9 Characteristics of a Good Website

I’ve been in working in IT since before the Internet existed, so I’ve seen almost everything. Last week I discussed why most web-based businesses fail and why company websites usually don’t produce a positive return on investment. So what makes a website – particularly a website for a small or mid-sized business – profitable and deliver leads and sales? Here are 8 characteristics of good websites I’ve observed through the years.

  • Good websites actually work properly. Need I say more?
  • A good website often caters to a niche. Crafting your message for a group that you know well is a powerful strategy. Remember, it’s all about communication so the better your focus and the clearer your message, the more effective a site will be.
  • Good websites keep it simple. Flash and videos can be fun, but that often isn’t what communicates value. I’m not saying that good design and following proper HTML rules aren’t important – they are very important. But if your site is just entertaining, people will watch the show and then depart – leaving you with nothing.
  • Good websites often have unique or hard to find products. Selling or promoting the same thing as everyone else usually doesn’t work. When I mention selling unique items many business people don’t think there’s enough traffic to warrant it. But remember that if you’re extending your reach nationwide and hopefully worldwide – you’ve got a huge audience. And the great thing about the web and Internet advertising is you can rapidly try things and see what works.
  • Good websites connect with people. If you’ve ever visited a website and just found the entire experience pleasant and positive, then you’ve experienced a site that connects well. These sites present their goods or services in a positive way that literally clicks with their customers. This is where a good web designer can be really valuable as they have what I call web gestalt.
  • Good websites have lots of useful related content. Sure you’re trying to sell products or services, but having good supporting content makes it clear that you know what you’re doing. And it also makes it clear that you’re not just re-packing some someone else’s product which you actually know (or care) nothing about.
  • Good websites integrate well with their underlying business. If your site is selling products, it should be a natural extension of your brick and mortar business and not some awkward add-on. If someone calls about something on the website your conversation with them should be as easy and natural as if they walked in the door. This fit is what allows you to keep your website current and relevant – it’s easy when it’s what you already do.
  • Good website re-package things in unique ways. You might think that because you sell a service that you’ve got nothing to put on your website except your phone number. That’s wrong. You’ve got expertise and that’s valuable. Expertise is both factual knowledge and knowledge about how to apply the facts. Figure out how to package your expertise so you can capture the interest of visitors.
  • And good websites are useful. Simply having pages of content doesn’t make a site useful. In fact, it can be downright boring. The best websites cause people to immediately bookmark them because the user knows they’ll want to be back for more. How many people would bookmark your website?

“Most Web-Based Businesses Lose Money”

While Spring hasn’t really thought about showing up in New England yet, tax season has come with it’s usual painful  side-effects. One plus I always get from the experience is chatting with the partner in our CPA firm that services our account. If you really want to know how the economy and business are doing, talk to the people doing the taxes.

Anyway, this year the partner we work with at our CPA firm made an interesting comment. He observed that while one of my web-based businesses had done well in 2013, “most never turn a profit.” How can that be? The web and Internet are supposed to be the driving force of the new economy, right? The web allows you to reach to millions of customers all of whom are eager to find out about you because of all time you spend creating social media content, paying for SEO, and paying for clicks, yes?

Here are some observations as to why it doesn’t work out that way.

  1. Social media is turning into a collection of mostly junk. With fake users, fake news, fake product endorsements, and search engines bogged down by bogus content, people are more skeptical of what they see online or receive via email than of a used car salesman. Most users now expect that every click is just data for future marketers. I’m predicting that in 5 years social media will be unrecognizable from its present form. Could be bad news for the major search engines.
  2. Websites without content. I use the web constantly and I’m amazed by how bad some sites are – and I’m not talking about a mom-and-pop business with limited funds and knowledge, but large corporate sites that shouldn’t have an excuse. In some cases the sites have become so complex that they have reached beyond what might make them useful, but in other cases the corporate owners really don’t care.
  3. Websites with the same products as everyone else. This one is easy – if you’re just selling the exact same product or service that’s already available on Amazon or from Walmart.com, give up now. It’s not to say you can’t add value to make your web presence distinctive, but it requires a plan and some effort.
  4. A Web presence without a plan. Simply having a website doesn’t mean you’ll do more business or make any profits, yet it’s amazing how many business owners and executives think so. How does your website fit into your business plan? I tell business owners a website is like a hammer. If you buy and hammer and put it in a drawer, nothing will ever be built.
  5. Fuzzy Math. In some cases businesses just don’t do the math. Look at your margin then realistically look at revenue you can generate from the website or assign a value to the leads you’ll create. Are you being realistic about the payback? Especially when you consider that to keep your site relevant you’ll be constantly investing time and money.

In a future post I’ll talk about some of the secrets for websites that do work.