Proving Web Site Value: It's More Than a Pretty (User) Face

Gone are the days when Web sites were considered an additional business expense that could be paid for with excess money in the marketing budget. Today, Web sites are often the most effective business initiative as well as the main tool to disseminate the company's brand and message.

Too often, however, companies struggle to understand how to measure the success of their Web initiative. Like many key business efforts, executives know they need a Web presence, but they aren't always sure how to make the most of it — or, more importantly, how to measure whether a company is achieving a positive ROI from its online presence.

Measuring success starts from the beginning. Though many companies are eager to measure the success of their Web sites the minute they “go live,” the important steps for measuring success start well before your company logo floats across a computer screen. It is vital to start with a proven process, and, though it is sometimes important to be unique and creative, you should always be willing to learn from patterns that have worked for others and that have produced success.

The very first step is to determine what you are and what you aim to accomplish with your Web initiative. Whether it's sales, increasing brand awareness, training or any other aspect of business, remember that online goals need to tie in with overall short- and long-term company goals.

A common mistake is striving to achieve the Holy Grail site with full customer personalization, total back-end system integration and an award-winning design on the first attempt. Trying to accomplish too much at once generally leads to an overextension of resources and, ultimately, failure.

Rather than looking for the one encompassing solution, break initiatives into short, attainable phases. By focusing on phases that are relatively quick and easier to implement, you can more readily achieve a few instant successes. These successes often are the catalyst to gain the support and trust of management, proving that the Web is indeed a medium that can produce results. This approach likely will open the door to additional management-supported Web initiatives.

Though some companies think of the Web as a one-way street for a company's message, a key and often overlooked component of a Web site is the exchange of information between the site and the user. When developing a site, it is important to understand not only what you want to provide users, but also what you want to receive from them. In developing your site, you should be able to answer these questions:

· Are you attracting new people to your site?

· Do you know who is coming to your site, and for what purpose?

· Are users finding what they need?

· What is the health of your lead qualification process?

· How proficient are you at converting leads to sales?

· What behavior indicates that a visitor is ready to buy?

· What attributes describe your best customers?

By answering these questions you will be able to collect a baseline about your current users, their needs and general traffic patterns. This data can be used in Web initiatives, providing a metric for measuring business goals and aligning communications campaigns.

Once you determine user patterns and business goals, you can work to provide offerings that best close the gap between the two. For example, if you seek to hire employees, you could develop an online human resources department.

When faced with support requirements and the rising costs associated with these activities, you could develop a customer service extranet that would help alleviate the high-cost tasks associated with traditional call centers. There is no shortage of options when defining and deploying Web initiatives. The key driver to any rollout is to craft those initiatives around well-defined business goals and objectives.

The result: Proving the value of your online presence. Once you create a Web site aligned with your business goals and closely examined user behavior that produces a free exchange of information, you are set to close the gap between those user patterns and company goals. But how do you measure whether your Web initiative is successful?

It is important to consider the metrics that will be used to track the success of your past and future Web initiatives. When determining the metrics, remember:

· Focus on measuring the vital key variables rather than the numerous trivial variables a Web site could produce.

· Measurement should be linked to key business drivers and overall company goals.

· Measurement should be a mix of past, present and future initiatives to ensure the organization is concerned with all three perspectives.

· Measurement needs to have targets or goals that are based on research, as opposed to arbitrary numbers.

Once you identify the metrics that will be used in your assessment, it is important to quantify the results of your initiatives. For example, when you launched a customer service extranet, what change occurred in call center volume? Did it meet expectations? If you added a lead-tracking database, did overall sales or grade-A inquiries increase? What would 100 additional leads a week mean to your bottom line?

By following these steps, the mystery of proving your Web site's value will be solved and you can be confident your new online presence is helping achieve short- and long-term company goals.

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