In my experience, even when very enthusiastic about making their own website, few people are clear on what exactly that entails. In order to crystallise clients' expectations, I have developed a simple step by step process flow, whereby both my client and I get a much firmer grip on what their website needs to be about and what exactly it should deliver. This workflow is outlined here.
WHY GO ONLINE?
DOES MY BUSINESS REALLY NEED A WEB PRESENCE?
Down the ages, and across the globe, we have had many kinds of marketplaces — the Indian mandi and the bazaars, the French marché and the Middle Eastern souk;the Italian mercato and the Turkish çarşı, the African mark and the Spanish-Portuguese mercado….the Esperanto placo, the Irish margadh, the Romanian piaţă, the Fillipino merkado or palengke; the Malay pasaran, the Swedish marknad, the Norwegian markedsplass and the Dutch markt.
And the 21st century equivalent of all of these? www!
The world wide web is the modern day equivalent of the ubiquitious-through-time-and-space marketplace — for any and all kinds of products and services. It’s the ultimate trading hub!
Whether you are a business spanning the globe or prefer to operate within your own PIN code; whether it is a large inventory of mass produced items you seek to sell through an e-store, or customized products/services you offer by appointment; whether it is a selection of hand crafted items you create on demand, or a personal skill you would like to showcase; if you are an MNC or an SMB; if you have a digital marketing budget in the millions or just a few thousands — whatever your particular business and budget, you can be sure of one thing: there IS a place for you on the web.Top
GET ON THE WEB
HOW DO I GET ONLINE?
You’ve decided to get on the web. You know and understand why. Next comes the what and the how, and you may have a lot of questions on this.
What can I do online? How do I benefit from taking my business online? Should I sell online? Is an e-store the answer? But how would that work for services I offer? How much will it cost? Is Facebook the place to get the best returns on my ad budget, or will Google be a better bet? Is an e-commerce website the thing for me or does a WordPress site better suit my needs? Do I need to be on LinkedIn or is Twitter the way to go?
There are so many things one can do online: you can use the web to spread the word about yourself, provide an overview of products and services offered; you can make it a channel for two-way communication, using a combination of web pages and social media channels; you can just post an online catalog for easy reference or you could opt for a full-fledged e-store. Then again, e-commerce isn’t operationally feasible for everyone (ask me why), and perhaps a website with all the bells and whistles doesn’t quite fit your overall sales/marketing strategy or budget.
There are several ways (and endless permutations of these!) for you to take your business online. With such a plethora of options, it can get difficult to decide the best way forward — digitally speaking. The optimal way for you to go online depends on many factors: the nature of your core business activity, the size of your business operations, the industry you are in, the budget you have set for it, your brand or market positioning, your clients’/customers’ profiles, to name just a few.
What you need is an informed opinion, and some expert guidance, to help you decide what’s best suited to your specific needs and realities, to assist you formulate and execute your web strategy — what you need is someone to take you from bricks to clicks.Top
WHAT IS A WEB STRATEGY? AND WHY DO I NEED ONE?
So what exactly is a web strategy? And why do you need one to go online? Why not just make a website, and then a Facebook page, and then a Twitter account, and some more social media channels and well….start using them? Get my ads on Facebook and sign up for Google Adwords? Why the need for strategising….. and setting goals….. and planning….. and monitoring? All of that takes so much time!
The answer is simple: There is no point in taking any action until you know what it is that you want to achieve at the end of it all. There is no point in putting time and money into something without a way to monitor its effectiveness. You need an agenda, a road map, a game plan — leading to wherever it is that you want to go. You wouldn’t run your business, or your offline marketing in such a fashion; the same applied to going online.
Online/digital is a relatively new marketing medium, and the mobile channel is even more recent. As all such new spaces are wont to do, they offer an astounding amount of freedom for creativity and innovation. It is commonplace to hear of this company here that tried this thing, or that person there who did this amazing thing; maybe just your next door neighbour whose homemade cupcakes business just took off after she went on Facebook. Hearing such success stories tempts you to just go ahead and try ideas that come to mind. Everything that can be done in this space has yet not been done, you figure, so let me see if this thing here will work. But without a clear idea of what exactly it is that you want to achieve, it is more of a lottery than a business initiative.
The web is also full of distractions, with a new next-big-thing coming up every other month. But no one knows which one is just a soon-to-disappear shooting star, and which one will stay the course; yet no one wants to miss the bus on something new — then again it’s difficult to run your business, and at the same time stay updated with new trends in the digital space. It’s easy to get lost in it all, invest resources in trying different things and then realize it was a waste of time and money.
