To keep pace with changing user expectations and Web advancements, businesses must combine branding and site design to create a user-oriented experience, say Web designers and a market analyst.
In today's Web 2.0 digital landscape, good corporate Web sites can no longer simply be static online brochures carrying news and information about the company.
Suresh Gunasagaran, director of Web design company Interactive@OOm, told ZDNet Asia that while there are various characteristics and capabilities that make a good corporate Web site, the overall goal should always be about giving users a positive experience when they visit a company's official site.
Robin Ng, senior account manager at Oasis Interactive, which provides interactive Web design services, noted that while a good corporate Web site should visibly represent its corporate branding, it needs to also integrate customer requirements into the schematics of the Web site.
Ng explained: "Brand and design needs to work in tandem. Being too fixated with the corporate brand guidelines creates obstructions to [developing] the right schematic flow unto the Web site."
Andy Croll, Web designer from Deepcalm, stressed that any corporate Web site must reflect the nature of the business in question, be it a somber large organization or a spunky startup.
Frank Su, design director of Wishbone Design Consultants, added that a Web site should be constantly updated with relevant information. Providing pipeline information also allows users to know the company's latest growth and projects, and help develop trust between the company and its customers, Su said in an e-mail.
Benjamin Cavender, associate principal of China Market Research (CMR), noted that site navigation should be "simple and obvious" because more people are now not accessing sites directly. Rather, they often end up on the site by clicking on a link posted by their friends and contacts on social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, Cavender said.
He stressed that any good corporate Web site today must have very clear and well-organized navigation since consumers are not entering via the main or homepage.
Furthermore, with mobile Web surfing on the rise, he added that companies need to ensure their corporate site is easy to navigate, not just from a desktop or laptop, but also from smaller devices with less screen real estate.
Social media good, but only if necessary
According to Gunasagaran, social media elements have also come into the mix and corporate Web sites should now include these platforms because they allow a company's target audience "to connect together" and get updates about a company and its services.
Ng also supports the use of social media on corporate Web sites because these networks give visitors the power to locate and engage an organization.
"Companies should see this is a great opportunity to engage Netizens with their brand beliefs and [provide] good feedback channels for open and honest, two-way interaction," he said.
Ng suggested that enterprises add social-sharing buttons on their corporate Web site. This makes it easier for visitors to share the site's content and ultimately, helps spread the word onto popular networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, he said.
Croll, however, noted that social media should be included only if it is part of how a company runs its business.
"Social media is not about campaigns, it's about honest and open communication," he explained. If a company intends to use social media to interact with its customers, it must be able to deal with any issue an open and flexible communication channel will bring to its company, Croll cautioned.
Wishbone's Su concurred: "Users are more sophisticated and educated. They expect to see a professional Web site and expect it to work flawlessly. They need to engage and share content from within the Web site, and be inspired and engaged reading the content."
Ng also pointed out that the evolution of consumers' expectations and technology has caused a great change in the overall package of a corporate Web site.
"During the Web 1.0 era, the expectation of a corporation's Web site was just an e-brochure," he said. "Then, in Web 2.0, the expectation was to see the e-brochure become interactive content."
Today, he noted, corporate Web sites are expected to be all of these, as well as provide channels of communication between customers and brands.
Ultimately, Ng advised that companies "do not fire and forget" after a Web site is launched and not keep tabs on it.
"Not even the best gurus get it right the first time", he said, noting that while there should be guidelines, it is a good practice to always keep an open mind for deviations.
The executives ZDNet Asia spoke to offered five top tips companies should be bear in mind when building a corporate Web site.Know what users really want
"Most users are not interested in the minutia of your corporate structure, they care about what you can do for them," said Croll. Most importantly, companies need to work out what information consumers want and outline the data clearly on the site, he added.
However, they should first identify what content to put on their Web sites.
Ng warned that if companies try to squeeze everything to make the corporate site appear big and impressive, it could end up achieving the opposite. Instead, he suggested that enterprises make use of analytics to identify information that are popular and paths that visitors take when they navigate a site. This helps determine the optimal content per density per page, allowing sufficient white space and prevent clutter, he added.Make loading fast
And while Internet connections are improving, companies cannot neglect consumers who still lack broadband or high-speed access, said CMR's Cavender. For example, if a site is heavy on its use of Flash, it could potentially drive customers away before they actually see anything, the analyst said.
The bottom line, Interactive@OOm's Gunasagaran said is that "nobody wants to wait 5 minutes to load a site".Mobile Web: less is more
To ensure smooth loading via lower bandwidth, Su said lighter imagery should be used. Hence, he recommended that corporate Web sites have a streamlined mobile version to cater to this huge and growing audience.
Deepcalm's Croll added that because more people are using their smartphones to consume Web content, companies should stick to providing only relevant and important corporate information when serving information to mobile devices.Brand consistency
Wishbone's Su said a consistent style helps maintain the continuity of a Web site, creating an overall image that best represents the company.
Ng from Oasis Interactive added that such consistency should be extended even to typography and color codes, which are especially important if there are overseas versions of the corporate Web site.Use established Web standards
As people today user multiple devices, other than the PC, to access the Web, Croll pointed out that by using established Web standards, a company can best ensure compatibility with new or updated Web browsers as well as different form factors such as the screen size of a smartphone versus a PC.