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|The Good Web Guide|
How to Develop an Effective Internet Presence
These guidelines for creating and maintaining a good business website, were first developed in April 1996. Although the web has come a long way since then, the experience which they encapsulate (that of developing websites for ourselves and clients) is as valid today as it was then.
In summary the guidelines are:
Following a description of these, we give a list of common pitfalls.
A Web presence must reinforce your business and marketing goals. It should also say something about you as a company. Therefore if you want to convey an image of professionalism and quality, that's how your Web pages should look. If you want to convey fun and creativity, then that calls for a different image.
Be realistic in your goals. Web pages are reached by users in three ways
In most of these cases it's a bit like direct mail or browsing in a library. Readers will determine in the first 2-3 seconds whether they will stop and read for a while. And remember, users may not enter your pages through the logical home page, so context setting will be important.
Your goals will help determine the kind of pages you will offer. For example, if your aim is:
The key point is to develop strong linkages between your Internet presence, your business and marketing objectives, the information you provide and the way it is portrayed.
The main point here is to adapt whatever information you have into a format aimed at the reader and their needs. Too often we see companies take internally oriented information, that is also structured for paper-based dissemination, and simply convert it into HTML (the format needed for the Web) pages. This will not do. Often, such information is also organized along departmental lines, rather than in the logical ways a reader would think through an issue or subject. Examples of what helps include:
All good practical marketing advice, but worth repeating.
In order to make your site attractive to readers, it must be well organized and structured. One way of doing this is to develop an information map, linked to objectives, of key points. Typical approaches will involve:
Be clear as to whether you are trying achieve 'publicity' or 'publishing'. Readers value pages that they can treat as a resource to 'bookmark', rather than only "sales literature". Even with publicity, give reader enough of your product that they can 'sample'.
One benefit of a Web like structure is that you can organize your information in several categories or hierarchies. take advantage of this variety, to allow different types of reader to have different 'views' of the structure.
At all times the reader should be able to see the page they are reading in it's context. They will also need to know how to reach real ted pages. Some ways of making it easier for the reader are:
The navigation are can be divided into that part which is common throughout a set of pages e.g pointers to an index, and that which is context sensitive, and therefore gives pointed to related topics. And remind readers whose pages they are reading - many will get lost in hyperspace.
A few years ago, most of the information on the Web was informative but boring (it was mostly written by academics). Good structural layout and graphics adds interest. But, what we have observed over the past year is a swing of the pendulum too far the other way. We can point out some high profile pages from major companies, where the old adage should be turned around to "one word is worth a thousand images"!
By all means use graphics - especially icons, and small 'image maps'. Save the full screen imagery for the painting you want to sell or the movie for the week-end. A good business site will always warn people about the size of large image pages, and often offer small thumbnails before the complete picture. For some tips on reducing image size visit the pages of the Bandwidth Conservation Society.
And if you really want to be boring, put a photo of your president on the home page! Sorry, we keep harping on about this, but this is one of the main causes of deterioration of the Web in recent times, Just because it is now easier to add sound and damage, does not mean you have to use it. Graphic designers will tell you that on paper, white space can be more powerful than text. So be sparing with your images.
Also, make effective use of the medium. Writing Web pages is quite different from writing for paper publication or for printed advertising. Creating "Web friendly" formats is an art in itself. .
Above all, aim to create a 'Look and feel' consistent with your corporate image and Web site objectives.
Readers always appreciate a site that offers helpful links to related material -even, or rather especially, if it is done by some other (external) authoritative expert. They are wary of sites that suck them in and do not give any links out. OK, we're not the best example - it does take time and effort to research good links and put them in, and then regularly check them.
It is also useful to try and develop reinforcing 'webs', especially with business partners. You point to their pages, and they point to you. Again this takes extra effort, in simple communications if not negotiation, but it is something that your readers will value. The Web is an information resource and pointers to other sites with complementary information can only reinforce the value of the Web for all, and help get away from the glitzy image portrayed by some blatant marketing sites.
Use all available mechanisms to draw people to your site. There are many search engines that will find your site and index it. Others, though, will need help to find you. It is also important how you start key pages, since some engines will only summarise the first few sentences.
Many online directories will also publicize your site, but our own research says these are very variable. Many seem to make more efforts to sell space to providers, rather than help users find information! So tread with care. Other things to do include:
You will find plenty of useful ideas in WEB MARKETING TODAY, a thought provoking online newsletter edited by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson.
Remember - a site not marketed may well be a site not visited!
Every page is potentially an opportunity to encourage some dialogue with the reader. As you plan each page, decide what action you would like the reader to take and generate a 'hook'. For example on this page we invite you to email David Skyrme Associates to find out more about our Internet services.
Exploit multiple response mechanisms. Different readers have different preferences (or different browser) software. Some may be reading a hard-copy of your page. Some options to consider are:
Remember that the World Wide Web is only one of many Internet tools. It is primarily a 1-to-many mechanism - ideal for disseminating information to a large dispersed audience in a passive way. Hence the growth of interest in intranets to hold and share company information.
Other mechanisms may be more appropriate for different tasks. For example:
While many companies put significant effort into developing a site, often using external contractors for the effort, too often the site is then left to fester. At a very minimum some simple maintenance should be carried out regularly, such as:
More rigorous maintenance would include:
But for maximum effect, we would recommend sustenance, the proactive updating of the pages to reflect changes in the business and the context. Thus:
Here are some common pitfalls, and how to avoid them.
The list grows daily. We're sure you have some not listed or, or even comments about these pages that annoy you. Please email your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
© Copyright. David J. Skyrme. 1996. Minor revisions, 1999. This material may be copied or distributed subject to the terms of our copyright conditions (no commercial gain; complete page copying etc.) .
These are guidelines that have helped us in the design of websites for ourselves and clients. Related guides and tools on this site include Effective Email and Web Site Project Check List. There is also a series of feature articles on the 10Ps of Internet Marketing, starting with Portals. See also Internet Resources and Contents/Internet.
External sources you might find helpful include:
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