Fifteen years ago, simply having a website meant your company was ahead of the curve. Many big companies (multinationals, even) gave little thought to their web presence, and people were only beginning to realize the potential of the web as a vehicle for delivering information from company to consumer (and vice versa). But to say things have changed since 1996 would be an understatement.
Nowadays, your company’s website is more than just an accessory – it’s a vital piece of your organization’s infrastructure. A good website can raise confidence in your brand, drive sales, and inspire strong customer loyalty born of direct interaction with your consumers. A bad website (or none at all), on the other hand, is now seen as a gigantic red flag. It doesn’t matter if your product is top-notch, your leadership dedicated, and your customer base satisfied; when given the choice between a firm with slick website and one without, many consumers will choose the former without ever giving the latter a chance. Don’t let that happen to you. Here are a few tips to set you on the road to a website that does justice to your company:
Plan ahead (and then plan some more)
Before a single line of code is written, or a single graphic is created, you need to establish a clear plan for your company’s website: What sort of information do you want to present? How would you like it to be organized? How will visitors interact with you? And don’t just think about today – envision a plan for two or three years down the road (or more). Allow for room to grow. Many organizations find themselves stuck with an unattractive, confusing, and cluttered website because they never bothered to think about how it would evolve once it was in their hands. Pages are added, sections balloon, and soon a pleasing design is a nightmare of spaghetti, with links and pages connected wherever they will fit. Problems like this can (and should) be avoided by proper planning – otherwise you might be wasting your money on a website that will not meet your needs (and will need to be redone sooner than you’d like).
Let your content be your guide
An attractive design makes a good first impression, but it’s meaningless if it doesn’t serve the content it presents. When sitting down with a firm to plan your company’s new website, consider the items you would like to see on each page. How much content will you be presenting? Will it be changing often? Will there be interactive elements? Rich media like video, audio, and slide presentations? Once you have a firm concept of how your website will deliver your content, the company you choose to produce the site will be able to tailor the design to suit your specific needs. For example, if you decide to incorporate a robust photo gallery into your website after it is already near completion, the integration will likely be trickier (and less seamless) than if the site had been designed with it in mind all along. Remember: if your website doesn’t serve your content, it probably isn’t serving your customers.
Provide as much information as you can (and update often)
Even a static website is better than nothing at all, but nowadays customers expect more. The websites of 2011 are no longer simple digital “brochures” that deliver the same information as a company’s printed materials. Increasingly, organizations are using their websites to handle customer service, ordering, feedback, and even establish a community centered around their products and services. But how do you get people to visit your website often enough to form a community? Update as often as you can. If visitors see that your content hasn’t changed in weeks, months, or even years, you can bet they won’t be coming back any time soon. But if you provide regular updates, foster a dialog with your visitors, and provide them with information they are truly interested in reading (and no, your sales pitch doesn’t count), they will return, they will tell their friends, and you will have a successful website. But that brings us to the next tip (and common pitfall):
Know your stuff before you get your hands dirty
Too often, firms assign the task of updating the company website to a staff member with no prior experience in web work. That employee, while well intentioned (and maybe even passionate), then proceeds to make changes without an understanding of the underlying mechanics of the site. Before long, things aren’t working the way they used to, and the company feels dissatisfied with their website – they just don’t understand why it isn’t behaving properly. That doesn’t need to happen. Every staff member who will be working on your organization’s website should first be trained in how to make the changes they are tasked with, what to avoid, and who to contact in the event of an accident. Nowadays, many websites are built around robust platforms called Content Management Systems (CMS), that allow users to edit pages and add content without understanding code – but even the friendliest CMS does not eliminate the need for proper training. But what if you just don’t have the time or resources to properly educate and equip a staff member to update your website?
Know when to reach out for professional help
Any firm that develops websites is also equipped to maintain them. If you find that your company just doesn’t have time to keep your website up-to-date, see if you can work out arrangement with the agency that designed it. Most will gladly perform regular content revisions, write targeted blog posts, maintain your social media, and whatever else you might need done – all for less than you might expect. Letting your site go to seed for lack time might save you a few dollars in upkeep, but it will certainly cost you more in lost sales and referrals.