A friend called recently and asked, “What’s the purpose of a web site?”

He was in a conundrum. Faced with updating (and hopefully upgrading) his company’s site, he was overwhelmed with suggestions, requests, possibilities and options. He was frustrated, irritated and exasperated. His question, in this context, was intended to elicit a response that he could use as a life raft, something to which he could cling for clarity and security. I was glad he asked, but I wasn’t sure I had the answer he wanted to hear.

The purpose of a web site is to solve a problem. The problem may be answering a question, buying a product, or gathering information. In the end, the visitor should leave feeling that their problem is solved (or markedly improved.)

Unfortunately, this is inherently problematic. Here’s why: it’s not often that the problem you’re solving is the same for everyone. In fact, the more things you have to offer, the more likely you’ll be looking to solve a whole passel of problems.

So when you set out to present the answers, it’s vital that you try to climb inside the mind of each of those visitors, figure out what their problem might be, and then go about creating the path of least resistance to getting it solved.

This might mean having a great Frequently Asked Questions section. Or a robust search function right at the top of the page. Or a large, colorful “Buy Now” button. Or a product filtering mechanism. Or any number of other useful functions. As you have already guessed, this is substantially more complex than just building (or ‘refreshing’) a website.

So start at the beginning:

  • What problem are we trying to solve?
  • If I were a customer coming to my site, what would help me the most?
  • How can I make this solution simple for people to find?

These aren’t easy matters to address, but they’re critical to creating web sites with purpose. They’re the first questions we always ask, no matter who we’re working with or what the stated objectives might be.