By Wes McDowell
If you’re like most small business owners, you may seriously underestimate the value of your own website. When I meet with new clients, they usually know they need a website, but they don’t really know why. In their minds, they just want something they can point people to for more information, or so their prospects can “check them out.”
What they don’t understand is that their website actually has the power to increase their sales directly, or indirectly, through lead generation.
Direct vs. Indirect
A direct increase is easy to illustrate. Let’s take the example of an online retail store. Many store owners (and even their website design partners) don’t necessarily understand the fundamental psychological principles that can be used to increase conversions. However, by improving a user’s experience on the site, the result can be an increase in sales. A few ways include:
- Streamline the checkout process to as few steps as possible (Think Amazon.com’s “1-Click Ordering” feature.)
- Design an “add to cart” button that is highly visible.
- Implement a pop-up that alerts shoppers they have items in their cart when they are about to abandon the site.
Indirect is a little more roundabout, but the same psychological rules apply. Let’s take the example of a recent client of mine, a wine distributor, who came to us wanting a simple website that would just serve to make his business look “official.” He wasn’t selling actual product through his site, but he understood the importance of having a web presence.
What he didn’t know was we could use the site as a lead generation magnet to collect information on potential customers that might be interested in carrying his products. Having that information allowed him to structure a targeted email campaign and run Facebook ads, bringing in more business for his company.
Your Website Isn’t an Art Project, It’s a Business Tool
One of the biggest hurdles business owners need to get over is realizing for whom their website is really for. The most successful sites are built for the company’s audience, not the company itself.
We are seeing a massive shift in the way websites are designed and built. In the earlier days of the web, everybody wanted to test the limits of creativity with their websites. Many clients would use the adjective “cool” when explaining the type of site they wanted–and I get it, who wouldn’t want a cool website? But the question is, at the expense of what?
Now that we know what can be done in web design (pretty much anything you can dream up,) it’s time to get serious. A “cool” website that doesn’t connect with your audience and increase business isn’t very cool at all. So how can we balance the cool factor with something that is built to be user-friendly and conversion-driven?
The Art of Discovery
When beginning any new website project, I take my clients through a thorough discovery process. This is necessary to cut through my client’s “stated needs” and get to what will really move the needle. There are many areas to dissect, including:
- What are the goals of the business?
- Who are the target customers?
- Who is the main competition?
- What is the competition doing that the client business isn’t doing?
A thorough discovery process can last three or four sessions, but the end result is well worth the time spent. Any web professional you partner with should be asking you these types of questions, as well as questioning your stated needs. This is because more often than not what you think you need is more of a symptom of a larger problem.
I recently had a restaurant client who’s biggest stated need was “we need to be able to input menu items and photos.”
Client: “Because we want to be able to add new items as we change the menu.”
Me: “Why is that important to you?”
Client: “Because customers want to see what is on the menu before they come in.”
Me: “So is the goal really to bring in more customers?”
See what I mean? The real issue isn’t the menu, it’s bringing more customers through the door. Once we have that nailed down as the goal, we can start designing a plan around that. We did, in fact, include an easily updateable menu, along with a few other tricks designed to increase leads, and offer incentives for site visitors to become actual customers.
What Is Your Goal?
Where many business owners get tripped up is defining a different goal for their website than for their overall business. To get the most out of your online presence, you should communicate your overarching business goals with your web designer. Ideally, a designer will be able to take that information, along with all of the particulars of your business, and structure a website and marketing plan that will help you reach that goal.
In almost every case, your goal will amount to one thing: more business. The days of “online business card” websites are over, and for good reason. There are many ways your website can help you bring in more business, and I can think of no greater resolution for the year.