[This post is part of the ongoing Better Websites Series.]
Let me ask you something. Why does your company have a website? Is it because you want an online presence, or because your competitors have one? Even worse, is it because some committee thinks you need one?
While I certainly hope it isn’t to please the committee, these things do happen. The three reasons listed above are really some of the most likely reasons that businesses enter online marketing. And really, it isn’t their fault. Back in the mid 90s when everyone was jumping online, those were the reasons to do it.
But, they won’t cut it anymore.
A site launched with these goals is destined to suffer the Internet’s equivalent of the black plague – low traffic. And, we all know that low traffic always leads to low return on investment.
When most of us think of a website, we usually think of something like a brochure. Full color, maybe a bit of gloss, and a lot of information about a particular product or brand. We tend think of websites as “information portals” and as a great place for our staff directory, but they can be so much more than that.
We fail to realize is that while the Internet is a good medium for delivering information, it is actually even better at communication. In some way, it is almost better to think of the Internet as the new telephone system rather than the new brochure.
Change. Seek. Find.
One of the main characteristics of a brochure is that it rarely changes. We finalize the copy, select the prefect images, and print a few thousand at a time. Brochures sit in a box, and never really change. This is how websites use to be built too, but in the late 90s a little company called Google came along and changed all of that.
Rather than requiring website owners to submit their site to a search engine directory, the Google robots started coming to them. Did you know that during every minute of the day there is a Google robot searching all of the worlds websites?
Google is constantly re-indexing websites and looking for new, and relevant, information. If your website is just as dusty as your brochure, what incentive are you giving the Google bot to come back? The more you change the content of your site, the more likely Google is to come again, and the more likely your customers are to find you online.
You see, brochures don’t change. Websites do, and change is what it is all about.
It really is time that we start to understand the communication side of online. Facebook now has over 750 million (yes, with a M) users. The number of social networks out there is conservatively estimated at over 4,000! It may be obvious, but the world has changed, and so has communication!
With the brochure, and with our advertising, businesses have gotten use to the idea of pushing messages to their customers. They develop the message and alert their customers with push advertising and promotion. But, it doesn’t work that way anymore. It is no longer ok to push your message on the customer, it is all about the conversation.
As business owners, and website managers, our job is to figure out how to make our website a part of this conversation. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and even YouTube are a part of that conversation, but your website is still where you bring home the bacon.
Websites that learn to have that conversation are the ones that will win in this new online world. But, that process doesn’t come easy. It takes a total paradigm shift that we all need to be prepared for, and it all starts with a few key questions:
- Who is our audience?
- What do they want/need?
- What problems can we help them with?
- How can the website solve their problems?
- How can the website facilitate conversation with customers?
Most of the time, when I sit down to the first meeting on a new website, the conversation starts with an entirely different set of questions. They tend to go something like this:
- What do we want our website to say?
- What content do we already have that could go online?
- Who will be in charge of updating our site?
- What other websites do we like?
- What are our competitors doing online.
Do you see the difference between then two sets of questions? The first looks outward – focused on the customer and satisfying what they need. The second looks inward – focused on satisfying internal wants and wishes.
Be honest now, which set of questions is more common around your board room?
Customer Driven Websites
Here is what we all need to realize – it doesn’t matter what you think. You need to build the website that your customers love to use, not you. The mysterious conversation that you hear about starts here – from the customers eyes, because that is what we are really selling online.
I will say it again. The world has changed, and so has communication. It is time for your “online presence” to become an online meeting place, where your brand and your customers can come together and have that conversation that everyone has been looking for.