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Designing and launching a website for your business is often thought of today as the equivalent of hanging your shingle on the street. It has become generally accepted that every business really should have one, but many business owners don’t know why, or what to expect after the big launch. For an online service provider or retailer, clearly the company website is a top priority as a sales vehicle geared to buying and selling products and services directly. But what if you don’t sell widgets? What if your business is based on your expertise, reputation and personal service?

For service-based businesses such as architecture, engineering, finance, construction, real estate and consultants in a range of fields, the firm website should be thought of as one of the sharpest weapons in your business development arsenal. It goes hand in hand with your business cards, brochures and network of contacts to make up how you are perceived by potential clients.

Service-based firms grow and thrive through referrals and relationship building. When someone recommends you to a friend or colleague, they check you out and see if what they find matches what they’ve heard. To do it’s job, your website should clearly represent who you are, but more importantly what you can do for your clients.

You don’t necessarily need all the high-tech bells and whistles, but you do need to approach your website from the client’s point of view. What do they want to know about you, and why should they care? This may sound flippant, but like a business card, your website should first and foremost provide pertinent information and not be cluttered by your ego. When a potential client looks at your website and thinks – why you? Your answer should focus foremost on the “why” part of that question.

If you find it difficult to be objective with your site content, ask a colleague, long-time client or someone you know in your industry to help you get perspective. Consider every page as if you were your client and map out what information they need to decide to call you and set up a meeting. This may be relevant to your experience, market sector expertise or customer service values. Depending on your type of business, this information will vary, but always come back to what the client needs and how you can help.

Because of the nature of service firms, it is difficult to pin a number to the return on investment on your website. If you sell widgets, then hit counts and sales volume are hard numbers to track, but service providers often cannot get such quick feedback. Instead, consider the website design and launch as part of your overall marketing strategy. Leverage the launch of a new or redesigned website as a chance to reach out to your clients and prospects with an announcement and link. Going forward, track your new clients and ask them if they visited your website before calling, or signing a deal, and ask if they found it helpful.

Finally, dig in to the tracking data that is available for free. Using a service such as Google Analytics, you can get detailed information on site visitors , including where they are located geographically and what search terms they used to find your website. If you include your website link on email blasts, FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other online outlets, you’ll be able to see how many visitors clicked through from each source, giving you an even better idea of where your potential clients are getting their information and looking for what you provide. Another metric to watch is the most popular page views. Knowing which page within your site (About, News, Services, etc) gets the most hits provides direct feedback on what information clients are most interested in, and helps you focus on updating and freshening content in these high-traffic areas.