Although the technology available today may make the task of deciding what to do with a Web site seem overwhelming, there are 10 simple rules to which every small business Web site should adhere.
All business Web sites should:
1. Be Goal Oriented – You should define early how success will be measured.
2. Be Evaluated Regularly – Metrics should be set and monitored. What you don’t measure, you don’t manage.
3. Be Content Focused – Graphics count early on, while content counts always.
4. Be an Extension of the Company’s Offline Operations – Content and functionality should be consistent and integrated with the company’s “brick and mortar” activities.
5. Be “Living Organisms” – Constantly updating an adapting to a company’s objectives.
6. Work Properly – When a user is greeted by an error page on the Web, you don’t get a chance to apologize or offer alternatives.
7. Be Search Engine Optimized – Many other aspects of site should take precedent.
8. Be Engaging – Intuitive graphical interfaces are a must.
9. Be Fast – Speed of download and ease of navigation to quickly find desired information are key factors to keep in mind.
10. Be Connected to Other Marketing Tactics – This includes opt-in email marketing campaigns.
Not taking the time to think through these rules will cost unnecessary time and money in the end. Conversely, by taking the time to think through the implications of these 10 “rules” from the onset, positions the Web site as an investment that strategically contributes to a company. With that in mind, your Web site should:
Be Goal Oriented
Setting goals for the Web site may be the golden rule.
Frequently, clients have not thought past getting the Web site to reflect a new brand or business identity. It is important to go much deeper than that and determine how success will be measured. Ideally, the success metrics reflect what the target audience for the Web site considers useful. The definition of what success is should come from the very audience being targeted. Engage them to ask how they want the Web site organized; what information they need; what tasks they want to accomplish? These days, there are inexpensive ways to collect feedback from visitors to your current site or from your client base as a whole.
For example, users may tell a company that it is important to have the latest industry trends available. Therefore, your Web site may have downloadable whitepapers that are easily accessible.
Be Evaluated Regularly
If this is the case, then track the whitepapers downloaded.
Data from regular evaluation may show that relatively few downloads are occurring. This data should lead to a few considerations, such as
- Is the invitation to download too hidden?
- Is the download feature “broken”?
- Is the list of whitepaper topics not appealing or old news?
Evaluate, then use the data to make assumptions, tweak, and evaluate again. Remember, once you establish a base, your focus should not be on absolute numbers, but on improvements made from period-to-period.
Be Content Focused
Continuing with the example above, the “tweak” may focus on content by enhancing the topics covered in the whitepapers.
Content is one of the best places to start a site improvement project. That’s because the wow appeal of graphics and other non-content, non-functionality focused bells and whistles is not long lasting. Content is king.
Graphic appeal can enhance the impact of content, but cannot make up for lack of content. Content will carry the day 99.9% of the time.
Be an Extension of the Company’s Offline Operations
The Web site should represent the company’s offline operations and be strategically linked to offline activities.
You just cannot have an isolated team or person working on the Web site’s content. You have to have multi-functional, multi-departmental input. Not to say that the Web site should be managed by committee. Ideally, you need a person responsible for making decisions and accountable for results. That person should possess access to key departments and managers, so the Web site reflects the right product marketing, sales, and corporate communications messages.
The Luxury Alliance The Luxury Alliance is a good example of effectively being an extension of the group’s offline operations. The Luxury Alliance is a strategic marketing partnership of preeminent brands that individually hold leadership positions in the hospitality industry and collectively set the standard for the ultimate in luxury travel. As such, the organization is comprised of several companies.
Luxury Alliance approached each participating company, similar to how a company may have each department represented and reflected on the Web site. The Web site team is in constant touch with the members on offerings, incentives, and other messages to make sure the effectiveness of each member’s online presence through The Luxury Alliance is maximized.
Be “Living Organisms”
Just like the company, which is always changing, promoting, creating, hiring, so should the Web site.
Wine and brandy age well, Web sites, to the contrary, do not. So, make your Web site dynamic.
Before embarking on changing the current site, we suggest some thought be given to how the revised Web site will be kept evolving. A process of monthly content updates, at the very least, should be put in place. This commitment to updating content on a regular basis can be leveraged to drive traffic to the Web site through automatic e-mail notices sent to registered visitors to notify them of relevant changes, for example.
Constant change requires constant audits for errors. The Web makes very difficult to recover from an error message or broken function. Once a consumer or client encounters an error, that’s it. That interaction is unrecoverable at that point. As opposed to the same situation at the brick and mortar store, the Web gives you no ability to react quickly to offer alternatives or even an apology.
Errors can easily translate into lost customers forever and/or more business for the competition.
Be Search Engine Optimized
While not allocating enough resources to content, change, evaluation, and identification of user needs are all common problems; the opposite can be true of pay-per-click search engine advertising. Too many companies start spending money on this traffic-driving tactic without properly preparing the site for that traffic. Pay-per-click advertising allows you to quickly bring qualified visitors to your site. But, as mentioned above, if those visitors do not find what you promised, or what they expect, your campaign will quickly become a money loser.
It is also important to remember that a majority of the clicks to a site still come from what are called “natural” or “organic” listings. Good organic rankings are not achieved without planning and some effort, and they do take time to show results. However, it is important to invest in the search engine optimization of your site early on so that you improve the overall ROI of your traffic-driving investments.
Even if you can get visitors to your site, the trick is getting visitors to do what you want them to do once they are there. One way to achieve this is by creating an intuitive navigational path toward the behavioral outcome desired.
For example, if you have a restaurant and your goal is getting reservations, then you need an easy navigation to the reservation page all along the path, which will most likely include visiting the menu for food and prices, and mapping the location. Rich Internet Applications, a new breed of applications that allow for more intuitive interactions can be used to make a site more engaging. Caldwell Watson Real Estate Group (www.caldwellwatson.com) uses this approach to simplify the process of searching for available properties in their portfolio.
Fast does not simply mean download speed; it also alludes to navigational ease. In other words, if I’m a typical user, how soon can I find what I’m looking for? If there is a search function available, does it provide me with relevant results and links to existing, working pages? If I’m a repeat visitor, can I take care of common tasks quickly and easily?
Continuing with the restaurant example, regular customers should not have to wade through the menu and the map to make their reservations. Rather, allow regular customers to have the ability to quickly make a reservation without having to go through several pages of information.
Be Connected to Other Marketing Tactics
Normal business common sense applies to the online world too. It is important to know your customers and design the company’s Web site, just as a company would design a brick and mortar space, to fit their needs. It is also important to link the Web site to other marketing activities, especially e-Marketing campaigns. Permission-based email marketing can be a powerful tool, especially when linked to content and functionality available via the company’s web site. Marketing or business process emails can be leveraged to collect data from customers, advise clients of new Web site features or cross-sell products or services to your client base. Even print campaigns can be linked to the Web site in a variety of ways that add tracking and ROI measuring sometimes hard to achieve if the print media is used in isolation.
Lately, Internet video has gained a lot of acceptance by Web users. This means, in many cases, you can re-purpose your video campaigns for the Web or even for email campaigns. This allows you to leverage your investment and expand your branding efforts.
A Web site can be a great strategic tool. But, it has to be thought of strategically. Investing the time and money required early on studying your target audience, developing content, navigation, functionality, and benchmarks for success can result in great returns. The beauty of it is that even if your results are not great right off the bat, the Web allows you to tweak things, test new ideas, and measure again. You cannot view the items on this list as isolated techniques; you should instead look at them as interconnected tactics to be considered part of a whole. They all work together and they all affect each other.