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Issue Date: April 2004

The top ten mistakes on websites

April 2004

International web specialist, Sally Falkow, visited South Africa in March 2004, to share web strategy and online marketing insight with local marketers.
Bill Gates said that soon there will be only two kinds of businesses - those with an effective website and those with no business at all!
Statistics show that over 80% of websites are frustrating to use and that over 90% of corporate websites have technology on them that prevents them from being seen by search engines. Since the purpose of most websites is to communicate with your target audiences, produce business leads and/or sell them something - an idea, a product or a service - these are scary statistics!
There is real marketing power in a website - use these insights to tap into that power and see if they apply to your website:
1. No clear strategy when building the website
We've all heard the adage: "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." Without a clear strategy of what you want your website to do, and why you are creating it, it can only be effective by accident. Too many business owners say their strategy was "to have a website." Or it was thrown together to meet some deadline occurring for the company - a trade show or acquisition. As with any other marketing or communication action the watchword should be: "know before you go." A good strategic plan will make all the difference. At the very least you need answers to these questions:
* What is the major business objective we hope to achieve with this site?
* Who is the primary audience we want to attract?
* How Web savvy are they?
* What is our core message?
* What do we want them to do on the site?
* What will they want to do on the site?
* What information will they be looking for on the site?
* How can we fulfil their needs in a way that also achieves our objectives?
2. Not using the site as an integral part of your business and marketing plans
Your website is a communication tool. It is part of your marketing and PR activity. It is not just something you "have to have." It is something that can and should be used as an integral part of your marketing strategy. The Website offers incredible information and insights - if you know where to look. You can track trends, see what phrases your visitors are searching on to find you, where they go once on your site, what content interests them and how these patterns change over time. A website is a powerful tool - use it. You can pre-test products and offers, qualify sales leads, gather new leads and survey your current customers. If all you have is a static online brochure, you're not using your website to its full potential. Make it part of your marketing and brand strategy or you're missing out on one of the most effective business platforms of our time.
3. Not focusing on your Users
Any basic marketing course will teach you that all your marketing efforts will be wasted if you do not start with your customer. The same applies to your website. First and foremost, find out who your likely visitors to the site will be. Invest in some research - who are they, what do they do, where else do they go on the Net, what are they looking for? A website is all about starting a conversation with your customers. If you have not yet read the Internet Bible, The Cluetrain Manifesto, do so. Get a clue. Learn how to talk with your customers - don't speak at them. Build the site for them, test how they use it and make it easy to find what they want.
4. Designing for the wrong audience
Once you have done your research and have your prospective users firmly in your sights, don't get off track. This site is not for you and your managers. Too many CEO's and business owners look inward when building a site. Realize that you will never use the site. Keep those users in sight. Ask not what your website can do for you, but what it can do for your users. By all means get input from your employees - but take it with a grain of salt. The best input will come from people in the field and those in direct touch with your customers and other publics. Ask them for feedback on what your public wants. Invest in usability studies. Design the best site possible for your ideal customer. Find out what they think of your designs and your navigation system.
5. Spending all your budget on design and programming
The number one reason someone goes to a website is content. Not graphics, not programming - content. Yet content is the last item on the list in the budget, if it is there at all. You have just eight seconds to attract and interest your visitor when they land on your home page. Will the graphics do it? Maybe, if they are crafted around your core message. Will the programming? No. It's the content that tells them your site is relevant, credible and worth their time to look into. Invest in an experienced writer who understands the difference between writing for print and writing for a web page - why web copy needs to be based on keywords and what keyword density to use for the search engines. Find someone who knows how to write relevant and sequential copy from one layer of the site to the next so that links follow logically and make sense. A website is like a leaking bucket. You may have 100 visitors on the home page, but unless your site is designed and tested to hold onto these visitors, by the time they reach your 'goal page' you probably have only five left to make that all-important revenue-producing click. And your resultant conversion rate is dismal!
6. Dazzling with 'bleeding edge' technology
Designers love to use the very latest in cutting edge technology - so far on the cutting edge you often leave your visitors bleeding! A Flash intro was hot - now it's not. Companies are realizing people get annoyed waiting for the content to load, and the intro is not what they came to see anyway. Check your logs and find out how many are clicking on "skip intro". Flash has its place - use it to enhance a page or to explain and demonstrate a product or service. Too much motion and animation "just because you can" has a negative effect on your user.
7. Not thinking about the media
If you're not, you should be. Third party endorsement through media is the fastest way to start a fire. Marketing and advertising will fan the flames, but publicity builds credibility. A news section on your site can be used to impress future customers and employees, but you must also make it useful for journalists. Journalists have deadlines. They often use your site after hours and can't contact anyone: 100% of journalists surveyed said they use the Web to do research for a story; 50% said they will visit your website first. Post a complete, easy-to-use media kit in the newsroom:
* Contact details for your media spokesperson - one who actually answers the phone!
* Bios of the execs with high-resolution photographs (for print quality).
* Corporate background information.
* Good illustrations/photographs of your main products.
* Logo in multiple formats that can be downloaded.
* Press releases.
8. Build it and they will come
Unfortunately not. Even if we do invent that better mousetrap, no one will be beating a path to our door unless they know where that door is and why they should be there. People do not magically appear on your website. You have to put it where people are looking and make it easy to find. Then you have to beat the drum and make sure they know about you. All standard marketing actions. We tend to forget our marketing basics when it comes to the Internet. It is just another communication medium. Research has shown that a surprisingly large number of corporate web users use search engines to access a website - even when they know the URL.
Many companies have increased their traffic, conversion rates and income from simple search engine optimisation strategies. Optimising your pages based on keyword research and learning about your visitors' behaviour patterns can increase your usage and results by an average of 135% - not to be sneezed at!
9. Building a maze
Ever been to a website and couldn't find what you were looking for? Couldn't complete your task or get through the buying process? The majority of websites are like a maze and the good stuff is buried deep in the site. Why make it a marathon of frustration for your users? Build your site with clear signposts to the major content your users will be after. Be clear - no "mystery meat navigation" and cutesy advertising type links that don't give you a clue as to what content it links to. Be simple. Get a good information architect to help you plan the site based on user research.
10. No future plans and support
Getting the site up is not the end of the road - it's the beginning of your online marketing program. You need a great designer. You need a proficient programmer. You definitely need a great writer. But you also need a marketing team. Online marketing is evolving at a dizzying pace - nowhere do the rules change so fast. It takes dedication to keep up with the changes just in the search engines, let alone all the other aspects. The recent changes at Google taught some e-commerce marketers this lesson. They woke up one morning and found their traffic had disappeared! Many a commercial site was no longer on the first page of search results for their keywords and they had to scramble to rework their content according to the new rules. To design and implement an effective customer relationship online takes a full team of experts, but the rewards are great.
Sally Falkow is a Web Content Strategist now living in Pasadena, CA. You can contact her at sally@falkowinc.com or visit www.falkoweb.com.


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