Tending Your Garden

Mmmmm Harvest... - Fort Collins, Colorado
Creative Commons License photo credit: gregor_y

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of speaking about websites at the monthly Columbia Falls Chamber of Commerce lunch meeting.

While it’s not exactly opening for the Stones at Madison Square Garden, it’s an honor because it’s a group of mostly local business owners whose success is important to me.

I was asked to talk on the subject “So, Ive got a website…now what?”

While it’s a valid question, it’s not how I want you to be thinking about your site. See, a fair number of business owners think about their site as “Something I gotta do” rather than something that is part of their strategic efforts to win business.

Please don’t do that.

Your website (like your advertising, hiring, etc) is not a checkbox that you mark off and have done forever after you’ve finished it the first time.

Your website, like those other things, is like a garden.

Be the Farmer

When you have a garden, it requires a process to start it and continued maintenance to help it produce.

You till, you plant after the last frost, you water, you weed, you chase off the deer and rabbits. After doing those last few things all summer, you enjoy the harvest before the first frost (mostly). All of these things happen on a schedule.

Your business is no different. You perform various activities on a schedule because it’s strategically wise to do so.

You don’t plant a garden and then walk away from it for months at a time and come back expecting it to feed you. Likewise, you shouldn’t expect that of a website. Both require strategic thought and upkeep.

What to plant?

Let’s back up a little though… In your website garden, what do you plant?

Would it help to consider the roles you want your site to serve?

Depending on what you do, your website may carry a heavy burden that makes it seem an impossible task. Don’t let that stop you from starting a site.

You might have to start small and incrementally expand the roles it fills.

Some possible roles…

  • Brochure. Far too many small business websites stop here.
  • Greeter
  • Customer service department
  • Order processing
  • PR person
  • News source. What’s new. If you havent changed your site’s content in 5 years, what does that say about your business?
  • 24 hour answering service
  • Reservations agent
  • Waiter
  • Maitre D
  • Marketing dude
  • Trade show booth

How well does your site fill these roles? Did I miss any?

The toughest question facing many small business owners is “What should I put on my site?”

Why do people call you? What info do they need?

If you look at the roles your site serves, the questions and answers become obvious. You deal with them every day.

Weeds

A big mistake I see made with small business websites is that they are created and then ignored (or close to it).

You wouldn’t do that to a garden…why would you do it to a strategically important part of your business?

You wouldn’t ignore a client at your doorstep or on the phone, so why do it online?

Some example weeds include…

  • A site that offers no way to interact with a visitor or let them contact you.
  • A site that fails to give visitors a reason to come back regularly.
  • A site whose address (URL) isn’t included on your other business materials, signs, vehicles, brochures, business cards, etc. I shouldnâ??t have to mention this but I STILL SEE it.
  • A site that doesn’t offer information to help the customer get more out of their investment at that business.

Curb appeal

Most people don’t care so much about their garden’s curb appeal, unless it’s a flower garden.

How are you presenting the information your site’s visitors want?

Think about describing your favorite national park to a friend.

  • You can write a description.
  • You can talk about it.
  • You can show them photos.
  • You can show them videos.
  • Or you can take them there.

Which has the most impact?

While the last one is ideal, it isn’t always possible, so aim for the next best thing.

It’ll depend on what info you are trying to convey, but short videos are likely the most powerful.

The impact difference between text  vs. photos and video is substantial. The investment is cheap. Most people won’t have to invest in a fancy camera and software because their cell phone will capture photos and/or HD video. Some of them will upload directly to YouTube (etc).

Critters who visit

Mobile browser use continues to grow like crazy. How does your site look in a mobile browser?

For some people, it doesn’t matter all that much. In the last 10 months, our chamber website has had only 150 visits by mobile browser users. The reasons are obvious because of the type of info a chamber site contains and the content sought by typical site users.

Your site might be exactly the opposite. If I had a restaurant, motel or tourist attraction, I’d be sure my site worked well from mobile browsers so that people could use it from their phone while traveling. If your site is one that would be used frequently by a person on the go, failing to have a mobile-friendly site is like putting a fence around your garden to keep the bees out during the bloom.

Location, location, location

Location-sensitive mobile web applications (Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places, et al) are growing in lock step with mobile browsing.

Taking advantage of them is a great idea…unless your garden has been neglected and overrun with weeds. Until the site is in tip top shape, your time is best spent on making the best possible content available to your visitors given the roles your site serves.

Even if you don’t take advantage of location-specific mobile applications, there are several location-specific things your site should address. Is there a map to your business? Is your business registered with Google Places? (formerly Google Local) If you’re in a tourist area, how close are you to big ticket items? What can you help them enjoy? How hard is it to find out all the stuff a visitor wants to know? How hard is it for them to make an online reservation?

Pests

All over TV and elsewhere, you see businesses referring to Facebook-based web pages.

While it’s OK to have a Facebook page for your business, I don’t recommend that its the ONLY site you have. Keep in mind that your Facebook page is also yet-another-garden to tend. Don’t spread yourself too thin or the weeds will take over.

So…how’s your garden doing? Is it primed for a great harvest?

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