To avoid such a scenario, you need to first visualize what you aim to manifest, and then plan your way towards it, within the limits of the resources you have earmarked for the purpose. This is why you need a strategy that takes into account the specific, and often unique, realities of your individual business. This is best done for you by those whose business it is to keep up with digital media, leaving you free to focus on the success of your own.Top
3 KEY QUESTIONS
The first step in getting your business online is answering 3 key questions. Only after you have clarity on the answers to these three questions, can your strategy be created, based on your answers. Then, and only then, do we talk about content, design, navigation and other aspects of your web property. Please know that each time your answer to any of the 3 key questions changes, your strategy as well as your website and/or web application will, most likely, need changing as well.
Giving careful consideration to these answers, and answering them as specifically as possible truly helps. Mulling over your answers for a day or two is highly recommended. This phase of the work process speeds up execution by eliminating back-to-drawing-board reiterations, and helps increase the effectiveness of your website. This step of the workflow pins down the expectations to be met by your web property.
Q #1 : WHO IS YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE?
Please describe the typical user/s whose attention you wish to capture with your website. Here you could also include a profile of the average consumer of your product/service. for eg. young college going kids who shop online, anyone who wants to buy xyz product (in this case your current consumers' profile would help a lot in deciding the content and design of your website), housewives looking for exotic recipes (so you provide those that use your products as ingredients). At its core, this will detail the characteristics of the persons your service or product is primarily aimed at.
Q #2 : WHAT IS IT THAT YOU WISH TO COMMUNICATE?
What is the point or purpose of your website? When a visitor leaves your website, what image and information do you want him to walk away with, regarding your products/service/brand? for eg. "it's a great online store", "I need to go check out this business offline", "I must avail of their xyz service", "This is an interesting site to get reliable information on whatever topic". etc. This answer will shine a spotlight on the message you wish to convey to your web visitors.
Q #3 : WHAT IS THE BUSINESS OBJECTIVE YOU SEEK TO ACHIEVE VIA THIS WEBSITE/ONLINE FORAY?
What particular professional goal do you hope this online/ digital foray will help you achieve? What specific business objective are you seeking to satisfy by investing in a web property? For eg: increase brand awareness, or an x% increase in revenue, lead generation, build your own marketing database, etc. Your answer to this will be the reason for your decision to go online, in a quantitatively or qualitatively measurable form.Top
WORDING YOUR MESSAGE
After a custom strategy has been derived from the answers to the 3 Key Questions step outlined above, then comes the collation of textual content. Original text content is essential for a good standing with search engines, especially Google. Collecting text content from any existing brochures or marketing literature that your business may have, or writing original content for your web pages happends at this stage. Here, the content voice and structure is created to align with the agreed-upon strategy, as well as the message to be conveyed.
The tone of the text should be target audience friendly, and can either be conversational or crisply business like. What is important is that it match the interaction style your clients will encounter when face-to-face with your company, its products/services and its people. For example, if you are a very professional no-nonsense investment advisor, then the text should follow an impersonal communication style, whereas an event planner who works closely with you on very personal events can adopt a conversational, informal style. The important this is that your text content speak with the same voice that your target audience will hear when they connect with you or your products.
IMAGES & BRANDING
Next come the visuals - dazzling, bright colours or muted shades, photos of your product/services or stock photos purchased from digital photo libraries, illustrations or real pics, all such decisions about graphical content are taken in this phase.
A major question to be addressed here is your branding. If you already have a logo, a company name and graphics to go with them, then it is relatively straightforward. If not, then this is the time to decide on your web property's branding, choose the colours and images that best represent your core business activities and appeal to your aesthetic sense.
Creative design can be outsourced to one of the innumerable graphic designers from around the world, available online via their virtual studios, or else to an offline graphic designer of your choice.
THE LOOK & FEEL, STRUCTURE AND NAVIGATION
Now comes the part that everyone usually starts with, and that is the design of your web presence. What are the colours used? What is the layout of each of the pages that hold your content? Which secions are given priority and highlighted, and which ones go in the inner sections? How is all your content, the text and gathered graphics, structured? How will the different sections connect with each other? All of these are addressed at this stage, and at this stage only.
Selecting a design at any stage before this tends to lead to a less effective website, as your message and content is then modified to fit into the design, when ideally the design of your website should be built around the foundation of the purpose of your website.
The design of your web property can either be custom developed (the expensive option) or selected from a wide array of professionally designed templates (the cost effective option). Selecting from pre-designed pages that fit your strategy also helps avoids disappointment, when the custom design is ready but doesn't match the visuals you had in mind.
