Your Company on the Internet — Effectively

A website can improve your corporate image and provide useful services to existing and potential customers. Just about anyone can design a website with commercially available software. However, many sites fall short of their intended purpose. Sites can appear competent but ultimately fail to provide any return on investment. The content, delivery, style, target audience and return on investment are all important design considerations. The subtleties of an effective website are often overlooked by many businesses seeking a presence on the web.

Understanding How Websites Are Used

The majority of visitors to your website are neither your customers nor your competitors. The typical visitor to your website are your "potential customers." The types of responses that your site generates from these visitors will determine the success or failure of your website.

The Internet is above all, a reference tool. People who use the Internet are in search of information. They are not interested in trivia, corporate self-promotion or cutting-edge animated graphics. They are looking for something. They are looking at your website to see if it has what they want. Having what they want will determine if your company has the capabilities or products to meet their needs. If they find what they want, you have helped retain a current or attract a new customer.

It is a mistake to forget that people who use the Internet are impatient. New visitors to a website average less than four seconds to determine if your site can provide what they want and leave if their impression is negative. They want answers immediately and they do not want to work to get those answers. This means that unless your website is blatantly clear of its content, the visitor will leave, never to return, even if the website had what they wanted! Some of those visitors could have been new customers. Therefore, it only makes sense that your website must focus on the needs of your potential and current customers. Websites that provide value reflects positively on your business. It shows that you understand your customers.

Expanding Beyond Your Website on the Internet

Depending upon the level effort your business is willing to commit, a variety of methods exist but all require effort above expense. Social media can be an excellent tool if it is updated and maintained on a regular basis. It's a useful tool to convey informally short commentary regarding your business such as promotions, product trivia, and related industry news. For a more detailed colloquy, blog pages can be very effective. Email newsletters, for those who request them, can be very effective in retaining current customers but only if the content is of real value to the subscriber. All of the above are free or have free versions that many small business, organizations and clubs use very effectively. However, all require a commitment of effort by the business since they would be writing the content.

Business Directories — There are countless general business directories on the Internet. Some obtain initial listings from public record such as corporation filings with the state your business resides. Others require registration. If your business listed, it only has basic information and is not checked for currency. You are responsible for updates. Some allow basic changes for free such as a street address or phone number. Many offer advanced listings for a fee. Only a small number can credibly offer tangible value for your business and is usually free for basic listings. Which, if any, that can be of value for your business or organization depends upon your situation.

Avoiding Common Mistakes

Being on the Internet means that if you want to convey a positive image, any and all activity and presence on the Internet must be top quality; 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It requires everyone's attention to the smallest details. An business must be willing to invest its time and effort to prevent them from ever occurring.

On the web, first impressions are important... but not as much as the last.

The Website — Web users, your customers, are looking for information that is clear, concise and relevant. They will not find your website by randomly typing in addresses. They will find it by searching for subject matter that you hope will be on your website. Once the potential customer arrives at your website, they hope to find answers to their search. If it takes too much time or effort to find the right information they may give up and leave. Then, they will be left with the "last impression" that your website being that is not customer focused. The additional liability is that they may attach the same impression about your company.

Website Originated and Regular Email — Having contact information listed on your website is important - how quickly and accurately the responses are done are even more so. Corporate policy should be developed that outlines how email inquiries are handled and to what level of content they contain. Web users expect replies to email messages within a short period. They make decisions based on the content of those replies - their decision could be one that decides if your company is to be considered for their needs. The reply that is delivered from a website based inquiry can determine your company's consideration for future work or sale of a product. A late or non-responsive reply will be the "last impression" of your company — they don't care and they are not professional.

Social Media — There are only two major rules. One is to keep the content fresh by adding frequently. The other is that the commentary must be limited to the business and anything unrelated should be immediately deleted. Business owned social media outlets should never be used as a platform for social, religious or political commentary unrelated to the business. Such commentary tends to shift attention away from a business's products and services to the commentary itself in judging the credibility of the business. If a visitor doesn't agree with the commentary, you lost a customer. If your have a personal presence and feel compelled to post such commentary, be sure to limit who may read it to select friends and never be viewable by anyone else. For a small business, your personal name could be how they find you on social media which could have them find you by your personal page and not your business's. Additionally, an increasing number of people and businesses are using social media to get capability and integrity indicators of potential vendors by checking the personal pages of key people. Even on a personal page, improper content could easily be a cause of lost business. Social media can be an effective tool for engaging with your business on a more personal level than other forms online. It is also the easiest tool to alienate your current and potential customers with improper or controversial content.

Email Newsletters — Newsletters can be an excellent marketing tool in promoting your business or organization. Not only do they bring the latest news to subscribers but, they keep the business fresh in their memory. Like social media unrelated commentary must never be included. Newsletter content should be focused on what the recipient may find of value and never one of self promotion and praise. Other than customers that opted to subscribe, the only other subscribers should be those who specifically requested it. Email sent to those who didn't request it can have your business labeled as a spammer and have all email blocked by the major Internet providers.

Content

The three most important things about a website are "content, content and content!"

The same holds true for social media, blogs and email newsletters. Cutting edge graphics and animations mean nothing without meaningful content. Content must be relevant to visitors' interests. The amount and depth of content reflects on your company's image. Content must be current and correct to be of any value. This is responsibility of the company and not the website developer. However, any good developer can provide a significant amount of assistance in developing your content. Only you know what your customers want. You know their frequently asked questions. You know their concerns. By creating content that reflects this, you have a website that visitors will find utility in and that provides a positive image of your company. It gives your customers a reason to visit your website, blog, social media or subscribe to your newsletter.

Too many websites allow content to become obsolete or do not check for correctness. A webmaster can only check for technical problems, it is the company that must continuously check content and ensure that it is current and correct. A well-known company went six months with having an incorrect telephone number listed on their website. The resulting of lost business and poor customer satisfaction should be reason enough to conduct frequent audits of website content.

Your First Website

Anyone can do website design. Only a very few can do it effectively.

There are staggering number of do-it-yourself website building options. Regardless of the visual appearance that might be created, the actual typical performance realized is significantly less than one that is professionally created. This is because good website design is much more than a visual appearance. It requires knowledge about:

  • designing and optimizing pages for search engines,
  • browser interoperability,
  • website organizational strategies,
  • integration of website features such as blog pages, newsletter registration, contact forms, map directions, etc.

The above is in addition to the requirement of formatting website content to be accurate, clear and of value to the visitor.

The available number of website design companies offer an overwhelming field from which to choose. When contracting website designer or a new employee to be the designer/webmaster, special care should be given to ensure that your design isn't simply a pretty website with minimal visitor traffic  (see "Choosing a Website Developer".) The design should meet a cadre of specific techniques to ensure that the overall performance of the website matches its appearance (see "What is Good Website Design?")

Finding competent expertise to develop and maintain your company's website should not be taken lightly. Many companies don't realize how inefficient their websites really are and that good design practice could improve business. The website portrays your corporate image in both style and content. Your company's website is a portrayal of your business's image.