Making The Internet work for you
The Internet and the Worldwide Web have matured into essential business tools for smart operators in the modern economy. With intelligence and careful targeting they can support and augment your sales, marketing and service operations, plus more besides. Unfortunately they are new, different and relatively foreign territory for people whose main focus is to get on with running a business. It is abundantly clear that most businesses don't know how to use the tools well and feel unable to build and implement a clear strategy.
Our ‘Web Therapy’ product is designed to provide systematic answers to the crucial questions that every business should be asking itself about an ‘Internet Strategy’.
For us, it's our mainstream, our bread-and-butter. We have spent years studying the subject and honing our responses. We can do the same for you.
This document talks mostly about the Worldwide Web, since that is what most people understand by The Internet. It goes deeper than that and if, whilst working with you, we spot other opportunities that we think you should be taking, we will ensure that they are brought fully into account.
The first generation
Most first generation commercial web sites fail to reach their full potential. Since the bulk have been designed by capable graphics designers they usually present an attractive visual image, but regrettably few go much further. An attractive presentation alone may have positive commercial side effects, but barely scratches the surface of what a properly constructed site can do for the business.
The causes of the missed opportunities are many and varied, but most have roots in a failure to understand the social, psychological and technical possibilities of the Internet environment. This is hardly surprising if the sites were built by people with backgrounds in paper based advertising, marketing and PR.
Computers, humans and communities
In the rush to establish a presence, many companies simply didn't notice that their "high visual impact" sites were receiving an infinitesimal fraction of the attention gained by guerilla pages run by "amateur" enthusiasts and internet communities.
In reality, of course, many of these amateurs are actually internet professionals who understand the environment. In particular, they understand things like search engine logic, human-computer interaction and the communitive nature of network traffic. They might not all be ‘communications professionals’ as the PR and Marketing industries would recognise the term, but it doesn't matter. They know what works and they make best use of it.
There is a fundamental and far-reaching difference between the Web and other media (for which we have coined the term "communitation"): web-based information systems are inherently community orientated, involving sustained many-to-many relationships rather than the brief one-to-many communication typical of print and broadcast media. Although the web offers opportunities to communicate intensively with individuals and small groups, first contact is most commonly established via some form of networked community or portal. The advertising industry has long known that word of mouth is the effective marketing tool. Community sites are the word of mouth of the Net.
Now that companies are trying to carry out transactions through their sites (requiring technical skill in systems integration and data exchange) some have begun to recognise the limitations of the PR approach. Few have yet to appreciate, however, the full depth of its deficiency.
Our Range of Services
Our Web Therapy product is a range of services, training and studies that will help you to design and implement a coherent strategy that takes into account best practice. We work with you first of all to define realistic objectives and then, using our knowledge of the medium and the technology, turn those objectives into reality, making use of tactics that are proven to work. What's more, we provide you with a detailed understanding of our approach and the reasons why we have made particular choices.
We invite you to read further to understand how we work and why it's appropriate to work with us. We don't claim unique insights, that ‘only we’ can do what we do. This is not rocket science. We apply well-known approaches that are described in numerous reports and books. The difference is that we have read those reports and books (even written some of them), we have digested them, have taken the good, rejected the bad and we understand what it is all about. Anyone could claim to do that, but we don't know of anyone else who does what we do as well as we do it.
Making The Web Work - your Tactics
Build The Right Site
If you build the wrong site, targeted at the wrong people ... well, we don't have to spell it out. Amazingly, many of the people we have worked with have been stumped by our first questions: why would somebody come to your website, what will they expect when they arrive and what would you like them to do next? Having a clear vision of who will visit and why they should come is the crucial underpinning of success. Then, when you've designed a prototype, don't just launch it: test it, using real ‘customers’, measure their responses and then refine your design. This leads to our mantra "design, test, measure, refine".
Build it Right and Run it Right!
Design the right site, build it with appropriate tools and then run it correctly - it's the recipe for success. Whilst it sounds easy, nothing in life is ever quite that simple. There is a lot of technology involved and it's not appropriate for non-specialists to spend time and energy becoming familiar with all of the nitty-gritty detail. The problem is that if you don't know what is possible then you can't have a sensible policy of doing it. The hard part is typically not in building the site, it's in tuning and tailoring it and measuring its effectiveness. You can out-perform your competition with ease if you start doing that.
