Websites; you used to be cool, man

16 May 2011

The digital marketing industry networking event is not for the naïve or the faint hearted. Over canapés and bubbly it’s important to be seen to be saying the right things. “Oh, we’re using the new Web 3.0 paradigm shift to really maximise RoI on QR Codes integrated with augmented reality via a social media flash mob strategy – it’s going to go viral”.

This may cause most of us to struggle to keep our canapés down, but not this cliché-hardened massif. If you are wanting to see some subtly flavoured garlic olives stuck in throats, just say something about websites. “Oh, I’m working with a client to make their website easier to use” or “We’re carrying out a content audit on a website to clear off the stuff which isn’t resonating with customers” may result in an impromptu Heimlich manoeuvre. You might well elicit a reaction similar to Ali G’s when presented with a certain brand of running shoe “wait a minute, it ain’t 1995 anymore”.

Back in the ’90s things were different, all right. The www was a pup, it was all new, search marketing and email marketing were in early infancy and websites were all the rage. We were as cliché ridden back then as we are now, of course, but at least we were allowed to talk about websites without being laughed off the streets. However, as the variety of online channels has continued to grow, we’ve somehow become less and less interested in focusing on websites, despite their foundational importance to everything we do online.

Website standards

This would be OK if the general standard of websites was improving. But they’re not getting better. In too many heartbreaking cases they are getting worse.

We all know this to be true. As punters, we all spend a disproportionate amount of time on websites lost.

What’s more, the humble website remains the most common ultimate destination for nearly every online marketing channel. Where should best practice search engine optimisation lead people? To various pages on your website. What about pay per click? Generally, to landing pages on your website. Email marketing? Pages on your website. Social, affiliate, video, banner ads? You’ve got it, pages on your website.

In other words, your website remains at the hub of all of your online marketing activity.

If your site is converting 2pc, how long are you going to wait until you work hard to push that up to 3pc or beyond? How much traffic can you afford to waste before you eventually recognise that you cannot make the other channels pay if you don’t ensure that an ongoing program of website optimisation and improvement is at the heart of your online marketing strategy?

Websites might well be the online equivalent of previous X-Factor winners; they’re not cool any more, their day in the sun has long passed and their 15 seconds of fame is but a distant memory. It might be cooler to talk about all the new stuff, but they remain the foundation upon which all online marketing is built. Lose interest in yours at your peril.

Gareth Dunlop is managing director of leading digital consultancy iON. The company’s customers are in 15 countries and include The Commonwealth Secretariat, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Oklahoma Publishing and Goldman Sachs.

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Gareth Dunlop runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps organisations get the most from their digital products.