hashtags, you win valuable referral traffic. It not only augments your search traffic, but re-enforces and builds the trust and authority algorithms that search engines use to rank your content.
4) How much should it cost?
The cost of a website and attached digital strategy depends on where your business is in its journey. If you’re a brand new micro-business launched out of the trunk of your car, your website is less about branding and promotion and much more about a place to dispense your content. Your limited resources are better spent on a template-driven, CMS-based website (ex. WordPress + a $60 template from themeforest.net), paired with ongoing focused work with an digital strategy professional to build really great content and ensure maximum content value through concrete optimization and social engagement. You should budget $1000-$2000/month if you want to maximize results within the first year.
For a more established business looking to grow online presence and leverage the power of the internet to level up, a custom experience for broader content is needed. A CMS is important to ensure you can easily add regular content, with a custom crafted experience purpose-built for your content, brand and audience to drive search results, with a strong focus on mobile users. You should budget $15-$25K for the website and $2000-$4000 a month to ensure maximum ROI. Once you reach sufficient authority and trust, you’ll want to add AdWords or social ads to the budget as well. You can read more about that in my blog about a website’s “Tipping Point”.
5) How do you plan to utilize the website once it’s launched?
Picture your website as a race car. Like a race car, it’s designed to drive a specific race with specific conditions for a specific audience. A race car doesn’t need two seats or air conditioning, so likewise you need to focus on a site that only does what you need it to in order to deliver the experience your brand demands and the content and your audience is looking for.
And just like a race car, a website needs constant tuneups, maintenance, and ongoing upgrades to stay competitive. Creating new content and leveraging SEO and social media to market that content is a never-ending job. A strategic driver uses different tires for hot, dry tracks and for cold, wet tracks. Likewise, you need digital strategies to stay relevant, while studying your analytics and user behaviour to upgrade the website and evolve with your audience and technology.
Your business’ website is not a commodity or an unnecessary expense. It’s an ongoing strategy that your business will invest in every month to build trust and credibility with your audience, to share and provide the information they’re searching for, and to be the first and best ambassador for your brand. Today’s consumers are significantly more inclined to do business with companies they trust and like. The internet is a race is easy to win, because many of the other racers are bad drivers. Now let’s get driving.