Working the Web
There’s more to building an Internet presence than just posting a Web site
By Don Weiner
When it comes to establishing a presence on the Web, there seem to be as many good reasons as there are sites. The Web offers groups effective ways to communicate their messages.
Politicians and organizations may see it as a fundraising tool. Some are interested in creating opportunities for visitors to socialize or speak their minds. And businesses use it to generate leads, answer frequently asked questions, provide operating manuals and promote products.
The reasons may be varied, but the building blocks of an easy-to-find, well-designed Web site are not.
Miki Dzugan, president and principal consultant of Sedona-based Rapport Online Inc., argues that “the effective Web site starts with the concept of, ‘What do you want to accomplish?’ ”
Once you establish your goals, consider who you want to reach and how you plan to promote your site.
“I can’t think of an instance that it doesn’t include search-engine marketing,” she says. “To me, that’s just basic to being on the Web.”
Outlining a marketing strategy at the outset sets the table for building and designing the site properly. It helps target the most useful keywords, link strategies and tagging needed to make your site search-engine friendly.
Why is this important?
“We find, and the statistics prove it, that right now, regardless of your product or service, someone is searching for you,” says Andy Richter, managing partner and vice president of sales and marketing for Terralever, an interactive marketing agency in Tempe.
Once you decide how to lure visitors, the next step is to hook them. There’s no better way than by creating an attractive, user-friendly site.
“The key element is to have something useful on the Web site for your client,” Dzugan says. “Information is really, still, the primary thing that is sought on the Internet. And so people need to be able to get their information quickly. Web site users are very impatient. Don’t be too subtle. … On the Web, you’ve got just about one second for people to decide whether they’re going to do anything more with your Web site.”
Well-written, up-to-date content helps. So do interactive and visual elements. But there has to be a balance between the written word and Flash-based video or animation.
“There are some excellent, powerful uses for Flash,” Dzugan says, “but the thing that you have to bear in mind is that search engines don’t understand that. So you need to have text on your Web site.”
Considering all this, pitches from providers who say you can get a site up and running for less than $20 a month don’t ring true for everyone.
Although such solutions may work for some, Richter likes to borrow a quote from billionaire businessman and investor Warren Buffett: “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”
In fact, a one-person online operation may not be the best choice either. Web site design and marketing requires the skill sets of designers, information architects, copywriters and search-engine-optimization specialists, among others.
“Typically, you’re not going to find a well-rounded person that’s great at all those things,” Richter says. “It really takes some level of specificity in all those areas to really put a site out there that’s going to really communicate your unique value proposition to your customers.”
If you decide on getting professional help, you can expect to spend a minimum of four figures. Also, let the experts do their job. Don’t bog them down with an overabundance of your own design ideas.
“The toughest conversation that I have to have with clients,” Richter says, “is to tell them, ‘This is not about you or for you. This is for your customers.’ ”
Professional Web developers are up to date on the latest, most successful trends. For example, Richter points to social media as an area growing in importance.
“When the Internet came to prominence, it was very much a one-way conversation. It was the print and marketing collateral digitized,” he says. “So just from a general communications standpoint, the trend is really around dialogue. It’s really around conversation and not just communicating how great your company is.”
Be aware that nothing ends once the Web site appears on the Internet.
“Launching a site is a singular tactic to an overall marketing strategy,” Richter says. “If you’re truly going to get the return on investment, you can’t just look at launching the site as the panacea to your online marketing needs.”
There has to be an ongoing effort to measure and analyze a site’s performance, market it, manage its content and improve it.
One of the biggest mistakes firms make, and this includes some major companies, is to allow a Web site to remain idle.
“If it sits for three months, people will see that it’s stagnant and it gives them no reason to come back,”Richter says.
When a company’s product line generates news, its Web site needs to be the prime source for additional information.
“Some large companies that aren’t doing direct selling online kind of lose track of the fact that they need to make sure that their new products are up there,” Dzugan says.