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Time for Engagement Strategy and Content to Lead Website Design

May 29, 2009

This week, I was quoted in MEDIA magazine about website design and development – an article that was triggered to get a view of However, this is an area that is currently driving me crazy. I sit down with marketers all the time and the first question I ask them is “who are you building this website for and why is anyone going to care about your site?” Too often, the answer is silence, with the conversation moving to – “but the agency told me that we’d be optimized for search and we’d be using AJAX so the experience would be so much more interactive!”

Lord no, please! If your “agency” (a term I hate, because by it’s very definition it means administrative!?) can give you a clear sense of who your critical stakeholders are, where they currently reside and how you’re going to use the content on a web asset, as well as engagement to drive them across and keep them close to your web investment – find another one.

Anyway -  my full responses to MEDIA’s questions are below (it was edited for MEDIA – yes, I hate the Gucci website…). I’ll jump off the pulpit – for now, but interested in your thoughts about what’s going on in the world of website design today – any more effective, or just prettier Web 1.0…??


 -Are the majority of brands doing enough with their websites?
From an engagement perspective, no. I was worried with the MEDIA/ADMA research that said 70.6% of marketers expect to increase their investment in dedicated websites – there will be some beautiful, yet soulless horrors emerge. The first question I ask anyone creating a web asset is ‘who are you building it for?’ If you can’t be specific in terms of existing online audiences who might find value in coming across to your site on a regular basis (and yes, you can ask them in advance) and the content strategy that will be compelling, then you need to stop and do a little online research. A small investment to make a bigger one more efficient. Still too many agencies focused on tools (AJAX, AdobeTV anyone?), when people primarily go to a site for information. Edelman’s Trust Barometer shows in Asia-Pacific that information on corporate websites is seen to be very credible – focus on content first, design later.

-What’s the point of a standalone site if you can have a Facebook page?
Social networks are a powerful and enduring communication channel, Facebook might not be. A dedicated web presence offers greater flexibility, control and ownership of content. Some of the best corporate website executions I’ve seen provide seamless content flow between the corporate site and the social networking community and back out again. For example, Red Bull creates and hosts content on its website, repurposes it on its Facebook page (as well as other content), then allows Facebook members to profile user-generated content on via Facebook Connect – all seamless, all brand consistent. Genius.

-Was the Skittles website makeover a total disaster?
I’m not a huge fan, but I can’t imagine there was much traffic to previously . It has proved a lot more resilient than I thought it would – with people still Twittering and posting on the Facebook site months after the fact. I wouldn’t call this engaging or interactive, but it’s still entertaining people, so I think Skittles is probably very happy – social media can’t be serious all the time.

-Can a brand really hope to build a community around its site?
Absolutely. To me this is the biggest opportunity for companies, especially for business-to-business firms. When you have a named group of people who undertake business transactions with you, then online can do a massive amount to activate the relationship and grow it over time. This is especially true given the cost of events and the fact that people are travelling a lot less at the moment. Online can help to smooth out time between engagement and maximize the investment in offline activities by bringing them to a wider audience – video will be massive next year. Brands like HSBC and Chevron have long looked to build community around issues, while the work we’re doing with BMW China around will be a model for building long-term relationships via online channels.

-Does the need to optimize search kill creativity?
Most search programs today are awful. They worship the corporate message and keyword generator, when they should be trying to understand and reflect the language of people and communities on the Web. Again, the key here is a little bit of research to find terms that communities of interest use. I’m certified on Ad Words and run campaigns. The most efficient terms that I’ve seen are built around a group concept, piece of slang or issue. When you understand that part of search and build ads on the back of it, I believe it will naturally be more creative.

-Is there a need for corporate sites to entertain?
All content should be entertaining – especially when it’s corporate. The exceptions to this are obvious areas like crisis communications, or investor relations. However, a company that is able to package content in bite-sized, accessible chunks (again, video is key) will be well-rewarded. While content strategy and narrative are the fundamental blocks of building compelling websites, design and presentation remain very important factors to success – I just think that too many firms continue to put design first.

-How regularly should a brand update its site?
Edelman has done some research on this and the general feedback seems to be once a week – especially if someone is going to subscribe to the content and pass-it-along to their friends. Consistency is the key to the human brain – if you say you’re going to deliver it every Thursday, then don’t miss the deadline or you’ll be forgotten.

-What are the best and worst sites you have encountered?
I lean toward more social and engaging sites. Good include – – our UK office has done a great job of building social media, feedback and video throughout the experience, the rest of our network aspires to this. – I like how the site aggregates information from a variety of sources, such as news and reviews – positioning itself as a one-stop portal for property information. – as a basketball nut, the way that the content is presented and blogs are built in as standard is best-in-class for all sports. My pet peeves are sites that take forever to load because of flash overload, flat, text-heavy sites or those that just never seem to work, e.g., and

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