Designing efficient corporate websites
The growth of the web as a sales and marketing channel seems limitless, at least for the foreseeable future. In Australia, broadband take-up has skyrocketed and now that consumers have the bandwidth to support it, we’re finally seeing innovative online content spring up around us.
Unfortunately, while online advertising and viral marketing is evolving at a rate of knots, many corporate websites – the foundation of a company’s online presence – are still floundering in a tangle of poor architecture and inconsistent content. Ownership of the site is often vague. Without proper content management technology, it falls to the IT department to maintain the site. And as communicators, they usually make great techies.
More importantly though, many corporate websites don’t pass the simple test: was this site built for me or for my customers? Does it solve my customers’ problems and answer their questions? Does it compel them to buy my offering?
Without positive answers to these questions, your website is probably a non-performer. Over the past few years, a range of web experts has appeared, offering new technologies and approaches to solving these problems.
Most marketers would now be familiar with concepts like ‘usability’ – how easy it is for users to navigate your site and find the information they need. Also, many marketers would have experience using content management systems (CMS) – software that allows website managers to update content without using HTML.
It’s important not to think about these concepts and technologies as answers within themselves. They are tools, and as such, success depends on both the quality of the tool and the way it is applied.
The following are a few initial considerations to keep in mind when you go about overhauling a corporate website.
Develop a site for your customers, not yourself
Take a good hard look at your website. Better yet, get someone outside your organisation to do it. For a start, if your site doesn’t identify your company, its core offering and provide clear direction on how to navigate your site within 10 seconds, it needs to change.
Think about your own behaviour when you are looking for information online. If you’re looking to appoint a PR or advertising agency, do you want to sit through an abstract Flash animation or do you want to get straight to the examples of their work? Figure out why your customers visit your site and then make it easy for them to satisfy that need in as few clicks as possible.
Take control back from IT
I said it before and I’ll say it again. The IT department should not be the content controller for your website. Some of my best friends are IT experts, and while I value their skills greatly, I wouldn’t let them write my sales collateral!
As a marketer, you are the expert in understanding what drives your customers and how to reach them effectively. By the same token, you want to focus on your core skills. You shouldn’t need advanced knowledge of HTML and CSS in order to manage your website. CMS programs allow non-technical users to manage website content without risking corruption to the design of the site. They also allow companies to spread ownership of the site content across the organisation.
Differentiate from the competition
CMS is great when you want to maintain consistency across your site. Be careful, however, that your site doesn’t wind up looking just like the competition. Most CMS systems rely upon the use of pre-set design templates to create a common look and feel across the site. The danger of course is that these templates restrict your designer’s ability to create a website that is innovative and really reflects the uniqueness of your organisation.
The most common systems require extensive work by programmers to customise these templates. This can be extremely costly so it is important to find a solution that will allow your designer creative freedom without days of programming work.
Find an expert design partner
Don’t go it alone. Find a good design partner who understands your business and how to develop a web presence that works. Take their advice and work closely to ensure that your organisation’s online and offline brand is unified. It is important to strike a balance between creativity, usability and ease of management. Make sure that the system you deploy will allow your designer total creative freedom, provide you with an easy management platform and deliver the best possible user experience.
If you can satisfy these broad considerations, you’re on your way. But always remember that the web is evolving fast. Stay abreast of developments and look at how you can use new technology to reach customers and maintain an edge on the competition.