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The Importance of Your Web Strategy

What makes a successful web strategy? The components are much the same as those for a good business plan, with emphasis on the word “plan.” Too many websites show little evidence of forethought as site owners rush to put a site up.

Purpose
What is your website for? This the most fundamental and most difficult decision you must make. The internet presents opportunities limited only by imagination and budget. Web sites can be marketing tools, retail outlets, back office support, customer relationship management systems, publishing media. Choose carefully and focus.

What business need will it satisfy? The simplest website provides a place for customers and prospects to find out about you. Such brochure-ware is a perfectly acceptable, if limited, use of the Internet to support your business. At the other end of the complexity spectrum are websites that transact business online, such as shopping sites, job listings, banks, or B2B services. Every website has an intended transaction. What do you want users to do at yours.

Market
Whom are you trying to reach with your website? Customers, prospects, prospective employees? How will you attract them to your site and how will you keep them coming back?

Because the Internet is a user driven medium, it is critical to accurately predict user behavior in order to market your site. From what you know about your target market, how do you anticipate your desired users will find your site?

Industry stats indicate that more than 80 percent of users who find what they are looking for do so using search engines, and many are not surfing. Search engines integrated into Netscape and Microsoft Internet Explorer assist in the background.

If you depend on traditional media coverage in your business, be aware that the Internet has become woven into the fabric of modern journalism, reports Don Middleberg, co- author of Middleberg/Ross Media in Cyberspace Study. Journalists turn to corporate and association websites for information when a story breaks.

Competition
Who is your competition online, and what bar has been set for user expectations? Web users can and do compare. You don’t want your company image to seem lacking because your website isn’t at least as good as, if not better than your competitors.

Function
It is essential to plan your website from your users’ perspective. Usability advocate and web design guru Jakob Nielsen recommends focusing on the top three things users will want to do on your site and structure it accordingly.

One of the most common errors in corporate websites is structure that follows the company organization chart, or the corporate brochure. This may serve executive suite egos, but sites designed this way receive the user attention they deserve, which is not much. The Web is interactive; you must give users a reason to visit and a reason to return.

Key players
Your website is going to serve as your branch in cyberspace. All stakeholders in your company should have input: IS, Marketing & Sales, HR, PR and Finance. Besides, you’ll most likely need their buy-in to accomplish your goals. Involving all from the start will ensure highly cooperative collaboration.

Timeline/Budget
You’ll certainly need to consider what financial resources you will commit to your web strategy. The more functional your website, the more experts in design, programming, databases and content development you’ll need to tap. These professionals are not inexpensive. The days of doing business with an simple and inexpensive Website are rapidly dwindling.

Marketing you web site is no longer a free ride. Most of the major web directories require pay for placement. Evaluating these opportunities has made a professional marketing approach essential.

So is setting a development timeline that makes sense for your business. If you need to be online in a hurry, consider a phased approach that gains you online visibility sooner while allowing for next-step development. Be realistic. If you are attempting to support an company event, such as a product launch, don’t leave your web development until last. Integrate it into all of your marketing planning.

Your Web strategy Toolkit:
Industry Market research
Online competitive analysis
Stakeholder input
Corporate business plan
Marketing plan
Timeline

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