2007 Resolution: Make The Web Better (Your Part of it, Anyway)
The New Year is here, so here are some thoughts on how you can improve your site in 2007. Some are quick things you can implement right away and some are things to keep in mind if you're in the planning stages. Whether your web site is a marketing channel for your offline business or it is your business, these tips are relevant (in no particular order).
- Study your web analytics reports regularly. Knowledge is power. Know what your users are doing (daily), and then do something about it (often). We recommend HBX for advanced needs; but, even if you don't have in-depth analytics requirements, just plug in Google's code. It's free and easy to do.
- Optimize your site / app for search engine indexing. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has been around for a long time, so if you haven't been focused on SEO you're already behind. There's a lot you should do; but, the basics are straightforward: (1) select the right target search terms; (2) optimize your code, design, and content; and (3) earn inbound links.
- Keep accessibility in mind. There's a balance here, as Kara describes, but awareness of the major issues is half the battle.
- Blog at least twice per week -- or not at all. Should you even have a blog? Keeping up one the right way is time-consuming; but, if you do it right, it can be a big boost to your organization. Blogs aren't just under-featured content management systems anymore. It's not the publishing technology that matters, it's the tone, content, and discussion.
- Focus on usability. Technologies like Flash and Ajax can help tremendously; but, they can hurt if used poorly. Whether you're trying to attract new users, earn regular readers, or convert customers, it's all about making a user experience that's intuitive and enjoyable.
- Think mobile, but only a little bit. The web is about information. People want to get that information whenever, wherever. That means mobile. Build for the desktop browser, but keep the mobile option in mind with just a subset of your content and functionality.
- Go open-source, for the right reasons. "The technology is free" is nice; but, you can't build a successful online business by making every decision based on cost. For most businesses, open-source tools like Ruby on Rails offer more flexibility, extensibility, and scalability than their closed counterparts.
- Make your content available via RSS. Why not? It's easy to do and while the masses still want content pushed at them via email, your RSS subscribers will grow over time. Don't know what RSS is? Ask Stephanie. Then, use a tool like FeedBurner to manager your feeds and track your audience.
- Widgetize. Whether you're building the next great Web 2.0 app or just want to push your content onto other sites, you have to be thinking about widgets. A simple example: make that RSS feed available on other sites.
- Understand social media. Sites like MySpace and YouTube are dominating the online audience, and sites that understand how to tap into these networks will have a big advantage. Don't spam or trick people, just participate.
- Really engage your visitors. We talk a lot about visitor conversion here -- ways to persuade your visitors to take action. Be thorough in your thinking about what actions users should take because a single action isn't good enough. It makes your users binary -- they're either in or out, a customer or not, and then they're gone. Engage visitors with comments on blog posts, email subscriptions, or RSS feeds -- anything that will entice them to come back. By building communities and allowing visitors to engage with each other, you'll find maintaining an active audience to be much more sustainable.