It’s easy to understand why the online brochure is so popular with small business owners. The adaptation of the time-tested advertising bad boy fits like a favorite hat. This familiarity can be both a good and a bad thing.You can put a useful brochure online, but many website advertisements just fail to perform. An effective, powerful online ad requires a thoughtful website design by a skilled professional. There are a lot of moving parts, and you have to hit them all.Before we consider the elements of a successful website version, there is a nagging question that wants answers.
Are Print Brochures Dead?
The truth is, most marketers today don’t find brochures very useful.
Some years ago, Geoffry James (@Sales_Source) proclaimed in Inc. Magazine that “The Brochure Is Dead.” He cited redundancy, expense, ineffectiveness and waste as the nails in the coffin.
Eleven days later John Treace (@johntreace) responded in defense of the print brochure. “The Brochure Is Not Dead,” he said.
He made the case that they are dependable, available, and accessible. Some people may not respond as well to digital as they do to print.
While some people still rely on print brochures, they are a dwindling population. We consult websites more often each passing year. And now, mobile browsing is taking search by storm.
Along with facing shrinking audience interest, print brochures suffer from the problem of being a static resource in a dynamic world.
This static nature holds two far-reaching disadvantages.
First, the ad cannot interact with your audience, and your audience can do little with it. The brochure presented, but the medium includes no capacity to receive or respond to any action the consumer might wish to take on the information.
Second, printed material is not responsive to change. If a change requires a reprint, the cost and the waste of replacing remaining copies can be prohibitive for most small businesses. The only alternative is to continue using outdated publications, which can seriously harm your reputation.
A print brochure can encourage a reader to contact you. But a website brochure can start that communication. So while there is still a place for a print advertisement, an online catalog has many advantages over it.
Is the Online Brochure Already Dead Too?
So, you’ve decided an online brochure is the best way to go. The right out of nowhere people are already claiming that the web brochure is dead as well
There is some veracity to this idea, but it relies on broad SEO concepts that don’t apply in every situation.
Google and other search engines prefer information that’s updated. Google is always seeking more information to add to its index.
Search engines offer better ranking to sites that update more often than others.
Fresh Search Results are More Relevant Search Results
Search results, like warm cookies right out of the oven or cool refreshing fruit on a hot summer’s day, are best when they’re fresh. Even if you don’t specify it in your search, you probably want search results that are relevant and recent.
~ Amit Singhal
Constant update schedules can be a problem for most small business owners.
Online brochure style sites usually do not start with a lot of content. Then, as little as they begin with, they don’t often update the information they have.
This stale information is the death knell of a website’s chances at ranking in the search engine results pages.
Matt McGee (@mattmcgee) said “It’s Official: Static, Brochure-Ware Websites Are Dead” a full two years before the article from Inc. declared the print version dead.
To a great respect, this was true already back in 2001, and it is even truer today. You have to put fresh content on your website on a regular basis. If you don’t, you aren’t competing with those who are.
But for most small businesses this isn’t the whole story.
The Good Websites, Bad Websites, and the Ugly Websites
46 percent of small businesses have no web presence, and 22 percent don’t even have a plan to develop one.
In a 2016 survey of small businesses, Clutch.io found that only 54 percent of small businesses have a website. Meanwhile, Mintel found in a 2015 study that 70 percent of American consumers are part of the “constantly connected” cuture and research online before making a purchasing decision.
Of those small businesses who do have websites, 23 percent are not mobile friendly, and another 9 percent have unknown mobile capabilities.
When nearly half of all small businesses are still not competing online, but 70 percent of consumers are looking there first, the dynamic changes a little.
I’m the first to agree that the only thing worse than no website is a bad site, but given the circumstances, that is a pretty low bar to set.
When half of your competition doesn’t have any online presence, your chances of outcompeting them increase dramatically. You can dominate your market even if you have a less than perfect website.
Remember, if you aren’t adding new content on a regular basis, you just aren’t competing with those businesses that are. But the flip side is that you aren’t competing with all of the businesses who are doing nothing either.
Elements of a Good Small Business Online Brochure Website
If you are going to publish a website, it still holds true that the only thing worse than having no website at all is having a bad website. A bad website can ruin your reputation and cost you more customers that just not having one would do.
The good news is that will a little planning and forethought, making a good website is not a difficult thing to do.
Avoid dated or fad website designs
If you aren’t going to be updating your content frequently, you don’t want to compound the effect by dating your website and magnifying the effect. Opt for a clean, fresh design with standard elements and minimalist design.
Use images wisely
Avoid stock images, small images, and watermarked images. Use real, original photographs, or use illustration in creative ways to tell a story. Don’t be skimpy either. Give the images their fair shake and make them expansive enough to deliver their effect.
Make your copy readable
Avoid heavy, dense blocks of copy. Break the text up, make lists of it and use white space judiciously. Unlike print brochures, there are no extra costs to using an ‘oversize’ canvas online.
Provide multiple methods to contact your business and make them highly visible to visitors on the site. Ideally, present your main point of contact on every page, up on top, and include at least one contact form for people to send you an email.
Use Text for Text
Avoid placing your text in images. Use real text instead and utilize HTML and CSS markup to position and size it as needed. Search engines cannot read the text in images, and it does not scale well to multiple devices.
Focus on Your Readers, Not your Offerings
Everything on your online brochure should focus on the solutions your readers need for their problems. Listing your achievements and accolades isn’t appropriate, or if it is, it should be tucked away in a corner for those who need to look it up. The website should describe the problems the reader is facing, and the solutions you propose to deliver. Talk about benefits, not features.
Treat Design as Communication
Employ design elements and graphics that serve a purpose in communicating your specific message to the reader and eliciting a favorable response from them. Don’t treat design like window dressing or fanciful embellishments. Every element of design on the page should move your message forward.
A Dynamic Updated Website is Best, but A Quality Online Brochure is the Minimum Presence You Need
Even if you aren’t ready to commit to continuous blog updates and email newsletters on a top line website, you need a web presence. You can get that with a simple online brochure, but you have to make sure it is a quality website with all the points firing. Just throwing up anything is likely to do more harm, than good, but having no website at all will do the same thing.
Consider hiring a web developer to help you put your business on the web. In the case of a static brochure site, the cost probably won’t be as high as you are thinking, and just a couple of customers my pay for the whole project.
You might even consider hiring me. Just send me a quick note from my contact form and I’ll get back to you so we can discuss your particular needs.