10 Commandments of Web Development for Business
In today’s marketplace, there is no single asset more foundational to the growth of your business than your website. Yet all too often, business growth objectives are not put front and center in the web development process.
Every site that exists within the Web marketing universe can be categorized into one of two basic types: the one-hit brochure site and the superstar site that makes the cash register ring.
To grow, you need a superstar site. To successfully build a superstar site, there are 10 fundamental rules that must be followed.
Everyone involved throughout the life of the site, especially you the business owner or marketer, must understand and adhere to these commandments. Don’t be intimidated by the technology that exists behind the scenes. Own the process and make sure your site serves your business, not the other way around.
Put business growth objectives first
Due to the complexities of the architecture underlying any website, there has long been the misperception that web development is primarily a function of IT or engineering. As a result, technical capabilities, goals and trends – rather than business objectives – tend to be what drive the process.
In reality, website development is first and foremost a function of marketing and business growth and must be treated as such from the ground up.
Whether you are launching a new site or rebuilding your existing site, the first step is to draw up a list of all business objectives for your organization, whether it is to increase your customer base, expand your share of an existing market, enter a new market or all of the above. This list should be exhaustive, with each goal assigned a rank in order of priority.
Only then can you begin the process of translating business objectives into objectives for your website – for driving traffic, increasing awareness of your brand, boosting sales and converting visitors into customers into fans.
Ultimately, this analysis will provide the razor-sharp clarity you need to direct those building the site, making the development process much easier and more straightforward. It is also the only way to ensure that the end result not only reflects your organization – what it is, what it does, where it is and where it’s going – but effectively promotes its goals.
Know your audience from the inside out
Once you’ve clearly stated your business objectives, the next step is to gain a thorough understanding of your target audience. Map out all of the various segments – from those on the fringe of your market to interested prospects to your existing customer base to your brand evangelists – so that you can determine how your website can best serve each group to further your goals.
Identify and examine each segment methodically. What percentage of your total audience does each comprise? What differentiates one from another? Who exists within each segment, and what are their motivations? What level of sophistication do they have regarding your product or service? How does your product or service affect their lives? What are the sales objections to overcome with each one?
Then, take it a step further to understand each segment in ways that transcend their direct relationship to your business. What interests them? What are they passionate about? How do they spend their leisure time? What do they read? Is there an opportunity for you to play a part in their lives that goes beyond your immediate business offering?
You must also understand the factors that cause an individual to move from one segment to another. What motivates them to come to your site or to your store? What brings them to that point of buying from you? What is it about the product or experience you offer that prompts a customer to become an evangelist who draws additional prospects to your organization?
Completing this analysis will give you a clear picture of your entire audience. It will enable you to speak to each segment directly and relevantly without the static of inapplicable elements getting in the way, appealing to their unique set of motivations to propel them along the continuum from outer rim prospect to brand evangelist. This is the basis not only of good site architecture but of building strong traffic and of sharpening the sales conversion process.
Organize your site around motivations
At this point, you have identified and weighed your business objectives and profiled your target audience. Now you must apply your analysis of goals and motivations to create your site map.
No matter the specific interests or demographic profile of your target audience, ultimately all users within the web marketing universe fall into one of five categories. These are:
- The casual visitor: Those along the outer rim of your market that are available for you to capture and drive to your site
- The repeat visitor: Those that make use of your website’s function, content or utility (not to be confused with your direct offering) on a regular basis
- The interested sales prospect: Those who are interested your organization’s product or service offering
- The customer: Those that buy from your website
- The fan: Those who love you, what you do or your products enough to be an evangelist for your brand
Your site map must identify the elements required to move your audience along the continuum from casual visitor to fan. It must focus on providing funnels to propel visitors toward action. The recipe for successful business growth today begins with mastering these objectives in your site’s architecture.
