Site success Featured

6:26am EDT February 2, 2004
Despite the continuing rise in consumers' online spending, many of today's Web sites might be considered failures.

Why? Because e-sales are just one measure of Web site success.

A truly successful Web site is a critical component of a company's overall marketing strategy. More than stand-alone channels through which customers download information or add items to a virtual shopping cart, successful Web sites are powerful marketing and branding tools that extend a company's image and presence to an online community. They reinforce key messages and business objectives, and they address customers' needs, regardless of where customers are in the sales cycle.

There are several reasons why so many companies fail to realize the full potential of their Web activities. Company executives may not have a clear vision of what they want their Web sites to accomplish.

Is a Web site's purpose, for example, to generate online sales? Capture potential consumers' interest? Push marketing materials into the online space? Or pull customer profile information that can help power a more effective marketing engine?

Without a clear answer, companies continually revise their Web sites on an ad-hoc basis. The result is an inconsistent, unsatisfying Web experience that tries to accomplish too much.

There are also Web sites that try to do too little. Again, the absence of a clear Web strategy is to blame. If company executives do not appreciate the fact that their corporate Web site is a marketing channel, they are less likely to approve necessary Web site spending or hold the development team accountable for results.

In these cases, Web sites can go untended and content can quickly become outdated.

Day-to-day management issues can also derail a Web strategy. For example, some companies have turned to agencies or Web vendors for Web site development support. Others assign the lead role to in-house IT departments. Still others leverage off-the-shelf software and shift the Web management responsibility to various areas of the company's enterprises.

All of these approaches have one serious flaw: They fail to achieve the optimal balance of Web site control among the right players with the right Web site development responsibilities.

Web Content Management solutions provide the balance that has been missing and simplify the management of the entire content development lifecycle. More than 200 Web Content Management tools are available to help a company gain control of its Web site development practices. Because these tools can vary significantly in their sophistication and functionality, making the right choice can be daunting.

Regardless of the approach you take to tool selection, companies should look to those tools that provide, at a minimum, the following three features:

  • An end-to-end process that allows owners to seamlessly move through every phase of content management
  • A streamlined content management workflow process that enables the assignment of authoring, editing and administrative responsibilities based on individual capabilities
  • A powerful content-editing feature based on predefined templates and preapproved design standards

Web Content Management enables a company to easily and appropriately assign ownership for all Web site development and maintenance activities. It supports a streamlined approach to Web site development.

It enables companies to overcome the challenge of balancing three critical Web site elements: information relevance, information timeliness and brand consistency. And, most important, it allows the organization to realize the far-reaching benefits of a well-managed, Web-enabled marketing channel.

Among these benefits are brand consistency, improved efficiencies, enhanced revenue, reduced Web site costs and greater customer satisfaction.

Before considering Web Content Management as the right approach to Web site optimization, companies need to ask the fundamental questions: "What should my Web site accomplish?" and "How are my organization's business objects supported by my Web site?"

The answers will not only help define the Web site vision, but also enable companies to focus on creating a sustainable and integrated marketing strategy.

Andy Carpenter is a senior consultant with Crowe Chizek and Company LLC. Reach him at (616) 752-4256 or acarpenter@crowechizek.com