No doubt about it, the Web can benefit your business. (That's probably why you're reading this book.) But before you dive into building a Web presence, it's a good idea to know the kinds of things you can expect the Web to do for you.
In this half of the chapter, I give you the good news: a discussion of the things the Web can do for your business, along with real-life examples from businesses like yours.
Provide Information 24/7
The Web never sleeps. It's available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, providing the information you think is important to anyone interested in seeing it. This is perhaps the most important yet overlooked feature of the Web, the reason so many people turn to it to answer questions and gather information.
Look at Me
I'm a good example. I wake up very early (especially in the summer time) and am usually at my desk working by 6:00 AM. Fortunately, the Web is awake and working, too. I can access Web sites for the products I write about and get general information, technical support documents, and even software updates. I can use e-mail links on Web sites to fire off questions and feedback to product marketing people and technical support personnel. I can use forms on Web sites to report problems or request additional information. These are just some of the things I do on the Web.
Now look at the alternative. Say a company I need information about doesn't have a Web site. (Or it has a Web site but the information just isn't there and there's no e-mail contact information.) I have to wait until that company opens for business to call them. (That's if I don't forget; my memory isn't what it used to be.) I may have to deal with an automated phone system that has me pushing buttons for a minute or more. Then I have to hope the person I need information from is available, and, if not, leave a voicemail message and hope he calls me back when I'm available.
By providing the information that people want on a Web site that's available all of the time, you give potential clients, customers, or reviewers a great way to learn what they need to know when they need to know it.
Example: Coldwell Banker Bob Nuth & Associates
Bob Nuth operates the local branch of Coldwell Banker, a huge real estate company. Although Coldwell Banker has a Web site and offers its branches the ability to include information on its site, Bob wanted a way to reach out to folks looking for real estate in the Wickenburg area, including those folks who never heard of Coldwell Banker.
In deciding on Web site features, Bob assumed that people looking for real estate want to "shop" online-that is, they want to see information about specific listed properties that meet their needs. Although Bob's staff can fax or mail property information to perspective clients, they can't handle requests for information when the office is closed. The Web site, however, can handle requests all the time.
Online shopping doesn't always involve a purchase or even a purchase decision. Like window shopping, all it requires is something for the shopper to look at and make some basic conclusions about.
The Coldwell Banker Bob Nuth & Associates Web site provides a searchable database of property listings. The site visitor enters criteria in a search form, then clicks a Search button. A list of properties matching the criteria appears. The site visitor can then click a property link to get details about that property, including (in many instances) a photo (see Figure 1). The so-called "property detail" page even includes a lead-generation form that the visitor can fill out if the property interests him.
The Coldwell Banker Bob Nuth & Associates Web site provides a wealth of information about currently available properties, as well as a form the visitor can fill out and send if a property interests him.