One of the very important things that I have come to realize about business websites is the fact that each one needs a mission statement. That mission statement should then guide the design and development of the website so that the chief goals of the website are both measurable and attainable. My sense is that most businesses would say that the mission of their website is to drive sales but how you go about that is critical and needs to be a part of the mission statement.
For the most part what I see when I browse many websites, particularly those of smaller companies whose focus is offline commerce, are digital brochures. The focus of these sites goes along the lines of who we are, what we do, news and contact information. All of this is helpful to a certain extent, particularly to people who have never interacted with a business before, but it also certainly represents a gap when compared to the types of features that a modern website is capable of offering.
I mentioned driving sales as a common mission above and while that’s important it’s also a quite shallow mission in that it ignores the additional effort required to achieve it. Driving sales is the what, but the mission statement also needs the who and how. These things require a bit more thought than one might believe. Take the who for example. The digital brochure strategy obviously is reaching out to potential new customers because existing customers should know who you are and what you do. It’s important to consider that existing customers represent your quickest and most efficient path to more sales. Why not have something for them on the website?
The how part of the website mission is an area where creativity and commitment are required. It’s easy to post more static information and links to brochures but that type of approach is leaving a lot on the table as far as the possible functionality that you can bring to bear to support your mission. Frequently updated content such as a blog or message boards, while requiring more thought and maintenance, give customers a reason to return to your website to follow the latest updates and engage in conversation. Engagement is important because it’s one of the things that ties you to your customers and can help to drive future sales.
Beyond the features that I mentioned above I’m a fan of using business websites as a hub to push out information to satellite social websites. This is a concept that strongly speaks to the how and the who of your business website mission. Recognizing that you’re pushing information out to other sites you’ll also want to find a way to loop the people you reach back into the main website for your business.
I know that as you consider this advice you may be thinking, “Why not just offload my website to a social destination such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Google+?” Rather than try to convince you otherwise in this post I’ll simply point you to an earlier post in the subject that talks about why that’s not a good idea. I like the hub and spoke approach. Utilize your business website as the source of authoritative information but do push out information to other networks that links back into it.
The biggest questions people have when it comes to taking a new approach to the mission of their website are these. How much is this type of change going to cost? Will we be able to accomplish our goals using this new approach? The answers are “it depends” and “yes” respectively. I recommend trying to find someone in house who shares the vision and has the skills to help you move forward. If no such person is in house you can contract out the work with a longer term goal of hiring someone to take the lead on it. Since the internet is going to be a key part of your strategy going forward having in house skills makes sense. To the point of the second question I believe that you can accomplish the goals of your website if you are truly committed to them. In that way the mission of your website is no different than anything else you are trying to achieve in a business.
The final point that I’ll make on this issue is about your website platform. If the platform that you are using either will not allow you to achieve your goals or is so proprietary that you will never be able to manage it in house then you need to ditch it. In this era of many great open source (such as WordPress and Drupal) and hosted website solutions (such as Squarespace and Weebly) there’s no reason why you can’t take control of your website and engineer it to support the broader needs of your business now and in the future.