Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Making your website work for you



While the honeymoon with the social media continues, this week I ask that we all step back to consider something that many of us take for granted: the website of our organisation. This is the first of a number of articles I would be writing on this topic.

Some authors have described the website of an organisation as its major digital touch point. Others refer to it as the main window to the brand within the digital space.

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Although some organisations lack websites, the number of those with websites has increased. Yet, many websites do not appear to be functioning. From broken links, irregular updates, to outdated, inaccurate and irrelevant content, the websites of many organisations still leave a lot to be desired.
Many small businesses do not have the resources to handle the development and management of their websites in-house. Many large organisations have at least someone who manages content on their websites.

However, given the magnitude and frequency of the errors encountered on a number of websites, it might be pertinent to ask about the level of supervision that managers of websites are getting.
Why are we online? What is the purpose of creating a variety of digital media channels if they do not achieve the set objectives of the organisation?

What does it matter if we have a viable social media presence without an effective website? I have always said that it is not your presence on the web that counts. But the effectiveness of that presence is what matters.

You do not own your social media pages. If you think you do, please read the terms and conditions on these platforms again. There is therefore a limit to what you can do on your social media pages. The extent of the value you can derive from these platforms is a function of the flexibility of the platform, as well as the model it adopts.

Build a fan base of millions and it might all go away in a jiffy if and when such an organisation closes shop or changes the rules midway. Don’t wait till it is too late. You have got to think of business continuity and sustainability.

The good news is that you do own your website. Provided you keep renewing the domain name, updating the content, adding new features and promoting the website, it can serve as a true driver of value for your brand.
Whether your website is for information, transaction or both, here are some things you can do to make it work for you:

Keep it simple
Your website does not need to have hundreds of pages to be effective. It should have the basic number of pages that adequately conveys the information that people need. In managing websites, I have found out that the average visitor may not view more than 3-4 pages on a site per visit.
IDG, a leading global Technology and Media Research firm reports that websites are experiencing decreasing attention span from a disappearing audience. A research conducted by the firm showed that in 1995 there were about 23,500 websites worldwide, with some 39.6 million users and an average of 1,685 users per site. By 2010, the number of websites had increased to over 255 million with 1.96 billion users, averaging just 7.7 users per site”.

The time spent on a website is precious. Make it count for your visitors. A good rule of the thumb is to map out the possible things that visitors to your website might be looking for. Then ensure they can find each of these in no more than 3 clicks while on your website. For instance, if you have several office locations, there can be a link on your home page that leads to a page with the contact details of all your locations (physical address, email address, telephone numbers, contact person, opening hours, services offered, etc).

Beauty sells
Your website’s design and layout should be neat and not cluttered up. While it is true that entertainment websites may not be as simple as search engine websites, you do not want visitors to be overwhelmed on your website.

Build for dummies
The Dummies Book series are one of the bestselling books ever published. I have a lot of them and so do many people I know. The concept of creating books under different titles/topics/subject matter for dummies arose out of the need to give those who are new to a subject/topic (otherwise called dummies) the opportunity to learn same in a very easy to understand way.
Many websites often make their visitors do too much work to get even the most basic of information. If your website has lots of pages and information, then you should do any or all of the following to improve the experience of visitors on your site:

 Make navigation easy to follow
The media section, for instance,  can have separate links to press releases, contact persons for different functions (and their details) and documents for downloads. The downloads link can have options for presentations, publications, logos and photos of events and the management team. The documents can also be accessible in different formats (audio, video, photo), by dates (year, month) and event (annual general meeting, product launch, corporate social responsibility project, etc).

Make search box conspicuous and functional
A good rule is to allow users search by typing exactly what they are looking for (e.g. “book on goal setting”). This is called a full text search. Another rule is to create an advanced search functionality where users can enter a number of parameters. For instance, an online bookstore’s website might have as search parameters – Books, Type of Book, Name of Book, Author, Book Format, Year of Publication, Language, Price Range, Publisher, etc

Benchmark your website
Compare your website with those of competitors and similar brands in other sectors. Identify and quickly implement any useful ideas that you like. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
Review the website
Culled from Punch Online