The first question I always ask a potential web development client is “Why do you want a website?”
The answers range from “Because people tell me I should” to “I want to sell more shovels” to “I want my business to be seen as the go-to company for irrigation systems.”
Three very different answers, and three very different online solutions.
Establishing Your Credibility
Developing a reputation as a credible expert in a specific area is a good reason to have a website – although, usually, that website would be a blog, rather than a static site. The site needs a lot of great content that’s frequently updated, addresses customer’s problems in a way that they can truly understand and use, and doesn’t come across as a hard sell.
That doesn’t mean you can’t monetize a site that’s intended to establish your credibility – but you’ll have to be very careful. If you recommend readers buy something, make sure it’s a product or service that will be useful for them, that you’ve tested yourself, and that you stand behind 100%. It only takes one poor recommendation to lose a significant amount of your credibility and readership.
Selling More Product
Selling more product is a pretty good reason to have a website – depending on what you’re selling.
Some things are incredibly difficult to sell over the Internet.
If it’s complex or highly technical, expensive, or large and/or heavy, people are less likely to buy it sight-unseen. They want to touch it, try it out, and reassure themselves that it’s really what they want to buy. That’s not to say that they won’t buy it online, but you’ll have to offer a lower price than their local retailer, or an exceptional product that’s not available elsewhere. And don’t forget that customers will be factoring shipping costs into the total purchase price.
But if you’re selling affordable, useful items with low (or free) shipping, a website can be an excellent investment. For example, many gardening-related catalog companies have developed successful websites that generate more sales than the catalog itself. Because the site is easier and cheaper to frequently update, companies can offer more products, more special promotions, and more segmented offerings on their websites than they can through the catalog.
Do I Really Need a Website?
Finally, let’s tackle the “people tell me I should” answer. It’s easy – don’t listen to them!
Other people don’t know your business, your industry, or your audience the way you do. You probably wouldn’t listen to them when it comes to random advice about how to run your business, so why listen to them about a website?
You are the only one who can decide if a website is truly the right solution for your business.
If you fall into any of the situations listed below, you may want to reconsider building a website…
Reasons You Do NOT Need a Website
- You cater to an audience that doesn’t use the Internet much and prefers to find companies through the yellow pages, church and community newsletters, etc. (think older retirees – not that I’m stereotyping!)
- You serve a small community where you’re well-known and have no plans to expand outside that geographic area
- You’ve been in business for many years and generate most of your business through referrals (although be careful – if your reputation takes a hit or business starts to dry up, you could find yourself wishing you had built a website years earlier)
- You don’t have the time or budget to develop a quality site (note that I said “quality”, not large, expensive or fancy). No website is better than a bad website but only if you have a decent online presence on social media and local directory listings
- Your current advertising/PR approach generates plenty of business for a reasonable cost, you’re comfortable maintaining that approach and you don’t see the effectiveness or cost changing much in the future
- The relevant information about your business is already found in numerous online directories and your business is so simple that a website wouldn’t add much
- And finally, you have no clear strategy or plan for what you’ll do with a website – no content or images, no plans for how to maintain it, no goals or outcomes that you’d like it to achieve (then again, if that’s the case you may need to examine why you’re in business in the first place…)
In these situations a website may help you gain more business – or not. The investment in a website probably won’t generate sufficient return to justify it. And if you can’t justify the ROI, why are you investing in the first place??