A More Effective Website

Most businesses have websites these days. If you don’t, you are missing out on a great marketing tool. And yet, most businesses do not take advantage of the possibilities that the Internet offers, even if they have a website. Too many businesses jumped on the web bandwagon, got a site up, and waited for the magic to happen. But not much happened. And because not much happened, they withdrew their attention and dollars from the site. And — surprise, surprise — not much continued to happen. So, the website sits pretty much ignored.

Most businesses or organizations took one of two approaches to getting a site:

  1. Save money by getting a high school kid or a buddy to throw something together.
  2. Hand over a large wad of cash to a professional Web-design firm, sit back and wait for them to deliver a spectacular finished product.

Both approaches have serious problems.

The problem with having someone without qualification or experience design your site is that the Web has become a very caustic place. A veritable war rages just beyond what you see on your monitor. Spambots comb the Internet looking for anything that looks like an email address. When they find one, the address is harvested — copied into a database and used for spam. The addresses are sold to both legal and illegal spammers. Spammers have recently begun to attack web forms. So, if you have a website with a form, the email address that receives those form submissions is at risk. Email harvesting is a huge business. And unless your site is protected from such things, it will be exploited.

Consider also that Google currently searches 8,058,044,651 web pages. That’s a lot of pages. Popular belief suggests that a website can be found by the search engines by using key words, meta tags and various forms of site optimization — making your website appeal to the search engines so that they will give your site a high ranking. What’s a “high ranking?”

A current Google search for “pizza” yields 49,300,000 results — and shows them to you ten at a time. That’s a lot of pages about pizza. One of your pages needs to be in the top 3-5 Google page results because people just won’t look any farther than that. That means that your page has to rank in the 99.99999th percentile to get seen. Companies have been bidding for the top ranking placements for many years, and it has become rather expensive to compete in this market. But not all high ranking sites get there by bidding. Many get there by appealing to the search engine algorithms — and tweaking sites to get high rankings has also become a business. Serious web players do both at considerable expense.

All of this means that if you aren’t doing anything with your website, it won’t do anything for you. The days of development and maintenance of professional websites by hobbyists and amateurs is over. A website today is a lot like a marriage — it requires time and attention to survive. However, while it is important to secure the services of Web-design professionals, it isn’t always necessary to empty the company coffers to get a quality result.

Web design requires an amazing number of skills. Your web designer needs to be proficient with HTML, the computer language of the Web. S/he should also keep up with current coding standards because they have changed significantly in the last few years. But HTML is only a small part of good Web design. Add to this proficiency in graphic design, copy writing, editing, data base management, and strategic planning and you can begin to see that the requirements are many.

The larger Web design companies work in teams, while the smaller companies are often one person shops. Most small businesses can’t afford to hire a website team, which means that they must take care in their selection of their web professional.

So when is it appropriate to be frugal and when should you spare no expense? How can a site be both affordable and effective? The following guidelines can help steer you in the right direction:

It Will Cost More Than You Think
Doesn’t everything? Understanding all the costs that go into an effective Website will help in making intelligent business decisions about how (and to whom) you allocate your Website funding. Just like a mortgage, the up-front costs are only part of the picture. Don’t forget that the initial design fees are just that — initial. Hosting, maintaining and promoting your site require additional, ongoing expenses.

One effective way to save money on these back-end costs is to hire a company that is capable of the design, maintenance and promotion requirements. Many professional Web-design firms will offer a package deal or a discounted rate for such an arrangement. Be cautious however; make sure that the maintenance procedures and hosting facilities are sufficient. A top-notch data center should include raised-floor cooling, 24-hour staffing, fire suppression technology and regular data backup procedures.

Understand Your Maintenance and Promotion Needs
In today’s market a static site (one that doesn’t change much) is a dead site. If your site is going to be successful, it must be used — and the first order of use is yours. If you don’t make regular changes and updates, it won’t do well with the search engines. Your customers probably won’t use it much, either. The secret to website success is use. It’s a communication tool, so communicate with it. That will require someone’s time and energy.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay to have a static site. Your website can simply serve as an Internet brochure. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you don’t expect anything more. A website can provide a measure of credibility for your business or organization, as long as it a credible site and not a tired old dog.

Think Ahead

What do you want your site to accomplish? Will it be an Internet brochure, providing basic firm details and contact information? Or will it serve a more complex business function, with fully functional interactive components, in-depth databases and constantly changing material? By thinking through these questions ahead of time, you can make sure that your site meets all your business needs and avoid overspending. After all, there’s no need to invest in a blowtorch if all you need is a pack of matches. Strategic planning is the key here.

Market Your Site

A Website will only be as effective as the number of people that view it. Some Web consultants can help your site get higher rankings in the search engines. But don’t neglect other ways to promote your site, particularly if yours is a small business. Whenever possible, include your Website address on collateral materials such as business cards, brochures, e-mail tag lines and other business communications, etc. Mention it in your advertisements. At least make your own customers aware of your site.

Design is Everything

When things work, design is taken for granted, but, as Bill Moggridge, founder of international consultancy IDEO, says, “A lot of trial and error goes into making things look effortless.”

Putting an emphasis on design brings creativity into an organization. As the sophistication of the consumer and global competition increases, design becomes increasingly valuable. Good design involves the elegant implementation of purpose. Know what you want your website to accomplish. But to do that, you need to know what it can accomplish. Work with your designer, don’t just tell him or her what you want.

Superfluous communication needs to be eliminated and the essential elements highlighted to facilitate rapid understanding and response. Add consistency to the design, and your site will sing. Search engine optimization needs to be part of the essential design. We design to keep nonessentials from interfering with essentials. We can also help with website marketing.

The bottom line is that a website can help your bottom line. More than a marketing expense, a website is an investment in your future! Get started by requesting our Website Questionnaire, a Word file that will help determine and organize your needs.

©2005 Phillip A. Ross

This article may be freely used with permission as long as proper copyright and credit accompany it, to include a link back to this website. Contact us for more information.

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