As you consider what you do online, keep this question in mind: which type of website do you have? In my experience, many websites should be one or the other, but only go half way and end up accomplishing very little in comparison to what they could accomplish. The internet is a very fast paced environment, and that is why we have to be very precise about how we communicate. People lose their way very quickly, and when they do, they click the back button.
And now, on to revealing the secret of the two website types.
Type 1: Sales
The first type of website is for selling something. Your goal in this case is to get people to buy the thing you are selling. Therefore, your site should be entirely oriented towards helping website users buy your stuff. That needs to be the clear vision that guides your thinking. Everything about your site should be subsumed to that goal.
There can be different types of sales, of course: a physical product, site membership (like a dating site), a ticket to an event, or even a donation to a good cause. For my purposes, a sales site is one which has a checkout built into the site. It all happens there, ideally without any need for emails or phone calls.
While this is an easy idea to explain and nod one’s head at, it can go wrong in many ways. For example, I have sometimes heard the following rationale: I don’t just want to sell things to people I also want to inspire them. Well, OK. That is laudable. And yet, can it work? Perhaps in some circumstances. But for all practical purposes, if you are selling something, the inspiration of your user is related to their desire to make a purchase. So you will best inspire them by focusing with absolute clarity on the purpose of your website, which is to sell them something. And, needless to say, you better have an inspiring product to boot. REI has mastered this approach, so there’s a good place to start if you want something to emulate. REI inspires us to do things which can only be done (so the messaging suggests) with their products.
Type 2: Leads
In contrast to a sales site, a leads site is about generating human contact. It may be an email, permission to contact them, a phone call, or even a physical visit.
This type of website might be the most difficult one to leverage. For example, we talk about a “business card site” a small, low key site merely intended to inform people, a kind of repository for general information about a business or organization. If they want to, people can go to the contact page. This approach strikes me as very fuzzy thinking. What is the purpose of a business card? You want people to contact you! Whatever you business or organization is, surely it depends on people communicating. Therefore, your site should never be there just to inform, it should entice users to contact you. Unless you don’t want people to contact you or visit you. But in that case, why bother with a website?
My advice for this type of site is, don’t think about it as a show and tell of your business. Maybe that sort of info can be on the site, but it’s not the main thing. The main thing is CONTACT ME.
But what about content marketing?
Ah you got me! A third kind of website, one that is not focused on selling or on leads. My typology is false! But wait… Actually content marketing is about generating leads. Sometimes about sales too. It just plays the long game. And that is definitely a legit approach. Every time you have a question about criminal law, you go to Saul’s site to find the answer. Who are you going to call when you need a lawyer? Still, there are pitfalls here too. I think that in a content marketing site, or in a site’s blog, you want to publish content very narrowly related to establishing your expertise about to the thing you want people to call your about. Show them you’re the boss of that content.
Still aren’t there other types of websites?
Alright you skeptical interlocutor, there are probably examples out there of sites that don’t exactly fit into my typology (Wikipedia, Gutenberg project, etc.). Still, the vast majority of sites what we use and produce and think about making do fit these two types. Thinking about which type your website is, helps to focus your attention on what you want to get out of your website. And that’s absolutely crucial for success online.