If you own a business, having a website is about as standard practice as having a business card made or putting your name in the phone book. I’ve found that are a lot of misconceptions about exactly what a website does for businesses out there and, more importantly what it doesn’t. The web allows us to do a lot of things that we used to do in the real world in an efficient, fast, and usually cost effective way. Although it gives us new tools for doing a lot of things, it doesn’t necessarily change the reality of the mechanics of what we are doing.
For example, when someone goes shopping, they still look over merchandise, maybe try it out, make a decision, and give the merchant some form of currency in exchange for the goods. It still happens this way online. What it can’t do is force someone into your store and make them buy something. Your merchandise still needs to be good, your store appealing, and you need to let people know where it is by advertising.
Calling in Don Draper and Darren Stevens
Thinking that the web replaces good old-fashioned advertising and PR is one of the biggest misunderstandings about what the web can do that I’ve run into. I have had clients really, truly believe that putting their company information online will result in tons of revenue as search engines magically drive new business their way within days of launch. They’ve read all about SEO (search engine optmization) and they believe that if they put the right keywords in, build it in a search-engine friendly way, and list their URL with search engines – that visitors would just start going to their site.
It isn’t just advertising and PR that they don’t think is necessary. They also forget about content. I sometimes ask them “what is it about the site that you want to have that you think will make people want to visit”? This either stumps them or they answer with “it will have all sorts of great content” and then follow it up with a list of the types of content they’ll have that basically reads like a list of every type of content ever put out there: videos, games, forums, chat rooms, articles — and the latest thing is always some variation on a social networking theme.
A type of content is not the content itself. The content is what makes up the video, article, podcast, whatever and it has to be produced by someone… and it has to be appropriate to your site. A podcast about sneaker inserts isn’t going to interest many people, and I doubt there would be enough interesting material to make doing a daily/weekly/monthly episodic-style content like this viable.
Build it and they will come.. NOT
Just because you put a forum up to let people talk about your site, product, or topic doesn’t mean the community will just form. I can tell you from experience that “build it and they will come” is definitely not true. Maintaining a network or community still requires real people, an interesting place to go, and a lot of promotion. I can say the same is true for clients out there who think they replace their entire customer service infrastructure by putting some FAQs online and a contact form (or worse — no contact information at all). You still need a real person to communicate with your users and customers, whether in person, on the phone, or online.
The web is the place where people go today to make sure you are a legitimate business. It’s also the first place they will look if they want to get in touch with you or find out more about you or your product/service. There are a lot of things the web can help you do, but these are the most basic. What it can’t do is wave a magic wand and make you popular, rich and fabulous. If you want people to come to your site to get info, buy your services or stuff, or come to your place or event — first figure out what your goals are. Then get yourself a great looking site, fill it with the content or information you need to achieve your goal, and then go promote the hell out of it in as many ways as you can… and stop sitting by the side of the road like a jilted prom date waiting for Google to notice you. I promise you will be a lot happier.