If you think your website is finished, it’s important that you think again.
Because a professional website is never ‘finished’ – provided of course that you want it to succeed.
A professional website will keep evolving within its three key components: content, design and technology.
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Pretty much as soon as you complete Version 1 of your website, the content will need to be changed to accommodate the latest price, model or other change to the way you do things (necessitating either a content management system or not inconsiderable skill with a website design software).
The design of your site too will need to be refreshed from time to time to keep your website from looking dowdy and dated.
And the more evolved your website is from a technology point of view, the greater the benefits your business will enjoy.
By ‘sophistication’ I mean the website’s ability to provide features which increasingly play a more important role in the running of your business.
The following diagram illustrates the stages a professional website evolves through.
Phase 1 – Inform
A website in this phase of its evolution will be pretty much a bare bones ‘information’ website, known to much of the web industry as ‘brochureware’ due to the way it serves much the same purpose as a printed brochure.
Beyond the ability to simply read and peruse it, usually the only interactivity this kind of website provides is the ability to launch an email to the business operator.
Whilst this kind of website is certainly better than nothing (unless it is so poorly constructed and conceived that it can actually damage your ‘brand’) it is quite limited in the benefits today’s websites can provide. The worst part about it is that visitors come and go without you capturing any of their details, meaning you have let them ‘off the hook’, potentially never to return.
Phase 2 – Engage
The next phase of a website is the ability to ‘engage’ or create a relationship with the visitor. It might do this by inviting you to sign up to an eNewsletter or Resource Centre, or links to your social networks of choice.
The beauty of engaging with visitors in this way is that you now have at least one of their contact details, allowing you to follow up with them in future, but most importantly, you have increased the potential to create a relationship with the visitor, a critical factor in their becoming a customer.
Phase 3 – Converse
Once you have informed and engaged, your website needs to ‘converse’ or start conversations that provide more content and hooks for both visitors and search engines.
The more content you create, the more material for search engines to crawl and present back to visitors searching for that subject matter.
News of any interest to the customer should be generated on a regular basis with a feed of headlines and snippets brought to the front page of your website where people can see it. Few visitors go trawling websites for news of this type so it’s important to get it onto your front page.
It can also do this by having an automated Frequently Asked Questions area (which allows the website operator to respond to the visitor and publish the response to the website at the same time).
Phase 4 – Transact
The next phase of your website’s evolution is transacting, or at least commencing a transaction.
It’s important to be aware of the importance of this phase, because the online customer’s hope or even expectation is that they can complete the transaction with your business via your website.
If you don’t allow them to do that, it’s an invitation for them to click over to your competitor – a disastrous outcome given the effort you have made to get them to your website in the first place.
And you don’t have to provide physical products to move into this phase. Many providers of services are streamlining their operations by allowing full booking and payment capabilities.
Phase 5 – Integrate
This final phase is more about your operations than your customers or visitors. What it means is that any data emanating from the customer engagement automatically moves into your operational data systems.
For example, the details your visitor enters to sign up to your eNews moves directly into your customer database which is integrated with your businesses’ related communications and financial systems.
And any transaction is automatically captured by your financial system and so on, reducing duplication and errors for every integrated component.
Evolution becomes cheaper and easier
So your job as the business operator is to evolve your website as much as possible to not only provide a greater promotional benefit, but improve productivity by reducing data handling and duplication.
Whilst this evolution may at first seem daunting, the great news is that costs involved in achieving it are ever-decreasing, while the skills required to provide it are becoming more plentiful within the web industry.
Which stage is your website up to? And how can you move it up the evolution path?
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.