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Eight ideas for building a website that works

Your website needs to work. That’s obvious. But what does “working” really mean?

Well, probably just as obviously, that will depend on what your website does and how it fits into your overall marketing. Here are a few thoughts on what you should be paying attention to as you plan and build – or rebuild – your website to be sure it “works” as a marketing tool.

Your Goals
You’re not going to get very far figuring out whether your site works if you haven’t painted a pretty detailed picture of what “working” looks like. You’re also not very likely to build a successful site without defining your goals at the outset. (Unless you’re very, very lucky …)

The solution is a simple as it is silly-sounding: start at the end. In other words, define your goals and keep your team focused on achieving the outcomes you want to achieve. This is true whether you are involved in ecommerce sales, lead generation, brand building, or something else.

It’s important that you define your goals as specifically as possible and (again) work backwards from that last click to your audience’s first contact with the site. For example, if the goal is to build your email marketing list, your steps backwards might look something like this:

  • Present an easy-to-use sign-up form.
  • Provide a compelling reason to use the form (i.e. great content)
  • Build a great landing page surrounding the content
  • Create great content
  • Research your audience’s interests to find the topics that appeal to them

That’s a simplification, of course, but it illustrates the idea that starting at the end let’s you focus on the details. And focusing on the details makes it easier to figure out what elements of the big picture you need to pay attention to in order to achieve your desired result.

Now that you’ve defined your goals, you need to measure your progress toward achieving them. Ultimately, the only real measure is the bottom line. Your website either helps you generate revenue or it helps you save costs. Unless your site is an ecommerce site, chances are you’ll need to track interim metrics.

In the example above, that would be content downloads and subscriber growth. Other metrics might include page views, time spent on the site, number of pages viewed per visit, and so on. Remember that your metrics should be a mix of reach (number of unique visitors, say) and engagement (how long they spend on the site).

Calls to Action
Publishing great content without encouraging your audience to take profitable action is not a recipe for marketing success. You have to have strong calls to action. That means easy to use, easy to find, and, of course, compelling.

Make your calls to action obvious without being intrusive, and be sure that they are present when your audience might be ready to take the next step. Frequently, that can mean being at the bottom of the page, where (usually) your visitor will be when she or he has consumed your content.

Content/Marketing Alignment
The same thinking behind having solid calls to action applies to aligning your content with your marketing. Creating content without marketing alignment isn’t content marketing. It’s free publishing. And without advertising revenue, it’s also a quick trip to insolvency. Make sure your content truly aligns with your marketing goals and supports specific products or services.

Adminstrative Workflow
Fresh content is important, and adding fresh content means updating your site regularly. Make sure you’re comfortable with the CMS (content management system) that you are putting in place. If you can’t use it, or hate using it, you’re not going to use it. And then your marketing effectiveness will plummet.

Hand in hand with making the site easy to maintain is building its flexibility so the site can change shape as your needs change. Design is where you’ll want to pay attention to flexibility the most.

Think twice before adopting a beautiful design that constrains the amount of content you can add to particular pages or particular sections. In some cases, those handcuffs are worthwhile because the resulting design looks so great. (And in some cases, you really shouldn’t be writing an opus when 12 words will do.) But for general content, I can guarantee you that as soon as you constrain yourself to 12 words, you’ll have an idea you can’t express in less than 13 words.

For most sites, design should just feel right. That’s not a terribly useful description, and as any designer will tell you, it’s easier said than done. But like Coca Cola’s iconic bottle, design done well can set you apart from your competition. Be sure not to put so much emphasis on design that it  overshadows your message or becomes a distraction. A design that feels right does so by fitting your audience’s expectations and presenting your personality.

Usability could probably be an idea to itself, but at its simplest, website usability is very closely related to website design. Make sure you’re not getting in your own way by making your site hard to use or the information you’re presenting hard to find. “Don’t make me think” is a valuable perspective to keep. (And it’s also the title of a great book on usability by Steve Krug.)

Your Audience’s Perspective
Finally, and most importantly, keep your audience’s perspective in mind. Organize your content in the ways they are likely to think about it, not in the way your company’s org. chart is arranged. Your clients don’t care about your org. chart or how you organize your services internally. They care about finding the information that’s relevant to them. If that information spans multiple internal divisions, don’t make them hunt for it. Make it easy to get it all in one place. (This is an area where a really well-thought-out CMS strategy can help. Presenting the same material in multiple ways is one of their strengths.)

If you can implement these ideas, you will be well on your way to building – and maintaining – a website that pays a handsome return on the investment you have made in it.

Main Photo: via photopin cc

Andrew Schulkind

Since 1996, Andrew Schulkind has asked clients one simple question: what does digital marketing success look like, and how can marketing progress be measured? A veteran content marketer, web developer, and digital strategist, Andrew founded Andigo New Media to help firms find a more strategic and productive mix of tools that genuinely support online brand goals over time. With a passion for true collaboration and meaningful consensus, his work touches social media, search-engine optimization, and email marketing, among other components. He views is primary goal as encouraging engagement. Getting an audience involved in your story requires solid information architecture, a great user experience, and compelling content. A dash of common sense doesn’t hurt, either. Andrew has presented at Social Media Week NY and WordCampNYC, among other events, on content marketing and web-development topics. His technology writing appears on the Andigo blog, in a monthly column on, and for print and online publications like The New York Enterprise Report, Social Media Today, and GSG Worldwide’s publications LinkedIn & Business, Facebook & Business, and Tweeting & Business. Andrew graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy from Bucknell University. He engages in a range of community volunteer work and is an avid fly fisherman and cyclist. He also loves collecting meaningless trivia. (Did you know the Lone Ranger made his mask from the cloth of his brother's vest after his brother was killed by "the bad guys?")

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