Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Website Maintenance...To Do or Not To Do...

You have a website and you're pretty much happy with what it does for your company. It doesn't have a database management system, or a CMS, or even any formal email management system, but, from all the feedback you've received, the visitors that have been coming have found at least some of the information they were looking for and some followed up with a phone call. You do wonder about a few things, for example, you've been looking over the traffic numbers, and the number of calls compared to the number of visitors you get sure seems low, no conversion. The other thing you've been wondering about is the new line of 'widgets' you now have in stock and there's no information on your website about them. Finally, you're going to be having the big promotion on ______'s next month and again, no online info about it. Oh yeah, there was also that 'blog' thing that someone was telling you about at the chamber of commerce business lunch last week, it seemed to be generating some good results for them and you've been wondering about that...even though you're not really certain what a blog really is. Maybe you're not so happy with your website after're not alone, a surprising number of companies are frustrated with their website for one reason or another.

The state of the art with respect to your online presence is changing so quickly that to ever think, "There, we're done!" is no longer an option. If you want to fully capitalize on the investment you've made in your website and achieve the optimum ROI, you must consider carefully how you are going to facilitate the changes on your website as you determine what is best for your organizations evolving web presence and business development. In the list of solutions, be certain to investigate whether a website maintenance arrangement with a competent company who will be able to support you as you move forward with your plans is the way to proceed. Of course you can always resort to ad hoc measures, and many do this quite successfully, the problem with this approach can be time of delivery because more and more of the professional website service and development companies are structuring their service so that maintenance clients receive priority service and ad hoc work comes in a distant second. Understandable right? Organizations who commit to a maintenance agreement with their website services provider demonstrate that they are serious about the development of their online web presence and want to execute on a well thought out plan, their maintenance agreement is the vehicle to accomplish this. If you don't have one, how serious are you about what you want to accomplish online?

Five reasons to have a website maintenance service agreement:
1- Allows you to develop your online presence in a structured but flexible manner;
2- Reduces your capital intensity because you pay for ongoing development overtime rather than with any single 'big' hit;
3- Stay ahead of your competition with updated content (maybe a CMS), state of the art SEO, web based applications to streamline business operations and processing, email management or marketing etc. etc.;
4- Save money! Usually these arrangements offer you discounts from regular ad hoc development rates;
5- Maximize your returns on your investment.

To the best of my knowledge, given the continued explosion of internet use, there is no single investment that you can make in your organization that has the potential for positive returns that your strategic web presence does. Take advantage of what is out there for you, when executed properly, you will be impressed with the results achieved. If you don' will cost you!

We're at the edge of the future!

Andy Xhignesse

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Website Design Do It Yourself Options

This is a different direction for me because normally I want to provide you with reasons that would encourage you to use professionally outsourced website design and development services. But (this is a big but) I've come to the realization that there are those of you who might just be better off doing this yourself. Afterall as so many people have told me, there are many resources now available online that will allow you to build a fully functioning and visitor friendly website. In this intallment I'd like to offer a plan for you if this is the route you want to go.

Step 1- Make a plan. You know what your website is about so all you need to do is make a plan that should include: site design plan, content development ideas, idea market research, competitor analysis, website marketing plan and optimization strategy and tactics, conversions desired, content management system requirements, email management and marketing requirements, client relationship development requirements, process automation needs, background database application development. This will provide you with a sound platform to move forward with.

Step 2- Define and allocate adequate resources to the project development. Again, you know what your website is about so all you have to do is decide who within your organization is going to take on the responsibility for each of the above mentioned plan elements. Depending on the competency and experience of the person who is undertaking one or more of the elements outlined in Step 1, I would allocate anywhere from 1-5 planning hours for each item for a total range of between 12 and 60 hours planning time.

Step 3- Build the website. Again, depending on the level of expertise (at a minimum you should have someone who is reasonably competent with a design program like Dreamweaver, much better to have someone competent in a variety of web programming languages) available within your organization, you should probably count on a minimum of 2 weeks to as much as several weeks to ensure that the page SEO tasks are properly done, the content is credible, coherent and well laid out for easy navigation etc. This will vary depending on the level of sophistication you've decided on. For example, if you are implementing database program applications such as email or client relationship management tools, you'll need to allow significantly more time, particularly as this will be your first design build project of this kind.

