Monday, January 31, 2011

Business Web Sites are Tools
What do web visitors want, anyway?

By Jim Walton
CEO, Brand Acceleration, Inc.
Indianapolis and Charlotte

Recently, I was visiting with a friend who is a principal at a large construction firm and we got onto the subject of web sites. “We have a beautiful site,” he said. “It’s very cool.” In addition to its beauty, he extolled its various gizmos and gadgets. “What does it tell visitors,” I asked. “How effective is it at generating leads?” He was stumped.

I hated throwing cold water on his enthusiasm, but in my business we believe that web sites are tools, not toys. At Brand Acceleration, we work with architects, engineers, construction companies, economic developers, and real estate professionals who use web sites for the purpose of communicating key messages to highly targeted audiences. For those audiences, web sites are tools used for the purpose of evaluating potential service providers or business locations. They’re not looking to be entertained. They want solutions.

The world of web sites is enormously competitive. According to a 2008 report by Google, they had, at that time, indexed more than one trillion unique URLs. How in the world can one company or community stand out? Here are just a few key points to consider when you set out to build a business web site:

You are not the audience
It’s very important to remember who the audience is. Are they business people? Do they work in a specific industry? What do they want to find when they visit your site? The biggest mistake you can make is to ask yourself, “What do we want to say or show?” It’s not about you. If you make it nothing more than a talk and tell site, visitors will leave and seek out one of your competitors.

Message is everything
The purpose of any business web site, ad, or brochure is to convey a message. Once you have the visitor’s attention, you’d better tell them something they want to hear or they’ll move on. In most cases, they are searching for solutions and if they can’t easily find them, they will leave your site and seek them elsewhere. This is business, not a leisurely stroll through the park. Effective sites provide credible content which is of value to the visitor. They want you to tell them what’s in it for them.

Be careful not to try to tell them everything, though. Web sites are not electronic brochures and visitors just won’t read long blocks of copy or wade through countless pages. The idea is to tell them just enough to entice them to dig deeper and to eventually make contact. That’s kind of what we’re trying to accomplish, right?

Avoid templates and packages
Your web site is probably your most important promotional tool and should not be done on the cheap. There are numerous software companies and a very large number or web developers who will gladly offer you a “package deal” allowing you to have a web site in a few days or weeks and for a “very low price.” Look out! I’ve seen many of these sites and they are often nothing more than templates or knockoffs of work they’ve done for other companies. I recently met a company owner who had paid $50,000 for a web site, just to find out that it looked almost identical to the web developer’s own site. He was shocked and more than a bit ticked off. At Brand Acceleration, every web site, brochure, ad, or other tool we create is custom developed just for that client. The look, writing, and structure are unique. You can’t stand out by looking or sounding like another company. Besides that, it’s shameful for an agency of design firm to sell a knockoff of other work. Shameful!

Great design is about more than beauty
“It’s beautiful!” These are words that we love to hear. We always want clients to be pleased with the appearance of their site. However……

What good is a beautiful web site if no one reads it or digs deeper into its pages? There are many “web designers” out there who have no experience or education in the art of design. It’s about much more than beauty. Whether a web site or brochure, great designers know how to move the viewers attention from one place to another and encourage them to move further into its pages. If the visitor stops at page one, your investment is wasted.

Beware of gizmos, gadgets, and the latest clever apps
In the world of business-to-business communication, web site visitors are looking for answers, not entertainment. While having a product ad crawl across the screen may seem like a unique way of getting in front of the visitor, it also has the potential of irritating them and causing them to leave. Such devices add no value and may slow down the visitors search for information. Cool and clever may seem entertaining to some but I once had a site selection consultant tell me that if a web gadget gets in his way, he’ll take the city or county off his list and move on. “I just don’t have time for that stuff,” he said.

With all of the options available to web site owners, it’s very easy to become distracted. Low price offers, templates, and clever apps can lead them to an ineffective waste of money. We feel it is crucial to remember how visitors use a site. We always remember that our job is to develop powerful web sites, brochures and other tools that generating results for our clients.

A few sites that we’re especially proud of are: Freitag-Weinhart, Stanly County Economic Development, I-74 Business Corridor, and Poynter Sheet Metal.

Brand Acceleration is a full-service advertising, brand management and public relations firm operating from Indianapolis, Indiana and Charlotte, North Carolina. The agency’s focus is on economic development, architecture/engineering/construction and real estate.

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