A website does nothing for your business or organization by itself. Its use depends on traffic, and traffic depends on marketing. A website without a marketing plan is as useful as a toll free telephone number that nobody knows about.
One of the biggest and most widespread fallacies of the late 20th century Internet boom in the United States was the idea that a website would or could create business on its own. This outrageous idea was populated by messages such as the television commercial, watched by millions in the late 1990s, showing two women who invented an improvement on sunglasses while on the beach, and in a subsequent scene they were still happily on the beach but at that point living off of their website.
In truth it just doesn’t happen like that. Here are some basic truths to offset common myths:
- Websites without traffic offer no business or organizational purpose: Sad but true, this is just pure myth. If you build a beautiful website and nobody comes, no matter how useful or artistic the website, it is useless. Think of a website as a new version of the toll free telephone number; just like a toll free number is useless if nobody calls it, so too a website is useless if nobody visits it.
- Websites don’t get traffic by themselves: If you build it, and do nothing else, they will come. That’s also a myth. Websites don’t generate traffic anymore just because they are good, or useful.
- Traffic takes marketing: It takes marketing to generate traffic on a website. Successful websites generate traffic by new applications of old-fashioned marketing, including advertising, public relations, and word of mouth. They also generate traffic through new Internet marketing, highlighted by careful management of searcher strategies.
- The Internet gold rush is over: Times have changed for the Internet, investors are no longer going to invest in traffic alone. These days plans have to be complete, from marketing to revenues and expenses, with business sense.
Your competitive edge
What is your website’s competitive edge? How are you different from all others? In what way does it stand out? Is there sustainable value that you can maintain and develop over time?
The most classic of the competitive edges are those based on proprietary technology and protected by patents. A patent, an algorithm, even deeply entrenched know-how, can be a solid competitive edge. In services, however, the edge can be as simple as having the phone number 1 (800) Flowers, which is an actual case. A successful company was built around that phone number.
Sometimes market share and brand acceptance are just as important. Know-how does not have to be protected by patent to offer a competitive edge. For example, some of these values might lead to competitive edge:
- Quick loading pages–2 seconds vs. 12 seconds, 8 seconds being the average. For example, Buy.com’s average load time is 2-4 seconds. This has certainly been the case with Yahoo!, it consistently loads in a very small amount of time.
- Fresh content. e.g., major news sites. This is less of a concern to readers of theonion.com or e-zine sites, where the expectation is that content will be updated on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis.
- Marketing leverage. For example, zoom.com is owned by NBCi, a subsidiary of NBC the major national television network. NBC directs traffic in NBCi’s direction. The National Football League site at NFL.com generates traffic by linking to football broadcasts with live interaction.
- Trust. A community where people feel free to post their thoughts and concerns will have a competitive advantage based on trust. New posts and new ideas bring them back to your site. Fool.com, for example, has mastered the art of building a network of users. They have dozens of custom email newsletters, some of which feature the most popular message board posts for that day.
The competitive edge might be different for any given company, even between one company and another in the same industry. You don’t have to have a competitive edge to run a successful business–hard work, integrity, and customer satisfaction can substitute for it–but any edge will certainly give you a head start if you need to bring in new investment. Maybe it’s your customer base, as in the case with Hewlett-Packard’s traditional relationship with engineers and technicians, or maybe it’s image and awareness, such as with Dell. Maybe your competitive edge is quality control and consistency, like that of IBM.
Features and benefits statements
A good website strategy first identifies a market need, which indicates a target market, and then fills that need. Now that the Internet boom of the late 20th century is over, your strategy usually has to add an element of basic business revenue, considering who will pay how much to have that need filled.
Features and benefits statements are classics of standard marketing. For every product and every service you sell, develop your features and benefits statements. Follow this logic for your website:
First, understand the difference between features and benefits. Take a look at the example below, describing features and benefits of Bplans.com:
Now consider the distinctions. Features are characteristics of the site, while benefits are positive values to the person who uses the site. The features serve as a means to offer the intended customer benefit. Usually people buy benefits more than features. The site’s ability to give people reassurance that their plan is okay, answers to questions, resolve doubts, and specific how-to steps is why it’s successful. Site designers create features, but people buy benefits.
Good marketers understand features, but emphasize benefits. They use features to explain and develop benefits. There are exceptions to the general rule. Some websites, some markets, and even some industries are feature-driven. For some buyers, computers and personal electronics have this tendency. Sometimes the features and benefits merge together.
When communicating features and benefits, always emphasize benefits. Generally the benefits sell your site, not the features. Engineers and product development teams love features, as do gadget-oriented buyers, but benefits sell, while features really just deliver benefits.
Among online trading websites, for example, advertising often sells benefits related to reliability and expertise, more than specific website features. As you look at the online brokers marketing, think about this as background. Most of these ads push benefits, but some push price alone, and some push features. Think about ads you know and how they suggest benefits and specifically inform about features.