Is Your Web Site Working for You?
While the Internet is still a relatively new technology, the Web has already lived several lifetimes. An economic, social, and cultural phenomenon since the time of its birth, the Web has changed the way we interact socially, the way we do business, and the way we view the world. Evolving from the dot com boom and bust of the late 90s, current trends in user populated content and "social networking" have produced a "second generation" Web, making the Internet more influential than ever. It is absolutely essential that businesses understand the Web and use it effectively if they are to survive and succeed in any business climate, be it internationally or locally. No matter how big or small your company is, you need a Web site that works for you.
Very few Web-based businesses from the first wave of the Web survived. Many of them made money in spite of themselves, "dot bombs" IPOing at astronomical amounts-laughable in retrospect-only to fold within months. But there are lessons to be learned from those early days not so long ago. While the new Web has been cautious of the bust eventuality, second generation Web sites offers much more interactivity through the use of blogs, social networking, and user generated audio and video, and all have one thing in common: on the Web, content is king.
User generated content is easy to produce, entertaining, and relatable; its popularity seems to parallel the success of reality TV. The most successful sites, MySpace and YouTube for example, are basically portals for people to interact and share content, usually for free-the companies themselves have little to do other than the backend work to keep the site afloat. Internet giants Google and Yahoo have seen this paradigm and begun to copy it so as not to be left behind.
But what is it that makes these sites so successful? What makes people keep coming back, or spend hours on the site without ever leaving? A quick look at sites like these offers a simple solution: figure out a way to keep your content fresh.
You're Not YouTube ... So What Do You Do?
While most businesses can't do what YouTube does and let their users drive their site, we can learn a simple rule from YouTube's success: keeping your content up-to-date and interesting will keep customers coming back, keep them on your site for longer, and attract new customers. In other words, you don't need to offer constantly rotating video; however, to continue to use your Web site as an effective marketing tool, offering something interactive and giving people a reason to come back is priceless.
A content management plan is crucial for keeping your content fresh. If you haven't already, you should begin by hiring a content specialist, or assigning a current employee to update your content regularly. Whether your fresh content is in the form of new product announcements, press releases, a weekly blog, or a weekly poll, your site must be dynamic if you want your audience to return, and the best way to accomplish new content is to have someone updating and monitoring your site weekly, if not daily.
Generally, a programmer probably is not the best choice to update your content. Conversely, the best person to handle your content probably cannot write code for your Web site. Therefore, in order for your content specialist to be able to create exciting content quickly, you should acquire a good piece of workable, user-friendly content management software that he or she can use with minimal or no programming knowledge.
Once you have managed to create a user audience, there are additional ways you can use your Web site to enhance and add value to your business. While your customers are on your site, you have a unique opportunity to collect data. With an interactive Web site, collecting data such as email addresses is quite easy. For example, by offering an enhanced user experience for members, you can create a member section on the site with an email log-in and then use those emails to develop a database of site users. The following features provide the opportunity to collect data by offering an enhanced user experience: personalized pages; the ability to post comments on a blog; access to archived articles and photos; and exclusive access to information, events calendars, newsletters and job postings. Even something as simply as asking visitors to sign up if they would like more information will get the dialog started.
Finally, when you have developed an effective user database, you can use this information to create e-campaigns and e-newsletters, keeping your clients informed of news about your company and keeping your company's name on people's minds and on their computer screens. You have now taken your web site from passive to pro-active.
We can all agree that the Web is here to stay. Ten years ago, when this undefined, ethereal thing was emerging, if we knew what it was at all, many of us considered it a fad, a passing technology for Gen-Xers with too much time on their hands. By now, if you don't believe the Internet is here to stay, then chances are you're out of business. Taking the next step to use the Web effectively now will help ensure your business will be here in another ten years.