Web Informant #378, 16 July 2004: Strom's Web Maxims

 

http://strom.com/awards/378.html

 

Since taking on this new job with CMP's Electronics Group last month, I have been having a blast examining the sites that I am now responsible for and dusting off some of my old Web maxims. These are lessons that I wrote about many years ago, and updated with some new ones too. It has been fun to go back down memory lane and see how far the Web has come in the past few years, while I have been busy toiling in the VAR print fields. It has also been frustrating to see that even with better technology and tools, we are still so many babes in the Web woods. So I thought I would share a few of these lessons learned with you, in the hopes of stimulating further discussion. After all, if I can't get help from you, my readers and experts, who can I trust?

 

  1. Don't underestimate shelf life. On the Web, information can and will live forever. I don't know why I am amazed that I get emails from readers about articles that I wrote five-plus years ago, but I am. A corollary to this is pay attention to your readers and what they are reading and commenting on. Chances are if someone took the time to write you a comment, it is content worth paying more attention to.
  2. Newsletters and Web sites need personality. Personality drives readership, click-throughs and site visits. Without personality, readers will go elsewhere or stop reading entirely. Get the 'tude or get going, I say. Be the enemy of the bland.
  3. The name of the game is pass-along readership. The best pages and newsletter copy gets emailed around to others. (How many copies of that last joke did you just get?) Sometimes you can track this, but other times you can't. Figure out what is lighting up your own network and feed that beast as best you can.
  4. Print, Web, and newsletters need to work together. Ignore this synergy at your own peril. Have links between print editions and your site that people can find the content from week to week. Maintain archives and reference pages that will bring back repeat traffic. Mention these pages from time to time in your newsletters.
  5. The more easily people can find your site; the more they will return to read it. The longer the URL the harder it will be for people to remember it and type in. The "aural URL test" (can you speak it to a friend without having to spell it letter by letter) is a good one. www.TheVitaminShoppe.com fails this test big time.
  6. Search has to really, really work. Don't screw this up: pay attention to your search engine and tune it religiously. If visitors can't find stuff, they won't come back. Index your site daily to keep the search relevant and useful.
  7. If you put up a registration gate on a site, expect traffic to drop. There are ways to mitigate the drop-off, and you need to understand them. For example, you can mix paid content (by calling it "premium" and also charging more for these ads) with freely accessible content. You can mine the addresses collected in the registration process with a series of cross-promotions. But you shouldn't be afraid of giving stuff away: one site will allow you to download the first page of a document for free. If you want the rest, you have to ante up.  
  8. Use RSS now. While the audience is small, it is growing and is an easy way to increase traffic and target specific areas of your site. I started using an RSS feed many years ago, and I didn't really pay any attention to it. But it is real: Yahoo has a beta RSS reader now and many of the pop-up blocker toolbars include RSS support too. It takes no time to prepare an RSS feed, particularly if you can do it automatically with your content management system, and it shows that you know what you are doing and are ahead of the curve.
  9. Manage your unsold ad inventory as if it was real money in your pocket. Start thinking like the airlines: an unsold seat on the flight that just departed is a missed opportunity to make some additional money. Develop different house ads that can be used here, and think creativity of approaches for filling these spaces. One example is to coordinate newsletter and site ads and promotions.
  10. Don't needlessly annoy your readers. Making them click more than once to request information or to hunt around your site for a map or a sub-category page will increase frustration and drive traffic away. Having dead pages or outdated information is another no-no. Prune your site, fix known problems, and your readers will come back because they trust you and see that you are willing to go the extra mile.
  11. Don't bury the good stuff off the home page, and don't lose track of popular destination pages. Pay attention to your site statistics, and tune your site's page structure to make it easier for the popular pages to draw more traffic. The flip side of this is also important don't spend all your time maintaining a bunch of pages that few people will ever see.
  12. Watch the traffic referrals from Google and Yahoo. They can be a blessing and a curse. You may have to restructure your site depending on where they are sending traffic to.
  13. A good resource page is a thing of beauty, and a pain forever. It is also a near-full-time job to maintain those pesky links that you thought were a good idea when you first put them together. I know, because I have lots of resource pages that belong in a museum: I haven't touched them in years, and I won't try to now. Find someone who is passionate about the topic, and pay them a small fee to do the dirty maintenance work.
  14. Typos matter. Really. It goes towards making your site professional and credible.
  15. Just because you can measure something doesn't mean you know anything. The site traffic analysis tools are still crude, and click-through rates don't always tell the whole story. Far better to understand the results and the meaning behind the numbers.

 

Entire contents copyright 2004 by David Strom, Inc.

David Strom, dstrom@cmp.com, +1 (516) 562-7151

Port Washington NY 11050

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