Your Business Website Part 1: Gathering Data

    Imagine you’re building a billboard. Not just putting an advertisement on one—building one from scratch. Every decision is yours. How do you start? Maybe you start with the size. You make it huge, big enough to attract the attention of anyone who gets close. And flashy. Let’s have it flash blue, or green—or, we could make one of those fancy new billboards that oscillate between three or four different screens; then we can make it blue and green. Add a few frills and some copy—there! We’ve got the greatest billboard this side of awesome, and there’s no way this billboard isn’t going to capture the hearts and minds of a new generation.

    Does just looking at your business website give you a headache?

    Does just looking at your business website give you a headache?

    Except that the new generation doesn’t even see your billboard. You got too excited about your project and skipped a few steps—right past the part where you find out what people want to see and how to bring it to their attention.

    You didn’t find out where the traffic was before you built, so your brand new billboard is sitting on the opposite side of town from where these blue-and-green-flash-loving members of the new generation you’re looking for do their checking out of billboards, where people like orange much more than blue and green—static orange, at that, none of this flashing—and your fantastic billboard failed to make any headway at all.

    Reaching Your Target Market

    Obviously (I hope), you’re not going to be building any serious websites with blue and green flashing lights. But if this anectdote tells you anything, I hope it’s that you need to be able to reach your target demographic.

    So how do you start? First: define your target market. What are you selling? Who’s going to want it? How is it going to benefit their life? What other products or services do these people use? Who are these people? If you aren’t able to answer these questions, you need to spend some serious time thinking about who your customers are—objectively—where they are and how they’re going to respond to you. There are a lot of ways to do this, and because websites are such huge factors in today’s business world (when’s the last time you made a decision about a company based solely on the yellow pages?), it’s well worth consulting a pro.

    Once you know who your customers are, the next step is to decide how you’re going to reach them. The first question is—are you showing people your website, or do you expect them to find you?

    In other words, are you handing out fliers with your URL on them, so that people can go to your site specifically? Is your goal to give your existing customers a central location where you can provide information about your business, thus eliminating the need to mail out brochures and other printed materials? If so, your strategy is simple: just register a memorable URL, and tell everyone about it.

    On the other hand, if you’re counting on people who have never heard of you to stumble upon your website by searching for specific words, it’s a whole different ballgame.

    How Google Insights Can Help

    There’s not much Google does that isn’t breathtaking, and Insights is no exception. Insights is a fantastic, free tool that shows you the amount of keywords searched in a given period—the terminology your potential consumers are using to find what they’re looking for. Among the most basic of its functions is identifying popular keywords so that you can discard those that aren’t going to be useful; you can harness that knowledge and use it to bring people to you.

    Consider the garbanzo bean. That’s what I grew up calling them, and so I might build my website around the idea that it should be optimized for the phrase “garbanzo beans.” But wait—they’re also called chick peas, aren’t they? How can I be sure that I’m not flashing my blue and green lights at the orange folk? With Insights, I don’t have to guess. A few clicks and I had this in front of me:

    Google Insights makes keywords easy.

    Google Insights makes keywords easy.

    It’s clear, even to the least marketing-savvy among us, that in order to reach more people, I probably want to talk about chick peas. Had I gone with my gut and not taken the time to do my research, I could be missing out on potential revenue.

    The frequency of various terminology is by no means the only data you need—this is one example. But many new entrepreneurs shoot themselves in the foot by relying too much on a website that isn’t being utilized to its full potential. Contrary to popular belief, building it doesn’t necessarily mean they will come. But if you put some time into thinking about who your consumers are, what they need, and how you can help them—they might at least notice you.

    It’s a first step, but it’s a big one.

    [This series continues in Part 2: Making a Plan and Part 3: Designing Your Website.]

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