If you examine a website closely enough, you can almost always identify some form of commercial interest behind it. This is often overt, as in e-commerce websites or content sites with advertising. Sometimes, however, the commercial interest is more subtle. Ward on the Web, for instance, is a professional blog devoid of advertising. Because its purpose is to promote my professional standing, however, there is commercial interest in the usefulness and authority of my message. My strategy here is to show off what I know in the hopes that it will help me achieve greater career growth.
The first thing to realize is that a website is a tool for creating value. My very first post on Ward on the Web spoke about defining your site’s purpose, with the objective of building a website to achieve that purpose as well as possible. Does your website generate revenue? Does it attract attention? Does it build a reputation? Does it gather information?
Whatever your website does, it’s important to realize that the ultimate goal is always a resource that’s valuable to you. Money has obvious commercial value, but so does a large audience or a stellar reputation. It may be more difficult to tack on a dollar amount, but there’s no denying that even non-monetary resources have potential monetary value.
Viewed in this context, decisions about website strategy tend to become simpler. Say, for instance, that you’re writing a blog and toying with the idea of adding advertising. You’re afraid that this will turn off your visitors, reducing the size and responsiveness of your audience.
Remember, though, that your website is a tool for creating value. In this case, you’re examining the prospect of trading one type of value (audience size and engagement) for another (advertising revenue). Obviously, how much of one you’ll end up trading for the other is a complex question, but the basic proposition is simple. Do you stand to derive more value with advertising or without?
Even small website strategy decisions are best when advised by a value-based approach. For example, say you’re testing a landing page on a lead generation website. You want to know which of two calls to action are more effective. Generally, you’d do a simple split test (or multivariate analysis if you have other variables in mind). Let’s say your testing reveals that the first call to action converts 10% of visitors and the second converts 12%. Which do you use?
Of course you choose the second. But why? Because it makes your website a more effective lead generation tool. Because it adds more value. Thanks to analysis, this example is cut and dry; you simply take the greater of two values.
The important thing to realize, however, is that all website strategy decisions are value-based comparisons. Which provides more value, option A or option B? If you can answer this question with confidence, your choice should be obvious every time.