What is a website? Seems like a silly question to ask almost 30 years into the existence of the world wide web, but let’s take a second and really think. What are the expectations of a website today, as marketing professionals and everyday users? What makes a great online experience? Is it easier to think of bad websites and what shouldn’t be repeated?
Whether you’re planning to build your own website or publishing an RFP for an enterprise web solution, let’s take a second to look at eight things that go into a successful, viable website after 30 years of perfecting the craft.
Amiright?! High-level, decision-making members who are invested in the success of the business need to get in a room and figure out the firm’s purpose. Use SMART (Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, Time-related) criteria to figure out the business goals and then strategize how the website will help reach them. Take time to research a target audience and know who you’re talking to. Plan the buyer journey, set all your benchmarks, and figure out how to talk to people at the top, middle and bottom of the sales funnel. Preparation and planning are the biggest determinations of success.
The last thing anybody wants is to get to the end of a major project and step back only to realize you have no way to measure success. These are things we all understand intellectually, but honestly, when was the last time you launched a campaign with all your tactics properly identified and conversions tracked? Go beyond just adding Google Analytics. Monitor user engagement against revenue and the real-life KPIs built from your goals. Finally, have a plan to test and optimize for continuous improvement.
Search Engine Optimization
Too many times, SEO just comes down to a few minutes of keyword research when it’s so much more expansive than that. Saying SEO is done because you did keyword research would be like saying you’re a world traveler because you live in the United States. There are so many other things to consider—200 things, according to Google. Just be smart in how you attack it. Not everything is weighted equally. Identify where the company’s site needs to be winning in search and which types of queries are off target and can be ignored.
What’s the value of your brand? For small and new companies, DIY and template options may make sense, especially when infused with some original art. But they come at the cost of having to shoehorn “square peg” goals into “round hole” solutions. What you gain upfront in savings, you pay back in long-term success. Research the platforms and decide if they’re worth it. Just don’t sacrifice key goals or measurement needs in the process. Established companies should use custom designs that develop a UX specifically for the brand and business goals. Finally, make sure everyone has equal opportunity to use the site by making it accessible.
Site Structure/CMS Setup
Were you wondering if we’d ever get around to coding? The platform is the foundation you’re building your house on. Make it a good one. Can the CMS be customized for different users to access different parts of the site? Does the CMS feel smart, like it works for you instead of the other way around? Don’t forget the basics, too. A crawlable sitemap, secure site structure, capable site search and super-cool engaging 404 page that brings your brand to life.
Here’s where we get to the really fun stuff. These are the parts that spin and whir out of sight but make the experience so good. Fast load time, mobile-first design, integration between custom forms/CTAs and the company’s internal systems/CRM, and future-friendly programming are all hallmarks of a good site build. Have you considered adding an augmented reality component? How will the site leverage digital personal assistants and voice search? Will the content be dynamic based on the user’s location or past interactions with the brand? Technology and user expectations move so fast. Always be building for the future.
What good is a jet plane if you don’t know how to fly it? And I’m not talking about a few quick online hack-a-thons. If someone on the team will be in the CMS on a regular basis and their work within the platform is critical to helping the business reach their goals, make sure they know what they’re doing! Get a CMS guide that has been customized for your specific site and block off time to sit with the developer who actually built the site. Learn from the master and make sure everyone is comfortable and fluent before the training wheels come off.
Pop quiz! How many times in the past month did you receive an update for your phone software or apps? OK, now how many times in the past month has the company website received an update for security, the platform or plugin updates? We all need to stop looking at websites as a project that starts, finishes and then sits untouched for 3-5 years. Browsers and web technology innovate too fast for that. Websites need to be ongoing projects that continue to drive revenue and key strategies to accomplish goals.
What is a website? It should be the central engagement system for all your marketing efforts and a 24⁄7 sales tool. To be successful, it ought to have all eight of these components included. Giving up even one will dramatically weaken its ability to help your business succeed.
Roger Haskins is strategy and process innovation manager here at DS and is probably taller than you. Chances are, his shoes are untied at any given moment. He approaches process creatively and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.