Does My Business Really Need a Website?

Yes. Absolutely yes. If you don't already have one, drop everything and get one now!

I think it's gotten to the point today that the question of if you should have a website isn't important anymore, now a more useful question is what kind of website you need.

The answer to that question depends largely on what kind of business you have, or indeed whether you're a business at all. I would argue that any brand needs to have its own website, whether it's your business, a specific product or service your business offers, a division within your business or even you, yourself.

There are plenty of different kinds of websites, and there's no clear dividing line between them. The nature of your brand will dictate what kind you need. Every good website should include the following components:

Site with image banner

1. Who are you?
What is the name of your brand? What sort of thing do you offer? This should be obvious on every page of your website, even if it's just in a banner image across the top of the page. If someone comes to your website through Google, they won't necessarily come in through the front page. If they're going to stay and read more, they need to tell at a glance what sort of website they're looking at.

2. Front page.
This is the ideal place for visitors to your site to start. When they type in your website address (www.yourbrand.co.za) this is the first page they'll see. To make the most of it, try to strike a balance between giving the reader as much useful information as possible without overloading them with text. If the user never clicks beyond your front page, they should at least have gleaned the most important information about your brand you want them to have, whatever that may be.

3. About Us.
A second page that describes in more detail what your brand is about. This might include things like the names of your directors, corporate affiliations, a brief history of the brand and so on.

Contact Us Page
4. Contact Us.
Your visitors need a way of getting hold of you, if they want to make use of whatever you have to offer. Office phone numbers are good (if you have those), but more important than that is an email address - one that a person actually reads. If you get an email from a prospective customer via your contact page and you don't respond to it within one business day, you can safely assume you've lost that customer for good.
A good supplement to this area would be links to your brand's Facebook Page and Twitter profile, allowing the visitor to engage with you through those channels as well, without having to go looking for you on those services.

5. Products and Services.
Although it should be obvious by looking at your website what kinds of products and services you offer, it's important to have a place where they're explained in more detail. If possible, give an updated price-list of what you have available. Ideally have a way for customers to make a purchase directly from the product page.

6. News.
This is an area often overlooked by corporate websites: a place to post your news and announcements, be they press releases, new product releases or just interesting stuff that relates to your industry. A good way of doing that is by building a blog into your site (or making your whole website out of a blog, using a content management system like Wordpress or Blogger). It's not enough to just have a news section, you actually need to commit to updating it no less than once a month. If visitors arrive at your site and see that nothing on it has changed since 2005, they may assume you've gone out of business (or are at least having some kind of financial trouble) and go elsewhere.

Although making a really good website is a lot easier than it was ten yeas ago, it's still a fairly technical procedure. Odds are you already have a person in your company who has technical or creative leanings, and might know how to build one for you. Alternatively there are online services like Google Sites and Squarespace that let you build a basic site by pointing and clicking.

If you're a freelance professional or some other kind of sole proprietor, your brand is yourself. But even if you work for an employer, it's still a good idea to think about managing your personal brand, both as an extension of your employer's brand, and as its own entity - in case you someday decide to leave that company and do something different.

My Google Profile
Building a personal brand site is a lot easier than one for a business, and odds are you've already got one. Your Facebook or LinkedIn profile page could be easily adapted to serve as a brand site... although LinkedIn might be the better choice, given its more professional focus. I prefer to use my Google Profile (I've even got it set up so that if you go to www.owenswart.org, it takes you to my Google Profile).

Other options worth considering are adding an "About Me" page to your personal blog or a Flavours.me personal landing page. Both of those are pretty easy to put together, and with a little effort can be really stunning.

The thing about having a website for your brand is that it's not just a way for people to find you on the web so they can call you. Your website is your digital "avatar" - it represents you online and speaks for you in conversations you don't even know are happening. If you want to make sure those conversations are as well-informed as possible, it's in your own interest to make sure your website is the best possible ambassador for your brand.

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