Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Planning A Winning Website

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Planning A Winning Website
by Matthew Coers

Before you begin to build a site, you need to determine the purpose of your website. Your primary objective when you are planning your site is to be able to identify what you want visitors to do when they visit your site. In other words, what is your site’s purpose? Generally speaking you will want your visitors to take one of the following five actions:

1. Purchase a product or service
2. Provide contact information
3. Download a white paper, datasheet, or other promotional materials
4. Join your newsletter
5. Click on advertiser’s banners or affiliate links

There are other goals websites have, but these are the primary five goals most any site has. I have built over 100 websites – everything from consumer oriented e-commerce sites to B-to-B corporate sites to municipal management systems and intranets. Regardless of size or scope, the single biggest mistake I see managers make over and over is trying to make their sites do too many different kinds of things. You should establish your site’s primary purpose, and make everything on the site revolve around that goal.

When a site is properly focused on it’s primary purpose, visitors understand intuitively what it’s about and are not left with the feeling that they are being “gamed”, or worse that the site is irrelevant to them. They are also less likely to become confused about what they are supposed to do if they are ready to take the next step with your company.

That means that if you are trying to collect names and email addresses of potential clients for your consultancy, you shouldn’t waste valuable real estate on your homepage discussing your “corporate vision”, you should be concentrating on establishing your expertise and demonstrating the knowledge your potential clients are looking for. Likewise, if you are supposed to be selling products on your website, then forget about trying to appeal to investors. Investors will be most impressed with a retail site that effectively converts visitors into customers, and you’ll make a lot more money in the process.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t have multiple goals for your business. This simply means that your site should focus on its primary purpose, and that purpose should be directly related to revenue-generating activities.

Once you have identified your site’s purpose, you should take the time to write out the general path you would expect your visitors to take through your site. Think about it from their perspective. Some examples of this are:

Example 1
The visitor comes into the site and sees that my site is a retail seller of electronic devices. I plan to have several items featured on the front page of the website that represent the major product lines that I carry. The visitor can select one of the featured items, or select a product category from the navigation bar. Once the visitor selects an item, he or she is then given a detailed description of the product and a price. By clicking the “Buy Now” button, the visitor is taken to the shopping cart system where he or she is given the option to continue shopping or check out.

This site’s purpose: Sell Electronic Devices

Example 2
The visitor enters the site and sees that we are a manufacturer of aftermarket automotive parts. We do not sell direct to the public, and our target audience is retail auto parts stores and other resellers such as auto mechanics. Therefore, we begin our site copy with an overview of why our parts are more attractive to retail customers and how we can help retailers become more profitable by carrying our product lines. The visitor is given the opportunity to do one of two things:

1. View a catalog of our products
2. Obtain more information on how to qualify for our “preferred retailer’s program”

If the visitor decides to get more information, then he or she is taken to a form that collects contact information and sends that information to our business development staff. If the visitor elects to view the product catalog, then he or she is given access to our product catalog in PDF format. The product catalog has the telephone number of our business development staff on every page.

This site’s purpose: Give retailers a reason to call the business development staff

Example 3
The visitor enters the site and sees that I provide freelance graphic design and copywriting services to companies in the St. Louis area. The visitor is given the option to view my online portfolio or view a partial client list. Each page of the site gives the visitor the opportunity to fill out an online form to receive a free 1-hour marketing consultation. If the client fills out the form, it will send their contact information to me via email.

This site’s purpose: Obtain leads via the online form

Clearly, the businesses in the three examples above are in completely different industries and have totally different objectives. The one thing they have in common is that each of them views their website through their customer’s eyes, and each has a clear objective in mind.

- Site number 1 wants to sell electronics
- Site number 2 wants to attract resellers
- Site number 3 wants to obtain contact information

In conclusion, you should identify one action that you want your site visitors to take, and make the entire site focused on channeling visitors to take that desired action. If you ever feel inclined to put something on your homepage or in your navigation system that isn’t directly related to your site’s primary purpose, then you are about to redirect visitors away from a revenue-generating activity and into something that doesn’t help your business. Remember to Focus, Focus, and Focus.

About the Author:
Mr. Coers specializes in helping entrepreneurs build effective web businesses. His website, www.profitchoice.com contains useful articles and "how-to" guides to help organizations build their brands and sell more effectively.

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