Magazine article Management Today

Accelerator: Technology - Websites That Work

Magazine article Management Today

Accelerator: Technology - Websites That Work

Article excerpt

When establishing your internet presence, follow basic rules to help you to build customer loyalty and boost business. The aim is to make the site functional, fast and familiar. Rhymer Rigby identifies the key elements for achieving online success.

It seems hard to believe now, as everyone is getting ever so excited about Web 2.0, but the Web 1.0 (or bubble burst more than seven years ago. This was the day when, amid much champagne-popping and canape-munching and general PR overspend, floated, the Nasdaq index having peaked four days earlier. Exactly a month later, Wall Street experienced its biggest single-day drop in its history, ending a week during which the US markets lost dollars 2 trillion.

Small businesses can learn a great deal from looking at both the first-round Web 1.0 veterans and their more newly minted Web 2.0 rivals Starting with the former, the companies that weathered the crash and have since prospered - the likes of Amazon, eBay and Google. The days when simply having a brochure site with your company details and a few nice pictures was acceptable are now long gone. Such sites - and there are still plenty around - not only fail the cardinal test of Web 1.0 because they don't boost the bottom line, they may even actually damage the brand and reputation of the businesses they represent.

From Web 1.0, we also know that the successful companies used the web to do something better than it could be done elsewhere; they used it to revolutionise an existing sector or they took a successful existing business and made it work on the web. They offer valuable lessons to any firm seeking to make doing business online more profitable.

Many of these tips may seem basic nowadays, but the simple lessons are always the most effective to implement, and the most often overlooked. And yet a surprising number of businesses (both large and small) still don't really get it, and put up sites that drive customers away.

Most of the Web 2.0 tools available offer simple ways to make your site more dynamic, allowing you to add more content more easily and without having to call in your web developer every time you want to update something. Technologies like RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds also enable you to get your content out there to more people more of the time - clearly a good thing.

But this means that you need to budget beyond your build costs and set aside money for maintenance and for creating new content, cautions Tim Howe, founder of KnowHowe, a business that provides web design and software development, primarily to SMEs. 'There is nothing more forlorn than a forgotten site with a news section that includes items last posted months ago. Use feed technology such as RSS to disseminate your news and so on - but only if you are prepared to update it.'

The other area where Web 2.0 can easily improve the site and make it feel more exciting is allowing customers to contribute content directly. Do this properly and you could find that you've created a self-sustaining community of online customers who will update your website for you, as well as improving your revenues and giving you terrific insights into what people really like about your company.

That's the holy grail of Web 2.0, but it can be a challenging mindshift for site owners to make. When you feel very proprietorial about something, it's difficult to let someone else make changes. And it can particularly hard if they are contributing comments to a forum that are inappropriate or offensive - or, worse, wholly appropriate and inoffensive but unpalatable to you. If you ask people what they think in an online environment, they are much more likely to tell you the truth than they would face-to-face. This is one of the web's great strengths, but you have to be prepared to take criticism on the chin.

At the most basic level, what you really need from a website, according to usability guru Jakob Nielsen, are 'the three Fs': the site has to be functional, fast and familiar. …

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