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Five Things to Think About Before You Launch Your Next Website

by Jonathan Kranz  |  
June 8, 2010

I can't help but mourn the number of sites I see that represent missed opportunities.

There may be nothing particularly "wrong" about the design, the underlying coding, or even the writing—but these websites aren't right, because they fail to connect with customers in any meaningful way (the way that ultimately brings customers to your door and cash to your register).

The root problem seems to be a lack of imagination that is further exacerbated by a poor understanding of the fundamentals. (Last year I wrote a blog post about a commercial website, that of Saddleback Leather Company, that really impressed me, because it suffers none of those shortcomings.)

If you're reviewing your own site—or working on one for a client—I encourage you to consider the following points.

1. Take your eyes off your competitors and put them where they belong: on your customers

Sure, you should take a glance at your competitors (hopefully, a backward one) from time to time. But too many enterprises initiate their Web efforts by reviewing their competitors' sites.

Without critical information about how well these sites perform, how can you know what's worth retaining or rejecting? Worse, competitor sites can be downright misleading. Too often, I've seen people reject exciting, potentially lucrative new ideas precisely because "no one else is doing it." Well, maybe that means it's a foolish idea. But maybe it means you can seize an opportunity others have overlooked.

The only way to know, or to make a reasonable guess, is to look at your customers—and I mean closely. How do they shop? How do they conduct research? What information do they need before they'll act, or even show interest? Which authorities do they trust? What encourages confidence and trust? Where do they "live," not just in flesh-life (hangouts, associations, communities) but in virtual-life? What media, traditional and online, do they read? Which bloggers do they follow? And where do they like to gather online (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.)?

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Jonathan Kranz is the author of Writing Copy for Dummies and a copywriting veteran now in his 21st year of independent practice. A popular and provocative speaker, Jonathan offers in-house marketing writing training sessions to help organizations create more content, more effectively.

LinkedIn: Jonathan Kranz

Twitter: @jonkranz

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  • by Sarah Mitchell Tue Jun 8, 2010 via web

    Hi Jonathan,

    I spend a lot of time working with graphic/web designers and writing web content. This is one of the smartest articles I've seen on the subject. The web designers that understand the importance of content develop the best websites, hands down.

    I particularly appreciate your analysis of the underlying business model. I haven't seen it described so succinctly. Thanks for that!

  • by Jonathan Kranz Tue Jun 8, 2010 via web

    Thanks Sarah! I'm very glad you enjoyed the article. Yeah, you'd think it'd be obvious to think about content BEFORE building the site. But unfortunately, too often that's not the way it's done. Lots of bass ackwards stuff out there.

  • by Scott Posner Tue Jun 8, 2010 via web

    Excellent article, Jonathan. As you've so clearly explained, it gets back to "what's the purpose of what we're doing?" and "what action do we want to motivate?" These are questions I continually ask myself and my clients at every development stage of a website, email campaign, or traditional print campaign. Because unless you're writing an acceptance speech, you're right, it's not about you. It's about them.

  • by Brian Hemsworth Tue Jun 8, 2010 via web

    Jonathan -

    Great piece. I, too, love the concept of seeing someone actually HAVE an underlying business model. Too many companies seem to have a "build it then figure it out" mentality.

    I've got a small content formula I've blogged about. I call it M-F-T. Find out what MATTERS to your website viewers, what they FEAR, and what they TREASURE. It works for me!

    Brian Hemsworth

  • by dette Wed Jun 9, 2010 via web

    Great post! I've been struggling with these issues for a while... thanks for clearing thins up for those like me :-)

    Thumbs up!

  • by Dustin Page Wed Jun 9, 2010 via web

    Nice article. Points 1-3 and 5 are good, but I feel you're a bit off with point 4.

    Content should be written first, but there needs to be give-and-take throughout the development process. The business objectives need to drive content, architecture and design. Once content is developed it should be reviewed with both the copywriter and the web designer/developer, preferably an information architect, at the table to determine how it fits into a Web site that gets visitors to do what you want them to do. Refining the content and architecture so it works together creates a powerful conversion funnel that achieves business objectives.

    Far too often content is converted into a Web site as is and we end up with what you referred to as “turning your corporate capabilities brochure into a Web site..." and then "all you've created is a reason for potential visitors to ignore you”. A Web site is not a linear piece of print; it’s dynamic and has the opportunity to offer rich, customized information to visitors that speaks to them directly.

    Placing either content or structure ahead of the other creates a Web site that is easily ignored.

  • by MD Wed Jun 9, 2010 via web

    Well said. We NEED to focus on the customers. Many people get so focused on what the compeitors are doing they forget all about their end users.

  • by Anne-Caroline Tanguy Sat Jun 12, 2010 via web

    One key information a lot of sites miss is actually the basics is simply the
    contact details where to reach the company or organizations :
    - Address or PO Box
    - Phone number
    - EMail

  • by dcm Mon Jun 14, 2010 via web

    Great article! I espcially like the point about understanding the underlying business model. I think companies are too quick to get a site out there and focus only on their "corporate brochure," mission statement, etc. There is so much more to "being online" and connecting with the consumers/communities and I think you summarized it very well. Thanks for sharing!

  • by Ravindra Sun Aug 7, 2011 via web

    great insight

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