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How to Develop an Effective Internet Presence

These guidelines for creating and maintaining a good business website, were first developed in April 1996. Although the web has come a long way since then, the experience which they encapsulate (that of developing websites for ourselves and clients) is as valid today as it was then.

In summary the guidelines are:

  1. Link your Web presence to your business strategy - be clear about its purpose and marketing role.
  2. Focus on the reader - make it relevant and helpful to the user
  3. Provide well organized information - develop a clear structure; map it out properly
  4. Give signposts - make navigation easy
  5. Use a clear simple design - do not overburden with graphics
  6. Offer helpful links - develop reinforcing 'webs'; readers will value pointers to other sites with complementary information
  7. Market it effectively - get search engines to point to it; add URLs to hard-copy material
  8. Generate 'hooks' - encourage user interaction
  9. Do not use it alone - use it in conjunction with other Internet tools
  10. Sustain it - developing a site is not a once off task; keep it refreshed.

Following a description of these, we give a list of common pitfalls.

1. Link your Web presence to your business strategy

A Web presence must reinforce your business and marketing goals. It should also say something about you as a company. Therefore if you want to convey an image of professionalism and quality, that's how your Web pages should look. If you want to convey fun and creativity, then that calls for a different image.

Be realistic in your goals. Web pages are reached by users in three ways
1. They have deliberately sought yours out since they want information about your organization or its products
2. They have received a pointer to your pages while reading some other pages.
3. They have done a search that indicates that your page may have some useful information.

In most of these cases it's a bit like direct mail or browsing in a library. Readers will determine in the first 2-3 seconds whether they will stop and read for a while. And remember, users may not enter your pages through the logical home page, so context setting will be important.

Your goals will help determine the kind of pages you will offer. For example, if your aim is:

  • Just to be on the Internet (as is the impression left my many) then you will delegate the work to your user group or a junior programmer.
  • Providing reliable product information, then you may want to create a definitive online catalogue
  • Targeting new users, then you might focus on applications and case studies
  • Developing customer relationship, then you should provide regular updates and allow for dialogue
  • Better customer service, then you should give them pointers to solutions and who to contact
  • Selling 'off the page', you will need to provide ordering and payment mechanisms
  • etc. etc.

The key point is to develop strong linkages between your Internet presence, your business and marketing objectives, the information you provide and the way it is portrayed.

2. A reader-led strategy

The main point here is to adapt whatever information you have into a format aimed at the reader and their needs. Too often we see companies take internally oriented information, that is also structured for paper-based dissemination, and simply convert it into HTML (the format needed for the Web) pages. This will not do. Often, such information is also organized along departmental lines, rather than in the logical ways a reader would think through an issue or subject. Examples of what helps include:

  • Thinking about what actions you want a user to take
  • Determining how your product/service can help them do their job better
  • Organizing information by category of user or type of information rather than in relation to your products or organization structures
  • Considering likely user need cycles to lead them efficiently to the most appropriate pages.
  • Using their (general) terminology, not your product jargon
  • Describing benefits and uses, not features

All good practical marketing advice, but worth repeating.

3. Provide well organized information

In order to make your site attractive to readers, it must be well organized and structured. One way of doing this is to develop an information map, linked to objectives, of key points. Typical approaches will involve:

  • Using multiple entry points, rather than single home page. These could be on areas of topical interest.
  • Being informative and authoritative - citing others to help you make your case
  • Not giving too much away - holding some things back that are only released after they enter dialogue with you. (The eagle eyed will note that as consultants with a living to make that we are not giving the full details of the methods we use to organize information!)
  • 'Chunking' information into appropriate page sizes - and providing appropriate links
  • Providing meaningful labels on each page - not content free headings

Be clear as to whether you are trying achieve 'publicity' or 'publishing'. Readers value pages that they can treat as a resource to 'bookmark', rather than only "sales literature". Even with publicity, give reader enough of your product that they can 'sample'.

One benefit of a Web like structure is that you can organize your information in several categories or hierarchies. take advantage of this variety, to allow different types of reader to have different 'views' of the structure.

4. Give signposts - Make navigation easy

At all times the reader should be able to see the page they are reading in it's context. They will also need to know how to reach real ted pages. Some ways of making it easier for the reader are:

  • Give a meaningful heading or sub-heading to show its category
  • Remember to give it a title - this will often head print-outs
  • Provide short introductory material
  • On large pages (as this one) give a summary of what is to follow
  • Give a navigation section at the bottom of the page.

The navigation are can be divided into that part which is common throughout a set of pages e.g pointers to an index, and that which is context sensitive, and therefore gives pointed to related topics. And remind readers whose pages they are reading - many will get lost in hyperspace.

5. Use a clear simple design

A few years ago, most of the information on the Web was informative but boring (it was mostly written by academics). Good structural layout and graphics adds interest. But, what we have observed over the past year is a swing of the pendulum too far the other way. We can point out some high profile pages from major companies, where the old adage should be turned around to "one word is worth a thousand images"!

By all means use graphics - especially icons, and small 'image maps'. Save the full screen imagery for the painting you want to sell or the movie for the week-end. A good business site will always warn people about the size of large image pages, and often offer small thumbnails before the complete picture. For some tips on reducing image size visit the pages of the Bandwidth Conservation Society.

And if you really want to be boring, put a photo of your president on the home page! Sorry, we keep harping on about this, but this is one of the main causes of deterioration of the Web in recent times, Just because it is now easier to add sound and damage, does not mean you have to use it. Graphic designers will tell you that on paper, white space can be more powerful than text. So be sparing with your images.

