What has your website done for you lately?

Is your website working for you? If not, why not?

I get a number of emails from people saying “I need a website. Can you send me a proposal?” or, “I need a website. How much do you charge?”

Why do you need a website?

The answer may seem obvious—”You just gotta have a website these days!” but if you don’t have a clear idea of what you expect your website to accomplish for you, then the technical and aesthetic details are irrelevant. And no matter what the price, the money won’t be well spent if you don’t know what goal you’re trying to accomplish.

One of the key distinctions is whether the website is the business or whether the website promotes the business. If the website is the business, are you selling products, services, or advertising? Or do you have a non-profit, and if so, are you looking to educate? Raise funds? Recruit volunteers?

If you have an e-commerce site, security will be critical. You’ll be needing integration with Paypal or Amazon payments. Usability will be much more important—you don’t want users to abandon a shopping cart because they can’t find the “Check Out Now” button. It might be worth including usability testing in your budget. Likewise, if you have an online service—let’s say a job board—usability testing will be critical to make sure that it’s a smooth process for people to post or reply to jobs.

If your business model is to create a site that attracts so much traffic that you can sell advertising, then content creation, online community creation and social media integration become much more of a focus. And if you are inviting people to join or post, then you will need to consider both spam control and community moderation.

For a non-profit website, making it easy for people to donate funds is often the critical purpose. Similar to e-commerce, you need to be concerned about security and usability. Political and advocacy sites may want website visitors to stay in touch and get instant alerts via email, twitter or facebook.

Websites that promote a business are often looked at as online brochures, but they can be much more. For most businesses, the point of getting someone to their website is to get leads. If the website can’t be found, and there is no compelling reason for a visitor to stay, return or contact you, then a website has no more value than a billboard. Search engine optimization (SEO)—getting found via google—is critical. But what happens once someone finds the website via google is just as important. A lead generation strategy implemented through the website will drive more business than just a 5-page brochure website with a contact page.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be going into more detail on all of these topics, and discussing different strategies and solutions for different business goals.