stage 1: the online
This is where your website resembles a brochure.
It is attractive, well written, and informative about what you do.
The important point is that like a brochure it is unlikely to be
read twice by the same person. This may not matter where the purpose
is to give background information, and encourage the visitor to
contact you to do business. Once a business relationship is begun,
the website no longer plays a part of the relationship.
The website is for new business only. It acts as a way that a potential
client can perform some due diligence on you, or your company. We have
all done just that: taken a quick look at someone's website. It
gives a good measure of the business, besides (hopefully) letting
you know what it is that they do, and what makes them different.
By looking at the quality of writing and quality of design you get
a measure of how professional are they.
Any competent web designer can build a brochure website. Their failing
is that once the website is built, it requires you to contact the design
company to make changes to the content. Usually brochure websites
become out of date the minute they are approved - certainly within
their first 12 months. After which, it is time to start the exercise
of commissioning a new one, as you will find your business has changed
considerably and your website is now a source of embarrassment.
pros: (can be) inexpensive, web designers take care of everything.
cons: requires contact with web designer to update, sell-by-date passes
quickly, may be more expensive in the long run.
done well: can be an inexpensive extension to your business card.
done badly: is often over designed (form over function), badly organised, out-of-date,
embarassing, and you have no idea where the designer is who originally
stage 2: the basic
This is where your website is linked to a
content management system (CMS), which allows you to update the content
of the website yourself. The website is still a brochure but should
be by definition more up-to-date to reflect onging changes in your
business. The CMS site allows you to quickly update your product
and service offerings, also your staff members (in or out). It allows
you to introduce elements like news, case studies, links, etc. which
a static brochure site would typically not have.
This site is still a brochure, but it is an all together more impressive
introduction to your company for the visitor who wants to know more
about your company.
A web designer may or may not be able to build a website and connect
it to a CMS. Many are specialist graphic designers and work with
other companies who can do the technical elements. The benefit to
you is that once the site is completed you have the freedom to update
the content yourself. You only need to go back to the designer for
design changes, or new features. You control the content. The downside
is you now need to update the website yourself and not allow it
to look dated.
pros: relatively inexpensive, web designers do the initial build and content
population, leaving you to do maintenance only. This site is more
impressive to the visitor as it is more up-to-date and relevent.
cons: potential clients are still only likely to visit once, but a CMS
site will cost more to build.
done well: a CMS site will be well maintained with regular turnover in content.
It will never look dated.
done badly: the content will get out-of-date because there is no strategy in
place to manage the content. Visitors are likely to notice.
stage 3: the CRM site
This is where your website is linked to a content
management system (CMS), which allows you to publish content to
the web, but it is also capturing data from visitors - in the
form of enquiries, registrations, sign ups, purchases, etc. This
is the CRM angle, where CRM stands for customer relationship management.
This data is being used later to contact the visitor / customer
again - usually by broadcast email - and drive / entice them back
to the site for more.
This site is now more than a brochure, it is a means of communicating
with your customers. It is a system that generates its own returning
traffic, and referral visitors. Data that is captured should be
profiled so that communication is not blanket, but targetted to
groups with similar interests. The more a communication speaks
directly to your customer, the closer they will get to you and your company.
Now the skills being asked of the web designer are becomming more
specialist. But the tools are not the full story, you
will need to know how to use them effectively. Writing content and
then sending out emails about it is easy enough but to generate
repeat traffic of interested customers who do not feel turned
off by your marketing efforts, requires careful planning and consideration.
pros: you have the tools to be a
marketeer. You can update your website and tell the world about
cons: you have to learn to use the
tools effectively. You have to generate useful content, newsletters,
and manage your contact list.
done well: your website rapidly
builds its own traffic of repeat visitors. This is translated
into referrals and repeat business. The website complements and
enhances your brick & mortar operation.
done badly: you alienante and bother
your customers by spamming them with uninteresting blanket emails.
The content is not fresh enough to warrant repeat visits. Former
customers black list your website.
stage 4: the e-commerce engine
At this stage a significant amount of your business
(if not all) is derived from the Internet. Your CMS is connected
to your supply chain management. You CRM software tracks buyer
trends and tells you who are your most important referal customers.
You are linked to payment gateways, shipping APIs, and increasingly
sophisticated reporting software.
You regularly analyse your website's traffic reports to see what
campaigns are successful, and which are not. You regularly turnover
your content. What remains depends on what attracts the most eyeballs,
and the most revenue. You live by better Search Engine Optimization
(SEO), and how you rate against your competitors over common search
key words. You advertise.
You have a budget allocation for Google Adwords, and you have a
Google Affiliates programme, where potentially thousands of related
3rd party websites are posting ads for your products.
pros: a business on your desktop.
There are many inexpensive tools at your disposal which any sales
and marketing department would love to have.
cons: expensive and it can all go
wrong. Right tools in the wrong hands will still be a disaster.
There has to be a well thought through business strategy. This
is a responsibility, and the Internet never sleeps.
done well: you are successful, and
sell out, or IPO, or copy the methodology and turn out repeat
online ventures until you retire (early). You are a dot commer
done badly: you burn through a lot
of cash. The site goes belly up. You run off and start another
site but this time with a plan.
what stage of evolution
is your website at?
Websites have evolved rapidly since the invention
of the Internet - more rapidly we can suppose than any other media.
In this short space of time a basic heirarchy has emerged - what
we call the 4 stages of web presence.
Each stage has its characteristics, each stage is perfectly valid
depending on your objectives for the world wide web... and each
can be done well, or done badly.