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Become cream of the corporate crop

Article from Internet Works

UK Corporate Web sites are in a sorry state, according to a recent BBC Training & Development study. What must an e-business do to become the cream of the Internet crop?

Q: UK Corporate Web sites are in a sorry state, according to a recent BBC Training & Development study. What must an e-business do to become the cream of the Internet crop?

Charmaine De Souza
New Media
Learning Executive,
BBC Training & Development

A: Our research investigated some of the basic dos and don’ts of Web site design, from using distracting backgrounds and gimmicky animation, to featuring broken or one-way links. These are the basic rules, yet there’s more fundamental lessons to be learned. If we are to be successful in meeting the government’s ambition of becoming ‘the world’s best place to trade electronically’, companies need to learn more about how their audiences act online, and what their expectations are. For instance, some companies wrongly assume that, because they are using the Internet, their visitors don’t value more personal communication. Yet many use the Internet to explore their options before picking up the phone. If your site is one of the 77 per cent in our study that doesn’t feature your company phone number you will be automatically knocking yourself out of the frame.

The killer point
As we enter the broadband age, fast click culture has never been so discriminating. With the millions of Web sites vying for attention, companies need to ensure that their sites stand out from the pack and encourage return visits.

Simon Calver
General Manager and Vice President,
Home and Small Business Division,
Dell UK & Ireland

A: Too many Web sites are set up as a ‘tick in the box’, with little thought about the benefit to the business. The first questions a company should ask are – ‘what is the purpose of this Web site? Sales? Information source? Tech support?’ These factors are vital to the aesthetics and components of the site. It’s the public window and will only be successful if it’s user friendly and evolves alongside customer requirements. Every successful Web site needs a business model and facilities need to be in place to measure success and manage change. Dell runs its Web site as a business for numerous functions: customer care, technical support and sales. Dell.co.uk is the first point of contact for many customers and is as valuable to us as any retail store would be. If run correctly, a Web site can provide a much better customer experience at a fraction of the cost of a bricks ‘n’ mortar business model.

The killer point
If you’re serious about your Web presence set goals, design the site so that it’s easy to navigate and ensure you have facilities to measure success and manage change.

Paul Blunden
Sales and Marketing
Director of The Usability Company

A: Many of us are familiar with the frustrations so often encountered on the Web. Dead links, confusing icons, unfathomable navigation systems, and unnecessary flash animations are just some of the ways to drive away visitors. Once we’ve encountered these problems at a site, few of us return. Yet common sense would tell you that a Web site should allow visitors to accomplish their goals with the minimum of fuss, time and effort. So why does this prove so difficult in its execution? Too often, designers achieve their goals with a design process that seeks to impose order on a project’s disparate elements – regardless of the consequences for the user. Yet the decisive factor in a Web site’s success is the user’s online experience. In order for a Web site project to produce maximum return on investment, you need a design process that has usability built-in to consider the user’s experience, and for the site to survive.

The killer point
Usability is the crucial criteria for an Internet project’s success or failure, and a ‘user centred design’ approach to site creation ensures that usability is built in the moment a site goes live.

Chris Hewitt
managing Director at Berkeley PR

A Many corporate Web sites have far too much emphasis put on technical innovation and design, and this is often at the expense of clear and effective communication. There are simply too many designers in a market where many customers don’t really understand what they need their site to do, which leads to vast amounts of emphasis on having a presence, rather than continued updating and development. As long as they’ve ticked the box which says, ‘I’ve got a Web site’, they are happy. Too many companies have wasted huge sums of money on ‘hit and hope’ marketing tactics.

The killer point
For many businesses, running a Web site is becoming much like getting your car repaired – there are too many cowboys, everyone’s an expert, and there’s too little emphasis on customer service and ongoing support.

Alex Fry
Managing Director of JKD

A: The key to success with any site is defining the objectives beforehand. Many corporations allow agencies or in-house teams to begin work without any idea of what will make the site a success. Questions such as ‘who will be responsible for it?’, ‘who will be the target audience?’, and ‘what does the company want to communicate?’, should be asked to support the project objectives. To their detriment, many organisations are prepared to leave responsibility for the company’s global communications portal with junior staff or people with no experience of communicating on a corporate or consumer level. And without a senior manager, how can a company ensure that the corporate brand values are maintained? The key to success is to decide what you want to do, how you’re going to do it and then put somebody with enthusiasm and experience in charge.

The killer point
Flashturbation is the use of Flash to hide the fact that a site contains little content, services or useful info – and this only pleases designers. To please users, consider your objectives and audience requirements (and don’t use Flash)
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