The one question to ask yourself about your website

February 14, 2013

It’s pretty basic.

The first question I ask anyone who wants a website review from me is ‘What part does your website play in your business?’ (Or your work, if you don’t sell things).

Most people scratch their heads slightly at that moment. Unless they are the CEO of Amazon, who would laugh. The large retailers that I’ve worked with would also laugh, but then they too would scratch their heads.

Unless you exclusively operate online, it is likely that your online presence is just one more facet of your organisation.

It could be vitally important, or it might not matter much.

Dog in snowy park

What can your dog tell you about web design?
Mine specialises in search.

There are still plenty of websites which don’t really matter. Take …dog training. I fell into the murky online world of Dog Stuff last year, and was continually astonished by the sheer awfulness of dog-related websites.

In part, it’s because deep attachment to canines doesn’t seem to go with an appreciation of modern graphic design. (I’m sure there is a joke in there about dogs not knowing HTML).


Also, dog owners proceed by personal recommendation.

If I talk to fellow dog owners in the park about Alfie’s behavioural problems, they tell me about Rebecca from Perfect Poodles. ‘Don’t be put off by her terrible website, she can’t spell for toffee but she’s great at treating dogs who are scared of fireworks.’

So Rebecca’s website – all scrolling yellow text on a black background, copyright 2007 –  is working fairly well for her. It pretty much just needs her contact details. More would be great, but it’s not essential. Rebecca is already spending most of her time turning people away from her Thursday evening classes.

Websites don’t always matter

In Rebecca’s case, I can’t tell how well her business is faring just from looking at her website. It’s just a listing. Yes, it could be a lot better, but dog owners know that a poor website is no particular guide to expertise.

What’s the story with your website?

Is it completely mission-critical? Or is it a bit more complicated?

What do I mean by complicated? Well, your website could do lots of things. It could be:

  • a simple listing
  • a sales counter
  • a portfolio
  • a company brochure
  • a showcase for your talents and thinking
  • the public face of your project
  • a portal to many different aspects of your organisation

If there are lots of moving parts, you’ll need to understand how each of the different parts of the website contribute. For example, if you have a blog, why is that? How does your blog support your overall goal?

So, what part does your website (with all its subsections) play in your work?

If you have a simple answer, that’s great.

And it leads us to the next couple of simple questions.

Be honest. Is that the right role for your website? And how well does it do that job right now?

PS If you’re reading this on a feed or by e-mail: Hello! I’m back. I’m writing about web strategy and online learning once again, and I have lots in the pipeline. My aim is to be practical and slightly deep. If you’ve liked it, please share it.

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