One of the really interesting aspects of the digital world as it applies to business is just how critical websites are to different businesses. Of course, so reliant are we on them to find out more about the business providing it, it’s fair to say that these days websites are critical to pretty much all businesses.
If we aren’t using websites to provide us with a core product, we are using them to purchase it, order it, find out more about it or just find it at all. In fact many would argue if you don’t offer a good website, you aren’t in business at all – and that’s not far from the truth.
Certainly there’s a customer expectation that if they are serious, businesses will have a good website to at the very least provide some basic information about what it is they provide.
What about bad websites?
The alternative is too scary to consider. If customers can’t find you online, or are disappointed by what they find if they do, they go straight to a competitor. But while websites per se might well be critical to all businesses, they are more critical to some than others.
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To some, without a website there is simply no business at all. In these cases the website is the business.
At the other end of the scale, a website may be of such poor quality, it is actually a liability to the business that offers it and ends up sending customers to the competitors!
Here are the ‘Big 4’ types of websites and what they mean to the businesses that provide them.
1. The website is your product
There are now thousands of websites that actually are the product the business is offering. What I mean by this is that the website, or what it provides, is actually what customers purchase.
Examples of this are information-based websites (like SmartCompany and Crikey), entertainment websites (like Spotify or Netflix), directory websites (like Google, realestate.com.au and RedBalloon) and many others. Unlike e-commerce websites, which simply sell products and services, these websites actually provide the end-service to its customers. In most cases they couldn’t exist without the internet and online is the only distribution channel.
2. The website sells your product
This is the domain of e-commerce, where products and services are sold via a website. These have been operating since the very first online purchase – depending on who you believe – either a pizza or a Sting CD in the mid 90s.
Nowadays the range of things that can be sold online number the range of things that can be bought at all. There are now few products or services that clever developers haven’t worked out a way of selling online.
From air tickets to airplanes, CDs to seedlings, pretty much anything can be purchased online, if not via your own website, then via a marketplace such as eBay or Etsy (although technically these fall into the first category because their websites ARE the product for the business that run them).
3. The website promotes your product
Most businesses fall into this category. Despite many products and services being able to be sold online, some are just too difficult to sell in this way. Therefore the website becomes a conduit to the sale. Customers either search for providers like you or if they already know your name, go directly to your website.
There they read up on what your business does or may even be able to examine some samples of it. From there they ‘take action’, either by completing an enquiry form, launching an email or phoning you, or if they are not yet ready to buy, engaging with you for a future purchase by subscribing to your newsletter or social network of choice.
4. The website tarnishes your product
This category may not be one listed in textbooks, but it’s a very real category of websites. It occurs when the business website is of such poor quality from either a design, usability (user experience and navigation), writing, search engine optimisation or technical perspective – or even a combination of these – that it creates a bad impression with the website visitor and they leave the website altogether.
This phenomenon is real. There is terabytes of studies about the growing expectations of internet users and their expectations around website quality – and what happens if it isn’t met.
This is no different to the physical world. I’ve been to plenty of physical shops that are either so dirty, smelly, tatty or have staff that are rude or incompetent that I’ve left the store and worse still, told others about my experience.
In this case, it may well be better for the business in question to have no website at all than one that will repel visitors.
What kind of website does your business provide? And is it in the right category for your kind of business? If it’s the fourth category, you will need to take urgent action or suffer the consequences of significant lost business.
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.