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In the era of globalization, the internet has become more than just a computer-based phenomenon. Studies indicate that there are around five billion internet users in the world today, with close to three billion relying on mobile devices such as mobile phones, mini-books, and net books to access the internet (Quinn & O’Dwyer 2008). The reality is that many people are using the internet to conduct their daily activities, including buying and selling of products and services. The business world has also adopted the internet phenomenon. It is becoming vital for business enterprises to adapt the trends of increased use of internet to conduct business activities. The literature review discusses the background of websites for small businesses, how small businesses can benefit from the opportunities available, and the best practices of doing so.
According to Quinn and O’Dwyer (2008), the rapid increase in use of internet symbolizes excellent business opportunities for entrepreneurs. The obvious focus for business enterprises is to develop optimal strategies for utilizing the internet to conduct their business activities. With e-marketing now established over the internet, new marketing opportunities are at hand. Small business enterprises (SME’s) can now connect with their audience even more, using all the available internet enabled devices (Black 2010). Furthermore, currently, considerable movements have been made in the e-commerce, where businesses can develop ethic-based websites to reach different ethnic groups, which form part of their market share.
Besides, early in the year 2006, Visa (worldwide-accepted method of payment) launched their first secure mobile payment system, which can be used by mobile internet users. Moreover, there are other secure internet payment methods, available for different internet users. These present more opportunities for businesses to conduct online business since the customers have a wide range of payment methods that they can use to pay for goods bought over the internet. Currently, internet service providers are extending their services to fit in the mobile realm (Klein 2011). For instance, Google and Yahoo are providing internet services that can be accessed both from PCs and from mobile phones. As the trend continues, business enterprises are set to follow by incorporating internet features, which enable access of their websites by internet users using different devices.
According to Ferree (2010), many small business owners do not have websites for their businesses. Some say that their businesses are too small, thus, they do not require building a website. Others say that building a website is too much work given the amount of resources owned by small businesses. Therefore, they find it unworthy. Moreover, other small business owners say that, they fear building websites for their businesses because their customers may not look at them or may not be aware of the existence of such websites. However, Ferree argues that a small business should have a website (2010). She says that a website does not need to be complicated by having many pages and tons of fancy animation. A small business can do fine with 3 to 5 pages long website (Ferree 2010; Black 2010). This is enough to cover all the basics, which include a home page, information about the company (the page is usually titled, ‘about us’), a page about the business’s products and/or services, information about the types of clients, which the business serves, contact information, and perhaps testimonials from satisfied clients (Ferree 2010; Black 2010). A small business with a simple, yet informative website stands to benefit just like a large-sized business with a long and fancy website.
One of the benefits of building a website for a small business is that it allows new contacts to learn more about the business (Barone 2011). This occurs when a business owner/representative go out networking, or happens to meet new prospects. Many of the times, new prospects value knowledge about a business than just the information provided by the owner/representative during the networking session. They may also like to confirm the basic information provided by the owner/representative during the networking session. So where do they get more information about the business? Making phone calls or posting mails can certainly be extra work for a new contact. Therefore, having a website would enable new prospects to access more information about a business with ease, and to learn more about the business’s products and/or services. This presents a good opportunity for a small business with a simple and informative website because the information provided, at its website, can help convert more prospects to customers (Barone 2011).
A website provides an easier and inexpensive means of making updates about a business as opposed to use of printed materials (Ferree 2010). A small business can manage to keep its information updated all the time through its website. Instead of redesigning marketing pieces and trying to make new copies of the new pieces and subsequently paying for the printing costs, a business can just rewrite its marketing piece, or any other information, and integrate it in its website. For small businesses with simple websites, updating can be very easy and can be done by the owner or employees. A simple website does not need a web designer to update it. With HTML-based website, a small business only needs ‘Adobe Contribute’ to update its site (Ferree 2011). Own update of a business website ensures accuracy and prompt updates, hence saving a business the agony of apologizing to its customers for wrong or delayed updates. Besides, it is inexpensive because the business owner only requires connection to the internet, which is currently very cheap.
A small business can benefit from a website through finding and connecting with new customers (Ferree 2011). A website provides an opportunity to reach out to customers outside the geographical location of the business. According to Ferree, small businesses have transformed into big businesses by using websites to conduct their business activities. This has worked for small businesses marketing products and services, which can be delivered by post, phone, or online. Therefore, a business does not need to open numerous branches in different territories. With the help of a website, it can sell its products and services to a wide geographical area from one location. In fact, it is easier for a business to sell a product or a service to a potential customer rather than trying to convince a customer (Ferree 2011). Thus, a business would only require identifying what the customers want, and then make the products and services available in its website for the customer to purchase them.
Ferree states that a business with a website looks professional and established than a business without a website (2011). Therefore, a small business can utilize a website to make positive impressions to potential customers. Instead of having frustrated prospects, who have difficulties finding more information about a business’s products and/or services, a business can have happy potential clients, who can easily access more information about a business as well as get their questions answered. Ferree advices small business firms to design websites, which incorporate a question page feature (2011). The page should provide a list of all possible questions from potential clients, and provide well-written, attractive, and easy-to-use answers. This can help a business to create good impression not only to its potential customers, but also to its existing customers. A good impression can go a long way in creating trust among the customers about a business’s credibility and expertise, hence attracting them to hire/purchase the business’s services and/or services (Ferree 2011).
