A kind reader astutely pointed out that there are issues with one of my old articles that I linked to - some of the content of the article is missing, which makes it very odd.
Sadly, it was one of my favorite articles: "If your website doesn't add value, rethink it" (link to article).
Although it is a bit dated (Jan, 2004), and it was written at very high level (published in the local business journal), I thought I'd post a cleaned up version of it here.
[START OF ARTICLE]
Before we start, here is an exercise. First, think of two consumer product brands that you are loyal to – Pepsi over Coca-Cola, Krispy Kreme over Dunkin Donuts? Got them? Okay, now, next answer the following questions:
1.) Have you ever visited the Web site of either of your favorite brands?
2.) How frequently do you visit those Web sites?
Based on the answers that I normally get when I poll people, probably only half of you said yes to question # 1. For those who did visit the sites, most people probably answered "seldom or only once" to question # 2.
Think about it, here are brands that you are loyal to, and you don't even visit their Web site with any frequency. Let's face it. The Web is old news for most of us and no matter how flashy and pretty a site is - you won't frequent that site unless it enriches or simplifies your life in some way.
Now, before I go on, let me say that every business needs a Web site – if for no other reason than to provide contact information, product information or directions... that just makes sense. The point, however, is that the days of 'brochure-ware' are long over.
For example, I have been to the Dunkin Donuts site several times, and they have done for coffee what NetFlix.com (the Internet based DVD rental company) has done for movies – sort of. I am a member of the Dunkin Donuts 'Regular Refills' program. This program allows me to specify the amount of coffee I want delivered to my home and the frequency at which I want it delivered. Dunkin Donuts has simplified my life. I can manage the program from their easy to use Web site – add products, change the quantity, the frequency, and enjoy my favorite brand of coffee without ever having to go to a Dunkin Donuts location again. Had Dunkin Donuts not had this functionality, I would probably never have gone back to its site. The truly neat part is that I really don't have to go to the web site all that much. The program sends me an e-mail to notify me of the upcoming delivery in case I need to make a change to my standing monthly order.
Providing store inventory on a Web site is another service. A couple of national stores, Borders and Circuit City for example, have real time store inventory available from their Web sites. If I need something and I want to see if it is in stock, all I have to do is visit the store's Web site to check. In the case of both of these stores, I also can reserve the product before I leave the house.
What these companies have done is given people a reason to come to their Web sites. They have provided tools to make peoples lives just a little simpler.
When you are thinking about the purpose of your company's Web site, ask yourself some of the following questions:
1.) Why would someone visit my Web site?
2.) How can I use the site to simplify my customers' lives?
3.) Can the Web site reduce calls to the customer service or parts department?
4.) For a doctor's office or an auto repair shop, can customers schedule appointments online? Can you provide e-mail reminders of upcoming appointments?
5.) Can customers let you know when they are interested in a product or service? Can you contact them when that product or service becomes available?
6.) Can customers easily find out the status of an order?
If none of these ideas fit your business, you can still provide value to customers in other ways. The biggest magnet for visitors is content. Provide research on your industry – written by you or your staff – that is updated constantly. Let people sign up to be notified when you post new content.