The Motley Fool got it right: it is now one of the leading on-line investment advice sites, yet it differs little today from the initial vision of its founders. The journal Slashdot also took the vision of its two originators and ran rings around the on-line technical publishers. Slashdot is so powerful now that when it mentioned the publication of ‘Star Office’ by Sun Microsystems - the alleged doyenne of e-commerce systems builders - Sun's webservers collapsed under the strain. The Motley Fool and Slashdot understand what works. Neither bears much resemblance to its paper-based counterparts; if it did, it would be in with the also-rans. We maintain the website for The Register, the UK's answer to Slashdot working in a somewhat different field, again leaving its competition standing.
What if nobody comes?
It barely matters how visually appealing or "sticky" (the measure of how much time users spend reading your pages) a site is, if nobody comes to it or if they only visit often enough for its "high impact" novelty to wear off. Lashings of PR jargon, candy-coated in future-speak, should not conceal the otherwise obvious fact that the web doesn't work like print or broadcasting. Unlike them, its "content" is infinitely segmented and its delivery virtually unconstrained by scarcity of resources, cost, geography or time.
Getting long-term web visibility is only distantly related to conventional notions of advertising spend, branding or placement. Imagery is the only priority in media which fleetingly capture the direct attention of masses (on billboards, in TV/radio advertising breaks, the commuter newspaper read, etc.).
Get yourself referred
On the web, attention is overwhelmingly grabbed by third party reference from search engines, portals and specialist communities (including mailing lists, bulletin boards, etc.). Despite their differences, these reference nodes all share one important characteristic: content is king and it is stored as text. The databases which generate these sites are, for the most part, only searchable for text strings. Computers aren't much good at understanding imagery.
Rich in content
Once a site has enticed an initial visit, repeat visits depend on the quality of the experience. Imagery which is designed to transmit strong but immediate, simple and short-lived messages will not do the trick. There is simply no reason to come back for a message which you get in a flash. Only useful commercial sites will attract return visits. "Useful" almost always means lots of well-ordered and navigable text-based information. Give the customers what they want, as quickly and easily as possible. If they enjoy the experience they are likely to come back. If they sit waiting for more than a few seconds whilst your pretty but content-free home page loads - not only will you lose your visitors, but you will also send them a powerful message about your understanding and competence.
Usability: Can Potential Customers Use Your Site?
Once potential customers have found your site, there is still the hurdle of usability. Faults such as slow access, colour combinations making text unreadable or unprintable, useless links, technical jargon, and information overload are familiar to all web users. These faults are commonplace, in spite of the fact that they obviously deter customers. The evidence base from research shows that there are also less obvious features which can be introduced to enhance a site's usability. These include: giving the site address and contact details on every page; using the structure of web pages to optimally organise information; giving users a sense of control by providing them with clear navigation cues and full feedback.
The assessment of usability is now a well developed specialism, in which GBdirect have expertise. Usability testing can be done to a choice of levels of thoroughness and statistical reliability. The levels range from simple assessment against a standard industry checklist, through testing with just three novice users (demonstrated to be cost-effective through published cost-benefit analyses), up to rigorous experimental design with representative users.
There is no shortage of published work on how to do it right. There is a dearth of commercial examples where heed has been taken.
Website Statistics Analysis
Your Web site will be routinely recording information about customers who are attempting to access it, e.g.
- Their identities
- Nature of their requests
- Their browsing behaviour
- Their successes
- Their failures
- Reasons for their failures
We are able to retrieve this information for you and convert it into concise reports giving you useful customer information, and feedback on your site performance.
Experience in off-line marketing can be adapted to the web environment, but its usefulness depends on developing new techniques which respect the unique technical and social constraints of the web itself. Those techniques cannot be developed without intimate knowledge of the technology and of human interaction with it.
