What's the purpose of your website?
If you answer:
- Positive image
- Backup to business card and marketing materials
- Online brochure
Then really stop and re-think why you have a website. Aren't these good reasons? They are good reasons, but if you have any sort of website at all, then it is doing those things already. It's possible that it could do those better, but it's doing that already. Checkmark. Done. If that's all you want, then you can probably spend less money than you are spending now.
Here's the big gotcha: If that's all it's doing, you're leaving money on that table. You're missing an opportunity by not having a website that does more. Visitors - potential customers - are coming to your website and you're not moving them closer to being customers.
It's like spending money on a TV ad, and then just running 30 seconds of dead air: it's a wasted opportunity. Can you afford to do that?
Let's talk about what you website can be doing for you.
To make these ideas more clear, let's think of a fictitious new business and what it could be doing with its website. Jane's Accounting is a small accounting firm. Their office is located in the business area of the city, but not downtown. It's a small office, the owner answers the phones on most days but there is someone that comes in part-time when it gets busy. Jane started a website 6 months ago. The website has the main phone number and address basic business information and 1 page of what it is that Jane's Accounting does. When it was setup, there were some visitor tracking analytics that were added to the website to give some basic information on visitors to the website.
In her experience so far, Jane couldn't give you a simple answer to the question: How has your website helped your business?
1: A website with specific purposes
What's the purpose of your website? Has it helped you business? In what way? How much has it helped?
Step 1: Define a Better Purpose
Often there isn't a clear purpose defined for a website. If you want to know if your website is doing something useful, you have to first define what it is that you want your website to do. In Jane's case, after thinking about it, she decided that a good purpose would be simply:
- Get more customers.
It sounds simple, but, as you'll see, even this goal will prove to drive out some important actions that will make a difference
Step 2: Have a Funnel
A funnel is just the reasonable steps that bring the customer closer to you. The actions that you want your customer to take and your responses to them. These are action items. What are they? How many different paths are there through them?
Once you have all that, measure them. What actions don't people want to take? Where are you losing people in your funnel? A funnel can be formalize and drawn up (and this is useful to do) or it can be simple, with a few actions for customers to take and planned responses on your part.
Jane looked at her website and realized that there was only one action for customers to take: contact her (by phone or email). There wasn't anything else for visitors to do. Worse yet, she wasn't giving them any specific reason to contact. No wonder her website wasn't doing anything useful. She was expecting her visitors to figure out why they might want to talk to her and hire her. She wasn't really helping her customers very much on that front. Jane had a goal of having her website help her get more customers. She decided that, in order to achieve that, she'd add a few things to her website. Fortunately, she had a system that let her add pages to her website*.
- She put together a free download-able eBook with a few chapters on some of the things to watch out for as a small business: different incorporation structures, different payroll methods, and how to decide whether incorporation was even necessary.
- And she started an email newsletter. She made a portion of her website have an email signup (she had to call her website person to help with this) and she drafted some ideas for the first few newsletters: settling on a quarterly newsletter to start.
She highlighted the eBook and requested that people provide an email address so that she could follow-up with them. She promised not to spam them, but did want to gather feedback on people's business, if they found the eBook helpful and whether she could help them at all.
Now she had 2 specific actions and reasons for her customers to talk to her: to read the eBook or to get further tips by email. She thought most people would download the eBook and, if that went well, they'd sign up for the email newsletter to get more of her expertise on an ongoing basis.
2: Answer customer questions
Visitors to your website have some simple questions to be answered: where are we? How do you contact us?
There also have less simple questions: they need specific help or support, they have questions about your products or service, they may have a question that you have an FAQ** for.
Those are important questions, but you want to make sure that you go further: answer the really important questions. The questions that potential new customers have. Things like:
- Why are you different?
- What is it like working with you? How long do things take?
- How do I know that you can deliver your service?
Answering these questions might mean adding specific pages to your website. It probably means working on the pages that you do have. You don't just write answers to these questions in one place: you should be answering the questions across your whole website.
These questions are unique to your business, your market, and your competition. Different customers have different needs (sometimes called customer segments). Your competition is different if you are in Kalamazoo than if you are in Vancouver.
And your business is different than anyone else's. So you need to work through what these questions are and make sure that your website is answering them.
Jane realized that she had only general information: services that she provided. These were useful simple answers, but she would get some of the same questions again and again from her current customers and figured that more people would probably have these questions. She spent some time brainstorming and wrote out a list of 8 of the most common questions that she got. She wrote out the answers to these and had an FAQ page for her website.
Jane wanted help her potential new customers understand why they wanted to work with her. She wrote some information on her specific strengths as an accountant: she specialized in small business bookkeeping and taxes. She talked about her experience in that area and how she treated her customers like family.
3: Always be testing
You can use your website as a way of finding what your customers want. I don't mean feedback, surveys, or polls. Those are good things to have. Maybe I should say that I don't just mean feedback, surveys, and polls.
I mean, testing various messages. Sometimes called split a/b testing. Sometimes it's more complicated (perhaps some multivariate statistical regression with an overlay of seasonal information).
But the point is the same: you don't know the best way to answer your customer's questions until you test it. Until you test it is a guess or a hypothesis. And that's OK. That's where everyone starts. Just don't stop there.
You do this in the real world all the time: you answer a question and, if that person looks confused, you try different wording. That's testing and responding to the results of the test. Likely, the next time you answer a similar question, you'll have a different, clearer answer.
Having variations for your website on some information is more advanced (and you need specialized systems to support this kind of activity and tracking) but it is worth the effort. It gives you the same kind of information: what words and content better answers my visitors' questions so that they are ready to become a customer?
Variations aren't just about having different versions of content. They don't really serve much purpose if you don't know which one works better. Make sure that you are measuring the results. The point is that you can see what it is that people want and you can react. Your website can then let you behave just like you do in the real world: you find out what people want from your business and you make sure that you are giving your customers what they want and need.
Jane had an advanced content system that let her do some testing. She hadn't bothered to set any of it up when she started but decided that now was the time. She decided to start small and focus on 1 page: her email newsletter page. She had written a nice introduction explaining what the email newsletter was about. She hadn't felt completely comfortable with it because she didn't know what her customers wanted in the newsletter: should it be more about tax tips and tax changes? Or should it be more focused on bigger questions of dividends and incorporation structures? Or maybe she should get permission from her current customers to tell some of their stories: what their business did and how she helped them.
She decided that she'd create 2 versions of the newsletter signup page: one focused on tax tips and the other focused on customer stories. She wrote both of these and set them both to run so some visitors would see one page and other would see the other. Over time, she could see which version her customers were more interested in and generated more signups. For the first few months, she would write her newsletter to include both kinds of content - eventually focusing on the approach that her audience liked better.
(Spoiler alert: I'll bet that visitors will prefer stories about her customers rather than tax tips - what do you think?)
These are just 3 of the areas to address to make your website do more for you:
- Have a purpose and actions for your customers to take
- Answer customer questions, especially sales questions
- Test your content: find out which content yields more results
Hopefully you've got a better sense of the areas where your website is strong and places where you can improve it and get more results.
Request a 13-point website review today to have one of our experts review your website on these and other questions.
- A system that lets you add pages to your website or edit your content is generally called a "content management system" or CMS and it can take many forms. Some are programs that you run on your computer, more often, it's a special website that you have to login to.
- A FAQ or Frequently Asked Questions, is a common section to have on websites. It usually has several commons question that customer have asked or might ask - as well as straight-forward answers.