It’s not always easy to identify the purpose of things. And when something serves many purposes, it’s not easy to discern between them, or to prioritize them properly.
– Christopher Butler, Newfangled
If we started working together today one of the first questions I would ask is: why do you want a website?
Your first thought might be something like. “Because I’m supposed to have one. Isn’t that how it works?” To which I would chuckle and say, “It does seem that way, doesn’t it?” To ask it another way:
What is the purpose of your website?
Do you need to elevate your brand? Will it be more informative? Mainly generating revenue? Perhaps your focus is lead generation; growing your list?
If you are reading all of these questions and saying “yes” to all of them (because who doesn’t want more revenue?!) you are not wrong. Your website will end up providing a mix of these issues and this can even shift focus from page to page. But, it is most important that the website provide a focus so the customer isn’t overwhelmed and left wondering what they should do first. Your clients will be more receptive if they have a purpose on which to focus. It is also easier to create content when you know what the purpose is as well to ensure that your website is helping your business grow in the right way.
The Core Purposes – Let’s Discuss.
I will be using one website, “Brain Pickings” by Maria Popova, throughout this post as the ‘in action’ example website as there is a clear hierarchy in the purpose of her website. (also she rules, so there is that) The focus of her website is clearly informative.
Informative websites provide information related to a particular subject. Most sites have some measure of the informative – blogs, for example, to share knowledge and learning but are usually related selling a specific product or service (like a life or business coach – they write to showcase expertise but the goal is to gain clients.) On a site that is purely informative, there is nothing specific to purchase, like a product or service. Customers show up to these sites to learn about a particular topic. WebMD is a large-scale site that is purely informative. The site itself offers no products or services. Example:
How “Brain Pickings” Does It:
Brain Pickings is an example of an informative website. The site’s author, Maria Popova, describes the main purpose of the Brain Pickings website.
Brain Pickings is my one-woman labor of love — a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why. Mostly, it’s a record of my own becoming as a person — intellectually, creatively, spiritually — and an inquiry into how to live and what it means to lead a good life.
She reads, researches and reviews an amazing number of books and authors, connecting the information in various ways. Those posts are front and center. At no point is there a service or product to purchase. You show up to expand your knowledge about books and authors you know and don’t know (and walk away with an ever-growing reading list…)
These posts are also valuable for Popova’s newsletter which offers the/her work in a “distilled digest” for distraction free reading on Sundays.
Elevate Your Brand Reputation
Your website presents you and your business in a whole, cohesive way that is difficult to present anywhere else. It’s where you point people to when you meet them “off-line” networking and where you point people to from social media. This is an important point to note: your website is a piece of your brand-building strategy. It does not exist in a vacuum. There are a number of other pieces – social media, speaking, networking, guest posts – that are important and necessary ways to get people interested in you. But once interested, they will want to know more at which point, they will head to your website where they will learn who you are, what you do and who you serve.
How Brain Pickings Does It
Elevating her Brand is not the most obvious aspect of her website. There isn’t a tagline or descriptive text to explain, up front, what the site is about. The menu where you can visit her “about page” and learn more about the website is further down the page in the left sidebar. She does not directly engage in building her brand although all of her content, on and off the blog, adheres to the core values of her brand. The sub-sites only gives support the main informational purpose of her sight which is:
The core ethos behind Brain Pickings is that creativity is a combinatorial force: it’s our ability to tap into our mental pool of resources — knowledge, insight, information, inspiration, and all the fragments populating our minds — that we’ve accumulated over the years just by being present and alive and awake to the world, and to combine them in extraordinary new ways.
The Brain Pickings website is spacious and focuses on the content. If you found her site through another online platform, such as Instagram, this feeling is consistent as well as the content and visuals. The content is primarily quotes from authors. These quote graphics are styled in the yellow and white color of the website keeping the simple, spacious feel across platforms. This also creates visual recognition and trust since she is consistent both visually and content-wise.
Obvious examples of this type are shopping or e-commerce websites. These sites display products or services that can be purchased directly from the website. The products are usually front and center in all of their design and marketing collateral. You will find reviews about the products and places to sign up to receive emails and providing a mix of informative and enticements to spend money on more products like coupons and sales. What if you don’t have products or services to sell? Websites that are primarily informative may use advertising, sponsorship, affiliate programs like Amazon or donations to generate the revenue streams necessary to cover the costs and work of running a website.
How Brain Pickings Does It
Brain Pickings is a great example of alternative revenue generation rather than the obvious ecommerce shopping site. Her site is not an ecommerce site nor is it a paid gig. Only in the side bar and footer and not the main page of the blog posts, a donation request is honestly and simply stated: Brain Pickings remains free (and ad-free) and takes me hundreds of hours a month to research and write, and thousands of dollars to sustain. Example:
“If you find any joy and value in what I do, please consider becoming a Member and supporting with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:”
Generating leads is also known as growing your list. These sites may be informative and/or offer something for sale. The focus though is lead generation. There are numerous places to provide your email address. There may even be pop ups of various kinds. Generating leads is one of the core desires of most any business. Some businesses, especially in the beginning stages, need people to market to and so that is the main focus.
How Brain Pickings Does It
Being as unobtrusive as possible, Brain Pickings asks readers to sign up to read her weekly newsletter in the sidebar and in the footer of blog posts. I love that she gives you an example of a past newsletter so you can see what you’re going to receive.
The Brain Pickings site does have a pop-up though it retains her brand voice; letting you know she isn’t a fan but this is the way it works.
As I mentioned earlier, websites do all of these things on some level and they are all important purposes for your website in contributing to the overall growth of your business. It is important to choose giving one purpose more importance over the others so that your purpose is immediately clear to your customers and to you. Focused customers are more willing to act.