A Web site check-up Featured

9:38am EDT July 22, 2002

Since most companies already have a Web presence, more and more are taking the time now to re-evaluate -- and improve -- their sites. Whether you are interested in setting up a new Web site or redesigning your existing one, here are some key elements to consider that will have an impact on the success of your site.

1. Provide a consistent message and tone. The copy and design should be consistent with your company's overall marketing campaign and reflect its corporate identity. Your Web site is an extension of your company and should support and reinforce your brand.

2. Provide a clear mission statement. Visitors should immediately be able to determine what products and services your company offers. Provide a simple, clear statement describing the business. Avoid complicated words when simple ones will do.

3. Ensure a smooth and seamless Web experience. Make sure you have conducted numerous usability studies and incorporated quality control measures at every level. For example, have you tested the site on multiple browsers and various platforms? Is the navigation quick and easy? Remember that consumers have about eight seconds worth of patience while waiting for your pages to load. If you keep them waiting too long, they may leave and never return.

4. Engage your visitors. Strive to create a positive user experience so that visitors will want to return. Always keep your site fresh with updated content and news. Also, position your site as a resource for your customers. Make sure you give them the information they are looking for and make it easy to retrieve it.

5. Know your target audience. Deliver targeted content that is valuable and useful to the reader. Incorporate personalization and customization techniques. Address customers on a first-name basis and tailor your messages to the unique needs of each customer. Start by gathering customer preferences through permission marketing, online surveys and data mining to build customer profiles, and use them to deliver customized content.

6. Enable your site for e-business. There are many levels of e-business, and, based on your customer base and its needs, you will need to assess where your company's e-business should be headed. Integrating your business processes via the Net is a complicated process, but one that will yield immediate results and greater organizational efficiencies.

Start by incorporating some entry-level e-business tactics such as stand-alone e-commerce solutions that are not directly tied to a company's business systems to see how your customers respond. After you have evaluated the results, you can implement a framework for future e-business applications that begin to integrate your business systems.

7. Empower your customers. Customers are beginning to look for solutions that increase the value of their time. Provide self-service information that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Grant access to account information, order status and service history, for example, so customers can review their information and merchandise on their own terms, without the aid of sales personnel.

8. Remember the one-click rule. Never let your visitors be more than one touch of the mouse away from a buying decision. Anything more is just another obstacle in the sales process. Make it as easy as possible for customers to do business with you.

9. Provide a user-friendly administrative site. Make sure company employees can easily update the site to increase efficiency. Develop a program that allows Web site administrators to add, modify or delete material at any time, from any computer with a browser and an Internet connection. Additions and changes are then immediately visible on the Web site with no HTML or programming expertise necessary.

10. Always quantify your results. Measure all leads, sales and inquiries and calculate your sell-through rate. Monitor your Web site traffic to track performance and make sure you're meeting your goals and objectives. This is a good way to estimate the return on your investment and to gauge how well your site is working for you.

And last but not least, if you haven't marketed your site, these recommendations will be of little or no value to you. Keep in mind that a great Web site is useless if no one can find it. Abu Noaman is president of Elliance, a strategic eBusiness technology and Internet solutions firm based on Pittsburgh's North Shore. Reach him at (412) 321-2992 or at info@elliance.com.