Successful websites don’t set out to sell
September 3, 2006 • Glenn Murray
What are websites? Are they sales tools for vendors and service providers, or are they electronic guidance for potential customers? Put simply, are you selling or are you helping?
Your answer to this question may determine the success of your website. So think carefully…
How we define what a website is all depends on which side of the fence we’re on. I suspect that most – if not all – vendors and service providers would say their website is a sales tool. But this is a fundamentally flawed perspective. Adopt this position, and sooner or later you’ll pay for it.
To really understand what a website is for, we need to think about who the Internet serves. It’s tempting to think cynically and argue that it serves commercial interests, but that’s getting the cart before the horse. The Internet serves buyers and information seekers. That’s what most people use it for.
What your visitors are really looking for is a website that helps them. A website that helps them buy when they want to buy. Helps them understand when they want to understand. And – most importantly – a website that helps them decide when they want to decide.
So if you really want to build trust, credibility, authority, and site loyalty, helping visitors is the way to go. Of course, that’s not to say you have to do it for free. We’re all in business to make money after all. In fact, the main aim of many of your visitors will be to buy something. But it’s important that you focus on them, not on you. For example, your visitors don’t want to know what you have to sell. They want to know what they can choose to buy. If your primary focus is sales, your visitors will pick up on it.
To generate revenue from our websites – either directly or indirectly – we need to build them to help our readers. Don’t start by asking “How can I sell?” Instead, start by asking “How can I help?” (Even “How can I help them buy?” is a step in the right direction.)
We need to build our websites from the ground up to be a form of online help. Think of your website as a cousin of the online help provided with Microsoft Office. (If you think of Microsoft’s help as the slow-witted cousin, you’re on the right track…)
I worked as a technical writer in the software industry for 9 years, writing and managing online help for software programs. And the key to successful online help is to always try to answer one simple question: What does the reader want to know? We knew they wanted help, but did they want reference information or how-to information? Did they want to know how to get started or how to get out of trouble?
Sure, when you’re writing for a website, the subject material is different, but the question is still the same. What does your reader want to know?
Obviously, the answer to this question will be different for everyone, but there are some common questions you can ask yourself which might help you decide…
- Who is your audience?
- What time of the day are they most likely to be searching?
- Are they searching from home or their workplace?
- Are they the business owner or do they have a boss looking over their shoulder?
- Are they relaxed or in a hurry?
- Are they spending their money or someone else’s?
- Are they looking for something which will make their job easier?
- Or are they looking for something which will make their job possible?
- Are they trying to solve a problem or avoid a problem?
- Are they looking for a budget solution or a ‘best of breed’ solution?
- Are they looking for something with all the bells and whistles or something which focuses on one thing only?
- Are they looking to buy immediately (just as soon as they know they’ve found what they want)?
- Are they comfortable with internet purchases?
- Are they the final decision maker or do they need to convince someone else as well?
- How much do they know already about your subject material?
- How much do they want to know?
Whether you do some real research or just make some educated guesses, it’s important that you know your visitor very well. Then, and only then, can you help them. And only when you help them will you start to realize the true sales potential of your website.