Originally published in WBM Wine Magazine – August 2011

A website should be one of the core assets at the centre of your brand’s communication mix. In fact, it’s imperative. However, gone are the days where a website is purely an online company ‘brochure’ outlining your products and services. Whilst these sites may look good initially, you won’t get you repeat visitors who are engaging and interacting with your brand. Online experts like Chris Brogan and Darren Rowse believe that a website should be the “hub” of any business’s marketing communications plan and be a ‘home base’ to which other platforms drive people to.

If you’re thinking about launching a new website here are a few tips to consider to ensure your website is effective and driving maximum returns for your business:

  • Content is king – before you launch straight into the design you need to carefully consider your key messages and how you are going to create content that is compelling and useful to the end user. Coming up with a map of the content and a site map structure upfront is critical so you are clearly aware of what information needs to be incorporated. Too often businesses launch their websites as if it is a brochure and then never update it. Regular updates and information are imperative to ensure an on-going user experience. Allocating resources and time to continually update your website on a regular basis will reap results.
  • Appropriate tone and language – it’s worth investing some money into the getting professional help to develop the content for your website once key messages have been identified. Professional copywriters can add a lot of value in getting your messages clear and to communicate your story. An outside perspective is often useful to ensure clarity.
  • Take the time to write a brief – spending the time up front thinking about your objectives and writing a strong digital creative brief will give you a stronger and more effective outcome. This will help the designers to understand exactly what you want to achieve and benchmarks for them to provide the best solutions. Key questions to consider might be:
  •   Do you want to have transactions on the website? What look and feel are you thinking of? Who is your key target market? What images need to be incorporated? What words are important for search engine optimisation? All these elements need to be part of an agency brief.
    • It’s worth also looking around at competitor websites (both inside and outside of your business category) and giving your agency or designer some insight into what you like and dislike about these sites and why. The creative process can often be extremely subjective so it’s useful for designers to understand your style.
    • A flashy design is not always best – Some of the best websites I’ve seen and interacted with recently are actually premium WordPress themes allowing you to keep content up to date and giving the brand a consistent look and feel but without the cost of a custom build. You don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of money on a website to always achieve a great outcome.
    • The right web partner is fundamental to success – Consider whom you are working with and what your relationship is like, as these people will ultimately be the ones you need for support and update in the future. A cheap price doesn’t mean you will get the best of service, and furthermore an expensive price doesn’t mean you will get the best of quality. Spend the time understanding what the costs are, both upfront and ongoing.
    • Integrate relevant plug-ins to keep consumers coming back – As much as we’d like to think people will regularly visit our website, you need to give consumers a reason to keep returning. This means incorporating a way for people to sign up – either via e-newsletter updates driving them back to your website for more information, RSS feeds and social media links. You might have the best looking website in the world but if no one is visiting it then it is worthless.
    • Consider the old age battle of .HTML vs Flash.  These days there are plenty of alternative software programs that mimic flash are viewable in all browsers. Flash can’t be seen on lots of devices so whilst it may look good when shown to you on a PC, it’s not a great user experience when they can’t see your content from the Internet via a Smartphone or via ipads.
  •  Domain name ownership – search for the domain name and think broader than your local market. Don’t just look for a .com.au domain name if you’re based in Australia – see who owns the global domain names and for a small investment it’s worth purchasing others and redirecting them to your own site so you control your domain in key markets.
  • Have patience and be realistic – Make sure you establish objectives and conduct appropriate research before rushing in and getting a site built. Think long term and not just about your immediate needs as it will cost you more in the long run to keep adding to a site when you could have longer term functionality built upfront that can be turned on at a future date.
  • Track and measure – free analytics tools like Google Analytics will allow you to measure how people are interacting with your site so you can optimise and refine.

Most importantly, continue to think about how you’ll use your website as part of your ongoing communications plan and provide relevant and timely information to the various stakeholders who are visiting it. This might man having a separate section for the trade or media with links where they can find useful information. Think outside the box and continue to challenge how you can engage your audience and create a memorable experience with your brand.