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Is your website working for your business?

Are You Really Using Your Website?

By Tim Priebe

I have learned a lot over the years. When I first started out, the first thing I would do in a meeting is pass out a generic website planning worksheet. Don't get me wrong, I still use a modified version of that original worksheet, and it's integral to the planning of the website. But now, I do something else first. We talk about how the business is running without a website, or with minimal website involvement.

Thinking about how your business is currently working with no or minimal website involvement can help you see where a website can alleviate some of the work, speed up certain processes or just get you tons more customers.

When I first sat down to meet with two pool cover salesmen, I had them describe the whole process for me, from how customers first found out about them to how the customer ended up with the final cover. From this example alone, I discovered two major categories to have the website help the business.

Informational

This one is almost a no-brainer. Even the simplest website is, at core, a source of information. The simplest websites are often referred to as "brochure sites." This is, of course, because the simplest site can (sometimes literally) be nothing more than an online brochure.

Even this level of simplicity for a website is still better than the traditional offline brochure. This is primarily because of the flexibility. Unlike a brochure that is printed up and then is unchangeable, a website can be tweaked and modified to correct things that are no longer accurate. Things can be added to it. It also is not limited to a specific amount of page space, as a traditional brochure is.

Aside from traditional "brochure sites," often clients of ours will have other information that changes fairly frequently that their customers would like to know. It may be that right now their customers have no way at all to get this information, short of calling them on the phone. The information may be different for each client, it may be the same for each client. Regardless of the specifics, information that is constantly changing is one of the single biggest reasons to have a website.

We handle the website Mission Nicaragua, which is for a missionary couple living in (you guessed it) Nicaragua. With hundreds of miles between them and their sponsoring congregation, they needed to be able to update their sponsors and other interested parties with the latest information and developments on the mission field. We set up a blog for them, which is a current very popular method of getting information out there. Since their intended audience might not be familiar with the term "blog," we called it a "newsletter." But the end result is the same thing. It can be updated by our clients and instantly be online.

If there are any pieces of information that are updated constantly that your customers need to know, you can probably benefit from this information being put on your website.

Interactive

Customers often need feedback. And with the web, they have come to expect it, often instantly. From live shipping calculations to job estimates to chat rooms, web communication is out there and greatly benefits the customer.

The simplest example of an interactive site is one that has a feedback form. We offer this to all of our clients. It's better than a simple email link because the email address can't be stolen by spammers. Also, the information can be formatted and customized into some standard form that's easier for the final recipient to review. We let any clients that want it have one of these forms on their contact page.

A good example of this is on a site we do the webmastering for, UR Special. In addition to a normal feedback form, they have a form specifically for volunteers, where the volunteers can go through and check the items they're interested in volunteering for. This information is then formatted to be easier to read before it's sent to the UR Special staff.

Another interactive item is a virtual tour. With today's web technology, one of the things that you can do is actually immerse your customers in an environment. We have a number of sites that use virtual tours. One of note is a local arcade called Cactus Jack's. You can get a feel for how big Cactus Jack's is through their virtual tour. You can turn around and even zoom in on specific arcade games.

Finally, an obvious level of interactivity is involved in a shopping cart. The total is added up as soon as you're ready to check out. Shipping is generally calculated immediately. Most people are now familiar with this type of technology.

If there's any information that your customers call for that you sit down with a price sheet or some sort of data and calculate, you can make it automated online. Even if the prices or data change fairly constantly, you can still update that data on your website, so that customers see the most up to date calculations. This is great for estimates, but you often want to put a disclaimer that the prices are only unofficial estimates.

Naturally, the exact ways in which a website can be used for your company will differ from company to company. It often helps to get someone who is more familiar with the web but an outsider as far as your company is concerned. Describe your typical business practices to them. They should be able to pick out areas in which your website can help your business become more accessible and more efficient.

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About The Author

Tim is the owner and senior web designer at T&S Web Design. His company has developed and maintained website for dozens of small businesses and organizations. Tim also maintains a blog with free website advice for small business owners, GetASiteOnline.com.

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Last Update: 14-Mar-2009

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