How To Build A World-Class Business Web Site.
Building a world-class business web site is no mean feat. In fact, it could be said to be rocket science when you consider all the variables and disciplines that have to be engaged to build a truly engaging and world-class business web site. Building a web site can be one of the most frustrating and arduous tasks today within a highly competitive and global marketplace. How can you ensure that you have a web site that is visually stunning, branded, marketed, dynamic and interactive? Unfortunately, on many occasions in Africa, web sites are usually treated as a non-strategic exercise, best left in the hands of ICT and MarketingÂ departments. There is also a trend whereby web sites in Africa tend to be â€œout of syncâ€ with other traditional marketing and communications used by the enterprise. Its also not uncommon that these web sites are neglected once launched, thereafter displaying content that can be months or years out of date.
So, if you want to build a world-class business web site based on today’s trends and best practices, what is required? As mentioned earlier, there are indeed many variables and one size does not fit all. Each organization has unique requirements when it comes to developing a web site. The most critical factor is to begin with the end in mind and ensure that the core business strategies support and drive the web strategies. This is indeed the starting point and requires the most senior levels of executive management to participate. Its by asking the hard questions and ensuring executive commitment that a web strategy can be formulated. The web strategy should be business-driven with objectives such as growing sales, building brand, improving customer service or streamlining processes.
Once a web strategy has been defined, then the specific tactics to be employed can be reviewed. In building today’s world-class business web site, there are a myriad of possibilities. However, content should be top of mind as this will drive what goes onto the web site. This is more than simply re-purposing company profiles, brochures or media content. Its about generating and editing content that will be specifically targeted to the different people you expect to visit your web site. These segments could include customers, investors, distributors, retailers, suppliers, the general public, students, etc. Each user group has different needs and as such content needs to be developed accordingly. If a content strategy is not ;well defined at the very start then the web site will fail to â€œclickâ€ with the target user groups.
The next step is identifying strategic partners who will be required to execute the web site. This requires establishing the competencies and skill sets within a firm or a consortia of firms who can deliver on the requirements. This is not easy as building a world-class business web site is a multi-disciplinary exercise that may require business strategists, programmers, information architects, copywriters, creative designers, photographers, illustrators, animators, producers, internet marketers, etc to all work together. Its best to use case studies and client references to identify the firm or consortia who can deliver on the requirements.
What follows is defining the scope of work. This includes specifics such as branding, content development, internet marketing, back-end technologies, etc. The scope of work will determine the time line for the web site’s execution, which is best mapped to a project schedule which clearly defines all deliverables, tasks, and responsibilities. A key factor for success is that inputs are received in time, in the right quality, and the right quantity. Another major factor is that of scope creep where a web site project starts with certain agreed outcomes that then change as the project progresses, as a result of â€œnew ideasâ€. Scope creep is often due to the intangible and flexible nature of the Internet medium. You never really complete a web site -Â its alwaysÂ work in progress.
Once a web site is built, there are two final issues that need to be addressed. The first is that of internet marketing. A web site can be built flawlessly but it needs to have an audience to generate value for your organization. In order to do so, one has to develop and execute an internet marketing program that would realize maximum visibility with target groups. This can include search engine optimization, social media such as Facebook and Blogs, display ads on popular domestic or regional media web sites, pay-per-click ads such as Google Adwords, etc. Internet marketing can be highly targeted using keywords, geographical target, demographic targeting, etc so as to achieve a maximum return on investment (ROI).
The second often overlooked issue once a web site is ready is that of content management. A web site is meant to be highly dynamic and current. This requires either a dedicated resource within the enterprise or a third-party to manage content on the web site. The most practical way to do so is using a content management system or CMS for short. A CMS is basically a software that is used to build web sites as well as manage their content in user-friendly manner without having to acquire highly technical skills. A good CMS also forms the foundation of a scalable web site since it can be extended to incorporate additional functionality later on such as blogs, email marketing, e-commerce, discussion forums, etc.
This article I wrote was first published in the October 2009 edition of Management Magazine, a monthly publication from the Kenya Institute of Management.