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What is Your Website For?

I was talking with a friend who is a branding expert and designer. He said, 'Many startups come to us and don't bother with business cards. They want a logo and they want a website up right away.'

If you want to succeed, you must succeed online. Maybe going online is not the very first market you need to conquer. If you have a coffee cart, for example, your brew may be so good you might be a raging success before you even design your logo. But you have to pay attention to the online world eventually, even with a popular coffee cart, and for most of us, the online world the very first thing we think about. Why?

Online is where the conversations begin. It's where 'word of mouth' is happening on a global scale.
Getting into that conversation means putting up a website with the grabbiest graphics and the most potent message.That's the common wisdom. But here's a better idea. Ask first, 'What is my website for?'

Types of website experience

I'm not just talking platforms, like WordPress, Tumblr, Drupal, Joomla, or some fancy proprietary platform your designer is trying to sell you. I want you to think about the visitor experience. You may want a website that is basically a business card. I'd call that an information experience. You may need people to shop through catalogue and buy something - a consumer experience. You may want to share images, information or music - a sharing experience. You can build a community experience with blogs. If you say, 'oh, I just need a fancy business card that moves and stuff and has pretty colors,' you will be missing out on a lot. Community and sharing are powerful drivers. If you can get people involved and engaged, they'll come back. Wouldn't that be nice?  If your site is all about you it might not be as engaging as a site that invites the viewer in to your experience. Think bigger than 'you' and offer more than an online business card. Here are those categories again. What kind of site experience do you need to offer?

  • information experience

  • consumer experience

  • sharing experience

  • community experience


Functionality

Ok, scary word. But functionality means what kinds of bells and whistles you site will have, and how they will affect the site. Most important factor? Site load time. If you want to showcase lots of beautiful images and your site takes five seconds to load, you will lose visitors. They will bounce off impatiently. I've seen sites that are dumb as dirt become very popular because they are fast to load and to the point. Find a balance between beauty and practicality.

Desktop and Mobile

Remember that your visitors are looking at your site on all kinds of screens. I worked with a designer once who did great work, as long as it was viewed on his humongous cinema display. He wasn't interested in hearing me talk about people with 13-inch displays, or tablets or phones, who might be trying to view his masterpiece of design. How well will your site travel to different screens?

As you look over your website plans, ask these questions:

Who will this reach?

Know who your audience is. Try to understand what they want and what your site will deliver. Sounds basic, but this will make your site far more effective.

How easily will my visitors find my site?

Are you going to put up great content that draws visitors like a powerful magnet? Are you going to invest in advertising? Are you going to depend on organic search queries, and optimize your site for them? You better do something. Or else nobody's going to show up.

What should my visitors do?

People may find you online, but then what? Every website has a narrative. It may not be linear, but there is a story to tell in words, pictures and sounds. It has a first, second and third act, just like a good movie or play. Do people need to end up on your contact page or buy page? If so, how will you lead them there?  If you want your visitors to simply 'get to know more about you' that's nice, but that's all they will do. Is that enough for you? What is the call to action? Having one makes everyone happy. A call to action gives visitors a sense of mission when they visit your site. Get that right, and then move on to business cards if you need them.

Oh, and if you know about any coffee carts better than the Mud Truck in NYC's Astor Place, let me know. Always in the hunt for those.

PHOTO CREDIT: Question mark by alexanderdrachmann via Creative Commons License.

  Lee Schneider runs Red Cup, a communications agency serving startups and entrepreneurs. The agency has an education and consulting program for startups called Mo’popular. He is the author of ‘Be More Popular: Culture-Building for...

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