Website Redo - Part 2 - What Tools and Identify The Goal(s)
Identify the Goals of Your Website
The Old Goals
When you first had a business website put together your goals in doing so may not have been entirely clear. Some companies did it simply because "it was the thing to do" in this new (early 1990's) internet age. They'd purchased a domain name and somehow it just seemed right, once the internet evolved to include the facility called the World Wide Web, to create a web site.
If you were really early in the game (1994) then you could have ended up with a site that was largely text with a few GIF (256 color block graphics) images. Not too much later "continuous tone" JPG graphics were included and your site probably included some fairly fancy graphics. Many design houses spend hours and days (and charge tremendous prices) creating and then carving up fancy graphics into the pieces necessary to create borders and buttons and getting tables and iframes to fit "just so" so that the site looked like the pages of a brochure - at least on one or two browser types.
If your site has been updated in the past 5 years or so it likely has evloved to include "Cascading Style Sheets" (CSS) - but it still looks like a brochure - maybe on more browser types if the webmaster knows there stuff.
The goal of many of these sites was simply to be first a "place-holder" for the domain - and then maybe to augment the physical paper brochures and business cards that marketing produced and salesmen gave out. In many cases it saved printing costs and mailing costs and that pretty much was it. Recently, if the webmaster or in-house web person was on the ball, the key words in the site may have brought some people to the site via search engines.
But that was it! The rest of the interaction with customers and potential customers was done by phone and in person, or possibly by email.
But there's more to the web today.
Only recently have the tools to craft sites that build pages "on the fly" based on scheduled events, external events, viewer input and preferences come down in price (hey, free is pretty good!) and up in capabilities to the point where the average business can afford to use these tools to truly craft a site that is more than just a brochure on the screen.
Now the active site is practical, what exactly is it that you hope to accomplish? What CAN you accomplish? Read on...
Setting Goals - What is Possible?
Before you can decide what it is you want your site to do today, and what it may evolve to tomorrow, we should spend some time learning what is possible today.
Content Managed Sites
A CMS is a facility that can and usually does build each web page at the time someone requests to view it. As such, the actual contents of that page can include the latest information, things that only that viewer may be interested in, specific events that are in progress or about to happen, and all manner of things that simply are not possible with a site where the pages are pre-built by the webmaster.
If you can justify the costs, a CMS can be set up to evolve the content for each specific viewer based upon where that viewer came to the site from (search engine, referal, other corporate page, etc.) how often they've been back, what other pages and items they've seen and what products they already own, etc.
But the first major feature with a CMS is that the content of the site may be added to and updated by more than just the webmaster or a small group of select people with special access to special software. The typical CMS includes WYSIWYG type editing facilities similar in scope to those found in the typical word processor. Your contributors do not need special skills to add things to the site - they simply need to learn a small number of things - or maybe only just enough to type the basic text and add a picture or two for some sites. If you don't trust all of your contributors to make their contributions read and look correct then you can set the system to force them to be "moderated" by a responsible person or group to ensure quality.
What does this get you? Well the first thing is that it means your site is going to be updated with new things which the search engines will find - and because they find them they'll come back more frequently and raise the score (Google's Pagerank for example) of your pages in the search so your pages will come closer to the top. This will get you new people who otherwise didn't know you sell your products and services.
The second thing it should get you is links from other people to your site - links because your contributors have said something important and unique and somebody noticed. Links also raise your site's profile in the search engines - and also bring direct visitors from the linking sites. Note that these links are not "farmed" ones in a special links page - they are links from a remote site (or from your own site in certain circumstances) directly to a content page and sometimes to a specific "anchor" on that page, part-way down the page. Getting these links can be work but we'll deal with that in a future article in this series.
The CMS provides "active content" - content that can have a data/time attached to it so that it shows up after the start time and disappears after the stop time (or goes to a special archive place, or...)
The most common example is the calendar or event module. This will show "upcoming" events in a block on the home page or on other pages, and lead the viewer (who is interested) to the complete information on that item.
Other time-aware items include the stories and articles (blog entries) that provide much of the changeable content of your home page and topic pages. These can be written in advance and scheduled to show up, typically to the minute - and to disappear either entirely (delete) or to an archive area. This group of stories I'm writing is an example of such use - I wrote them all at once but they're scheduled to show up on the front page as "featured" items over a period of weeks.
Another time-aware item is banner advertising - your own. Whether you use a separate ad-server, or use a facility in the CMS (the banner module in GLfusion for example) these allow you to turn one or more banners on for example when a sale starts, and turn them off when the sale is over.
Over and above these time-dependent items, your site can also show information from other sites as it is created using the RSS/Syndication feed from that site. You'll see examples of this in the P-Zip border where it shows items from the Digital Rag, Pacific Data Capture site and my own blog, showing up as these other sites are updated.
As you see from the previous section, banner advertising on your site is available. You can use this facility both to push specific products and to highlight other areas of your web site and business. If you schedule more than one banner to a particular location the system will usually choose one at random for the specific view, and may, as in the case of the banner module we use, allow you to give some banners higher priority than others.
Priority scheduling of these banners allows you to have a basic set of banners that sell or promote a standard set of items, and then schedule in a set of higher priority banners for a specific campaign - spring sales, Christmas, Easter, Inventory reduction, etc.
Direct Customer Interaction
When the web first hit the business scene the concept of garnering customer/viewer feedback was met by either publishing an email address for them to send to, or more lately by providing a "feedback form" that did the job of allowing things like answers to specific questions and field-level requirement for things like product numbers or serial numbers.
Today's CMS systems also can include far more flexible options in getting your customers to interact with you; options that if managed well can provide a whole new way of doing things like market studies and product evaluations. Of course if they're not managed properly they can lead to public relations disaster so "choose wisely" and ensure you follow up.
These facilities include things like comments on articles or product releases as well as fully interactive discussion forums and even co-edited "WIKI" web pages where your customers can help you with things like problems and solutions.
Now that you have some understanding of what facilities might be available we'll discuss what can be done with them and what goals you might set for your site that can be achieved with them.
Setting Your Goals
OK - so you currently have a "business card" web site or a "product catalog" web site; not interactive and not even updated except when you add a new product.
Potential goals for a new site can include things like:
- specific sales target for one or more products or categories ("sell 10% of our widgets via direct marketing on the internet")
- lowering of direct support costs ("reduce our telephone requests for support by 20%")
- lowering of indirect support costs ("reduce our truck-rolls by 30%")
- measure customer response to different product sales mixes ("which of several package offers is most chosen")
- measure customer response to advertising campaign contents ("which of several images gets the most response")
- measure demographics of our viewer base ("tell us a bit about yourself")
- discover "hidden" competition or sales disincentives ("is there something else you're looking at to do the same thing?")
- find out where your viewers are coming from (Google analytics) and why (use of customer polls)
- speed identification of hot and cold product offerings
- facilitate new product distributors (if you're a manufacturer/wholesaler)
- shorten your product distribution channel and earn more income from direct sales or associate sales.
There are other potential goals that can be far more prosaic. Things like "do I need to impress my boss with what we're doing?" or "do I want to increase the size of my section's staffing?" or "do we want to reach a completely different customer base because our traditional marketing is no longer working?"
There may even be ground-swell from your customers that they're looking for your company to be more interactive with them.
But there are other goals that have to do with things like budget and practicality. In many (most) cases it is simply not possible to do "everything" - there isn't enough staff to take on the added work and there is no budget to add people because a fully interactive web site takes people resources too.
Before you go to the next article you should write down the goals you think you would like to achieve for your website re-do.