Meeting the Needs of Today’s Corporate Web Sites

Simplicity rules. Seventy percent of those questioned recently by Jupiter Media Metrix indicated that if they can’t find what they want quickly on a Web site they leave, no matter how eye-catching the animations. Browsing is out. Hunting is in.

In a world awash in information, busy people are honing their own hunting skills. They are learning how to bypass traditional media and identify alternative online sources that provide compelling and credible data, especially in health and financial matters. Going directly to the source often means visiting corporate Web sites for information. Like it or not, the Internet just put you or your client in the media business.

The biggest corporate marketers in the United States have seized this basic principle. They understand that they can reach their customers, investors, journalists, and other audiences by parlaying the existing credibility of their brands or by providing compelling content that builds relationships. I call this concept “reverse placement.” The power of media placement lies in its ability to project credibility. With “reverse placement,” you bypass traditional media and transfer credibility back to your site.

A few years ago, Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen conducted a study to determine what characteristics make content effective. He asked his volunteers to read five versions of site content and then asked questions to test speed and comprehension. His results dramatically demonstrated that site visitors react more favorably to information they view as objective rather than promotional.

Hyperbole and emotion, two major tools of the advertising trade, do not work in “reverse placement.” Instead, consumers want information from sources they trust and value regardless of bias. To get consumers to your site, you need to meet three challenges:

Brand editorship. Do you have the journalistic sensibilities to make your content credible and compelling? Cyber Dialogue recently noticed that 60 percent of people who viewed an advertisement and sought more information turned to a company Web site. Marketing is about promises. Use your Web site to supply the proof.

Design. If you build it and they come, will they find what they want? In most cases, the primary purpose of graphic design is to establish corporate identity. But the Internet is both a visual medium and a system of information storage. People judge Web sites not only by the content itself but by how well that content is presented. Understand the needs of your audiences, and organize information to reflect their intuitive hunting patterns.

Maintenance. Are you ready for the demands of a world defined by on-demand information? The excitement and frenetic activity that surrounds the development of a Web site often overshadows the demands that follow its launch. Successful Web sites need a technical infrastructure that allows for easy content maintenance, regardless of size and scope. Use databases to build pages, so you can modify content with a minimum of fuss or programming expertise. Add a middleware solution to your database, and you can call up specific content for multiple devices, such as wireless personal digital assistants and mobile phones.

Woody Allen once said that “80 percent of success is showing up.” Public relations professionals should heed his advice. When we reinforce our traditional-media-placement activities by transforming corporate Web sites into viable information centers, we do what comes naturally. We tell compelling stories. And in the end, nothing could be simpler than that.

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