Over the years, no matter what the project, I always find myself asking the same question to clients. What do you want your site to do? It’s not complicated question. It’s not even that long of a question. But the answer to it eludes most of the people who are asked it. There are the standard answers like “explain what our business does,” “provide more information about our products,” and the best one “sell stuff.”
Today’s websites are capable of SO much more than what most businesses use them for. Many of my oldest clients (length of time client has been with me, not actual age) have the standard 4-7 page brochure style website. It offers the basic information about the business they are in, a horribly outdated “About” page, and a contact form if you are lucky.
A website should have three goals. The first is to capivate. This is key. Whether we like it or not, we are attracted to things of beauty. I’m not saying that a good site has to be a work of art, but it should be easy to navigate and provide some sort of visual attractiveness. Nothing is worse then trying to read bright yellow comic sans or cursive script font on a white background. Layout and information architecture are pillars in the user experience realm, but design is a pillar nonetheless.
The second thing your website should do is educate or inspire. This is of utter importance. If you have a pretty site, but have no content or worse, bad content, you can pretty much kiss any benefit from your site goodbye. A content strategist will tell you that good content is appropriate content.
Appropriate content will help the user accomplish their goals. Whether that goal is to read about a product that you offer and explore the benefits of that product over its competitors, buy a service you offer, your site needs to provide enough information to establish the feeling of expertness with the reader. Once you can inform and inspire visitors to your site, that last thing your site needs to do is engage.
The last thing your website should do is prompt them to act. These prompts happens in a number of ways. Some will be specific to your organization; others are standard things that can be found on most sites, including your competitors.
Calls to action may include a member’s area where users can sign up for special content. It may be a shopping cart, in which you sell products. It could be a survey for your visitors to fill out. The most common engaging activities are subscribing to your content. This comes in the form of RSS feeds, newsletters, blogs, etc. Providing ways to talk to your visitors for whatever reasons you have is a good opportunity to keep people engaged with your site. The more points of contact with a visitor, usually, the better the relationship.
Think of your real world relationships. The best ones are the usually the ones in which you have constant and frequent contact with the other person. The same holds true online. The people who you engage through your website will usually be interested in what you have to say. This interest can then be turned into sales, signups, names, or whatever your site is trying to accomplish.
The best sites have a balance of each of the three aforementioned concepts. You cant have just one of these ideas because people will be able to see right through the gaping hole and pin you as just someone trying to sell something. If you skimp on the content and plaster your site with engagement opportunities, people will realize that you are trying to sell them, and leave your site immediately.
Conversely if you give away everything without asking for anything in return, you have no way to engage them, and you lose a potential opportunity. Balance is necessary for all things, including website strategies.