A New Year signals time for a better Web presence

By Jeffery Hoyle

Emphasis Marketing & Communications


So what’s in a website? A lot actually.

A well-constructed, accessible, easily navigated website can be the linchpin when it comes to branding your business. Your website is important because it is something that you own. It serves as a messenger to your clients, potential clients, competitors — everybody. And not taking your Web presence seriously is a disservice to your business as a brand.

If done correctly, your website can be the crown jewel in your marketing and branding efforts.

Your Web presence should be a one-stop shop for all things related to your business. It should feed all the information your consumer base needs just by stopping at your site. It should be fun, innovative, but not too flashy. Speak to your market; put yourself in their shoes, and decide what you would like out of a website. Or better still, ask them.

A lot of marketing professionals will tell you that the website is a dying swan in the dance that is marketing. Social media has surpassed the website, and rendered it almost a lame duck.

Not true, say I! On the contrary, look at some of the examples of tremendous website marketing: CNN, HBO, L’Oreal. All are great examples of websites with staying power. That is the key: a site that not only catches the consumers’ attention, but brings them back to the site time and time again.

Overanalyzing what makes a site popular is easy, but unnecessary. Instead, keep in mind one simple word: change.

A simple change, a dramatic change — it doesn’t matter. What does matter is there is change to your site, and often. Search engines pick up on those changes and direct traffic to see what the change was. It is as simple as gossip on a party line. Couple change with words that make your site more searchable (called meta tags or enhanced text), and you’ve got yourself one popular website.

So, how do you go about developing this amazing website? Before you start, it’s important to remember that the purpose of your site is to paint a picture of your brand, and intrigue your consumer to want to know more. To that end, a few key components are essential to a great website.
Appearance
In this arena, I tend to fall on the side of less being more. A glitzy, flashy site is not going to guarantee you hits. In some instances, the more flash to your site, the slower it is to load. Keep in mind that this is the first, and possibly only, impression that your clients may have of your business.

Even if your site is not glitzy, you can still build an attractive site that will keep your visitors attention and draw them back for more at a later date . Here are a couple of guidelines to consider:
  • Color — Too much color can be incredibly distracting. Typically, two or three primary colors (red, blue and green in case you’ve forgotten your primary school art class) that blend to create the proper professional tone for your site are best.
  • Text — How many times have you been on a site and found the content almost unrecognizable? Make sure your content is easy to read, and is succinct, accurate and effective in conveying the message of your business to your consumer base. If necessary, have a few folks on your marketing team take a swipe at writing some content, and then piece together the best of each individual effort. Or, if you have no writers on staff, enlist the aid of a professional.
  • Simplicity — The KISS method (Keep It Simple Silly) is still the most effective way to build a website. Allow for an adequate amount of white space; and if you don’t know what that means, your webmaster will. This will also help in the overall functionality of the site. Broken links and poorly constructed components can only paint your business in a bad light. Everything on your site should run like a well-oiled machine.
Usability
Your site is only as good as how easily the user can use it. That’s where usability comes into play. Easy to read, navigate and find information can make or break the quality of your site. Here are some usability factors to consider:
  • Fast-loading pages — The average time for a page to load by a dial-up Internet connection is about 20 seconds or less; any more than that your visitor may get bored and look elsewhere. Remember what we discussed about glitz? This is what separates the men from the boys in cyberspace.
  • Minimal scroll — Your home page should include buttons or links that will take you to any other page in your site. Your menu should be placed at the top of your page, and try to limit it to 10 items or fewer. If you feel you need more, you may need to edit your content a bit. Remember, less can be more.
  • Layout consistency — Each page should mirror the page before it as much as possible. From a psychological standpoint, the human eye recognizes and becomes familiar with the similarity. It becomes easier to remember, and makes more of an impression.
  • Resolution of screen — Typical resolution for Web surfing is about 1024 x 768 pixels, but as technology advances, so does the resolution. The key is to make certain that the site will have the same quality appearance no matter what the resolution of the monitor your visitor is using.
Search engine optimization (SEO)
SEO can make or break your site. This is the key that turns on search engines and drives traffic to your site. The rules of engagement when it comes to SEO are changing almost daily. Here are just a few of these rules to consider when discussing SEO with your webmaster:
  • Another reason not to use Flash or JavaScript on your site: searchability. When used as navigational items, search engines don’t recognize them. Use plain, old fashioned HTML for your content. Search engines will latch on to your site much easier.
  • Use keywords frequently and appropriately in your content.
  • The most important point to make when talking about SEO: change is good. Updates to your website trigger search engines to check out your new content.
Whether you currently have a Web presence, or are finally getting on board with the idea, by following these simple suggestions, you can ensure that money spent on constructing your website is spent well. Don’t be daunted by the prospect; everybody’s doing it.

So, look at what others in your industry are doing with their website, and add some of the components you like to your site. We live in a techno age, and this is the next frontier for grabbing and holding on to your client base. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.