Anticlue posted a five stage timeline of Internet Business Maturity. Today I’d like to focus on the first stage which they call Publish. This is the way that most organizations enter the Web. They create a static brochure that has Home page, an About Us page, a Contact Page, perhaps a map, and maybe a few pages of static content describing products or services. I call these types of sites Brochure Sites. They are essentially the online equivalent of the three-fold brochures you see by the receptionist’s desk.
Now before anyone objects, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Creating a Brochure Site gives an organization a rudimentary Web presence. People can find a phone number or e-mail address to get more information. And for some companies this is all they need. Their products and services may not lend themselves to e-commerce. However, in most cases a brochure site is the first tentative step into the world of online data sharing and interaction. Hopefully, the lessons learned in getting that first site up will help in advancing to sites with true interaction with the users using dynamic content customized to users. As the web site advances it can be incorporated into diverse business functions from sales and marketing to live online tech support and collaborative projects.
But what about creating effective Brochure Sites? What can be done to make sure that the first steps onto the World Web Web aren’t detrimental to the organization. If the Brocure Site looks shoddy and unprofessional it reflects poorly on the competency of the company, regardless of the industry. If it isn’t designed to meet accessibility guidelines it can alienate part of the early online audience. If it is confusing to use, contains incorrect information, or is neglected it can actually hurt business rather than help it. Negative user experiences lead to negative perceptions that spread quickly and can be hard to erase later on.
So if you are contemplating that jump onto the Web make sure that you take the time to find someone who is knowledgeable and experienced enough to guide you through the process and help you avoid the many potential pitfalls. Ask questions and expect clear answers. Ask how the site will be meet your business needs. Ask how much it will cost to build and maintain. Ask who will maintain it. Ask how the design of the site will be tied to your brand and graphic identity. Look at your competitors sites to see what they are doing well and what they are doing wrong. Ask how you can incorporate those lessons into your site design.
And finally, put yourself in your customers shoes and ask what they would be looking for when they come to your site. It may be your phone number, store locations, prices, hours, or many other things but whatever that is make it easy to find. Don’t ever try to hide information from people to draw them in, be up front and make your site user friendly and the people who visit it will reward you.