You remember it well: that day back in the late 1990s, when your company Web site first went live. It looked swell at the time, and you were so proud to have graduated to the Internet Age.
Here's a fair question: How many times since have you refreshed the graphics or content of your Web site? Twice? Once? Not at all?Most businesses, it turns out, are still hosting first-generation sites that went up at the turn of the millennium, experts say. Likewise, the majority of these sites are passé by today's "make-it-useful" standards — sometimes embarrassingly so.Internet-savvy businesses will refresh the content on their Web sites regularly and will redesign their sites at least once a year. Why? For one reason, sales staffs at some companies avoid steering prospects to a business whose Web site appears out-of-date or is difficult to use, says Ilise Benun, author of "Designing Web Sites for Every Audience."It takes only a byte or two of dated information for visitors to conclude they've hit a dead end or landed on an orphaned site. Plus, when a big-deal client clicks on your "urgent" invitation to attend an upcoming seminar, only to find that the event came and went back in 2002 and you simply haven't bothered to take it down, he will feel annoyed and foolish. And you'll be toast.
So consider this a noisy wakeup call. It's the 21st century. Is your Web site still looking like it's 1999 again?
Site specific suggestions
Business sites obviously run a gamut. But for the purposes of site facelifts, differences boil down to how frequently you must make changes. Consulting services may update sites only quarterly or even annually. E-commerce sites or research companies may require updates by the hour.Whatever your needs, you can now find appropriate and affordable off-the-shelf software and third-party service providers to do the job. You can, for instance, put a fresh "skin" on your old site without disrupting any functionality."With options ranging from pre-packaged solutions to offshore IT development, businesses can get up to 10 times the Web site they could afford just three years ago at one-tenth the price," says Bryan Lyng at Lyng and Associates, a marketing communications and Web development company in Los Angeles.Here are 11 ideas culled from Web marketers and developers that can modernize your site swiftly without costing you a bundle.
Reduce the number of site pages. Focus on redesigning only the core 10 to 15 pages, suggests Matt Greer, chief executive at Zeeo Interactive in Boston, a Web design services company. You can then archive any remaining popular or highly trafficked pages into Adobe PDF or Microsoft Word documents that are suitable for download.
Make the site a marketing tool. If you're not yet capturing data basics, such as which sites and search engines visitors are clicking from or which pages are most trafficked, get cracking.
Use prepackaged software or a Web services provider such as Identity Designs' Complete WebStats to capture detailed information about site visitors. "The first question to ask is: 'When visitors come to your site, what do you want them to do?' " says Erin Duckhorn, spokesperson for Crucial Technology, an online memory upgrade provider based in Boise, Idaho. Once you have answers, you can define the tracking metrics and develop the content, navigation and structure that will quickly satisfy your targeted visitors.
Set up an e-mail program. Create an incentive for visitors to register or give you their e-mail addresses. "Give away something that the targeted audience would perceive as value for their exchange of personal information, like a prize for consumers or a white paper for business-to-business clients," suggests Jeff Stanislow, president of MotorCity Interactive, a digital advertising agency in Novi, Mich. Once you have addresses, send out useful e-zines or other bulletins.
Create an online reward for prized customers. Treat your best customers with distinctive perks or discounts. "You can give them their own area of the site without any special technology," says Wally Bock, a Web consultant in Wilmington, N.C.. You can also, of course, e-mail special offers.
Speed loading time. In the beginning, fancy graphics and online applets were cool. Now, they're mere obstacles in the path of getting to information or products. Three words for you: Streamline. Streamline. Streamline.
Give visitors greater, self-directed control. In the past two years, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has reworked its site to expand online booking capabilities. Now, guests who make online room reservations can book dinner or spa services at the same time. The site has also added a "Fairmont Planner" that matches individual resort properties to guest profiles or needs, as well as a "virtual concierge" that offers more details about services.
"We have witnessed tremendous growth over the past 12 months," says spokesman Mike Taylor, pointing to TravelCLICK's eTRAK study of more than 30 industry Web sites that clocked an increase in Fairmont bookings of 165% in 2002.
Get fashionable. Revise the site's color palette. One opinion: "Think Far East colors, like rust, persimmon, mustard or saffron, and dump the jewel tones and zebra stripes that look like clothes from the back of your closet," says Dali Wiederhoft, a Minneapolis publicist.
Invest in a content management system. Stop relying on static HTML. "This used to be a big investment only feasible for the big boys," says Dmitri Buterin, who heads the Toronto office of Web developer BonaSource. "But now, for an investment of $5,000 to $10,000, anyone can get a pretty good CMS [content management system] and basically make most updates on their own." Another alternative to obtain this very powerful tool for making sure you have a successful online presence is to use the built-in contact management tool that comes with all Identity Designs websites.
Insure visibility on search engines. The old home page of BreastCancer.org, a nonprofit informational group based in Narberth, Pa., was dominated by a giant image of the organization's logo, an illustrated character called Polly, which prevented search engines from finding the site. "The makeover moved a smaller Polly to the upper right corner of the home page and used text and text links to guide the not particularly Web-savvy users of this site toward the essential information they came looking for," says Ilise Benun.
Align the site to the organization. No doubt, you've reinvented your business a half-dozen times over the past few years. How appropriate is your site now? What about secondary channels or pages? "Many businesses grow their sites in piecemeal fashion," notes Kevin McLaughlin at Public/i, a public relations firm in New Brunswick, N.J. "As new sections are added over time, the same messages or positioning is not always reflected in the copy throughout the company's entire Web site." Make sure your site's messaging is always in tune with offline marketing.
Add testimonials or success stories. "Very few sites do this and there's no question that they add major credibility for buyers," says Philippa Gamse, a Web strategy consultant in Santa Cruz, Calif. Ask longtime customers for quotes or permission to post their case histories and their satisfaction with your services.
Any of these ideas will help update your online presence. But the real advice is simply not to get lazy. Pay attention to your Web site whenever you shift direction or significantly grow the business. Times, indeed, have changed. All marketing and messaging must be seamless — consistent, uniform, multimedia and multi-channel. Move your Web site into the new century. Remember that your companies website is an extension of your business and just as your company goes through changes on a consistent basis, so should your website. Continuously reflecting the immediate status and area's of expertise for your company while at the same time outlining the direction for your future growth and expansion.All of the websites sold with Identity Designs solution include all of the capabilities needed to have a successful online business including the ability of gathering e-mail addresses into a database and allowing you to send out an e-mail or newsletter to as many of them as you want. Also the ability to promote yourself to most of the top search engines with one click of a button and have unlimited pages, modifications, and changes. That is why we offer the only complete solution in one affordable package. When you're ready, take us for a test drive and we will show you in 30 minutes how you can build your online empire successfully and easily without costing you an arm and a leg. To get started click here.