TalkBack Central: How to add value to your corporate Web site

COMMENTARY--You have a Web site. Now you are looking for ways to make it add value to your company.

COMMENTARY--You have a Web site. Now you are looking for ways to make it add value to your company. Here are eight simple things you can do to help get your site off to a good start. These same principles apply even if your site is mature--all you have to do is give it the "test."

1. Objectives: Before you start (or even after you have started), test your objectives. What do you want the corporate site to do? Make sales? Fine. Talk to investors? Great! Serve as a conduit of information to employees? Good. All of the above? Big order, but doable. The point is that none of these will be achieved unless they are recognized and planned for up-front.

2. Audience: To underestimate your visitors would be the misuse of a tremendous corporate resource. If you think of the Web site as a corporate cable channel--a CNN, for example--it may be easier to get a handle on the wide array of audiences available to the company.

While sales may be paramount, employees will--and should--tune in, too. The same goes for vendors. And if you are a public company, investors should not be ignored in the mix. They should be welcomed and embraced.

3. Usability: Will there be barriers to getting the needed information from your site? If there are, your first objectives are defeated from the outset. Site usability is paramount to attracting and holding visitors. Studies show that people will bail out after a minute if the homepage is not all revealing in that time. Load time of the homepage is tougher--20 seconds at most. In terms of design and navigation, remind your Webmaster to keep it simple.

4. Content: There's no question that Web site visitors crave something new. They also want to believe the Web site is actively managed, not just sitting there as a stale brochure. But, you say, corporate information doesn't change very much. Neither does the encyclopedia, but has done a marvelous job of energizing its Web site with new material, ranging from book reviews to current news. What's the potential for a corporation featuring some updated information related to its line of business? Big potential.

5. Contact source: Inevitably, a visitor will need to contact someone in charge of official business from the Web site. This probably will not be a technical matter for the Webmaster. It will be a sales question or complaint, a product inquiry or a request for investor materials. It is essential that the corporate site has not one but multiple e-mail sources as points of contact for each of these questions. Telephone numbers will not do. E-mail is critical for corporate credibility. Since the questioner has already visited the site, to switch gears and require a different method of communications will not inspire confidence.

6. Post clear policies: It is essential for today's corporate Web site to have and to post a Privacy Policy. If other policies are in effect, such as disclosures for investing in stocks or purchasing goods and services, it's critical to have these as well. Web visitors will not respond well to being burned once; they will not at all stand for being burned twice. Policies must be clearly posted with links with the homepage for corporate credibility, and the policies themselves must be foolproof.

7. Security: Hack me once, the man said, and shame on you. Hack me twice, and shame on me. No Web site is immune to hacking. But once hacked, what is there to do? Admit it and state how the problem was not a problem or how it will be fixed. Amazing are the number of corporate Web sites that once broken into neither confirm no deny anything happened.

8. Prepare to evolve: The World Wide Web is a living thing. Similarly, the corporate Web site must always be in a state of evolution. In addition to new products or services, the site faces a range of new technical promises. The best advice is to beware of the flashy new idea. Instead, it's more prudent to stick to the basics. A decent-looking, fast-loading, informative site will be imminently more productive than the latest "fancy" technique. But within the context of conservatism, it's important to keep abreast of the needs and desires of employees, vendors, investors and customers. All of these audiences, not just one of them, will help determine the fortunes of the company--not to mention the Web site itself.

William Dupuy is president and editor of LeFile.Com, a Webzine focused on best practices for the corporate Web site. A crisis management expert, his career has included senior management positions in corporate communications, investor relations and marketing. As a PR agency executive, he has counseled CEOs and senior management of a dozen public companies and has authored some 70 corporate annual reports.

Disclaimer: 'Your Turn' is a commentary column written by a ZDNet News reader. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, not those of ZDNet, ZDNet News nor its editors.

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