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Budget Time To Nurture Your Web Site

by Alf Nucifora

Obscene amounts of money have been spent on the development of websites. Unfortunately, companies make little investment in updating those sites or maintaining their relevancy. Why? To begin with, in most small-to-medium sized businesses, maintenance of the website is a low priority for the IT or marketing departments. It's perceived as grunt duty. However, for the first time, many Internet users are questioning the validity of the information posted on websites. This, in turn, has led to the need for "website nurturing"…the process of continually updating and improving the company website so that it adjusts to the ever-growing demands of the increasingly sophisticated Internet user.

The Numbers Reveal The Problem

The data clearly reveals a disconnect between the consumer expectation and the provider delivery when it involves web usage. According to the UCLA Internet Report 2001, "About 58% of users in 2001 believe that most or all of the information on the Internet is reliable and accurate." That leaves a significant audience share with doubts about the data they acquire through Internet use.

The Internet consulting firm, Enterpulse, in a May 2002 report, noted that "89% of business people aren't impressed with the websites they visit. And 66% rarely return to sites where they've had a bad experience." Again, Enterpulse found that there is a significant gap between customer expectation and experience. Specifically:

  • Almost 80% of visitors feel that business websites tend to be designed from an internal company perspective vs. a user perspective.
  • 95% say that it is very or extremely important that the information they need to do their jobs be accessible, up-to-date, and easy to find on the Web. Yet, nearly half said that business websites are not always easy to navigate.
  • 90% of those surveyed said they expect companies to respond to questions submitted via their websites within 24 hours. 58% wanted an even faster response …in less than 8 hours.

According to Consumer WebWatch, part of Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports Magazine, only 29% of users say they trust websites that sell products and services, a far lower figure than for traditional, offline institutions. Says Beau Brendler, the Director of Consumer WebWatch, "People are using e-commerce sites more and more, but they're trusting them less and less."

A Web credibility study by Stanford Persuasive Technology Labs – Makovsky & Company (2002) clearly identifies the top factors that increase a visitor's perception of site credibility:

  • Provides quick response to customer service questions
  • Provides comprehensive information that is attributed to a specific source
  • Lists author's credentials for each article
  • Is hosted by an organization that is well respected
  • Has been updated since the last visit
  • Looks professionally designed

And the factors that diminish the site's credibility?

  • Has a link that doesn't work
  • Is sometimes unexpectedly unavailable
  • Has a typographical error
  • Is rarely updated with new content
  • Is difficult to navigate
  • Links to a site that is not credible

What's The Problem?

There are always a number of rational reasons why website nurturing is a forgotten priority. Website maintenance is normally not budgeted, planned or integrated into performance-based tasks. It's often the purview of a committee with little or no accountability. In many instances, it's perceived as the lowest common denominator function or handed off to staff who have little or no understanding of, training in, or commitment to website marketing strategy, e.g., HR staff, administrative assistants, etc. For the overworked, under-budgeted marketing department, checking links and updating content is a low priority on the "to do" list. Worse still, little or no time is spent in analyzing website reports and activity metrics. That's where the real opportunity loss occurs.

In the final analysis, what this means is that website investment is perceived as a liability with little return on investment. The website, an important tool in brand leverage if managed correctly, becomes a cause of brand erosion e.g., missed opportunities to offer competitive information, services and products. As potential customers are lost, competitors gain at our expense. The final result is a loss of credibility and trust in the brand or the organization. And the failure to conduct an ongoing analysis of the site's performance, results in missed opportunities to economically update the site by adding new content, features or other interactivity functions. Not to mention lower search engine rankings.

A Way Out of the Wilderness

According to Toby Bloomberg, Principal of Atlanta-based Bloomberg Marketing, a website nurturing consultancy, it all comes down to consumer need. Bloomberg suggests that there are five basic filters that the average Internet user applies to website assessment:

  1. Is the information reliable and accurate? This is the entry point to any website experience.
  2. Can I trust the information to make needed decisions? What are the repercussions of incorrect data in terms of time, money and personal credibility?
  3. Is it worth my time to interact with this site? Do I waste time with broken links and dead pages?
  4. Can I easily find the information I need? Is the site easy to navigate?
  5. Is there a reason to return to the site…to bookmark the site? Is the content updated? How frequently? Is it relevant and valuable to me?

The Stanford/Makovsky Study confirms Bloomberg's advice (www.webcredibility.org/guidelines/index.html). Consumer WebWatch (www.consumerwebwatch.com) also outlines the guidelines for standardizing website disclosure information and promoting credibility, specifically in areas of Identity, Advertising & Sponsorships, Customer Service, Corrections and Privacy.

In the end, says Bloomberg, "Website nurturing provides distinct and accountable benefits that most companies are failing to acknowledge." According to Bloomberg, the benefit list is long:

  • Increase sales from Internet and traditional channels
  • Increase website value and credibility
  • Gain visitor trust
  • Increase ROI through longer, deeper site visits
  • Reinforce branding strategy
  • Foster customer loyalty
  • Expand competitive advantage
  • Increase conversion of newsletter registrations, product update requests, survey participation, etc.
  • Stimulate return site visits and site bookmarks
  • Enhance customer website experience
  • Improve search engine rankings
  • Encourage the media to view the site as a credible source of industry information and product advice

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