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Web Global Net Web Application & Web Development Project Center  |  Web Site Planning Related  |  Web Site Planning Questions  |  Topic: Effective Business Web Sites 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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Author Topic: Effective Business Web Sites  (Read 6357 times)
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« on: February 26, 2005, 12:38: PM »

From mythology to motorcycles, from cabinet-making to cross-stitching, every specialized or topical Website knows its readership. It's a safe bet that any reader who hits the site and stays is interested (however slightly) in the topic at hand.

A Business Website, on the other hand, does not have the luxury of knowing its readership in advance. The sheer diversity of its audience makes it impossible to predict what a given reader (or readers) will want to know. A prospective client is going to want different information than a prospective employee, who in turn will want to know something different from a prospective investor. Understanding and exploiting that diversity is one of the secrets to creating an effective corporate Website.

Know & Target Your Audiences
An astute reader will have already partially formed the conclusion that a corporate site really doesn't have a single, definable audience. Readership of a corporate site actually comprises a collection of smaller special interest groups. So while a topical site can rely on the homogeneity of its audience and "ramble" a bit from time to time, a good corporate site must be precise and narrow in its focus.

A well-crafted corporate site fully exploits the capabilities of hypertext documents to target each of its various audiences individually and directly. Optimize the structure of your site around a collection of small, tightly-focused "bite-sized" pages, liberally linked to other, directly related bites. Let each document and each section speak to a portion of your potential readership.

And at all costs, avoid the temptation to create the Web-analog of a tri-fold brochure. A Website full of broad generalities and meaningless platitudes is worse than no Website at all.

The Same Old Stuff
Certain basic things just make for decent Web pages. Virtually all of the rules for building a good topical Web page apply equally well to corporate pages. The only real difference is that the attributes that might be "recommended" for a topical site become absolutely critical in a corporate site. Just a few reminders:

*   Keep it small

A corporate site does not have the luxury of long pages. A good corporate site is strongly encapsulated and liberally linked.

*   Keep it fast

The bulk of the bytes pumped out by most sites are graphical. Keep your site lightning quick. Discard all superfluous graphics, and thoroughly optimize the images you truly must keep. Remember, you have seconds, not minutes, before you start losing readership.

*   Make maneuvering easy

It's a mathematical inevitability: small pages + lots of content = lots of pages. But lots of pages is no excuse for a cumbersome, complicated site structure. Don't let your reader become lost in a labarynthine maze. Keep your basic navigational structure supremely simple, and make navigation mechanically quick and absolutely painless.

*   Keep it accessible

Browser-specific formatting on a corporate site is a guaranteed loser.

*   Water & weed often

Update your site at least once a month. With each update, add new content, to keep the site fresh and lure repeat visitors, and prune all your dead links.

Ye Shall Know Them By Their Fruits
All human communication is carried on across multiple channels. By implication, every page you post communicates at least both a primary and a secondary message about your company. Your Web presence almost certainly communicates more about your company than you realize (or perhaps intend!). After all, your Website represents a valid sample of who you are, what you do, and how you do it. By putting up a Web page, you provide readers a chance to see for themselves how closely your hype and your reality match.

Depending on their specific focus, readers are asking themselves questions like: What's this company like to do business with? What are they like to work for? How often do they pay dividends to shareholders? What are their prospects for long-term success?

In other words, your readers are looking as much at the how as the what of what you do and how you do it. Does your site communicate a solidity, and a commitment to quality? Is it complete, accurate, accessible, and inclusive? Or it slick but contentless? Does it clearly emphasize shine over substance?

Realize that your readers cannot help but form an impression of your company based on its Website. The only real question is: what sort of impression does your site convey? The multi-layered nature of communication makes it a fairly simple matter to convey a poor impression via a Web page.

Consider, for example, a major computer manufacturer with a very glitzy site. The sales and product information sections have been polished almost to the point of luminescence. By comparison, the section on service and support is obviously an afterthought. It clearly doesn't receive half the attention that the sales side of the site does.

What does this site communicate to the consumer (whether individual or corporate) who's worried about after-sale service and support? More to the point, what does this site say to potential investors about the company's focus, its priorities, and its likelihood of future success against more service-conscious competitors?

Under the Magnifying Glass
Readers are probably inherently more judgmental in their approach to corporate pages. Thus every error that is merely annoying in a personal or topical page is deadly in a corporate page. There are lots of lists available for things to avoid in building a Website.

Fetch any two or three such lists, and sweep your site for common mistakes. For every common error you've allowed to creep into your site, subtract not just readership, but revenue.

Test Before You Post
Multi-billion dollar software megalopolies in Redmond may be able to get away with posting a technically dismal Web page. But you probably can't. Testing is a vital part of developing and deploying an effective corporate Website.

It is axiomatic within software quality circles that developers simply cannot test their own work effectively. Your testers must be free from the embedded assumptions and cherished preconceptions of your design and development team. Bring in testers from a temporary employment agency if you must, but subject your site to a rigorous workout before you post it. Evaluate your site for basic technical quality, structural soundness, and for usability & reader-friendliness.

Reaping the Benefits
Whether you're a potential client, a prospective employee, or merely an idly curious passerby, it's a genuine joy to encounter a corporate site that is both well-designed and artfully crafted. After spending a few minutes at such a site, you have a very good sense of the company -- who they are, what they do, and how they do it. You know something about its people. You know something about what makes them special.
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Web Global Net Web Application & Web Development Project Center  |  Web Site Planning Related  |  Web Site Planning Questions  |  Topic: Effective Business Web Sites « previous next »
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