Sunday, December 1, 2013

Websites are Hard Work

Leave it to the pros

Building a new economic development website can be a huge undertaking. At Brand Acceleration, we do it every day. I won’t kid you, it’s hard work. Anyone who has the notion that all you need is someone who has a basic knowledge of design software to do the job is kidding him or herself. That’s not even close to being enough to get the job done right. I can tell you that powerful and effective websites require much more than a beautiful design.

Anyone who has hired us to build their new economic development website would tell you that it can be a very tough process. We don’t simply design a page and then plug holes with some flowery copy and pretty pictures. We have a very thorough process that that assures that once the site goes live; the work has been done right. The new site is a workhorse that will effectively serve visitor needs and grow the community brand.

Visitor expectations
As easy as it may seem to ask, “What do we want to say,” the key first step is to identify and intimately know your target audiences. Site location consultants, C-suite executives, real estate brokers, trailing families, and local leaders each have different and very specific needs, and you must know them. Our team makes it a point to talk to these people regularly, asking very detailed questions about their use and expectations of websites. We do this so often that we know which pages are most important and we can accurately predict their path, page to page, once they arrive at a site. Additionally, we know which information and words they respond to and which ones fall flat.

Purpose of the web site
Isn’t the purpose of our website to promote a community? Yes, but not entirely. The main purpose of a great economic development site is to be a research and information portal for the target visitors. When a site consultant, for example, visits a website, he or she is looking for answers to very specific questions. If that information is missing, very hard to find, or poorly presented, that visitor may leave the site rather than waste time hunting. You’re off the list.

Words matter
Brand Acceleration clients will tell you that we are crazy passionate about effective messaging. Some web firms, usually the low-end, low-price leaders, will leave it to you to write your own copy. As appealing as that might sound, especially if it reduces cost, you should never fall for that. Unless you are an expert SEO (Search Engine Optimization) writer with a focus on economic development, you should leave this critical function to the pros. Just because a person can write a great sales letter does not mean he or she is qualified to write web copy. This could mean the difference between landing on page one of a Google search versus page twenty-one.

There’s so much more
In addition to strategy development, design, and copywriting, a great website requires very careful selection of just the right photographs, expert programming, especially now that mobile devices are so prevalent, and a well-thought-out social media program. All of these take time and hard work.

Expected results
When economic developers commit precious budget dollars to an expertly-produced website, he or she usually has to answer to a board of directors or someone else to demonstrate that the investment was well placed. Because of this, we carefully track web traffic to see what makes them successful and why some fail to thrive. Understanding that a website is like a living thing, our most successful clients grow their web traffic by regularly updating their site, promoting the community in order to drive visitors to it, and by actively engaging target audiences through online advertising, message boards, and social media. None of this is easy, nor should its importance be taken lightly.

I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to share your thoughts and personal experiences below.

Have a great week and I’ll see you soon,

Jim Walton
Brand Acceleration, Inc.
Branding // Marketing Communications // Public Relations
Indianapolis: 317.536.6255
Charlotte: 704:230:0394
Atlanta: 404.474.7980
Fax: 317.222.1425
Cell: 317.523.7380

Brand Acceleration is a full-service marketing communications, brand management and public relations firm with a focus on economic development, architecture, engineering and construction.

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