Do's and Don'ts of a Successful Site

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The digital revolution gets all the headlines these days, but turning a Web site into a vehicle that really delivers is often difficult. We're still experimenting, and, as yet, there are no specific models with which to develop formulas.

Each Web site seems to have its own personality that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. So how can we know what to do to create a site that's a valuable marketing asset?

To bring the pursuit of a successful Web site into perspective, let's examine how Web marketing is different from traditional marketing and promotion. Marketing on the Net must be a hybrid of all the marketing disciplines: human understanding, why people use the Net, what their expectations are, how to capture and deliver information quickly and efficiently and how to develop relationships.

Here are five do's and five don'ts of Web marketing.

Five do's.

1. A successful Web site always starts with an often overlooked secret for success -- planning. Every aspect of the Web site must be planned. Questions to be answered include:

Why is the company developing a Web site? The site may be developed to reduce human interface costs as has been done by Federal Express. Or, a site may be created to deliver information using unique search engines that meet customers' ongoing needs. A site also may be developed to sell products at reduced costs (because of lower human interface), which is passed along to the customer.

What business problem will the site help correct? Who are the target audiences? What are the target audiences' expectations? How do we build the site to deliver on the objectives and meet visitors' expectations? How much money should we budget to meet the needs of the site?

2. Now it's time to begin development. With good planning, a company already knows what mix of Web site infrastructure it needs. When building the infrastructure, points to consider to leverage back-office functions and support the online commerce include:

Achieve economies of scale. Reducing the human interface while employing the proper mix of technology and computing power. Expedite delivery of products and services to be consistent with the expectations of the site's visitors. Develop necessary core competencies to create and manage the infrastructure inhouse. Outsource or partner to develop and manage the support functions externally.

3. Develop a strategic channel management philosophy and a strategic plan to keep the long-term view alive. These practices involve significant input from the marketing department.

Offer current customers a new and possibly preferred channel in which to do business or communicate with the company. Target new customers who match the profile of those who are already using the Web with the opportunity to do business or communicate on your Web site in a preferred method. Support a multiple channel strategy and minimize cannibalization. A major cause for concern is that Web marketing simply becomes an expansion of current distribution channels. To prevent this, award existing distribution channels who partner with you on the new Web site the opportunity to realize some of the rewards. Sell new products that can be designed and ordered online by new and existing customers. Create a new business model through the Internet. Remember to include budgeting and forecasting. Become an information broker. This is the greatest growth potential for the Internet. The majority of visitors are coming to the Web for information. Master the channel. Become familiar with the changes. Examine the successful sites.

4. Drive traffic to your Web site. The Web site by itself is not going to bring you success. It must have its own marketing plan. This should include:

Creating a memorable Web address. Advertising through traditional media and on the Web. Measuring the results. Managing the content to make sure it is relevant to the visitor and that they can access it quickly. Offering samples in exchange for information. Offering incentives to get visitors to come to the site or do business on the site. Hyperlinking to other cooperating sites where the audiences might have similar interests. Managing the search engines to update and keep the site description up to date. Using opt-in e-mail to deliver to the visitor on a regular basis information that is essential to their interests. Creating Internet communities such as training areas, questions and answers from an expert, employee policies and procedures areas, threaded discussion with other visitors. Updating and providing new information as it develops. Personalizing the Web experience by recognizing returning visitors.

5. Measure the results and make sure you are delivering on the objectives and goals. It is critical that you modify the site based on the results of these activities. Measuring the success not only builds confidence internally, it builds a strong and more productive site.

At first, you will need to do a lot of testing and benchmarking to measure the effects and results of the Web activities. Some of the measuring techniques include:

Web sites produce historical tracking systems called logs. These logs can be turned into powerful analysis tools to help see where a visitor came from, which page they landed on and from which page they exited. Analyze which pages are not being visited. Determine if they need better descriptions or if they are of no interest to the visitor. Measure the effects of the advertising campaign. Where did the visitors come from? You can measure the results by creating specific pages tied to specific ads or campaigns by modifying the URL's address. Profile the visitors. Are they the visitors you expected or is the promotion activity bringing in a different type of visitor? Did the site effectively reduce the operating costs as expected? Did the site satisfy the visitors' expectations or was it a frustrating experience? How many of the visitors come back and how much time are they spending on any section of the site?

Five Don'ts.

1. Don't turn your Web site over to IT professionals. ITs are great at what they do, but Web-site marketing is not about how to write html code.

2. Don't start designing a Web site until you've done your home work. It takes planning and time to think through the process. Experienced Web marketers know there is much more to it than just creating a cool site.

3. Don't start without a budget and approval from the top. Without top management support and adequate funds, your site may never be updated and visitors won't show up. You need a Web site marketing budget to attract visitors to the site.

4. Don't make it difficult for the visitors to access the information they desire. Studies have shown that if it takes a visitor more than three clicks, they'll ditch your site and go somewhere else. The infrastructure must be simple and seamless. Your linking and navigation bar is critically important.

5. Don't underestimate Web visitors. They are sharp, savvy to the Web and if your site isn't personal -- the Web is all about interactivity -- they won't be back. Keep the visitors coming back by offering a bookmark and suggestions on what else they might find interesting.

Robert McKim is a partner of MS Database Marketing, Los Angeles, a database and interactive marketing consultancy.

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