A website offers a business convenience when conducting business activities. For instance, instead of having potential clients judge whether a call center agent wants just to make a sale or is focused on the interests of the customer, a business can build a website where potential and existing customers can find all the information they need. Therefore, potential existing customers can visit the website at their convenience, and make purchase decisions independently. Moreover, a business does not need to turn away the customers after business hours. A business can simply place a notice informing the customers to visit its website for more information concerning what they are looking for (Simms 2005).
Moreover, in case a business changes its physical location, it can take quite some time before the new address for the business is published in the directories. During this period, a business stands to lose many customers, due to lack of knowledge concerning the new physical location of the business. However, with a website, a business can provide new contact details instantly, thus lowering the risk of losing customers when changing its physical location (Simms 2005).
A small business can optimize the benefits it acquires form a website by employing certain techniques. According to Olsson (2011), a small business can acquire top ranking website through utilizing SEO (search engine optimization) techniques. SEO technique uses a search engine, which matches the words used by people to search for information with all web pages it has indexed (Olsson 2011). A business can incorporate common phrases and words used by people when seeking information related to the specific industry/sector in which it operates. This way, a business’s website will always appear at the top of the search results. A high ranked website attracts more traffic, thus increasing the probability of making more sales. A small business can easily achieve this by adopting either onsite or offsite technique. Onsite technique entails creating a quality websites and incorporating numerous keywords in its content. Offsite technique entails acquiring links to the website from related and highly rated sites. For instance, a small restaurant in Nigeria can acquire links to its website from a website of one of the most reputable hotels in Nigeria such as Hilton Abuja Hotel.
Moreover, for optimal benefits, a business would require to develop a user-friendly website to its customers. Different studies on how to create effectiveness of a business website emphasizes on development of ease-to-use websites. According to Nelson, Shaw, and Strader (2009), a business should control the extrinsic factors such as alleged value and company-related factors while developing its website. This allows a business to develop a website, which is easier to use and understand, and one that delivers convincing experience to the viewer. Such a website motivates viewers to use it frequently. So far, researchers have managed to develop measures for website usability. Research findings based on website usability measures indicate that websites, which apply usability measures, deliver high performances compared to websites, which do not use these measures (Agerfalk 2000). These usability measures have been provided by Shneirderman in the Eight Golden Rules of Interface Design, and by Jacob Nielsen in the Ten Usability Heuristics (Whatley 2011; Nielsen 1994).
One of the Shneirderman’s Eight Golden Rules of Interface Design is that a website should allow frequent users to use shortcuts (Whatley 2011). As the frequency of usage increases, so does the need for users to increase the speed of the interactions. A business can achieve this by providing abbreviations, hidden commands, and function keys to expert users. Moreover, to enhance usability, a business should develop a website, which offers informative feedback to the users. For every user action, there should be an automatic system feedback depending on the nature of the action. Moreover, usability can be achieved by offering simple error handling procedures to users. When a user makes a mistake, the system should be able to automatically detect the error and offer a simple mechanism of handling the error. A good business website should also permit easy reversal of actions. This feature allows users to undo errors as well as encouraging users to explore new actions, hence reducing anxiety among the users (Whatley 2011).
Jacob Nielsen’s usability measures are referred as heuristics because they are more of rules of the thumb concerning business websites rather than specific usability guidelines (Nielsen 1994). One of these guidelines is that a good business website should match between the system and the real world. This means that a website should utilize a language, words, and phrases, which are similar to that of the user. This makes the information provided in the site to appear logical and natural. Another guideline is that a website should allow user-control and freedom. This means that a web system should allow users to redo and undo various actions without going through comprehensive dialogues. Other guidelines as provided by Nielsen are ability to recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors; ability to recognize rather than to recall; help feature; and flexibility and efficiency of use (Nielsen 1994).
A small business can develop an ethnic-based website, to target specific customers. An ethnic-based website uses local language to communicate to potential and existing customers and it incorporates social and cultural aspects of a specific ethnic group. Google allows businesses to have such websites. This can be viable for small businesses targeting members of specific ethnic group. One of the benefits of ethnic-based website is that it helps in advertising. A business using an ethnic-based website does not need to worry when its competitors place their adverts in the same website where its adverts appear. This is because, through an ethnic-based website, a business can post its adverts to the customers without having other affiliated businesses or competitors place their adverts on the same page. Google assigns special web address to such websites and allows display of adverts (Advantages and Disadvantages of Having Own Website 2008).
Moreover, an ethnic-based website can be advantageous to a small business because it allows placement of multiple adverts for multiple products. Thus, for a small business, an ethnic-based website can allow it to save on advertisement costs since it can place as many adverts as it desires at a minimal cost. Besides, such a website allows the owner to publish own newsletters and send them to subscribers on monthly or annual basis (Advantages and Disadvantages of Having Own Website 2008). Through the newsletter, a small business can inform its potential and existing customers about availability of new products and/or services, discounts, promotions, and perhaps prices of the available goods and services. Gradually, a business can convert its subscribers into clients.