A winning website starts with the basics

Friday, October 1, 2010

Biz Savvy

Focus should be on messaging, usability, personality, then design

Sacramento Business Journal – by Debi Hammond Contributing writer

Ah, the wonderful world of website design. A place where everyone you talk to is either an expert or knows someone who is. And a place where everyone wants to share the great deal they got on the design and development. And why not? I mean, it’s just one of the most important parts of your brand. The place where most of your customers and prospects will visit to learn more about you and your business.

The fact is many business owners are frustrated with their websites because they’ve put their brand in the hands of these so called “experts,” usually a graphic designer, or a website churn mill, where templates are applied to something that should be treated with the utmost care and attention to detail.

After all, your website is an extension of your brand. It should reflect who you are today and what kind of company you want to be five years from now.

I’m not here to belittle or begrudge graphic designers or their craft, as they are absolutely an integral part of the process. But a website is so much more than aesthetics. A website is visual and it should be visually appealing, but the design should be the last phase of your website, not the first.

So, whether you’re getting ready to build a website from scratch or redesigning an existing one, follow these five steps to make it successful.

  • Messaging platform: Before you do anything online, be sure to develop a messaging platform so your website becomes a true extension of your brand. A messaging platform is a written illustration of your business and brand that should be used as a guide for copywriting and design.
  • Sitemap: A sitemap is a detailed top-down view of a website. Your site is only as good as its flow, architecture and functionality. A sitemap allows you to not only plan for today, but for tomorrow and beyond.
  • Copywriting: Like a designer, a good copywriter is an essential part of the process. But a designer is not a copywriter. It’s a profession and a skill set of a talented few. A website is an integral part of your brand, and your messaging, in all its forms, should come through in the writing as well as the visuals. So, if you’re building a website without a copywriter, you’ll likely wind up with beauty, but no brains.
  • Design and programming: We hear it all the time; a company is left at the mercy of a designer or agency for the simplest of updates. Before you embark on the design and programming of your website, determine what it is you want to accomplish. What needs to be updated and who will do it and how often? Is it imperative that your website be viewed on a smart phone? How will it integrate with your social media presence? A website can no longer serve as a static billboard online. In the world of social media it needs to be much more “social,” meaning updated regularly and connected to your overall online presence.
  • Personality: Yes, a talented designer can build some “personality” into your website, but the question is, whose personality is it? A brand has a personality and it needs to be conveyed visually (through the design), but more importantly through the voice (the copywriter). That voice should be directly reflected through the brand. Your brand personality is the most important part of your brand. It’s what differentiates you from the competition.

Your website and your approach to it say a lot about your organization. Today, companies seem to think it’s an addition to their marketing program instead of an integral part of it.

You know the old saying, fail to plan and you’ll plan to fail. So, don’t underestimate the power of the web, because if you do, you just might find yourself caught in it.

Debi Hammond is president and chief executive officer of Sacramento-based Merlot Marketing Inc. Reach her at debi@merlotmarketing.com.
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1 Comment
  1. Janet Osterdock
    October 15, 2010

    Good points, Debi. Thank you for sharing.

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