Is Your Small Business Website Like a Bad First Date?

Even if we've been lucky enough to escape the experience ourselves, we've all heard about bad first dates with incredibly self-absorbed people who yammer on endlessly about how great they are: "But enough about me. What do you think of my many accomplishments and erudition?" It's a nightmare scenario most of us wouldn't wish on our worst enemies. So why do so many small business owners subject potential customers to an online version of a bad first date?

As a web consultant and developer, I've seen my share of "bad first date" websites -- business sites that feature page after page of braggy claims and self-important industry jargon. When I put myself in the customers' shoes to evaluate the site (an exercise that should be the first step in any web development process), I'm unable to find information that is valuable to me because the site is not about me -- the customer -- it's all about the business.

Small companies that want to use their online presence to drive new business need to step back and take a critical look at their sites to make sure they're not delivering a bad first date experience. This has always been important, but today more than ever, content is king. With open source platforms, most of the technical functions small businesses need their websites to perform have been built already and are waiting to be snapped into place.

Open source platforms like Drupal and WordPress provide a backend framework that small businesses can use to build and customize their websites while managing key functions like registration, system administration, layout and RSS. Users can also create their own modules to enable new functions or change the website's look and feel.

Smaller companies can use open source content management systems (CMS) to reduce or eliminate the need for coding while delivering rich media online, including text, graphics, video and audio. They can use open source assets to create responsive design sites that optimize content for viewing across multiple device types, including smartphones, tablets and laptops, while eliminating the need to scroll from side to side.

With open source tools available to help small businesses establish an online presence with robust front and backend functions quickly and affordably, there's never been a better time to focus on content excellence. And the best way to do that is to concentrate on the customer. Engage with your target customers and find out what they value the most. Use that information to develop your content, and speak directly to your customers' needs.

Instead of bragging about your company's abilities and accomplishments, link your value proposition back to how it can help your customer succeed. And keep it all as jargon-free as possible, being mindful of the fact that your customer isn't likely as immersed in your business environment as you are.

By using open source capabilities to build a responsive site with rich content management capabilities and robust backend and frontend functionality -- and most of all by centering content around your customers' needs -- you can avoid the "bad first date" trap and amp up customer engagement.