What type of website is right for your business?
There’s no denying your start-up should invest in getting online. But do you need a simple landing page site or a multi-functional e-commerce platform?
In today’s business world where customers increasingly look online first before making purchase decisions, having a website would seem to be a no-brainer. Yet amazingly, half of small businesses still don’t have a site, according to research by Google.
Business owners cited a range of reasons for not having a website, from a lack of time to create one to expense – and even a worry that they wouldn’t be able to cope with the additional demand a website might generate.
While there’s no denying you should invest in a website if you want to grow your business and reach new customers, it needs to make sense for you and your start-up.
Whether your business is starting from scratch with just a web address, or is a traditional bricks and mortar business moving online, your website strategy should be determined by what your customers actually want, says Jonathan Russell, CMO of Bizdaq, a website that lists businesses for sale.
“Too often businesses have websites with no clear action for the visitor to take – submitting an enquiry, arranging a meeting, booking a viewing, and so on. Before any business owner builds a website they need to ask what they actually want the user to do on their website. Without this, small business websites become vanity projects.”
So what kind of sites are available, what are they suitable for, and how do you choose the best option for your business?
Landing page site
Landing pages are the first port of call for anyone interacting with your business online. These one page websites are great for smaller campaigns or one off projects as they typically have a lot less content on them.
Nick Leech, digital director of 123-reg says: “A landing page is often added to an existing website to communicate a single message to a single group of people. For example, welcoming visitors from another site or giving them an exclusive offer. Nevertheless, landing page sites are an increasingly popular choice for people who are running a time-limited event, such as a conference or concert.”
The downside of this is that it restricts small businesses on the amount of information they can share and while they do have a visual appeal, one page websites struggle to achieve high search engine rankings.
A portfolio site is the next step on from a one page site. As the name suggests, they are designed to showcase an array of work from businesses such as photographers, architects or designers.
As portfolio sites are an archive of past work they don’t have to change very often, however the business may want to add details of new projects or edit and amend inclusions, so access to the content management system is useful so you don’t need a web company to make small changes.
Portfolio sites are mainly designed to provide leads for the business, so should include contact details or a contact page that allows potential customers to send an email direct to the business.
Not all businesses need to sell from their websites. For some, the website has become the company’s online brochure allowing potential customers to find out more about the business and what it has to offer in a crisp and clear way.
It is also intended to raise brand awareness and deliver new leads into the business, although it does not have the functionality for customers to make a purchase. These sites can be extremely powerful if the business is looking for lead generation through its website, says Laura Hampton, digital marketing manager of web agency Impression. “An example of this would be harveywatersofteners.co.uk which is the website for the UK’s largest manufacturer of water softeners. It doesn’t sell online, but people are encouraged to fill in forms to request a demo or call back.”
Information rich sites do well in the Google search results because they can contain a wide range of pages which can rank for terms relevant to the target audience. Popular platform such as WordPress allow the company to continually update its information and integrate other forms of content such as video.
This is the only choice for those wanting to sell online. E-commerce websites let customers search for a product and complete a full purchase transaction without the need for human intervention. It also allows a brand to show off its personality and tell its story.
Alan Clarke, founder of Trademaid, a wholesale supplier to the bar and restaurant sector, says that when its site was built in 2009, Trademaid looked at what some of the biggest online retailers were doing and tried to envision what its customers would want in the next five years.
“We were limited to the options and technology available at the time. We built all of the features we could and now that new ideas and technology are available we have updated the features.”
The site has continued to change over the last six years. “Usability from the back end is just as important, if not more so, as the customer-facing front end. Our business has to change with trends, and building a static site that requires a web developer to make each and every change just doesn’t make commercial sense.”
With a growing number of purchases coming through mobile devices, it makes sense for devices to be dynamically designed so that they recognise the way that a user is accessing the site and present the information accordingly.
An e-commerce website is more complex to build and manage and may require a greater initial investment than a simpler site. However, the benefits of selling online mean you can generate a steady stream of revenue.
Whatever option you choose, it’s important to remember that once your online journey commences, things change, so what was suitable to start with will be redundant in a year’s time. There can also be fluctuations throughout the year says Fabio Torlini, MD EMEA, WP Engine.
“Our platform is fully scalable so we’re able to grow with the business. A great example is our customer the Handmade Christmas Co. With Christmas fast approaching, it needs a website that can handle increased traffic and that stays reliable and available during its busiest season so we’re able to scale up our managed hosting.”
And bear in mind that any one website serves a plethora of stakeholders, says Chiara Pensato, marketing director, Move Guides. “Your website if the most powerful tool to reach and engage with a vast community of buyers, influencers and talent. It is important to invest from the early days on designing and implementing a company website that can serve multiple purposes as you target diverse audiences with different scopes: prospects researching your company, customers looking for the latest news on the product and services, users logging into the platform, media and influencers trying to understand what you do and what makes you worth talking about, and potential employees looking for jobs.”
For more help and advice on creating a small business website, click here.
This article is a part of the ‘Getting Online’ series sponsored by Verisign.