Why do I want a web site, anyway? you say. What on earth would I put on it?

Of course, if you own your own business, you have to have one. I’ve heard people say that some businesses don’t need a web site, and I just flat-out, arms crossed, clicking-my-tongue and shaking-my-head disagree. Every business needs some kind of web presence. Hands-down, or, as my dad would say, “no bout a doubt it,” everyone is looking for you on Google. I have a recurring type of post I do on Jebraweb’s Facebook page called “Things We Looked for on a Web Site and Could Not Find,” and probably the top thing I could put on that list is “the actual web site.”

Here’s an example: my dentist’s office is a two-person practice in a well-trafficked part of town. I love my dentist, and the practice, but I always forget their phone number. Out and about with my phone, I’ve run into several situations when I’ve needed to cancel or change an appointment, and their phone number is impossible to find. They have no web site. Nothing. Nada. The name of the practice is very common and sounds like several other local practices. After Googling frantically from my car, I always eventually find the number on Yelp, which should never be the only way to find a business online. I’d have my needs met with just a simple, cleanly designed single-page site that includes basic contact information.

That brings me to the meat of this week’s post: what is the content that should be on your site? Every business will have a unique set of needs, and this is a huge question that each business needs to ask for itself — but there are a few universal questions that might help you get going in the right direction.

Who is looking at your web site?

This is a slightly different question than “who are your customers?” Hopefully there’s a lot of overlap in these groups, but not necessarily. Let’s take the example of a local shoe store. The people looking at the web site will likely be:

  • People (like me!) who are searching for your address and/or phone number
  • People who want to market to you — your local business association or Chamber of Commerce; wholesale shoe companies; paper bag salespeople
  • People who already buy from you who are looking for sales and promotions

This is a totally different group of people than the ones who are looking at the web site for a local newspaper, an informational site on a public health issue, or a site that sells iPhone cases online. Knowing who is there and why they’ve come is really important.

How can your web site lighten your work load in other areas? 

Obviously, depending on the business, there are a lot of ways to answer this.

  • Do people call you all the time and ask you for your hours? Maybe listing your hours on your site will eliminate a portion of those calls.
  • Do you have weekly sales that you currently only communicate on fliers or in email? Maybe your site could drum up more traffic for your sales, and an online calendar could let you schedule them in advance.
  • Are you a service provider who is constantly trying to describe your services to potential clients? Maybe your web site could offer an in-depth description of each service.

audienceWhat do you wish everyone knew about you? 

“Oh wow, I didn’t know you sold yoga mats!” If you can’t figure out why no one buys the stuff you just know they’d love, or why no one is hiring you to do the really useful service you can provide, your web site is a way to highlight those offerings.

An aside: there is a fine line between sharing interesting tidbits about your business (“we were started by my grandfather in 1920 and have been in this location for the last 50 years!”) and telling everyone more than they will ever find truly useful or interesting (“Our office is proud to brew coffee for all our employees twice every day.”) Be careful to consider if what you want your web site users to know is something they can use to make the decision to give you their business.

What do you have to GIVE?

This is a platform, ladies and gentleman. If you play it right, your web site will attract an honest-to-goodness, real live AUDIENCE. They need information. You have information. What could you share on your web site that could help them? Helping people is always good for business — just read some Yelp reviews if you don’t believe me. Ideas of things to share:

  • Your glorious self! Your voice, as demonstrated in regular blog posts, can really personalize your business. After all, don’t you feel like you know me a little better now that you’ve read a dozen or so of my blog posts? (You have read them, right?) Your insights on the issues that impact your industry are what differentiates you from someone else who does what you do or sells what you sell. Like the person in the photo to the right, it’s important to offer your own intepretation.
  • Interesting links to other web sites. You don’t want to send them away from your content too much, but including a page with links to your favorite resources can’t hurt. This could be include links to the map of parking lots near your office, articles about your area of expertise, reviews of your company on other sites, or checklists that extend what they can learn from you.
  • Important knowledge you’ve gathered.
    • Are you a consultant with a great white paper you’ve written on a specific topic? Let people download it from your site, maybe in exchange for their email address so you can get in touch later.
    • Are you a service provider with some tips? Handymen can give a list of quick tricks to leveling a hanging piece of art, changing a lightbulb that seems out of reach, or troubleshooting a leaky faucet. The same could go for any service — if you help them with the low-hanging fruit for free online, they will be more likely to come to you for the bigger jobs.
  • Free or discounted stuff. This isn’t for everyone, but retailers in particular may find that offering online, printable coupons is just the thing to get a first-time customer in the store. You can create your own simple printable page and change the details whenever you’d like to do a giveaway or deal.

There’s a lot of content you can put on your site — or choose not to put on your site, depending on the answers to those questions above. This content, more than anything else — design, cool technology gimicks, what-have-you — is your real stuff. Your web consultant should be able to walk you through it and help understand what you can use best. In my next post, I’ll talk about what functionality you might like to think about before you start a web project, beyond just words and images on the screen. By the way, if you can think of something you’d like me to cover here, feel free to give me a shout-out on Facebook or Twitter. I’d love to hear what you’re interested in learning!