As website designers and developers, it is understandable that one of the first things we often hear from new potential clients are the words "I need a website". Businesses that exist solely to sell or publish online (such as Ebay) or offer online services (such as PayPal) obviously need a website - otherwise they would not exist. But we tend to hear this more from owners of small businesses who already operate in the offline world. While we are the first to agree that all businesses should have a website to be as successful as possible, in our experience small- to medium-sizes business owners are not always clear as to why they need a website.
Common reasons that owners of small businesses think they need a website include:
These reasons are of course understandable, but completely fail to recognize the true potential that any website has in terms of attracting new customers and thus tapping new income. Firstly, it does not matter if your competitors have websites if your target audience are unaware of your website. Secondly, if people are already searching for your business then they already know about you and are likely to look you up in a business directory if they can't find your website. Thirdly, if you simply intend to point existing (offline) contacts to your website, you might as well mail them a brochure instead. These reasons for wanting a website essentially rely on the implication that merely having a website somehow validates a company's credentials to existing contacts.
Here are some better reasons for having a small business website:
Most small business owners make the mistake of commissioning a website and then forgetting about it - they leave the website to exist in isolation on the internet with little or no attention, and continue to include their website address on all company literature. In these cases, statistics from Analytics software often shows that their website has what they consider to be a "reasonable" number of visitors, and the website is deemed to have been a worthwhile exercise. But the truth is that commissioning a website should only be seen as the first step in a longer process. In most cases, a website that exists in isolation (with little or no marketing activities) is likely to fail to gain any new customers, and one that has poor quality content that is almost never updated is likely to fail to convert more of your existing contacts into customers. Therefore, not only will the website fail to maximize it's potential, it may also fail to even pay for itself.
The most obvious way to generate more customers from your website is to increase the number of visitors to your website - even if only a small fraction of visitors are converted to customers, arithmetically this will result in more sales. Just as in the offline world, it's important to choose online marketing methods that are both affordable to your business model and that suit your business. However, it will not matter how many visitors your website gets if you do not convert any of these into customers by selling effectively. While any website can expect a tiny fraction of visitors to always convert to customers, just small changes to specific aspects of your website and sales techniques can yield surprising changes to conversion rates, with often significant results for your business.
Are you regularly acquiring new customers from your website? If not, it may be time to re-examine your original motivation for having a website and review your marketing and sales strategy accordingly. If you are not generating new revenue from your online presence you are failing to realize it's true potential.