Many times we talk in abstract terms of what a website can do for a business such as boost revenues, increase sales etc. But that does not address the question about what is practically on the ground possible through the website. So to answer this question here is a list of practical things that can be done with a business website.
This is the most direct and profitable use of a website. Sell products online, collect money through credit card and other means and dispatch the goods to the buyer. Of course not all companies will have products or services that can be sold online but even if you cannot sell it online you can definitely highlight them on the website.
A website is an excellent touch point for customer support interaction. With tools such as an online ticketing system or online real-time chat support, a company can provide great support to its customers. Using a static tool such as a FAQ online will also help answer standard queries that can be raised by customers.
A part of your website dedicated to employees with information, tools, updates for them is a great idea. You can password protect this system requiring a login to avoid security issues. But this is a great tool to keep employees connected to the company especially in very large or distributed companies where communication is not easy.
Post it online once - download it a million times. It's the best way to distribute any information all over the world. No need to send heavy files all over the place through email. Just send the link (url) of the file and anyone can download it. I am surprised how many times companies place lots of information in standard HTML (webpage) format but don't give any material to download which can be reviewed or passed along later.
Online forms can make life very easy for any manager requiring registrations for an event or a service. The form can be processed in many ways where output can be sent by email, can be stored in a database for tabulation or can trigger another set of events. All you have to do is distribute the link of the form and site back as the registrations pour in. It's a great way to get RSVP's for events as well.
I regularly subscribe to newsletters of sites I find interesting and my email client has a folder where all newsletters are sorted and stored for reading at leisure. A company that wants to create awareness must take the trouble of setting up a good newsletter system and then populating it with interesting content.
With the increasing attrition and job hopping, companies are facing a problem of training new candidates every day. This means printing tons of training material, collecting them in class rooms and hours of lecturing. Or you can simply put it online and ensure the employee learns on his time. Logging hours spent on the material can be easily recorded and online quizzes can easily test the knowledge. Increasingly this is being used more and more by companies who want to pare down training costs.
Many companies like to partner their clients closely. This means working side by side with the client, guiding them, training them and helping them. An online system on your website chock full of client friendly training materials and guides can be an invaluable tool for any company. Clients have a 24/7 access to problem solving issues and material. Coupled with a time based customer support and chat system this can become a kick ass solution that leaves your clients thrilled.
Don't you just hate it when you have to visit a company but the directions provided are in-adequate. In this day and age it's unforgivable. Every company should provide detailed instructions along with a map describing the best route to reach them. Visitors will always appreciate a set of instructions with a map which can be downloaded on a phone or printed on paper which can be used to guide them efficiently.
It is still not a very well know fact that your website can be a great source for prospective employees. We receive a lot of resumes from good prospective employees through our site. Keeping a list of job requirements (if there are any) ensures that visitors know which jobs are up for grabs. This will also save you a lot of money in terms of subscriptions to job portals or employment agents.
From time to time every company will need to issue statements to the public about some issue or the other. Usually it's done through their PR agency. But it is a good idea to keep aside a section for press releases which can be used by journalists to use in their stories. It also shows transparency in the company's dealings.
This is of course for listed companies who need to announce results to the public. I know of many companies who go through a lot of trouble to update and post results along with analysis and messages from the company leaders. This shows that the company is sharp and cares for its image and its investors.
If you are an industry leader or have very a competitive advantage in terms of skill or technology then it's a good idea to become the industry authority on that subject using your website. I actively encourage all my clients to post articles, news and views regularly on their sites. They should be rightly perceived to be authority figures in their industry.
Placing logos and certificates of industry standards and other quality accomplishments of a company goes a long way in building trust in the minds of prospective clients. It shows that the company is aware of the standards and adheres to them and are proud of them. Your website will be the most visible location to display these achievements. Also for more controversial products it helps to ease apprehensions.
This list is by no means complete and I'm sure there is a lot more that can be done with a little thought and imagination. You can also derive endless variations of the above points to suit your business needs. Any business website that uses the above ideas will definitely prosper and make use of a valuable resource - your online presence.