Does your business need a website?

10 Apr 2013

A friend got me thinking about this today. Does a business' website design matter? Does a business even need a website?

Question: Does website design matter to you? Maybe I'm a snob but I'm turned away from a business/person if they have an ugly website.

— Joshua Steubing (@joshuasteubing) April 10, 2013

The answer strongly depends on the type of business we are talking about. If the business offers digital services of any kind, then obviously they need a website and their design is going to play a huge role in their success. The real interesting discussion begins when we talk about brick and mortar businesses that don't offer any digital services.

Let's talk about those brick and mortar businesses. Let's assume a few motivations for them wanting an online presence.

The first instinct might be to create a website for the business that provides this information. That might not be the best course of action, though. Think about this - how will prospective customers be looking for your business? Sure, googling for local services is definitely a thing and could result in your website being found. However, that isn't the best way to surface yourself as a local business in searches.

Also, website design is hard. Let's not confuse the subject, making a website is dead easy. Anyone can do it. Making a website that is aesthetically well designed, surfaces information in an intuitive way, is compatible with and responsive to the myriad of devices on the market (phones, tablets, laptops, touch screens, etc), is optimized for SEO, accessibility for impaired users, integrates well with social services using things like Open Graph protocol - this is hard. These are all things that are involved in designing a modern website that represents your business well and is accessible to your potential customers. Creating this kind of online presence is non-trivial.

Sure, you can find templates that will help with a lot of this, but no template can write your copy, take quality photos, digitize your logo, etc. And many templates need tweaking to ensure the SEO, accessibility, and social integrations work and work well. If you don't know what you are doing then the end product will look like you didn't know what you were doing in one way or another.

Not all businesses need a robust modern website, though. As much as it hurts me to admit that. However, all businesses should understand what such a website is and what it involves. They should see examples. They should know that this is possible and a marketing tool that is available to their competitors. If it is decided that such work isn't warranted, then fair enough.

We need to dispel with the myth that websites are easy and any teenager with a keyboard can do it. They can, but the end result will reflect such. Just like any teenager with a hammer can be a carpenter. Web design is skilled technical work. There are DIY dog house kits available just like there are DIY website kits but don't confuse that with a professionally built product.

Now that it is clear that a website isn't necessarily a simple thing, let's revisit the question of whether a website is even necessary. I mentioned earlier that a website wasn't the best way to surface yourself as a local business online. There are a lot of places online for your business to market itself and Google (and other search engines) will rank you higher in results if you do.

What am I talking about? All of these sites have a way for businesses to register themselves and maintain their presence. Your business is likely already on these sites and you don't know it. They might have incorrect information or no information. You should look!

I would argue that many businesses would be best served by simply managing their presence on these sites. This is where potential customers are most likely to find you online. You can provide all of the basic information about your business including hours, location, phone number, and menus in a standard way that is intuitive to users. Your customers can provide feedback and reviews about your services that help others decide whether you are a good fit for them. These services are how your customers expect to be able to interact with your business online.

A website for a brick and mortar business is simply icing on the cake. Even if you have a website you'll want to look good on these other sites as well because that is probably the first place a potential customer will find you. When it comes to bang for the buck you can't beat leveraging all of these amazing sites that customers already use every day. Let them do the hard part of marketing your business and let you focus on making customers happy.

If you have a business and have questions or need help in this area, contact me and I'll either help you out or get you in touch with someone who can.

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