Also, make effective use of the medium. Writing Web pages is quite different from writing for paper publication or for printed advertising. Creating "Web friendly" formats is an art in itself. .

Above all, aim to create a 'Look and feel' consistent with your corporate image and Web site objectives.

6. Offer helpful links

Readers always appreciate a site that offers helpful links to related material -even, or rather especially, if it is done by some other (external) authoritative expert. They are wary of sites that suck them in and do not give any links out. OK, we're not the best example - it does take time and effort to research good links and put them in, and then regularly check them.

It is also useful to try and develop reinforcing 'webs', especially with business partners. You point to their pages, and they point to you. Again this takes extra effort, in simple communications if not negotiation, but it is something that your readers will value. The Web is an information resource and pointers to other sites with complementary information can only reinforce the value of the Web for all, and help get away from the glitzy image portrayed by some blatant marketing sites.

7. Market it Effectively

Use all available mechanisms to draw people to your site. There are many search engines that will find your site and index it. Others, though, will need help to find you. It is also important how you start key pages, since some engines will only summarise the first few sentences.

Many online directories will also publicize your site, but our own research says these are very variable. Many seem to make more efforts to sell space to providers, rather than help users find information! So tread with care. Other things to do include:

  • Creating a signature on your email accounts that point to appropriate pages
  • Add your URL to your headed notepaper
  • Publicize your site (or relevant sections of it) in your other literature
  • When you participate in discussion groups etc. make people aware of it
  • etc. etc.

You will find plenty of useful ideas in WEB MARKETING TODAY, a thought provoking online newsletter edited by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson.

Remember - a site not marketed may well be a site not visited!

8. Generate 'hooks'

Every page is potentially an opportunity to encourage some dialogue with the reader. As you plan each page, decide what action you would like the reader to take and generate a 'hook'. For example on this page we invite you to email David Skyrme Associates to find out more about our Internet services.

Exploit multiple response mechanisms. Different readers have different preferences (or different browser) software. Some may be reading a hard-copy of your page. Some options to consider are:

  • Give a clear point of contact - appropriate to the page (not just a Web master)
  • Provide telephone and fax numbers
  • Generate a response form - but don't make it too laborious or users will opt out

9. Use other Internet tools to complement the Web

Remember that the World Wide Web is only one of many Internet tools. It is primarily a 1-to-many mechanism - ideal for disseminating information to a large dispersed audience in a passive way. Hence the growth of interest in intranets to hold and share company information.

Other mechanisms may be more appropriate for different tasks. For example:

  • Email may be more appropriate for product feedback (vs. complex form filling). See the guide on Effective Email.
  • An email distribution list may he best for letting customers share information with each other (you can always moderate it, so you can control what is passed through)
  • File transfer protocol, might be the best way to disseminate a specific document.
  • Your own newsgroup may provide a useful forum for a user group.

10. Sustain the site

While many companies put significant effort into developing a site, often using external contractors for the effort, too often the site is then left to fester. At a very minimum some simple maintenance should be carried out regularly, such as:

  • Checking the continued validity of hypertext links
  • Updating obviously out-of-date pages
  • Making necessary changes in contact names, phono new numbers etc.

More rigorous maintenance would include:

  • Keeping all pages currently with latest product information etc.
  • Updating links between pages to reflect new additions and changing structures
  • Putting "last updated..." dates to convey a sense of freshness

But for maximum effect, we would recommend sustenance, the proactive updating of the pages to reflect changes in the business and the context. Thus:

  • Updating pages to reflect the overall site and latest state of the company and industry.
  • Addition of news pages, such as latest press releases
  • Creation of new pages to reflect business priorities
  • Address hot issues in the industry
  • Monitor new sites in your field for inclusion as links
  • Considering alternative structures and 'views' to reflect the current state of the market


Here are some common pitfalls, and how to avoid them.

  • Bad URL links - regularly check all external links on your site
  • Delegating the site project to just one department (such as IT or marketing) - virtually all projects should have a multi-disciplinary team - the Web cuts across department boundaries
  • Glitzy images taking a long time to download - redirect the enthusiasm of your graphics designers; give users thumbnails and text alternatives.
  • Not having any contact details - provide a phone number or an email address. Too often we see pages, where you are dying to communicate with the provider but have no means to do so.
  • Obvious errors and out-of-date pages - have content quality control and sustain the site (Virgin Atlantic was once prosecuted for having wrong pricing information on their site).
  • Awful looking pages - test test and test again, ideally on more than one browser - Note, however, that a decision will have to be on technical standards e.g. what HTML extensions to support.
  • Content free headings and links e.g. "Last month's issue", "next chapter" - always give users content based headings.

The list grows daily. We're sure you have some not listed or, or even comments about these pages that annoy you. Please email your suggestions to

© Copyright. David J. Skyrme. 1996. Minor revisions, 1999. This material may be copied or distributed subject to the terms of our copyright conditions (no commercial gain; complete page copying etc.) .

Further Information

These are guidelines that have helped us in the design of websites for ourselves and clients. Related guides and tools on this site include Effective Email and Web Site Project Check List. There is also a series of feature articles on the 10Ps of Internet Marketing, starting with Portals. See also Internet Resources and Contents/Internet.

External sources you might find helpful include:

  • Publishing on the Web - Webcom's comprehensive guide for doing it from first principles. Contains lots of helpful information - using the Web, writing HTML, publishing and publicising.
  • Alertbox - Jakob Nielsen's regular briefings on web usability.
  • User Guidelines and Netiquette by Arlene Rinaldi.

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