Monday, January 28, 2008

Build a Better Business Site

by Lauren Hobson

A good web site is one of the most important assets a small business can have, but what exactly makes a business web site "good?" To some extent, the answer depends on what type of industry you are in. But certain elements are common to most business sites, and should be implemented regardless of your type of business. To ensure that your business web site is professional, credible, and relevant, be sure it follows these basic principles:

Stand out from the crowd. Make sure your site is unique and doesn't look like everyone else's, and don't rely on pre-canned templates. Templates are almost always a bad idea for business sites, since they are too cookie-cutter and don't deliver anything compelling or unique to your users. Be intentional about the message that you are sending to your visitors, and make sure your site is an appropriate reflection of your business.

1. Use consistent, user-friendly navigation. Make sure the navigation system appears on every page so users can easily find their way around the site. Try to keep information only two or three clicks deep, and use drop-down menus to organize information and keep things simple.

2. Give readers something to read! First and foremost, great content gives visitors a reason to come your site. It provides them with something of value, and can result in word-of-mouth recommendations to friends and colleagues. Don't waste your readers' time with boring, irrelevant content that is too company-centric. Readers don't really care about your business, they care about how your business can help them solve their problems. Great content is the most important part of a business web site, so don't skimp on providing readers with excellent content.

3. Provide complete contact information. Few things are more frustrating than not being able to find out where a business is located or how to contact someone in the company. Make sure you have your complete contact information on your web site, including a physical address, and provide users with multiple ways to contact you (phone, email, etc.). Providing detailed contact information reassures visitors that your company is real and gives your business additional credibility.

4. Present a strong call to action. The purpose of having a web site is ultimately to get visitors to do something, whether it's to buy something, contact you, join a mailing list, or remember your company the next time they need products or services. Whatever it is that you want your visitors to do, you should always present a clear, strong call to action and make it easy for them to actually take that action. Be specific, and don't be afraid to be direct. For instance, a link that says "keep reading here" is a call to action, as opposed to a more neutral link that says "continued." Even something as simple as "Buy Now" invites action because it is so direct.

5. Give readers something of value. Readers need a reason to follow your call to action and/or come back to your site again. Offer them a coupon, a tip sheet, free advice or information, or something entertaining like a crossword puzzle. This can also help build credibility with your audience and set your business apart from your competitors, too.

About the Author

Lauren Hobson is the Editor of Biz Talk Newsletter and the Five Sparrows Marketing Blog from Five Sparrows, LLC. Read the most recent Five Sparrows articles on small business websites and marketing or subscribe at www.fivesparrows.com/biztalk. Copyright 2007