Brain Waves Blog

The Company Website: More Than A 21st Century Fashion Accessory

Author: Pete Tozer, Published: 2009-5-20

The Company Website: More Than A 21st Century Fashion Accessory

One of the things that I have struggled to stem in my years working with the Internet is the frenzy that surrounds it. From conversations that I've had with business about their websites, many seem to still be of the opinion that the dotcom boom never came to an end. In particular, smaller organisations seem to think that simply by having a domain name and some information available, people will instantly come to their website in droves. To that extent, beyond aesthetic issues of graphic design, they seem to believe that there is little work in making a website succeed. There needs to be a realisation that company websites are vastly more than a visual place-holder.

For a long time, I've let business managers know what I consider to be two great secrets of web design:
  1. Producing a website can be surprisingly easy
  2. Producing a good website is very difficult.
There's more to producing a website than making it look good and filling it with content. Many businesses like to work on the basis that their website where they can site every piece of trivial information about their organisation that the user could possibly dream of finding. All this approach ever creates is a website where the user cannot find anything they want because there's just too much information they don't want in the way!

The answer whenever someone in your business suggests “we need a website” should always be: “Why? What for?” Just about every business needs a website in this age and your questions are likely elicit that response. However, it requires much more thought than that: what is your message? What does the website bring to your business? What benefit does it bring to your users?

Think about it, you wouldn't say “we need a shop-front for our business” and then rent the first store available in town, dress it with a cheap coat of paint, slap up some Ikea shelving and then make all your products available. That process would require some thought: who would shop there? Is the rent reasonable? Is now the right time for our business? I've never understood why so many organisations approach websites believing that it requires anything less. Your website needs just as much as a shop would need: it needs to look good and, most of all, it needs to work.

Making a website work isn't easy and requires you to balance a lot of factors. Your users need to immediately know what your organisation is and what it stands for; what the user can do on your website (i.e.; can they make purchases online or find contact details for your offices?); and it needs to possess that intangible yet all-important sense that this is an organisation the users can trust. Your message needs to be clear and professional; friendly and concise. It's a fine line to walk and, particularly in small businesses, it is one that is abandoned in favour of cutting costs.

More than anything else, though, it's important to remember that your website isn't about your business but what your business can do for your users. Don't bury your goods and services under press-releases about your new employee or mission statement. Users no longer spend time browsing an entire site before they make a purchase: they simply determine what it is they want , whether they want to buy from this organisation and then they move on. The best course of action for any organisation is to facilitate that transaction as quickly as possible with the minimum interruption. The days of trying to trap users on your site are long since dead and any company still adopting that approach will merely annoy their users – how enraged would your customers become if you locked the shop door until they agreed to make a purchase?

There is so much that goes into making a website a success and certainly more than the visual appearance. Any successful Web-based enterprise, be it Google, Amazon or Ebay, is a conspiracy design, content and consumer support – with each of these needing careful consideration before the appearance of the site is even discussed. For any organisation that is looking to launch a website for the first time or want to review it as part of a new business plan, the question, if not the answer, is simple: “how will our website make us better at what we do?”

 

- Pete Tozer




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