ON THE WEB Smarten Up Your Site

Websites are increasingly an organisation’s first point of contact with customers. And, as the saying goes, first impressions last. Too many sites are turn off rather than turn on to meaningful ongoing relationship. So – how to make first good impression?

A recent article from the American Management Association’s website suggests there are number of ways organisations can assess and improve the effectiveness of their websites. Its authors are couple of Pittsburgh-based PR executives – Karl J Skutski and Lawrence Scherpereel. Skutski is chairman and owner of marketing communications company Skutski & Oltmanns, while Scherpereel is director of website management services for the same company.

While the article is slanted toward making case for getting PR personnel involved with the development of business’ website (perhaps even rightfully so), the authors have come up with simple quantitative tool to help businesses assess how well their organisation’s website is performing for them.

Unfortunately the points methodology used for the tool is little too detailed to explain here (NZIM members can apply to access the original article at www.amanet.org), but Skutski and Scherpereel reckon companies can make fair crack at assessing the relative strengths of their website by looking at five key areas. These are: the site’s strategic intent, its processes, design, navigation and content.

Briefly summarised, ‘strategic intent’ looks at how successfully the information needs of company’s audience are met by the website. Assessing this should involve surveying users, gaining feedback or even using focus groups. Ensuring the messages sent to the audience are clearly defined is also important.

‘Process’ relates to how well the site is maintained. Are there systems in place for ensuring that content providers are regularly updating their sections of the site? Is the business committed to constantly updating and improving the site?

‘Web design’ is of course flourishing creative endeavour in itself and any marketing executive worth their salt will tell you that the website has to reflect and be consistent with the overall image and values of the business’ brand.

Organisations need to ask themselves whether the design of their site is furthering the company’s strategic goals.

The ‘navigational’ aspect relates to how easy it is to find your way around and what is the overall feel of the site. Companies need to assess how long it is taking users to download the site; how easily it is found by search engines; whether users can access the specific information they want quickly; is site map provided; and is there an effective search function on the site – too often the latter is not up to scratch.

Finally, if you get all of the above right but the content on the site is no good, then you need to re-visit the web design board.

Points to look out for according to Scherpeerel and Skutski are:
* Does the site provide good overview of the products and services on offer?
* Are well-known customers listed?
* Is the provided information relevant to users and typographically correct?
* Is the information up to date?
* Are there attributes that make the site worth visiting again?
* Is it safe and easy to contact the organisation?
* Are the contact details of key personnel readily available?

Sounds relatively easy, but of course getting all the elements right is not as simple as it might seem. Fortunately there are hundreds of examples of excellent websites to provide performance benchmark.

At the internet magazine Netguide Web Awards, some businesses repeatedly earned users’ votes for website design that kept people coming back for more. If you go to www.netguide.co.nz/awards/2002 you can link to the winning websites and see for yourself exactly why people like them.

Take the winner of the small business website www.homebizzbuzz.co.nz, site set up by Home Business New Zealand to help users tap into range of practical resources.

When you first reach the site you are instantly provided with an opportunity to subscribe to the newsletter via pop-up window (never let potential customer/user slip away), and from there you are offered numerous opportunities to get involved, be it as contributor or participant. You start to feel involved from the word go.

The layout is excellent and there are plenty of interesting stories and other useful resources for small business owners to tap into.

Of course this is just one website that is getting it right, there are many others. Another good local example is the NZ Herald’s website www.nzherald.co.nz.

And the award for getting consistency in branding across all mediums including the web goes to the National Bank www.nationalbank.co.nz.

Damon Birchfield is an Auckland-based freelance writer. Email: [email protected]

Visited 10 times, 1 visit(s) today
Close Search Window