Figuring out the right design for business life in the online world

5 Nov 2009

Dublin-based Strata3 is one of Ireland’s longest-standing web-design, strategy and service firms working with SMEs and big brands. John Mitchell is its managing director.

The internet as we know it is all-pervasive, but also much more complex. Can you still be a traditional web-design firm in 2009?

We’ve had to evolve with the internet and the business landscape. Our company is in its 10th year and we have come through a number of iterations. We were traditionally a web-design company, with a mix of corporate, government and SME work.

The nature of the internet has changed and we’ve had to broaden our offering to be a service provider. That means properly researching and consulting before you design the website and then maintaining it for the future. This makes us one of the few turnkey agencies.

It begins with research into the end user and what they want from a website and everything cascades out of that. After-sales is very important. Around 50pc of Strata3’s business is actually service-based with recurring business in the areas of hosting and training.

The internet has become integral to business. Are Irish firms keeping up with some of the global trends?

Content management is integral to Irish organisations’ use of the web. Many businesses would be well informed about technology and often decide whether they want to use open source or deploy Facebook campaigns.

These can be tricky and there’s a need for firms, particularly smaller firms, to have a partner rather than a designer who throws it all together and disappears.

Firms want to have services deals that mean they can add functions, do search engine optimisation (SEO) or add graphics.

There’s so much happening in social media, is there a danger that many firms bite off more than they can chew?

Everybody hears the buzzwords and wants to use social-media applications that don’t fit with their audience and it makes them look cynical and clunky. I tell people: try to get back to the principal question of what do your customers and users want?

How are Irish brands doing in the web stakes overseas?

We do a lot of work with major Irish brands such as Guinness and Tourism Ireland, which is targeting emerging Central European and Far Eastern markets. Tourism is a key industry to focus on in recessionary times and Irish brand models are very good.

Not many people realise this, but Kerrygold, for example, is the leading Irish brand on continental Europe. It has done exceptional brand development in countries such as Germany, Poland and Bulgaria. If you’re in Germany, Kerrygold is the only butter brand you’ll buy. The promotion of Ireland to French, German and Italian consumers online has been very effective.

What are the typical mistakes Irish websites make online?

SEO is king and often, despite all the hard work people have done with content and design, they still fail in terms of search.

My advice to business owners is get your site optimised so that all the content is properly tagged and indexed. Then your content can be digested by search engines and found by the end user.

By John Kennedy

Photo: John Mitchell, managing director of Strata3.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years