Business Myths That Can Hurt You

Wally Bock Frankly, there's a lot of wrong stuff out there about how you should do business online and what makes a great business web site. Here are some things that are often presented as "common knowledge" that simply aren't true.

The "Pretty = Profitable" Myth

Great looking web sites are not necessarily great business web sites. Since designers have a vested interest in doing things to make your site look good, and since they really like to work with new and innovative technology, they like to tell you that you need a good looking web site. Wrong!!

What you need is a web site that meets two sets of objectives, yours and your key visitors. That means you need a web site that works to deliver the answers and solutions your key visitors want in a way that helps you improve your business results. That means that functional should be the important criterion and graphic design should come second.

Consider that an experienced business web user will not wait more than about 10 seconds for a page to load when coming to a site for the first time. Heavy graphics design and fancy technology can slow things down to a crawl, and send potential visitors clicking off to other sites.

Two-thirds of experienced business web users tool around the web without loading inline images. For them you need to have text tags on all your graphics so your pages don't look like jumbles of little, unhelpful icons.

Instead of fancy design, invest in information and technology that helps people find answers and solutions easily. Remember that people want to do business with other people who are friendly, familiar and competent. You can help achieve that by investing in design and technology that makes your site fast and friendly.

The Search Engine Myth

This is the one that ways you have to appear at the top of search engine lists to be a success. Wrong.

People will find your site in four ways. They'll use search engines. They'll use indexes and directory sites. They'll come in individual, referral links. And they'll come directly.

Your best source of key visitors will be those that come directly. They'll type in your URL or have it on their bookmark/favorite places list. Next best are those coming on individual referral links. Then comes those index/directory sites, like associations. Search engines are last in line for quality.

That doesn't mean that you ignore search engines. Register. Have good title and metatags to help you get found. Organize your site around individual entry pages that answer a question or solve a problem for your key visitors. Then register all those pages.

Remember that visitors come to you to answer a question or solve a problem. Get links from everywhere they might visit in their search. And make sure your URL is on every bit of print and electronic material that goes out.

The "Got to Update Every Day and Keep It Entertaining" Myth

When you hear these myths you usually hear them separately. "You have to make sure your site is always fresh so people have a reason to come back" is one way you'll hear it. The other way is, "Make it entertaining so folks have a reason to come back. Wrong.

This myth is especially dangerous because it has a grain of truth in it. People will only keep re-visiting your site if they get value every time they come. For news sites that means something new every time. For entertainment sites, that means entertainment. For most business sites, it means information.

Here's the real deal. You can make your site worth re-visiting if you provide lots of information that (here it comes again) helps visitors answer a question or solve a problem. If you have lots of depth of information, the site will be "new and fresh" each time, because folks will come with different questions and problems.

Should you keep adding new material? Absolutely! If you add as little as a page a week, you'll be adding 50 pages or more every year. Make sure it's easy for folks to get around and find thinks. Make sure there are lots of links.

Don't worry about being entertaining. In our three years of research into the sites that experienced business users find most valuable, no one has every identified a site as valuable because it was entertaining. What our business users tell us is that they want lots of relevant information. Give it to them and they'll keep coming back.

The "Going Global Is Easy" Myth

"The web has global reach, so your web site will enable you to go global easily." Wrong.

Guess what? People are still people online. That means they still have different languages, cultures and business practices in different parts of the world. And, hey, here's another hot research finding. Not everyone speaks English.

OK, I'm being a little facetious. But what you need to remember is that the language, culture and business practice issues don't evaporate just because anyone in the world with a web connection can view your site. Pay attention to them.

If you're going to do lots of global business, your site should use the languages of your customers. That's just courteous.

Different cultures prefer different web color choices. Check out an array of South American or African sites, for example, being careful to choose those not developed by US firms. You'll see that the color choices are often far different from what you see in North American or European sites.

Business practice issues vary, too. Many South American credit cards, for example, are not valid for North American purchases or, sometimes for purchases outside the country of issue.

How do you avoid trouble?

Remember that there are three set of factors that go into a good web design.

Strategic, tactical and operational factors relate to your business practice and strategy. This is where you define your key visitors and objectives for the site. You have to have clear definitions and objectives here in order to be successful. You also have to have good people and process.

There are technological factors, too. These are the things that are possible on your site and the technological tradeoffs. For instance, a large graphic may make your site look better, but slow loading time. Or, a search facility may make it easier for people to find what they need. Choose the technology to use based on ease and functionality.

The third set of factors are human factors. These include things like attention span (that's why sites need to load fast) and perception patterns (why things that move and blink are distracting). They also include basic psychology. People usually will choose the known and familiar over the unknown or less familiar. They choose ease over difficulty. And they always, always pursue their own needs, wants and interests.

You'll stay out of trouble with those dangerous myths if you use common sense and pay attention to the three key sets of factors. They'll help you create a powerful, profit-building web site.

Wally has an extensive collection of articles and other resources on his Resource Web Site.

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