Substance or style

Despite the advent of new web technologies, effective web development is still about quality content.

Design fads come and go.  Technologies develop and evolve.  But in the world of the web, there’s always one constant: content is king.

Understanding the central motivation behind a customer’s visit to your website is the key to building an effective online presence, which will encourage interaction with your business and add to bottom line.

Website development tools are evolving at the speed of light.  And while most of us may only be vaguely familiar with new technologies such as HTML5 and CSS3, timely, accurate and engaging content is still central to turning your online presence from a cost centre to a valuable lead generation engine.

“The website presence depends very much on the business drivers and the nature of the business,” according to James O’Donnell, director with BestSoft Consulting.

“It has been BestSoft’s experience that most internet users still expect to find a ‘home’ website for every company where they will be given relevant company information with a clear statement of product or services and the opportunity of interfacing with the business directly,” he said.

Chad Gilmer, managing director with iPLANiT highlights a common pitfall where companies fail to grasp the fundamental concept of providing content that addresses a customer problem or fulfils an identified need.

“I would class a lot of websites today as ego-centric, where the client is really promoting what they do and why they’re great as opposed to asking the end customer, ‘what do you want and how can we help you’?   Business owners really need to become customer-centric.  It’s a subtle twist but an important one because sometimes the message that the business owner might find relevant is not what the end-customer wants to see when they arrive on a webpage,” he said.

Clean, clear, crisp design styles are very much in vogue.  As organisations reach the next evolutionary phase of web development, there is an increasing shift towards this customer-centric messaging, search-optimised content on dedicated landing pages, clear calls to action and a quality user experience.

Building that quality user experience often involves moving from a pure ‘brochure ware’ site to a more transactional approach, designed to encourage a higher level of visitor interaction.

At one end of the spectrum, a full blown e-commerce site is the ultimate in transactional activity but not every business needs this functionality.

“A business needs to ask itself if it is capable of more than a brochure ware site,” according to Cathal Dempsey, managing director with FCR Media.

“Whilst e-commerce sites are extremely beneficial, time and support are needed to ensure that the transactional elements such as customer service, fulfilment and delivery are managed efficiently.  If you are just trying to generate inbound queries then an e-commerce site is not needed.”

But organisations can be clever about fostering this visitor interaction.  Simple transactions such as including a return on investment calculator to compare against competitors or soliciting membership of a loyalty reward scheme are great examples of basic but creative interactions that can monetise your website presence and convert a visit to a sale.

Web development agency, Webtrade has incorporated a practical transactional element into Advance Pitstop’s website to great effect as Joe Conlon, sales and marketing director explained.

“Advance Pitstop allows customers to get instant quotes for their car service based upon their exact car specifications sourced from their registration number. Customers can then even book the service online.  The company has seen a 100pc rise in web bookings over the past 12 months, with over 30pc of bookings from smartphones,” he added.

“At this point in time there is very little transactional activity that cannot be managed through a web interface,” explained O’Donnell.

“From managing financial transactions to booking holidays, purchasing goods or joining an organisation, all are easily implemented in your online presence. It is now a relatively simple and safe approach with a good level of stability and predictability,” he said.

It seems the ongoing evolution of sophisticated content management systems (CMS) like WordPress, Drupal and SiteCore are shortening project implementation times and delivering a user-friendly administration framework for non-technical staff.

“BestSoft are currently rolling out a major SiteCore project for a UK enterprise which two years ago would been a one-year project.  It now now takes four months with the same resources,” explained O’Donnell.  “This has delivered a freedom and opportunity for business that is in many ways unique but of course challenging in other respects.”

And none more so than the area of search engine optimisation (SEO), whose aura of ‘black magic’ continues to mystify and confuse even the most tech-savvy of us.

“SEO plays a pivotal role in a business’s overall website strategy,” said Dempsey, “but the biggest challenge for companies is the time and resources spent getting their SEO right.”

There is no published algorithm for how companies like Google rank websites in their organic search results, but there are some basic rules which include use of keywords, link-building to/from your site, completing tags and meta data for each webpage and updating content on a regular basis through a blog or other website pages.

“Big companies have an advantage because they can dedicate people to focus on SEO daily,” according to Dempsey.  “For smaller companies, they often need professional support. publishes over 3,000 websites and develops traffic plans with dedicated optimizers who can help ensure correct website structure and content to facilitate indexing by the major search engines,” he said.

This article appeared in the Sunday Business Post’s Computer in Business supplmement on October 6, 2013.

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