How a Website Works to Build Your Business

September 21, 2017
Peter McEllhenney

How websites build businesses fall into two categories.

The first is they earn conversions which are actions you can measure such as online sales, contact form submissions, trackable phone calls, requests for an estimate, and more.

The second is they provide decision support which is answers to questions people typically ask before they decide to do business with you. Your answers should make people more likely to choose your business after they visit your website than before they visit.

Decision support is harder to measure than conversions. Conversions are easy. You made this amount of money from online sales last month. You got this number of phone calls from your website. Even better, you can assign a dollar value to these conversions.

You typically have to measure decision support by inference. For example, if your average website visitor looks at several pages, and takes several minutes to look at them, you can be reasonably confident your content is relevant.

You also have to guess at the value of decision support. How much more interested in your business is a person after she visits your website than before she visits? Ten percent more interested? Twenty percent? Thirty percent?

Did the website visit persuade them to contact you offline? That is, did your website create a conversion you cannot attribute to the site? Because this happens frequently.

As a result, you might think conversions are a whole lot better than decision support. But that ain’t necessarily so. And it ain’t necessarily so because of …

The Hardest Problem in Marketing to Solve

This problem is the problem of attribution and its troublesome cousin, the last “click” attribution fallacy.

The best way to explain the attribution problem is with an example. Say you own a local restaurant. One of your customers recommends your restaurant to a neighbor. This neighbor is reminded of the recommendation because she sees your ads on Facebook. She goes to Yelp and reads your reviews. Then she goes to your website, checks out the menu and wine list, and decides to make a reservation using your online platform.

Last “click” attribution would give 100% of the credit for that reservation to your website. Which is clearly wrong. Word of mouth, advertising, reviews, and your website all contributed to the decision. However, it is difficult to measure some of the actions. And what value do you attribute to them?

If you are getting the impression that measuring marketing results can be a messy business, you’re right.

Now there are times when we can directly attribute Cause A to Effect B. For example, a compelling offer (“50% off flat-screen televisions this weekend only!”) promoted through a single campaign (a postcard mailed to your customer list) is highly measurable. When people are lined up outside your store on Saturday morning clamoring for TVs, you know it worked.

For lots of other marketing campaigns – and for lots of businesses in which making a sale is slow and complex rather than fast and simple – there is no easy cause and effect to measure. Results from your website are usually hard to measure.

Two Other Essential Elements Your Website Needs

All this analysis assumes two other essential things. The first is that your website is “good.” The second is that you have lots of visitors.

Whole books are written on how to make websites good. All I’m going to do today is give you the definition of “good.”

A good website makes it easy for people to find the information they want and take the actions they want.

How to get website visitors is also a complicated topic which I am also not going to discuss today. But many of our feature posts will discuss how to get visitors. And we are going to start next time with the topic of search engine optimization or “SEO” on October 5.

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