Establish the company as an expert in its category
When you create a web site around a particular topic or within a specific industry, you are competing for usership with nearly every other related site on the web. The primary reason for this is that you must provide ancillary information in most instances to lure visitors to your site. Therefore, nine times out of 10 the person or organization with the best most compelling, or most usable information wins. Your content must be accurate and useful, and it must establish you as one of the visible experts within that area. Comprehensive, valuable information breeds credibility; credibility breeds trust, and consumer trust is one of the most valuable currencies to a brand.
Provide comprehensive product and service information
Many consumers visit corporate web sites expressly for product information. The web is an excellent medium in which to organize and present large amounts of detailed information. Companies can direct consumers to their web site for searchable product databases and animated product use tutorials. A general rule is for a company to strive to reproduce all sales and support literature and information on their web site so it serves as a comprehensive, constantly updated corporate library for consumers, dealers and resellers, the media, and partners.
Differentiate itself from its competitors
Your site needs to be better, more noteworthy, more useful, and more memorable than the competition.
Convey key branding messages
A web site needs to be integrated into a company's overall corporate communications program. It must be in synch with, amplify, and elaborate on key advertising messages promoted in other mediums. A web site written and designed in a vacuum can do much more damage than staying off the web altogether.
Learn more about the site's users: conduct demographic and psychographic research
The direct marketing and market research components of the web is quickly becoming its most compelling characteristic. What do you want to know about consumers? Ask them. If you can give them proper incentive to do so, they may provide you with all the information you request... and more.
Generate sales leads
The web is a beautiful medium in that you can sow and reap using the same tool. You may have the luxury of gathering potential customer info that you can respond to yourself, though dealer referrals are equally useful.
Foster positive investor relations
Early on the web became very popular with investors. The web continues to be an ideal environment for investors to retrieve and send information because of its global coverage, updatability, and inherent timeliness. Online investor relations has become more of an expectation than a perk.
Provide resources to the news media
Any reporter working on deadline can appreciate the value of a medium that is entirely searchable and accessible 24 hours per day, seven days a week, and that enables two-way instantaneous communication. Examine how you're providing trade news and general news media organizations with information about your company. Odds are if it's offline, it's slower and costlier than email and the web.
Engage in effective online recruiting
One of the earliest and most diehard web user groups was academia. It remains one of the best research and job finding tools for students. Want qualified employment leads? Post your job openings and solicit email applications online where people all over the world interested in your particular industry can, with the help of and Internet directory and links from your industry organization sites, find you.
Encourage repeat return traffic
An initial visit to your site is a small victory in a game where repeated, prolonged exposure to web sites and their messages separate the good sites from the great ones. Ultimately, the quality of the design, freshness and profundity of the content, and meaningfulness of the functionality of a site determine the amount of repeat traffic it can command. The effectiveness of such components can be appreciably enhanced through smart and repeated promotion of your site online and off.
Preempt and eclipse competitor's online efforts
As more web sites launch daily, second place within a category is becoming less and less noteworthy. If you can't afford to do more with your site than your competitors, do things better.
Increase awareness of company news and recent promotions and developments
Your web site is probably the cheapest and most quickly updatable weapon in you PR arsenal. There is no printing or mailing to worry yourself with. The best sites are updated frequently and with as little effort as possible.
Complement and mirror other corporate communications
In short, a web site should be an integral part of a company's corporate communications strategy. If used properly, a web site, with its detailed, diverse, and updated content can serve up the final blow in a sales and branding process initiated hours, days, perhaps weeks before, well apart from the Internet in a broadcast or paper based advertising venue.
Determining Target Audiences and Their Needs
Design involves more than the end product. You cannot determine whether something is well designed without seeing a user interact with it. Therefore, you can't design an effective web site without knowing your audience. This task involves determining who is currently going to the site (if you are redesigning it), who you want to visit the site in the future, and what reason users have in visiting this site.
Developing a user profile:
Great web sites beget great communication, and great communication demands that you understand the needs and wants of those with whom you are communicating. Furthermore, you must understand how the individual is accepting and using the information. A user profile begins to lay the foundation for this understanding. Many companies have existing brand and consumer profiles for their products or services. No need to re-create the wheel here. Work with your client and their strategic marketing partners to access existing market research. Read it. Comprehend it. Then read it again. It is invaluable information.
Keep in mind that you may have multiple audiences for the site. Some users may be consumers of your client's products, while others may be members of the press, and others may be prospective employees. Each potential audience needs a profile. This might require you to access people and information from wide array of corporate departments, including marketing, sales, human resource development, public relations, and investor relations.
As the use of the web matures, more departments and individuals from corporations are becoming involved in the process of web site creation. This undoubtedly means more committees and more meetings. The properly repapered user profile can help deflect potential conflicts by providing early consensus on the who, what, how, when, and where questions regarding the user.
To create a user profile, try to determine the following characteristics about your target audiences:
Media consumption habits
Web usage level
Characteristics - Needs/Wants
What information do they desire?
How are they going to use the information?
How often might they access this information?
Where will they be accessing the information from?
How might these needs change over time?
What level of web knowledge do they possess?
What other web sites do they access? Why?
How do they use the web in general?
In what ways do they use your client's products and services?
Why do they use the product or service?
How do they purchase the product?
How do they find out about the product or service?
Are they buying on price, service, quality, other?
Like any marketer, your objective is to get inside the head of the user and understand them. You are developing a communication format that will be the basis for an ongoing dialog between your client and their clients for years to come. As such, it must maintain your client's corporate identity and voice while being immediately approachable and easily comprehensible by the target audiences. The properly prepared profile becomes the touchstone for this entire process.
Creating Killer Interactive Web Sites with Richard Swadley; Indianapolis, Indiana 46290, Hyden Books, 1997