Good Web Design Is No Longer Enough When It Comes To Online Marketing
At the start of my professional career in the early 2000s, a company’s website was the be-all and end-all when it came to online marketing. Businesses spent thousands of pounds on a new website every couple of years, almost out of a sense of commercial virility rather than for any pressing technical reason. There was a Field of Dreams mentality: “If you build it, they will come.”
15 years on and web design is still a very important part of any organisation’s marketing mix. If this were not the case, why do so many still get hung up on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)? However, they are no longer the pinnacle or the primary focal point of an online marketing campaign. A website is just one core component of a marketing strategy, one that is now highly dependent on other marketing activity if it is to fulfil its intended function as the online shopfront of a company or an organisation.
So here are seven things to consider when it comes to supporting a website:
1. Do you really know what your website is for?
I remain a big fan of websites; they represent a company’s, an organisation’s or an individual’s preferred online presence.
However, many just have a website as a reflexive action; everyone else has one so we should too. Of course, there is some justification in that train of thought, but it doesn’t go far enough. Anyone who is looking to have their own website should have a clear idea of what it is for and how it is going to be used on an ongoing basis.
This is where the definition of ‘a good website’ can become ambiguous. You may have a wonderful website in mind or just launched, with swish graphics and the kitchen sink, but is it going to serve the appropriate online function your business needs? Is a website really going to be your intended readership’s first port of call in the social media age?
Defining exactly what a good website is would take an entire blog article in itself, and the answer to the question would vary depending on who is asking, but the pertinent issue here is knowing what your website is for and how it relates to your other activity, both offline and online.
To my mind, a modern website must host a variety of content (text, imagery, video and audio) that is refreshed or added to on a very regular basis. Without this, any online marketing strategy you have away from your website is severely hindered.
2. How are people going to find your website?
If you a build an amazing, technically accomplished, content-rich website in 2015, there is no guarantee that people will read it by default that it will automatically become embedded in the first page of Google’s search engine and results.
More work is required, both on the website and elsewhere on the web. In the first instance, a website launch is not a one-off event – in more ways than one a website is perpetually being launched, with every effort to direct previous and new visitors to relevant content that is continually being added to the site. A good website is not a static entity but a living one, and like all living things it needs to be nourished and looked after, otherwise it will ‘die’.
Any good web design agency will have already advised you of this and would have also ensured that the content that will be on your website at the time of launch is geared towards being found by search engines (Search Engine Optimisation/SEO). However, there is more to do away from the website itself.
Assuming the website is for a new company or new organisation, how do you expect people to find it? It is not as if people will type in an existing web address they already know (the company is new, remember) and find the site will be there.
This is why social media marketing, paid-for online marketing (such as online banners or Pay-Per-Click) and traditional marketing are so important. You need to proactively drive people to the website rather than just hope people will find it of their own accord.
3. Do people really want to read or deal with your website?
This in many respects goes back to my first question about knowing what your website is for. If you don’t really know what the purpose of your website actually is, how can anyone else?
A website has to be an online resource that is of genuine utility to an internet user. That utility will vary from business to business, organisation to organisation, depending on what they’re about. A business that sells online should have a website through which you can make purchases, whereas a website for a members-based organisation should be a portal through which existing members can interact with each other and new members can apply for membership. Some businesses may just want a website that establishes their credentials through content marketing and client testimonials or case studies.
The question to keep on asking yourself is, “What do visitors to my website get out of visiting it?” If the answer to that question is “Nothing”, you have an ineffective and pointless website that will not adequately achieve your online marketing objectives (whatever they may be).
4. Why should people repeatedly come back to your website?
This is a continuation of the question above. At the time of their launch, many new professional websites are content rich and provide a great launch pad for that company’s or organisation’s online marketing strategy.
But what then? Once people have read what they wanted to read on your website, it is unlikely that they will make another visit unless there is a clear inducement to do so. This is why it is important that new, good-quality content is added to a website on a regular basis because it encourages a following and an ongoing interest in your company’s or organisation’s ongoing activities.
Another reason to have a dynamic, ‘live’ website is that it clearly demonstrates that your business or organisation is still active and that it takes its online presence seriously. People are going to think twice about doing business with a company that has not posted content to its online presence for months, and visitors are not going to interact with your online materials or portals either, as they may think that they’re dormant too.
5. How does your website relate to your business’s or organisation’s ‘offline activity’?
Any professional website should represent what your organisation is doing offline. What conferences or exhibitions are you attending? Who have you recently met? Which products or services have just been launched? Which major projects have just been finished? What do your clients think or say about you? All of this needs to be captured on a website.
Conversely, you should be driving people to your website in meetings, at conferences, in e-mails or via telephone calls. Any additional information or supporting material your customers or members may need should be clearly available and accessible to them online, preferably via your own website.
The website should reflect the living entity of a business and organisation, and your staff should be using the website as a tool to support this impression.
6. Is all your online marketing activity sufficiently active and monitored?
Whether it’s a website or a social media channel, you have to ensure that your online marketing activities are sufficiently staffed and supported.
Websites and social media are not just a broadcasting mechanism; get it right and people will talk back and engage with you.
With a website, all the request forms or ‘contact us’ forms need to work, and any information received through them needs to be processed accordingly, from dispatching a product to updating a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.
If your company’s website has a blog, it should also have a comments section under each blog article. Any comments received have to be vetted, approved and replied to within an acceptable period of time (which will vary depending on your company’s needs or the resources available).
With social media channels, they have to be continually populated on a daily basis with relevant, good-quality content. If you’re not prepared or able to do this, you should hesitate before embarking on a social media marketing campaign or, at the very least, limit the number of social media channels you’re planning on being active on.
More so than websites, social media will enable your customers to respond to you and may initiate conversations or enquiries. Your organisation must be geared up to respond to such interactions accordingly. The analogy I always use with my clients is that you would not advertise a company’s telephone number and then not answer that phone when it rings; so it is with social media channels.
7. Online marketing is no longer just about passive text.
Having a website that is, in effect, an online iteration of your company’s brochure is no longer going to cut it. People now expect visual elements on a website and dynamic ones at that. With video and audio now so easy and cost-effective to record via mobile devices, a website should have elements to it that break away from a staid, static, text-based approach.
And, as we have already mentioned, people appreciate and benefit from being able to interact with companies online. Your social media channel feeds should have a clear presence on your website (i.e. a Twitter feed can be embedded on your homepage), and this shows that your organisation is dynamic, proactive and open to engagement.
All of this requires work, cost and forethought, but it also offers an opportunity to consolidate and make the most of your company’s or organisation’s activities. If, for example, Joe is going to a conference, it makes sense for Joe to comment on the conference via a social media channel, which then in turn would display on your website. If your organisation has won an award, pictures of the award ceremony or presentation should go live on your social media channels and website as soon as is feasibly possible.
As I hope is clear from the above, I am not trying to dismiss websites as a medium, nor am I trying to ‘upsell’ the benefits of social media marketing. Good web design is critical for any modern organisation, and social media may not always be the most appropriate marketing solution. However, anyone who is considering commissioning a website must have a clear idea of what it is actually for, others’ expectations of what it is meant to provide, and what is actually involved and needed for a professional web presence in 2015.