I am going to start this post with a simple assumption –  you have a business plan.

As part of your plan you may have noted that you need to develop a presence online.  In essence you need a website – you may not be sure why but everyone else has one so its likely you do too.  You might also need to have a social media strategy but I’ll pick up on this in a later post.

There is so much information out there and your competitors are everywhere online so what do you do and where do you start?

Well the first thing to do is to think about what you want to get out of your online business presence.  What is your main objective for having a website?

It seems like a simple question but there are huge implications depending on the route that you choose to take.

When the World Wide Web (sometimes referred to as Web 1.0) was created by Sir Tim Berbers-Lee the intention was for people to be able to share and link information documents easily. It wasn’t long before everywhere you looked online there were business brochure websites popping up. It made sense and started to attract people to their companies but just like their paper counterparts these static websites had no real way to increase the conversion rate of ‘browsers’ to ‘consumers’.

Enter Web 2.0 in 2004.

You may be asking: ‘What is Web 2.0 exactly?  Was there an update on everyone’s computer that I missed?’.

Don’t panic there wasn’t!

In fact it was merely a change in attitude to the way in which the Internet was to be used. Instead of a collection of information that was static and difficult to find there were new programs and platforms coming out that were designed around the way we use the Internet. Andrew McAfee defined Web 2.0 with an acronym:

Search:   Find information through keyword searches using Google, Yahoo, Bing etc
Links:   Connect information together through hyperlinks
Authoring: Everyone has the ability to create and update content on the Internet
Tags: Categorise information by assigning tags or keywords
Extensions: Using software to make the Internet become an application platform as well as a document server
Signals: Using syndication technology – allowing you to get feeds of updated work such as blogs etc. e.g. RSS

This was not a new World Wide Web, as Sir Tim Berbers-Lee pointed out, it was simply the way it was always supposed to work!  People began to adopt this attitude and created new, exciting products and websites online allowing us to see the real power that the Internet gives a business to interact with it’s Consumers.

So now lets go back to your online strategy. If you really are investing in an online presence and want a good return on your investment (ROI) then take the ‘Web 2.0’ approach to your website:

Search: Make sure that your website is easy for Search Engines to read.  A search engine works by sending out ‘spiders’ or ‘bots’ to crawl your website for keywords on your web pages and hyperlinks. Once every page on your website has been crawled it then indexes it to a massive database that collates all the information online and uses an algorithm to determine the most relevant results to any query.  The more relevant your information is to the subject, the higher your ranking will be.

Links: Are really important to any website.  Firstly from the point of view of the user it is easier to find the information by clicking on a link to the next page or another website then typing in the full address or URL.  People will spend more time online and will ‘surf’ through more pages simply because it is easy.  Links are also good because if you can link your website to other popular, established, trusted websites then search engine spiders will read these and think that your website is popular and trusted too.  This is referred to as building ‘link juice’. Be careful though, you should only ever link your company to websites you trust. Search engine spiders are clever enough to know when they are being gamed and this can seriously effect your ranking.  Also if you have more than 100 unique links on a web page then the spiders stop reading them, I like to think they get tired or a bit bored, and therefore only offer value to your Consumers not search engines.

Authoring: The more interesting the information is on your website the more people will read it. If you update it regularly then people will come back to see what you have changed.  It is also good to get your Customers or Consumers involved in creating this information. This is why blogs, wikis and social networking are becoming so popular – people like to be part of the content creation process and therefore ‘buy in’ to the overall business concept.

Tags: If you assign tags to the content that you create both your Consumers and search engines will find it easier to find exactly what they are looking for by category.  It makes your website work in a similar fashion as a human brain by putting each bit into a special compartment with a relevant label on it.

Extensions: Think about how you can enhance your business online through different applications and software. Instead of just showing them what your business can offer, let them buy things or try them online.  I recently came across hairdressers who are now allowing you to not only book your appointment online but also upload your photo to try out different hairstyles by superimposing them on your picture.  A simple but effective enhancement to the traditional hairdresser’s brochure/booking website.

Signals: Why wait for people to check your website for your new blog piece or product update?  Make it easier for your consumers to access the latest information by telling them about it.  Syndication tools allows you to do this easily and in a way in which the consumer wants.  Your consumers may want a daily update as to what is happening in your business or they may only want it monthly.  Syndication technology allows you to share this information with them in the way that they want making them more likely to actually consume and react to it.

So whilst you are determining your online strategy you need to bare these pointed in mind. Before you go and build your new website think about why you want it, who is going to use it, and how. I’d also suggest using the SLATES approach to consider how you can enhance what you are offering your Consumers.

Esther Stringer

Esther is our Managing Director and Research lead at Border Crossing UX.