Casual visitors need a reason to come to your site in the first place. This involves creating either compelling content or purpose in utility. The key to driving traffic to your site lies in making an investment in building your reputation on the Web for providing resources, inspiration and expertise that are meaningful to the casual visitor.
Converting casual visitors to core, repeat users requires exceptional effort in the areas of content and utility. If your approach favors content, then you need to publish original content on a regular basis in order to give your visitors a reason to subscribe and return frequently. If your method leans toward providing utility, then you need to offer powerful functions that are unique in your market in order for your visitors to bookmark you as a resource.
Now that you have a strong influx of visitors to your site, it is critical to make the most of the opportunity to expose those visitors to your brand and your company’s offering in a way that will produce consistent sales results. Return to your analysis of your audience segments, their motivations and their potential objections. Ensure that your site provides solutions to their needs and answers to their questions in order to overcome objections and convert prospects into customers.
Your site map must identify the elements required to move your audience along the continuum from casual visitor to fan.
Once a customer has been won, the next step is to cultivate their ongoing loyalty. This type of visitor is not like the casual or repeat visitor. To promote the growth of your business, you must not only to serve your customers in order to keep them but over-serve them in order to transform them into fans.
The fan is the most highly desired state for your customer to attain. Fans do your marketing for you in a way that other methods simply cannot rival. They come back again and again, bringing with them more visitors and helping to create new customers.
Taking care of your fans entails its own responsibilities and set of motivations that must be addressed. You must engage these people in order to fuel their evangelism. Hand them a megaphone and give them 15 minutes of fame. Open lines of communication to allow them to offer feedback. Provide added incentive by rewarding their loyalty. Build an online community of like-minded individuals that they can identify with and participate in. Whatever your approach, make sure that your site map clearly identifies pathways for creating and nurturing fans of your brand.
Your success in today’s marketplace is founded in the decisions you make in creating your site’s blueprints. Your site map is not just another stage in development – it is your strategic marketing plan for business growth.
Never implement without the ability to measure
A superstar site is not a brochure. It is an ever-evolving, dynamic entity that drives growth and is the catalyst around which your fan base develops. As such, everything your site does must be able to be reshaped, retooled and sharpened for maximum effectiveness. You must know what works well and what doesn’t when measured against your business objectives and the motivations of your target audience segments.
The specifics of this analysis are different for every website and company. However, in broad terms, your site can be evaluated based on its performance along two indices, referred to as the ESM/ISM model:
- External Site Motivator (ESM): What brings visitors to the site? Where do they come from? What are they interested in?
- Internal Site Motivator (ISM): What motivates visitors to take action or evolve along the continuum into the next stage of user?
Optimizing the performance of your site is a lot like playing golf. Few hit the sweet spot consistently right off the bat. In the same way practice makes perfect in sports, great developers of website architecture, design and community have mastered the ability to direct the evolution of the sites they create in response to these performance metrics.
Whether you are a local retailer or a worldwide software company, remaining diligent in the ongoing analysis of your site as well as each individual element you implement will allow you to eliminate what doesn’t work and promote what does.
Always opt for simplicity in design
The number one reason visitors leave a website is confusion. Either they do not find what they want quickly enough, the site presents obstacles that interrupt their progress or a lack of organization and quality content yields an unsatisfying user experience.
The Internet is riddled with sites where creative design has been allowed to take priority over interface design, leaving the content and business objectives to suffer. The net result of this is a negative user experience and a poor impression of the brand.
In Steve Krug’s book, Don’t Make Me Think, he goes on a warpath on confusing interfaces and flashy gimmicks that stop users dead in their tracks. The fact is, few websites – particularly those that strive to create a reputation for content and utility – focus on simplicity and ease-of-use. As a rule, the more a website does and the more it offers, the more difficult it is to navigate, as developers struggle to overcome more rigorous demands on interface design and usability.
A good creative framework is one that does its job – funneling visitors according to motivation and promoting action – and then gets out of the way. Ensure that your site focuses on providing value in what it says and the functionality it offers rather than on showcasing a flashy interface that will only confuse or frustrate the user.
