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 1995-2000 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:

  1. Websites without traffic offer no business or organizational purpose: Sad but true. 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 as a toll-free number is useless if nobody calls it, so too a website is useless if nobody visits it.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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 1995-2000 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:

Benefits Features
  • Reassurance: I can do this.
  • Peace of mind: my plan is okay.
  • Information: how to develop a plan.
  • Answers: experts to answer related questions.
  • Resources: consultants, experts, authors.
  • Sample business plans
  • Online how-to guides
  • Expert Q&A
  • Sample Plan Wizard
  • Starting Costs tool
  • Cash Calculator tool
  • Sample marketing plans
  • Sample Web plans
  • Industry Information

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.

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.