I have met with lots of business owners discussing their business, and the place that a business website has within it. There are always two questions in the back of their minds, or even front and centre, when I am having those conversations:
- What is the website going to do?
- Do I need a website at all?
They aren’t silly questions. Many businesses have, or have had, a website that just sits there. No one sees it, so no one is led from the business website to the business. For those few that do see it, even they are not prompted to click the link, pick up the phone or take the action. So most businesses have, at some time in their history, put resource into a business website and got nothing back.
Business Websites are for Marketing
No matter what business we are in, the business website is a part of our marketing activity and so should play some part in drawing customers to our business – or otherwise what is the point?
For sake of transparency, I should say that there are websites that aren’t there to draw customers. Personal blogs might be one, websites for a personal event like a wedding might be another and government websites that are there just to provide information might be a third. But business websites are there to attract customers. Charities call them donors, churches call them members, universities call them students and so on: but the website is there to generate interest and prompt a particular action.
So for a plumber, for example, the business website should be focussed on the geographical area of coverage and should encourage people to book the service. Others might have a different model – Amazon, for example, has an international coverage and wants you to buy directly from the site.
Despite the tactical differences, the general strategy for a business website is that it should attract prospects and begin the process of turning them into customers.
So how much business is done online?
Again for transparency, I must say that, in terms of transaction value, by far the majority of business is still done in person; only 7-8% is actually on line. But this is only part of the story.
Research has shown that 90% of purchases are made following online research. Think about your own behaviour. If you need a new washing machine, or want to get a builder, or you need a solicitor – unless you have already got contacts in this field – you are most likely to look on the Internet. So although most purchases are in person, by far the majority of sales are made following online research.
Even when in a bricks and mortar shop, it has been shown that potential purchasers will research the item in front of them on their mobile phone, and if they find a better offer they will leave the shop empty-handed and buy elsewhere.
This trend is growing. Some industries, like bookshops, have almost disappeared as physical High Streets shops. Some industries, like music, have changed to a mainly online delivery mechanism with iTunes and Spotify. It is unlikely that your industry is immune to this trend.
So we know the objective of the website – to attract some of that online research traffic and direct it into our own business. The next question is how that is done.
Getting Visitors to your Site
The first step in the process to get customers into your business is to get people to visit your site. This is a huge topic and whole books have been written on small elements of this subject. However, the basic options are that you either pay for people to visit your site by advertising, or you earn their visit by being the “go to” person in your area (by subject matter and, if relevant, your geographical location – if you live in London, you don’t want the “go to” emergency plumber for New York).
To take the second idea first: where would you look to find the football results? It is likely to be a big news outlet (BBC, ITV or Sky for example) or your favourite club’s page. It isn’t likely to be www.freds-scores.biz is it?
You can change this. Who had heard of Arianna Huffington more than ten years ago? The Huffington Post is now one of the dominant news sites on the internet. But changing market domination is slow and a lot of hard work.
So if you want to compete in a national space, like the football scores, it will be tough. But if you want to compete in a local space, like an electrician in Colchester, this becomes a much more manageable and attainable goal.
The first concept – paying for advertisements – is another subject on which books have been written. In fact I am looking across my desk now at two books, one of which deals with managing Google Adwords and the other of which deals with Facebook Advertising. Again, it can be complex – but it is much more controllable and can be much more focussed.
However, you can’t advertise online without having somewhere to point the potential new leads – your business website.
So, Do You Need a Business Website?
Any business needs a method of customer acquisition, and needs to invest in that mechanism. For some, they just have a shop front. That shop front will be in an area that has pedestrian traffic – so people walk past, see the shop, are attracted by the presentation, come in and buy. Some businesses use printed media – flyers, Yellow Pages, local newspaper – and trust that people will see the advert and take phone, come to the shop, write in and buy. Some businesses use billboards – adverts on public transport, advertising hoardings, football hoardings, etc. – and look for footfall at these sites. Some use broadcast media, radio and TV, and aim for viewers and listeners to hear their adverts. Some use direct mail, and hope that their mail gets read rather than thrown away.
All of these options are potential routes for advertising, and a website is another method of customer acquisition. But with 90% (and increasing) of interactions being researched on line, the question isn’t so much “do I need a businesses website?” as “can I afford not to have a business website?”