To use a familiar example, think of a magazine’s interface. There are a table of contents and page numbers. The interface is simple – just turn the page – and as a result, the emphasis is inherently on the magazine’s content.
Few websites – particularly those that strive to create a reputation for content and utility – focus on simplicity and ease-of-use.
And while a website’s content is exponentially more dynamic and robust than that of a magazine, its interface and navigation should always meet the challenge of staying equally streamlined and intuitive.
Let’s take a look at the master of interface design: Apple. From its website to its devices to its operating system, Apple creates products with tremendous technological capabilities. However, what defines Apple and differentiates them from their competitors is one thing – simplicity.
In addition, you must be sure to guard your website against design fatigue. It is easy to look at a site one time and like it. To keep your investment in tact, you and your website designers must consider how the site’s design will stand up over the course of a thousand page views and many years.
Strive in every way to protect your site’s content and its business objectives, and keep things simple with a design that doesn’t just look good today but stands the test of time.
Master the art of creating good content and publish it regularly
Content is not your brochure copy. It is not your sales pitch for the product or service you are selling.
It is, however, about you, what you do and what you think as well as what others are interested in or inspired by around your direct offering. It does not require an investment by the viewer in your direct offering but must be of interest on its own merits.
To compare it with a more familiar system, the business operation of a magazine relies on two parts: content that is compelling or interesting to the reader and advertisements that are in someway either related to that content or to the reader directly.
The truth is business growth depends on quality content. Sales, conversions and customers are a numbers game, and the traffic you draw to your website directly correlates to your bottom line. Conquering the challenge of bringing interested, applicable prospects to your site is the first step, and this is achieved by having a reputation for content.
Every business can do this. If you have customers, then they have interest in buying from you. You create a solution for them and, as such, have a greater opportunity to be a part of their lives.
If you are still uncertain how to proceed, then you are not alone. Mastering the art of creating good content on a regular basis requires a complete departure from the mentality of conventional advertising, and a good trustcasting company is worth its weight in gold for the guidance it can provide in this area. Consult with your site’s architect and make sure that you have a plan in place to use content to drive traffic over the long-term.
Propel visitors through your site
Developing a reputation for your site as a source of fresh, compelling information that captures and holds the reader’s interest is the key to getting visitors. This is the reason behind the tried-and-true mantra “content is king.”
However, many sites that strive to offer good content do not invest in sound information architecture. They do a poor job of mapping the relationship between the content catalog and all other elements within the website.
If a visitor is perusing the content on your site, it is because they are interested in something about what you have to say or show. Ask yourself what elements within your direct offering relate to this area of interest? Create an organizational tree that identifies the pertinent elements of all content and use in conjunction with keyword tags that can relate elements that may not be able to be structured. Integrate these elements into your site’s architecture.
Never let the current piece of content being viewed be the last one.
For every piece of content, the website’s framework should provide avenues to promote further reading or action. If a user is reading an article about best practices for baking, then entice them to delve deeper into the site with a collection of bread recipes or a slideshow of staff recommendations for their favorite tools of the trade. Perhaps there are related actions such as a set of kitchen utensils for sale in an online store which are used in a featured recipe.
Consider also that many visitors don’t arrive through the front door. If your content is truly great, it is going to get picked up by other sources. Visitors that land on a specific piece of content need to see that there is a catalog of related material that also serves their interests.
You invest so much in driving visitors to your site, don’t waste the opportunity once you have them there. Never let the current piece of content being viewed be the last one. Make sure all of your content is related and that it is presented in a way that keeps the user turning the pages along their track of interest.
You want to create a powerful hold over your audience so that they must turn you off reluctantly. You want them to see that there is more available to them than can be consumed in one session.
Seeing that you not only have one interesting thing to say but that you have an entire catalog on a subject gives people a reason to bookmark your website, turning the casual visitor into an exponentially more valuable repeat user.
