Ten things your web sites should be doing
December 15, 2004 at 8:53 PM
Rather than posting about my web predictions for 2005 or rambling off a list of products or tools you must have, etc. I have decided that this year I will post a list of things you should have or be doing on your web site or Intranet. After all, we are living in a modern world, it's time your web sites start acting like it.
- Offering regularly updated information (blogs, CMSs, etc.)
- Increased efficiency in news and information distribution (RSS, ATOM, etc.)
- Alternative methods of information distribution (email newsletters, RSS, del.icio.us, etc.)
- Enhanced notification and announcement systems (pings, email alerts, etc.)
- A place for your site's users to offer feedback and input (blog comments, forums, etc.)
- Improved performance and code optimization (CSS, XHTML, etc.)
- Multiple ways to access information (multi-faceted navigation, folksonomies, etc.)
- Intelligent system to system communication (XML, SOAP, etc.)
- Collaborative communication and documentation (Wikis, blogs, etc.)
- On-demand support feedback (user-driven FAQs, click-to-chat, etc.)
If some of this sounds foreign to you, perhaps it's time to start re-thinking how your business's web solutions are being implemented and begin working smarter, not harder. Pick one from the list, start thinking about how it can help your business. Set some goals and a plan for its roll-out. Be reasonable and practical, you don't need to implement all of these things in all cases, but a few may do your business a lot of good.
"Alternative methods of information distribution (email newsletters, RSS, del.icio.us, etc.)" I am curious, how do you see del.icio.us fitting into a method for distribution?
Well, people can subscribe to your del.icio.us account's RSS feed, can't they? So you could del.icio.us interesting links (possibly all from your own site, if you've got lots of content), and let people pick them up that way. Or something.
Although I do not directly disagree with the above list, I would like to know why it is good business. How does Wikis, del.icio.us, SOAP etc. perform in terms of "return of investment" (ROI)? To give you an example: Adding a blog to a company's website is not a simple task. You need somebody how can write the blog entries, you need editors and, in some cases, you need somebody to publish the articles. The number of people involved in this varies greatly with the size of the company - but it is far from cheap. Also adding a blog is in itself not the solution - a blog never generates revenue, just as a TV appearance does not generate revenue. It is the content of the blog (or what you say on TV) that can make a difference. If you are unable write entries that are interesting enough for your audience, you are much better off using that money on other media or sale channels.
I'm with Thomas. This post sounds more like a sales pitch than useful advice. Some of the items make perfect sense on a global scale (everybody should use CSS/semantic HTML) while others have less of an impact depending on the site. A house painter has a web site... does he need a SOAP/XMLRPC interface? RSS Feeds? Wikis? Heck, even a blog seems like overkill. He doesn't need to build an audience. People go to his site to find out contact information, maybe some referrals, and pricing. We need to be careful to recommend technology purely for technology's sake. There must be a purpose for it.
Thomas: perhpas you should look at precieved value here instead of typical revenue streams. For example, while a blog may not "make money" unless you flood it with google ads and paid-for-blog posts, it does provide value to the company as a method of establishing itself as a thought leader within the industry, or at the very least a presence within the industry. Which, natrually is more than those hundreds of other companies out there who don't have a blog. Why does that matter? Well, look at it this way, if I am an expert in my field and x company starts a blog that interests me, I will probably frequently visit... if the posts are good enough I may even link the information every so often... and if the ideas are really good enough I may be more interested in working for the company. So it's a way to increase visiability in the marketplace, and a way to attract expertise to a company. Those are just examples of some ways a blog will help give some form of ROI to the company. Honestly, if you don't know the ROI benefits of a blog you really should be going to some of the workshops and conferences out there on the subject. Some I would recommend are the Blog Business Summit, and BlogCon. Personally, I don't care if you don't want to go, this isn't a sales pitch list.. it's simply stating the obvious as far as what the user's needs are for company web sites (both Internet and Intranet). As for the comment about not being able to write for the web. Well, I am sorry, if a company's marketing team or PR staff can't write for the web by now they should be fired. Seriously. The web is a as much of a primary media channel as newspaper ads are today and if a company is going to ignore that I have no simpathy for them if they don't make it. As far as a TV appearance not generating revenue, I agree. It doesn't generate it, it leads to it. Just ask Jerry Seinfield. hehe. Jonathan: I agree about the house painter. But when is the last time you knew a house painter that was a one man company and not a 16 year old boy? Note: I am not saying that one's company web site should be doing all of these things, but at least some... and I am specifically refering to real-world companies... this means something beyond the kid working to make some summer money, and something beyond the one man band.
The last time I knew a house painter that was a one man company was just a couple weeks ago. We got quotes from a couple companies (both one man shows). " and I am specifically refering to real-world companies... " I'm not sure what you mean by "real-world company". Do you consider yourself a real-world company? As far as I can tell from your site, you're just a one man band. Now, what if I run a construction company that does road construction? Considering 90% of my workforce doesn't even need a computer and I get all my projects through government bids, how could I make use of any of the items you mentioned? Or am I not a real-world company? Now, I'm not saying that a company shouldn't think about this stuff. Like you said, a company's web site needn't do all those things. But it's important not to find something to build just because we have the tools.
