Life in the fast lane of the information highway by Damon Segal

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Imagine that having a website is like owning a car. Before you buy one you have to decide what you want and what you need.

Should it be fast, economical, luxurious, basic, flash, powerful, loaded with gadgets etc? All these factors will affect the cost of your car; some cars have great engines but don’t look good, some cars look great but don’t have all the gadgets.

Websites are much the same. You may have a fantastic e-commerce or content management system but the front end of the site – the bit your clients see – may look basic or, dare I say, unprofessional.

Let’s go back to the car analogy. You could buy a middle of the range car with an average engine and then spend money later adding skirts, spoilers, decals and a great paint job.

Or you could go for the whole package and get a luxury fast car that comes with all the whistles and bells. It depends on what you need and what you can afford.

Remember some cars can be upgraded later with extra gadgets and even a more powerful engine. Just like a website.

Think back to when you bought your first car – it was probably the best you could afford at the time to get the job done.

But cars age and technology moves fast, so that car you bought with the CD player could well now benefit from being able to connect to your iPod. You might even decide after a few years you need a bigger boot and more storage space. Just like a website.

Usability is important. When I was younger, I owned a car with a door you had to lift to unlock it. I had to pump the gas three times before turning the ignition and only then would it start.

What if your website worked the same way? If you gave a visitor the keys, do you think they would be able to get the car started? A website – like a car – should work the way we expect it to.

Someone recently told me he hated the fact that so many websites look the same! You could argue the same with cars, after all they usually have four wheels, headlights, brake lights, a steering wheel and an engine.

Most of them put things in the same place, too, but this is for the user’s benefit. As soon as you move the ignition to the middle of the car (like Saab did) or the gears to a lever on the steering column then people get confused and are invariably put off.

Websites are the same. Usability means common factors like logos, navigation, site maps and home buttons should be in a standard place.

That’s not to say innovation doesn’t have its place, but innovation needs to be intuitive and when it’s not it can cause more harm than good.

What would you think if you went to buy a car and it had the spare wheel on the roof, eight headlamps and six narrow doors? That’s the kind of user issues some badly-designed websites create.

Now let’s consider maintenance. You wouldn’t expect your car to run forever without looking after it, and you don’t expect all external factors to stay the same.

You know that if you don’t change the oil from time to time the engine will break. And if a new law regulates emissions, or your car gets so old the manufacturer stops making spare parts, then things need to change.

It’s exactly the same with a website. If you don’t clean your database from time to time, or Google changes the way it looks at a site for indexing, then your site won’t be as effective as it once was.

Here’s a trickier concept to grasp, but persevere because marketing a website correctly is crucial. it’s a very important point. Imagine your pockets are deep enough to run a Formula 1 car, your team hires the best driver and invests a fortune making sure the car’s technology will make it perform to the highest standards.

The only problem is that one team doesn’t know what the next team is doing to ensure they are in with a chance of winning. Odds are the team with the best driver and best car will win, although the mix might be the best car with a good driver just keeps up with the best driver with a good car.

Well, it’s the same principle with search engine optimisation. You might spend lots on getting the structure of your website 100% right for Google but with an average digital marketer (the driver) implementing the search engine strategy your results might not be fantastic.

Mind you, you might get the best SEO and the best marketer and still find someone else is doing it better. Perhaps they had more money to spend on a link-building campaign.

Finally there comes a time when you need to change your car. Maybe you got bored with it, maybe you need a bigger one or perhaps you need to make a better impression when you pull up at your client’s office.

For these same reasons you will need to change your website, too. Life moves fast online, keeping up is not easy – but sometimes it is necessary. The bad news is that one year of website life is like three car years, so you will have to change your site more often than you would like.

But at least you’ll keep ahead of all the others on the information highway.

 

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