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Internet problem salving

By The Drum | Administrator

August 27, 2004 | 18 min read

It’s human nature to fear the unknown. Personally, I find hard work terrifying but, when that unknown quantity is some form of technology, that fear turns to abject horror. For confirmation of this look to that barometer of modern-day society; Hollywood.

When your typical film exec lifts his nostrils off the mirror for that rare “eureka” moment, you can bet that a fair proportion of his ideas will revolve around technology – technology that goes wrong. From Yul Brynner’s relentlessly pyschotic android cowboy in Westworld, to nefarious computers in Tron and War Games, to Will Smith wrestling with other box office heavyweights in I, Robot – techno fear is here to stay. we can all relate to it and it’s big, big bucks.

Bearing this in mind, it’s entirely understandable that many firms out there might view the shadowy world of new media with a certain amount of trepidation. It’s the nasty robot of the marketing world; it’s the medium that, when you get round to booting it up, may well crash your budget. Basically if you find programming your video for Eastenders a daunting prospect, how the hell are you meant to come to terms with e-crm, search engine optimisation and user profiling. It can be bloody scary.

However, we’re here to help. Or, more precisely, some people who genuinely know what they’re talking about are. Without further ado, why not say hello to our coterie of experienced agony aunts and uncles. They’re here to answer your most sensitive new media questions, assuage your techno anxieties and generally say, “Yes, it is normal. Yes, it does work, and everybody experiences the odd problem now and again.” So take a seat on the couch, sit back and relax. We’re all friends here you know.

Why don’t I get Wayne from IT to design, build and run the site in his spare time?

Chris from WebXpress: “The web is becoming an important marketing medium for any size of business. It needs to be controlled by the marketing department, not the IT department.

“Wayne, like most techies, will have played with the sexy technologies of website development. However, he has no training in design and he is unlikely to understand the marketing messages you need to get across.

“Wayne may also reckon he can run the site from your internal network but, in doing so, will invite the four horsemen of the electronic apocalypse: the hacker, the virus writer, the worm and the spammer – so don’t let him.

“It is always best to do business with a company, not an individual. Wayne may get bored or disappear snowboarding when you need him most. In any case, if Wayne turns out to be a gifted web developer, he’s not going to stick around for long in your IT department. Once he has cut his web development teeth on your site, he’ll be off setting up his own commercial agency, or at least working for one. So, you might as well have gone to an agency in the first place.”

How much does a business website cost these days?

Kirstie from Reading Room: “How much does a car cost? This, of course, depends on what kind of car you want to buy. To answer it you need to answer questions like: ‘What am I going to use it for?,’ ‘How many people do I need to get in it?,’ ‘Are there any special add-ons that I want?,’ ‘How much mileage am I expecting to do?’ and ‘How sporty or elegant do I want my car to look?’

“Pricing up a website requires very similar questions to be answered – ‘How many people are expected to use the site?,’ ‘How many pages are going to be in the site?,’ ‘Do there need to be any special features, for instance, online payment or discussion forums?,’ ‘How important is it to be able to update the site easily on a regular basis?’ Only once these questions are answered can you get any idea of what you should be investing in your website.”

Andrew from Pavilion: “Look hard at anyone who says a six-figure sum is a minimum with an eighteen-month lead-time for site development. All businesses should strive to have content management functionality built in to their site to help ensure it remains fresh and relevant. This is certainly achievable with a development budget of less than £20,000. Simple promotional microsites, even with data capture, should rarely exceed £10,000.”

How do I get people to visit my site?

Simon from Fuse: “Well, I suppose the most obvious answer is to make sure you develop a site worth visiting in the first place. One of the great characteristics of online media is how easily content can be recommended to peers through channels such as e-mail and text messaging.

“The trick is to develop truly entertaining or genuinely useful content and provide the mechanisms so that your visitors can recommend your site to their friends and colleagues. Easier said than done, but if you can achieve this then not only will your traffic increase but, more importantly, the audience is likely to be within your target market.”

Lou from Magnetic North: “Making people aware of your site can be done efficiently through on or offline channels. Making the most of existing offline marketing communications by including reference to the website is an obvious and cost effective approach. In the current marketplace, however, just having a website is no great news story for the consumer, it’s simply expected. So including a reason to visit as part of the overall message is a vital factor in encouraging people to go online and take a look at your website.

“Making sure your web address is memorable and intuitive is also important. Clever or unusual addresses can sometimes work for the brand but consumers don’t always have internet access at the point you’re making them aware of your website, so they should be able to remember it hours, or even days, later.”

What do I need to think about when writing a brief?