Jonathan: Please re-read my post at the very top of this page. I am talking about companies that already have a web presence and want to improve upon it. You scenarios here are for companies who don't have a web precence, dont need one, or don't have much use for one. Those kind of companies I am affraid will always be, for the most part, off-line.
"Increased efficiency in news and information distribution (RSS, ATOM, etc.)" Has it been shown someplace that offering RSS/ATOM/etc has shown a net increase in traffic to a website? Last I had heard, RSS was causing a general downward trend in visits. Originally I had thought about implementing an RSS feed for my website but after reading that people were seeing decreased traffic after implementation, I have thought otherwise.
With new technology in the actual browsers such as Firefox's "live bookmarks" where you can read the headlines of a "news" site in the bookmark area of the browser will make RSS feeds more popular. Once the public understands how to use them. The mean must justify the end. If the content justifies the use of new technology, then it should be available. Anyone working as a professional web developer should be able to offer these 10 solutions to their clients. If you can not then you should look into them and viable options to offer and learn how to implement the technology if needed. I found the article interesting and informative. Your all right, maybe not necesary for every client. But we all should be able to offer these 10 things should a client need them.
Shane: yes, actually. What I have discovered is a significant drop-off of users which is directly proportional to the market's RSS adoption rate for that given site. For example, say I am in the metal fabrication industry, and say over the course of a month 50% of the industry adopts RSS and begins reading various industry related information via RSS feeds. This is the point at which sites who are not offering RSS start to see about a 40% to 50% drop-off in visits. It's not about "growing" an audience as much as it is about "retaining" one.
Nick, Thank you for your reply. I do know the value of a good blog or the other technologies you mention - and I do know ROI of these things (it is my job :o)) My comment was merely meant as a request for focus on business instead of technology - the solution instead of the tool. None of the things you mention can create a solution in itself. These are just tools - excellent ones, no doubt - but without people and business goals none of them really matters. I never had a goal that stated "I want RSS". I do have a goal that state "I want to communicate with my audience the way they prefer". To reach my goal I must look at cost vs. benefit - the ROI. An RSS feed is one of them, but there are many other tools on the market too. If you have an unlimited budget, use them all - if not, use whatever tool that has the greatest effect.
Thomas: This is mostly why the list is a list of items such as "Increased efficiency in news and information distribution" ...the things that follow in parens are just suggestions as to what tools may be used for this problem.
Maybe the list can be taken into account by the people who make the systems we use to make websites. Build the functionality into the foundation of our websites creation tools.
Hey everyone, I have just a few brief comments. First, a painter can most definitely use an RSS feed. His purpose would be to maintain an awareness in his customer's mind about his company. He could offer weekly tips, articles on painting/home-decor, and if he doesn't like to write, go surfing! That's right, I like the idea of combining on online bookmarking service with RSS. As the company owner/painter-guy surfs around finding useful content for his customers, he bookmarks it, they subscribe to his RSS feed, and he maintains their attention on his company by providing a constant flow of valuable content. This approach can work for nearly any business, from dog groomers to doctors. As far as maintaining a blog/rss feed, to me it's just part of business, like maintaining the books - you find a way. Blogging/RSS is a relatively easy thing to do. I find that when I talk to some corporate folks, they want to complicate it by turning it into a committee-run/bureaucratic mess. It always amazes me how something as simple as a headline and short message can be brought to its knees by the corporate machine. As for Blogging/RSS and traffic, my personal observations are that 'physical' visits to my site have not really been affected, but even if they were, who cares! Customers/propects are still getting my content via RSS - I still have their attention! Not only that, but with RSS, my content can be syndicated on practically any other site in the world. THAT alone makes it a worthwhile content distribution channel. That's it for me! :) Derek
According to my opinion a corporate website does not need a blog.
What do you meen by this: Multiple ways to access information (multi-faceted navigation, folksonomies, etc.) Could you elaborate please?
Covenant: There are a few articles out there on this subject, Jeff Veen of Adaptive Path has one called Faucet Facets: A Few Best Practices for Designing Multifaceted Navigation Systems. There is also A Primer on Faceted Navigation and Guided Navigation by Steve Papa of Endeca. Another is Use of Faceted Classification by Heidi P. Adkisson. It boils down to using faceted classifications as navigation in one form or another such as how we have here at Digital Web Magazine (see my previous post about this).
One thing your web sites should not be doing… To have, like this page, an alt tag 400px long, for image 100px wide. Good browsers today disable images by single click. Try.
I am not sure what graphic you are referring to in specific, but I am guessing you are seeing that kind of alt attribute value in the advertisements found on this site. Perhaps approaching the advertiser to reduce the verbiage in their ad's alt attribute value (and it is an attribute, not a tag, just FYI) would be a better and more effective method?
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