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Build Your Site with Purpose

Written By: Vann Baker

Most websites are created without any sort of marketing strategy, which is like adding onto your house without first creating a set of plans. In order to be effective and to provide a reasonable return on investment, your website should be an integral part of our overall marketing plan and have very specific functions.

It's important to distinguish between wants and needs and to focus on functionality necessary to reach specific business goals with your website. Developing a marketing strategy is not just limited to your website goals, but your overall marketing plan and what advertising, marketing and customer service goals are best suited for your website. More often than not, a website is treated as a marketing afterthought, without a specific purpose beyond offering basic company information and an e-mail contact form.

A website should be viewed as an interactive extension of a company, with few limitations, delivering information, PDF brochures and online presentations when appropriate.

Setting Website Goals

 The first step is to list all the specific tasks you want your website to accomplish. Besides offering a potential customer information about your company, what should your website "do?" Should your website help you incorporate e-commerce web design? Serve as a lead source? Distribute information to your customers? Offer customer service? Should your website be used as a recruitment tool? A customer survey tool? Or for advertising and promotion?

 Creating a list of priorities

 As you list what you want your site to do, prioritize the list into three categories: 1) Primary, "must do" goals, 2) Secondary, "it would be nice if . . ." and 3) Back Burner, "if we have to postpone this, it wouldn't hurt us."

When grouping your website goals, keep in mind the one overwhelming reason for having a website in the first place and compare it to each of the goals as you prioritize them. After establishing clearly what your stated website goals should be, compare these goals with a your expectations regarding your website, current Internet technology and your marketing and advertising plan.

Separating wants and needs 

The final step in creating an effective website marketing strategy is to separate wants from needs. It's easy to want capabilities you have seen elsewhere on the Internet, but sometimes it is difficult to determine if certain functions will really help your business, or just be a useless exercise. Do you really need a chat room or a message board on your site? Perhaps it would be more important to know who is using your website and how often they are coming back.

Outlining Your Website Priorities

Having your priorities outlined and your goals detailed will help you to determine what you really need in order to communicate it to your web designer or web programmer. Go through your priority list and measure it against your website goals. If a website feature you want will help you to more easily accomplish a specific task then include it as long as it utilizes Internet technology or browser technology that is widely supported. If you have items on your list that don't match your website goals well, it's probably a good idea to hold off implementing them now. Finally, having a priority list will make it easier to decide what to include or exclude in your website when working within a limited website budget.

10 Tips for a Great Website

1) Making great first impressions is important and your website may be the first exposure to your company a potential customer experiences. Strike a balance between content and graphic design.

2) Avoid focusing exclusively on graphic design rather than making the website useful. Give your website visitors a reason to visit your site often. 

3) Create simple navigation. Design your site so your users can go from one page to any other page. Avoid navigation schemes that rely on the user having to search for a secondary navigation menu or having to use their browser's "back" button in order to navigate. 

4) Distribute your website information on several pages so the user does not have to scroll often. By distributing your photographs and graphics over several pages, your pages will load faster. 

5) Know who is coming to your site and how your site is being used on a monthly or quarterly basis by tracking your visitors using website statistics or Google Analytics. This information will be invaluable for updating or refocusing your site to better serve your target market or customers.

6) Update your site frequently and create a reason for your website users to keep coming back. Repeat visits give you an opportunity to repeat your marketing message. Some of the most effective websites are those that make the visitor feel they have to add the site to their favorites, and those that have more than just information about a company - visitors are looking for resources they can trust.

7) Capture visitor information with your website. Use forms, offers, surveys and promotions to get your website users to tell you who they are and what they are interested in. Not only will this help you to design a more useful website, collecting e-mail addresses can allow you to notify customers and potential customers about new products or services.

8) Avoid unnecessary bells and whistles. With the internet, today's fad is tomorrow's eyesore. Invest in good graphic design and compelling content. If you must use animations, have them stop after a few cycles so they don't become obnoxious.

9) Review your website goals quarterly. As the Internet evolves and as new technology becomes mainstream, it is good to review the purpose of your site and the usefulness of new tools and implement these new tools when they make sense.

10) Avoid "do-it-yourself website design." Yes, there are programs that let you build your own website at a very low cost, but you have to make all the decisions about the design and layout of the website, and sometimes you need an outside perspective. If you don't have experience in graphic design or producing professional websites, hire a web development company with proven abilities to help you.

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