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It's Your Website, Stupid!

Is your website "Web Competitive"?

Copyright 2002 Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

During the presidential campaign of 1992, signs began appearing at campaign stops which read: "It's the economy, stupid!" as a way to remind the candidates of the primary issue that was on the voters' minds. Since then, the expression has entered the common vocabulary. If your prospects and customers could hold up signs for you - they would probably read: "It's your website, stupid!" - giving you a message as to what is (or should be) your number one marketing tool. Are you listening?

Your web site is really your 'front door' to the rest of the world, especially from a sales and marketing perspective. Yet you won't know this if you review a lot of web sites (I look at dozens each week - some are old friends, many are new acquaintances.) Once you start doing a certain amount of browsing, you 'qualify' web sites pretty quickly - just as a sales person qualifies a prospect - so they don't waste time on those that are of little value to them.

My web site qualification list is pretty basic - and probably reflects what the majority of the browsers to your site do - and whether or not your site turns them from browsers to visitors, and 'bookmarked' visitors at that.

First, I look to see how quickly the web site tells me what the company does - succinctly, and without fluff or hype. I really don't want to read cliches about 'leading', 'innovative' , 'great management team' and all the other stuff that is so lame that it's skipped over. Next, I look to see how easy it is to navigate the site - in other words, what's there, and how do I get to it? Then I check their 'News" or press release site - what do they consider 'news', and is it 'fresh' (within the last six to twelve months)? Another thing I look for is how well they introduce and explain both their basic business model (and/or technology) and why they are different from their competitors.

The single biggest tell-tale is web sites haven't been updated - old information, concepts, designs and philosophies. In other words, they look - and are, 'dated'

If the web site is uninviting, out of date, or contains mostly fluff - I will simply go to the next URL on the Google search list. After all - it's only a click away - and so will most other browsers, many of whom are probably your sales prospects - the very ones you work to attract to your website in the first place.

How do you get your website bookmarked, rather than skipped over? Here's a management "web competitive" checklist :

How does your website both look and read, compared to your competition?

For graphic appearances, it's best to go back to design basics - don't get cute with the design issues. For marketing purposes, design and graphics are secondary - regardless of what the web mavens tell you. Just look at the front page of USA Today - a standard grid layout format, good use of color - designed for a quick scan read and lets you know what's inside - all worthy marketing objectives of your web site.

It's the content - stupid! Get rid of the Flash intros an all that stuff. Sure, you might have paid big bucks for it, because someone may have told you that you need it - but that was yesterday. Today, you need to make sales and that stuff just gets in the way. Get rid of it. Remember - just who are you selling to? People who want to be entertained - or people who are very busy and want to get to the point right away? Always keep the customer's perspective in mind, with every decision concerning your web site.

What do you have posted as "news"? Boring announcements about financing, personnel, "strategic alliances"? Is that the best you can do? Very unoriginal - and it looks like everyone else's website - which conveys the impression that you're no different - I think I'll spend more time with your competitors - at least they are raffling off a Palm Pilot...

Keep it timely - no real reason to have archived press releases from last year (more than 12 months ago) unless you're desperate for filler. If your company hasn't got a lot more to report on in the last 12 months - you're dying.

Does your company have a personal identity? Are members of the management and sales team identified, with bios? There's something annoying and somewhat unsettling about an 'anonymous' company - that is, no clue as to who is behind it, where it is located, or its history. There are too many 'vapor companies' out there - or at least you would get that impression from their websites.

Make sure that the content is an interesting read - assign a senior-level sales or marketing executive to periodically (once a quarter or more frequently) review everything that is on the web site - and/or assign the web site to a senior executive as their responsibility - if they "don't have the time to do it" - then neither do your prospects, the media or your customers - and you lose - because their time is just as valuable to them as it is to your executives.

Web content should be possible to update in an hour or two - max. If your web site content maintenance has been "thrown over the wall" to an outsourced entity, or your webmaster was laid off and the skill set not replaced or duplicated among the staff - you're in trouble. The world can change much too quickly, and you won't have time to write a purchase order for a web content update when your need it the most to take advantage of fast-breaking events or piggyback on recent market developments or announcements. Needless to say, you need the ability to generate web content internally - or on a quick-response outsourced basis - in other words, a relationship with a provider who you have worked with and knows your company, its business model and your marketing and sales issues. If you don't have that relationship - may be a good idea to start working on it.

Consider the reference perspective - links to other sites (but be careful here) that deepen and expand the visitor's knowledge and information. This could be to some interesting and current industry news articles (that do not mention your competition) or technology reviews. You'll notice on this website's index page are New York Times business headlines, and that at the end of each article page are the titles of other articles you can jump to (internal reference). There's a reason for that.

Remember - if your web intro (index) page is reminiscent of a newspaper - then your website better deliver on the promise - and read like one - quick, punchy and relevant

After all - It's your website, Stupid!

See also Making Sense of Web Site Traffic Baseline, October 2002

© 2002, Jeffrey P. Geibel, All Rights Reserved

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