Step 4- Review the website and correct as needed. Programs like Dreamweaver or Front Page are notorious for creating websites that have W3C compliance issues so that your website visitors may have significant problems viewing your webpages properly, or the applications you've developed won't run properly. Again, depending on the expertise available and the complexity allow 3 days to several weeks for this process.

Great! You're done until you want to do some updates and you've only had to take...whoa. Hang on a second, I really didn't realize this, you've just created a project outside of your core competency area that will probably take 3 to 8 weeks person time to complete and the outcome is not guaranteed to be what you wanted!

OK, I did realize what was happening in my blog entry here. My point? How much time, energy and effort does your business save your clients? What value do you offer them? Could they do it themselves? Maybe they could, but does their investment in time and capital resources justify the outcome?

How much is a do it yourself website really going to cost you?

We're at the edge of the future!

Andy Xhignesse

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Content is content...not!

So we'll stay on the theme of content again today. Why, because it's important to get this right if it is going to accomplish what you've set out to do...most SEO efforts will go unrewarded by increased visitor 'stickiness', the CMS you had developed for your site will be of little value because it is not being used effectively, so now the CRM is worthless because you aren't getting the conversions you started out seeking. The database aplication on which everything is based doesn't have to do anything because of low traffic...the whole effort and expense of your website design and development plan is a waste and your ROI is in the tank! Well developed content is critically important.

What constitutes good content? It starts with a methodology for development in my view. (This applies to all website development, make certain your 'online partner' has some sort of process to get you where you want to go.) This is not some big secret it just takes time and effort to get it done effectively. Any good website design and development firm should be able to clearly describe to you the process they will use in your content development and when they've described their method, you should feel good about what they plan to do, if not, look for another service provider. By the way, this is why you pay a premium to work with professionals, this is some of the work that goes on behind the scene that you are probably not aware of unless you specifically ask. Here are the steps I try to follow when developing content:

1- Understand client business model and objectives;
2- Clarify desired audience;
3- Understand audience need and relationship to client business ojectives;
4- Determine relevance of client provided keywords and phrases;
5- Investigate related terms;
6- Create content in an hourglass format, with keywords and phrases sprinkled throughout but heaviest near the top and bottom of a page;
7- Review with client to establish if the voice and feel is right and re-work if necessary.

That's it! Simple isn't it? Of course it helps to have some practice and to know where there are resources to investigate these things, but like anything, your time and effort will pay off. Your SEO will drive people to a website that has 'sticky' content that engages your visitor audience, so that any website design and development work, your CMS, CRM and web based applications, all accomplish the tasks they were designed to and your ROI is...beyond your expectations!

We're at the edge of the future!

Andy Xhignesse

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What we don't know

When it comes to the internet, you can always make the decision to do nothing, and gain nothing from the opportunities for growth, efficiency and profitability for your company...but there are millions of people using the internet now, what is your decision costing your business?

Three wisest words my Dad ever taught me? "I don't know." It's sometimes hard to admit that we don't know something, but in the dynamic world of the internet and web applications, more often than not, we don't know, and it's important to accept this truth. Why? Simply put, there are more opportunities for your business to grow and prosper, more applications that will streamline your business operations, investments that you can make for your business that will have among the highest ROI of any you can make for your business, than have ever existed before as a result of the internet and web based applications. If you've now accepted that you "don't know", what is it that you need to know?

You need to know that there are great companies out there who want to work with you and marry their expertise in the online world, with your bricks and mortar world offering, to achieve what you want whether that's better online visibility,communication or service, maybe you want to streamline operations and or processing to prevent scalability issues. Whatever you want to achieve, the right partner can get you there. By the way, another thing you need to know is this is a process that is ongoing, don't imagine that this partner is going to do something and be done, a true partner for you recognizes the long-term nature of this process, there are benchmarks along the way, but no final events!

What else? Ah yes, you also need to know that there are companies who really don't see the larger picture, or have a paln how to get you there, and here is the need to know the difference between the two. Trust your instincts. This isn't a decision that's irreversible but taking the time to get the match right is worth it, it will save you a tremendous amount of time and financial resources.

I repeat, you can always stay the course, not make a decision, and really gain nothing from the web and all it has to offer in the way of growth, efficiency and profitability...but there are millions of people using the internet, what is your decision costing your business?

We're at the edge of the future!

Andy Xhignesse