The GBdirect "Electronic Business Review "
GDdirect offers a comprehensive suite of web site improvement services ranging from simple advice on search engine tuning, right up to the complete rebuilding and maintenance of enterprise class e-commerce infrastructures. The latter typically incorporate a range of our own proprietary techniques for maximizing a site's visibility, usability, stability and security. We refer to that level of integration and support as an Electronic Business Partnership, because it inevitably infers a stronger and more durable relationship than one finds in everyday consultancy.
The key components of our Electronic Business Reviews and Partnerships can be found below.
- The Electronic Business Briefing
- A 1 day project
- Aimed at managers with decison-making responsibility for their company's electronic business strategy
- Provides a survey of the key issues, technologies and opportunities which the client's electronic business strategy must address
- Provides broad advice on best practice in the client's area of business
- Cost: £900 - £1,250
- The Electronic Business Briefing with Screening and Assessment
- A 3 day project
- Aimed at managers with responsibility for deciding and implementing an electronic business strategy
- Provides all of the survey evidence and advice available in the Electronic Business Briefing outlined above
- Objective assessment of the client's current electronic business performance - using standardised measures of good practice
- Recommendations on priority issues to address
- Recommended action plans for implementation
- Cost: £3,000
- The Electronic Business Study
- A 10 day project
- Aimed at all key staff involved in deciding and implementing the client's electronic business strategy
- Provides the briefing, screening and assessment outlined above, but with significantly more detailed analysis and recommendation
- Detailed data gathering, analysis and reporting involving significant on-site consultation
- Evaluation and recommendations from expert specialists in all the main areas of internet development and marketing, including systems' architecture, risk analysis, usability and visibility
- Bespoke additions and variations, based on the client's specialised requirements
- A full consultancy report
- Cost: £7,500 +
The GBdirect "Electronic Business Partnership"
Once a company has formulated its electronic business strategy, GBdirect can provide a whole range of services to help with subsequent phases of implementation, (re)evaluation, maintenance and extension.
Whether or not GBdirect has been actively involved in the formulation of your initial electronic business strategy, our partnership programmes are designed to support you in its practical realisation.
These are just some of the support services we have developed for our clients:
- Software Development for e-commerce sites and all their supporting IT infrastructure, e.g. email, databases, accounting, sales tracking, etc.
- Developing site vocabularies to enhance search engine and directory rankings whilst simultaneously improving web site usability
- Content authorship to lever our clients' specialist knowledge of their business without our expertise in Internet brand development and placement
- Search engine and directory submission to optimise the correlation between a company's listings and its own marketing objectives
- Conventional site promotional campaigns using off-line media and other opportunities to drive traffic to web sites
- Guerrilla marketing campaigns, i.e. the best evolutionary adaptation to the conditions of the Internet business environment
- Maintenance can be the Achilles heel of any electronic business strategy. We typically re-engineer client systems to reduce maintenance costs and increase the timeliness of their data
- Staff training to provide our clients with the skills their competitors haven't yet recognised the need for
- Honey pot building, i.e. making our clients; web sites the reference point for information about their industry or sector
The GBdirect Team
A small number of companies offer packages which are superficially similar to those detailed above. Getting the actual service, however, depends on having the team to deliver it.
More Internet experience than you can shake a stick at
GBdirect was founded in the early days of the web, with the primary goal of helping companies exploit the huge commercial potential which we, and few others at the time, saw in the new network technology. Our understanding of that technology is further rooted in pioneering work of the company's principals with Unix operating system and the TCP/IP network protocols from which the web emerged.
Leadership and marketing
These founders also brought with them nearly 20 years of business leadership and marketing experience in corporate information systems; ensuring that the company has always measured its success by the commercial returns rather than by the mere application of technology.
The company has deepened its knowledge and experience of the web as it has grown up with it; acquiring new staff and their specialist skill sets as the need for them became apparent. Today the GBdirect team contains developers, managers, and marketing staff of the experience and intellectual calibre to match those in any top of the range consultancy.
A full bag of tricks
Where it differs from most, is in employing university lecturers and researchers who bring highly developed skills in computing, psychology, linguistics and game theory to the analysis and optimisation of web site visibility and usage. Working as a team these consultants can identify weaknesses and opportunities in site design and placement at levels of detail which few others are capable of.