Separate technology from content
Good websites are built on strong foundations that allow for constant growth and evolution as business and performance metrics dictate.
As such, your web developer’s approach to building your site must be one guided by a long-term vision. Your website is an ongoing investment, not a one-time project that can be checked off a task list.
The site must have a solid foundation that can support changes that sharpen its performance and meet your company’s ever-changing needs without costly rebuilding. Content must be separated from the website’s design and framework. Each piece of the site must be able to stand on its own and evolve independently without interrupting others.
As the person charged with business growth in your company, it can be a difficult task to ensure that your site is being built in the right way. This is akin to knowing if your house is built cheaply or with sound materials and methods. You have to know a bit about the process and have the experience to tell the difference.
Ask these questions of yourself and your web developers to ensure your site is being built for the long-haul:
- Is there a clear and strict separation in the site’s content and its technical framework? Are all required elements of your content mapped out?
- Can the styles and elements of all content within the site be changed in one place easily?
- Can the CMS (content management system) evolve with your site and its content?
- How expensive is it to replace the site’s framework and organization? How will this affect your content?
- Is each function of the site modularized and changeable without interrupting other portions of the site?
- Are you dependent on any proprietary technology?
- How difficult would it be for another web developer pick up where the previous developers left off?
- Can you easily port your content to a mobile platform?
- Are the content catalog and all site elements arranged and organized to allow for the relationships required now and in the future?
- Envision where your site should be in one, two and 10 years. Can it achieve these goals based upon the foundation you are building? Can your content catalog and its supporting database expand with your business goals?
The technical side of website development can be very difficult to understand. Often confusion in this area results in a site that is too difficult to update or evolve, leaving the company with a dead, stale, ineffectual site that eats up funds rather than grows business.
Empower people to manage content
It is a common occurrence that websites – even the ones that start with the best of intentions and a great foundation – falter when it comes to publishing meaningful content consistently. Just as content is the lifeblood of a superstar website, the site that fails to live up to this commitment after launch sabotages its reputation immediately.
The key to maintaining a consistent flow of great content is shaping the organization’s culture around it. Websites must be built with sound content management systems that give control of the dynamic content to the right people within their area of responsibility and expertise.
While not all organizations have multiple departments managing its functions, a website’s CMS must be flexible enough to allow discrete access to the right people in the right areas. Human resources must control job postings; public relations should have access to manage news; volunteer coordinators must control opportunity postings; product managers must control product details and moderators need to approve comments to feature articles and blog postings.
Having invested correctly in the steps to build a superstar website, your organization’s culture of marketing must be reformed to support it. Following good practices and planting a good foundation, you must apply the required due diligence to determine changes in your organization in order to keep the website publishing and in constant forward movement.
Plug into the greater Web marketing universe
Websites don’t come with visitors. The visitors are at other sites, where they are engaging in conversation, discussing news, organizing meetings and sharing content.
In order to build traffic, your site must be built on an open model. Even the best websites cannot perform well in a vacuum. The conversation in your industry and around your business offering is happening outside of your site, whether you are there or not.
As such, your website must be built to interact in all applicable communities outside of itself. Your visitors must be easily able to share content with other sites. Moreover, you need to be an active participant in other networks in order to allow people to connect with your brand outside of your domain.
In doing so, you are not only plugging in to existing communities that have millions of regular users but also building a path that leads back to your own website in order to being the process of creating community around your own brand.
What’s more, search engines recognize the leaders in categories by how well-established their websites and their content are outside their domain. Popularity in the greater community means higher rankings from search engines, which in turn funnels more visitors to your website.
Part of the responsibility for following these rules resides with the site’s developer. However, your organization must also make a priority of incorporating these practices in its daily operations and systems.
This blueprint for success will pay enormous dividends if you not only build a website that interacts with the greater Web universe but also maintain an open philosophy in your message, content and participation.