Font choices. Menu options. Content flow. Menu structure. These are some of the tasks of this stage. Remember the 3 key questions? Those answers now become a handy yardstick by which to measure the importance of each piece of content and menu options, every Call to Action and the points to be put across.Top
MAKE & TEST
INSIDE THE BELLY OF THE BEAST
Now comes the time to translate everything into webspeak - all that has been conceptualised, and visualised, strategised and planned, collated and created, till this point in time, is now given shape, form and colour. Webpages are authored, scripts are coded, graphics and text animated, as may be required.
Wordpress or HTML, php or asp, Java or Ruby on Rails, your web property's foundations are laid, the structure is built and the interiors done up as planned. Once your web property is ready, it undergoes a few iterations of testing and tweaking, till both you and I are convinced it is ready to launch.
At this stage, all your inputs this far are the blueprints for the construction of your web porperty. Your primary task at this point is to review and monitor the web pages as they come up.Top
GO LIVE !!
COUNTDOWN, FINAL CHECK AND LAUNCH
Here comes the best part of this process - the launch of your website! Whether is a quiet go-live or a bells and whistles celebration, this is the much anticipated stage of sharing the fruits of all that labouring done to date with the whole world.
You can move aside the Under Construction sign and cut the metaphorical ribbon in a number of ways. Have a website launch party. Hold an introductory promotion. Send an email or sms to your customer base. Take our a billboard or hoarding, an ad in the newspaper or just distribute flyers in your local community. Or just toast your new site with friends and family, over a good bottle of wine. Whatever your choice, your message is now live on the web, seeking eyeballs (figurative footfall) of visitors.Top
ADVERTISE & MARKET YOUR WEB PROPERTY
SEM, SEO AND THE LIKE
Anyone with a website will, sooner or later, hear of SEO and SEM. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) are whole professions in and of themselves. SEO is fine tuning your website to conform to norms of search engines so as to ensure your web property organically (naturally) shows up in the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) of specific search words and phrases of your choice. SEM is paying for listings on the SERPs of chosen search words and phrases. It is print/tv's paid advertising concept, applied to new media.
The main difference today, between marketing on new media versus traditional media is engagement. The nature of 20th century advertising was purely one way broadcasting, while 21st century media advertising is two-way communication that interests, then engages, and finally prompts & facilitates the taking of an action. The advertiser needs to remain responsive after delivering their message and the advertisee are no longer passively absorbing messages.
New media marketeers are required to be communication experts. With traditional media, one crafts their message, broadcasts it, and then sits back to either see it succeed or fail. With new media, it is on ongoing process, with responses and feedback in realtime helping you tweak your message and influencing the crafting of your next message.
While traditional media had print, still or moving pictures, new media is a combination of earned, owned or paid. Your digital marketing success sits on a tripod of these three. Earned media are your social media outposts, and the audience you attract there through your original, relevant and engaging content. Owned media consists of your webpages and applications, if any, that reside on your website - all internet properties fully and completely controlled by you. Paid media are your sponsored listings on Twitter, Facebook, Adsense through which people click their way to your earned or owned media.
Crafting your message in a manner that is well received by your target audience (from the 3 key questions stage), and having them initiate any of your Calls to Action, marks the success of your new media advertising efforts and digital marketing campaigns. These Calls to Action can be any one or more of the following: click on your ad, sign up for your emails, register on your website, subscribe to your newsletters, comment on your blog posts, buy & review your products, avail of your services or enroll for sms notifications.Top
SOCIAL MEDIA, BLOGS, EMAILERS & STUFF
The best kind of advertising and marketing happens when you have earned the attention and interest of your target audience and can speak directly to them - and they like it!! They find what you put out interesting, and you love their actions in response to your messages. But this relationship is a hard-earned privilege, and like RW (Real World) relationships comes with on-going and effective communication, as well as a deep well of trust, filled slowly over time.
Keeping up the conversation with your existing audience, and reaching out to new ones is an essential on-going activity that comes along with maintaining a web property. There are a variety of communication channels to choose from, ranging from emails to social media, blogs to smses. A word of caution - having a dead communication channel is way worse that not having one at all. A Twitter account with no tweets, or a Facebook page to which you do not post regularly reflects poorly on your online identity. It is advisable to factor in the time, cost and effort that will go into providing original engaging content for each channel, as well as in remaining responsive to two way communications on every channel, and only then take a call on how many social media accounts should you open up.
Engaging and relevant communications, in any form, be it blogs, facebook posts, email newsletters, instagram or pinterest boards, podcasts, videos - whatever your choice of channels - is the key to developing a long term relationship with your webTop