Businesses today need a website to thrive. Web pages can give customers information about the company, a way to order goods or at least a phone number to contact the owner. Web pages aren't a simple substitute for billboards or newspaper ads, though: they have drawbacks everyone should be aware of.
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Designing a Site
Before a business sets up a Web page, someone has to decide what it's going to look like. Pages with endless blocks of text and no visuals, or with no useful information, may drive people away. Sites that don't offer intuitive, easy navigation frustrate visitors. It's important to work these details out before the page goes live. A Web page perpetually "under construction" alienates customers who expect everything to be ready.
Even the best design is useless until a programmer writes the code to create the page. If the code is flawed -- the page doesn't let customers download music or book a vacation, for instance -- it's going to hurt more than help. The Affordable Care Act's website at launch is an example of poor functionality. Programmers rushed and cut corners to meet government deadlines and when the site went live, it didn't work for many people. The negative publicity was intense.
Unlike a Yellow Pages ad, business owners can update a Web page constantly. That's good because if the address, phone number or product prices change, the company can instantly tell the public. If the company doesn't update its site regularly, customers may be angry when they learn the prices listed online aren't accurate. Someone has to keep track of what's posted online and keep it current.
Different people access Web pages in different ways. One visitor uses a laptop, another uses a cell phone; one uses the latest version of Firefox, another relies on an older version of Internet Explorer. Web programmers have to code sites to work perfectly, no matter which browser visitors use. The site also has to look good whether the visitor sees it on a 24 inch desktop or a few inches of smartphone screen. (Ref4, #3, ref5)
A newspaper ad doesn't just disappear if a lot of people read it, but a Web page can. Pages that work fine with the site's everyday traffic may not function if there's a spike in visitors. The hosting service may not be set up to handle that many connections, or the bandwidth may be more than the site has authorized. A well-designed page is of no use if nobody gets to see it.
Businesses should remember that a website should provide information to their clients, but it should not be the only resource to go to if their are problems. Google relies on its online help center and support forums to handle problems. Facebook users who have issues with the service have to contact the company by email. The inability to talk to a person directly can frustrate users. It can also leave them feeling the company has no interest in helping them, and this may cause a business to lose clients.