What Do You Want Your Website to Do?
There are a lot of different kinds of websites – and there are a lot of people who know they want a website, but aren't even sure why. If you don't already know, you need to figure out exactly what it is that you want your website to do. What kind of thing do you want to put on it? Who are you trying to get to visit? Here's a quick guide to some of the most popular website types.
The Business Card Website.
For many people, having a website is something they feel the need to do as a duty, not because they really want to do it. In this case, it's perfectly justified to put up a website with nothing more than your name, your business name (if any), and your email address. You could also include your real-world address and your phone number, if you're comfortable with that. The key here is to at least put up something for someone who happens to be looking for you with a search engine.
You have to understand, though, that these kinds of sites can be as frustrating as they are helpful. Friends and co-workers may be excited to find your site, only to say "oh... is that all it does?" Customers, especially, have a tendency to get upset, especially if they just wanted to know something about your products or pricing. Not having a complete website makes work for them when they have to ask you about these things, and for you when you have to answer.
The CV/Portfolio Website.
An extension of the business card format is to make your website brief, and directed at getting people to call you if they're interested in you. It could just be a listing of the jobs you've had, or it could be an archive of the articles you've written for various publications – whatever, it's there to get you work. These kinds of websites can be effective, although you should realise that you're more likely to get some work because of a site that people find useful than because of one that's just about you.
The Brochure Website.
They're often-mocked in web design, but they're not really that bad: brochure-style websites simply reproduce the kind of material you would send out in a brochure to an interested customer, complete with pictures and technical details. Instead of actually doing any business online, you give the customer your contact information.
In many industries, really, this is the only way to work. There are things you just can't do with shopping carts and credit card processing, after all, especially when it comes to services. These kinds of websites are especially prevalent among businesses with a more local focus.
The E-Commerce Website.
There are two situations where e-commerce works really well: if you're selling a service that can be provided over the web, or if you're selling a small product that you can handle shipping for. In these situations, e-commerce websites are very powerful. You can sell your product direct online, cutting out whatever middlemen there might be.
The Content Website.
Ever more popular, content websites work by providing useful writing and then putting ads around it. That's the whole business model in a nutshell, but it works surprisingly well. The more writing you can do (or get), the better it works for you. If you want, you can even leave off the ads and put up a small button asking people to donate to your site if they found your information helpful – people can be nicer than you'd expect.
The Community Website.
Finally, an often-ignored kind of website is one that exists to serve a community. The community might be geographical (people who live in the same town), or it could an interest or hobby community (a forum for people who really like a certain genre of TV show, for example). Community websites can be fun to participate in, and they can make a lot of money if you can find advertisers who are interested in the very specific audience your site has got. If your site gets popular, you might even be able to charge people for membership! Even if it stays free and small, though, it's nice to have a web community to call your own, and you're likely to benefit in all sorts of ways that you wouldn't expect