Content and planning drive website success

Businesses should renew their websites every five years and add at least 2,000 words of genuine, new content each month to derive maximum value and make them truly successful, attendees of a workshop presented by Atwater Consulting on 3 May learned.

Presenter Mark O’Brien, president of United States Web development firm Newfangled, said the most common single mistake of businesses is to launch their website without thinking of the big picture in terms of how to generate a return on investment and what the website is supposed to do. In addition to the lack of business planning, there is also little use of analytics to determine how the website is used.

Business owners often do not take a step back to assess whether the website is really serving their customers’ needs, he said. “Businesses often assume that it does, which becomes a problem for both the customers and the company because they are only getting a very tiny percentage of the value that they could possibly get out of the website.”

A website is the most measurable and interactive tool in marketing, enabling businesses to see what people are doing in real time and to react instantly. It is also the only marketing platform that allows firms to independently inform unaware prospects. With the rise of Google as the single largest referral agent, websites have to be regarded as a business generating machine, Mr. O’Brien said.

The purpose of the firm’s online presence is to drive interested visitors to the website into the sales cycle. In order to achieve this, website owners need to have something to say and be an expert both for visitors and in the context of Google’s search methods.

This involves committing to a specific area of expertise and adding at least 2,000 words of unique, expert and indexable content, written by the operator of the website, to the site every month. “Google will react to this,” he argued, but only if the content is not protected by log-ins and avoids the use of PDF formats and flash.

Mr. O’Brien, who presented a nine-step process of planning a website within the context of attracting, informing and engaging website users, said developing and executing a content strategy is by far the most difficult aspect of running a website.

Websites typically have a lifecycle of five years when they need to be updated or replaced to reflect the latest technology and give the website a current feel. “The Web has been around actively for 17 years now, so we have only seen three of those cycles,” Mr. O’Brien said.

In this period much has changed. Internet users have all become researchers thanks to Google, he said. Although the sophistication of users has grown, Internet habits have formed and become more entrenched. As a result, the way users interact with a search bar, read content, where the points of engagement are and the most effective navigational tools are well defined now.

When business planning a website, Mr. O’Brien said, the website is the domain of the marketing and not the IT department. “So many marketing divisions in companies are hamstrung by IT, because they own the website and it cannot come close to where it needs to be.” Senior management also needs to be involved at key stages of the web development process, such as the planning and information design stages. Once a website is operational, the use of freely available Google analytics reports ensures that the site meets user needs and yields insight into what users are looking for.

Determining the return on investment of a website from a business perspective will need to see the integration of a customer relationship management system with the website.

Mr. O’Brien believes that the adoption of CRM systems like Salesforce will be the next big thing embraced by companies, as these can become a repository for the contact information of website users, sales leads and follow up. Such as system shows how users found the website, for example by searching for a specific term on Google, which pages they visited, which forms they filled and how the sales process was conducted. All this can then give timelines for the conversion of a website visitor into an actual sale.

“That is where it gets very powerful because you have complete transparency,” Mr. O’Brien said.

The workshop organised by Atwater Consulting in cooperation with Netclues was the first of several workshops the consulting firm plans to stage this year.

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