Tony from Code: “Much of an online brief is the same as any offline brief: we want an idea of scope; is this the design and build of a site or will the project include online promotion? Background on the brand proposition, attributes, tone of voice and so on. Perhaps most importantly we are looking to establish the goals of the site, what you hope to achieve with it, so that we can define some measurement criteria and look at what common ground you share with the site’s target audience and their requirements. We want to know about any content you particularly want to include and how often content might change. We also want to know about anything that the site may have to tie in with, existing databases, CRM solutions, other marketing activity.

“Finally, if you can give an indication of budget, do so, as it creates an even playing field when comparing one company to another.

“To be honest, though, no matter how good your brief doc is it usually will just give us a feel for the scale of the project, we will still want to come and see you.”

How will the website remain consistent with the offline brand?

Ben from Rippleffect: “It is very important that a business or organisation’s online and offline brand is consistent, and most credible online agencies would recognise this fact.

“A website should be created in line with brand guidelines, and this can be reinforced by the client, marketing/ad agency and online agency meeting and agreeing these principles before the commencement of any work.”

Lou from Magnetic North: “Integration is critical to maximising campaign impact and, more importantly, the consumer expects it.

“It’s important that the lead creative agency is developing core branding ideas that are flexible enough to work across all disciplines, not just broadcast or offline media. Having a positive working relationship between the various agencies helps enormously.”

How do I choose a hosting company?

Neal from Digerati: “How do you choose a builder or a plumber? Word of mouth is your best bet with hosting companies too. There are thousands of them out there and they all promise that they’re the best. Talk to your web design agency, if you have one – they’re bound to have a preferred supplier they work with all the time.

“Consider your needs. Does your site need a dedicated server? Maybe because it’s going to be very popular and you expect to need lots of bandwidth, or it requires a lot of disk space or processing power. Expect to spend £2,000–£5,000 a year for a decent dedicated solution.

“If you don’t need a whole server to yourself, and most sites don’t, then you need a shared hosting solution. Here you share a server with up to several hundred other sites, but also the cost. Expect to pay between £100 and £400 a year, although my personal favourite company only charges £125 + VAT and they’re good.

“Obviously, don’t expect a quality service from a free hosting company, unless they’re flooding your site with adverts – they’ve got to make their money somewhere.

“Once you’ve found a company you like the look of, try calling their technical support line before you part with your money and see how long it takes them to answer. And maybe have a few technical queries to throw at them. I’ve had a few surprisingly honest replies from obviously disgruntled employees in the past using this approach and gone elsewhere before it was too late.”

Why spend my budget online when I don’t sell direct and don’t sell online?

Lianne from Moonfish: “Because it is the second most consumed medium, after TV.

“The internet is the fastest growing media and marketing channel, with recent research showing it is the second most consumed form of media after TV, especially for the ever growing broadband-enabled population. In the last few years media consumption has changed dramatically, with increasing fragmentation, making it ever more difficult for brands to reach their target audiences effectively.

“You cannot discount the internet any longer as a medium that only attracts young tech savvy men, as internet users now represent society as a whole in terms of demographics. You need to follow your audience, and your audience is online.

“Online marketing is not just about banners and pop-ups either. Whether brand building or driving direct response, there is now a wide range of tools and techniques that you can use to great effect.

“For example, the larger rich media advertising formats have brought more engaging and elaborate executions to the web, albeit with a whole list of jargon terms with them. Interactivity is also a great benefit of online formats, enabling audiences to engage with your brand in a much deeper fashion.

“At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. Online marketing is not just about driving clicks. Research proves that online campaigns can improve brand recall significantly.”

How can I measure the return on investment from my e-marketing spend?

Steve from Lawton: “The first step is to define your e-metrics. These will identify key performance stages of your e-marketing campaign, which will ultimately form the basis of your performance funnel.

“Typically these e-metrics should consider audience exposure, direct response and final resulting actions. The actions will ultimately be tied back to the campaign objectives, that is, number of sales (cost per acquisition), number of brochure requests, number of e-mail registrations etc.

“Next you’ll need to identify e-metric benchmarks and set target projections for every e-marketing activity you intend to deploy. For instance, e-mail marketing, pay-per-click, online advertising etc.

“With a campaign tracking solution implemented and your campaign underway you’ll be able to measure and analyse results across all your e-metrics mid-campaign in real time to identify ‘weak points’ in your performance funnel and make relevant changes to maximise ROI.

“And finally, analysing the results at the end of the campaign will reveal the total return on your e-marketing investment and key learnings.”

Lou from Magnetic North: “For some projects we might be looking to deliver against ‘hard’ targets such as sales or the growth of an e-mail database. Each of these deliverables can be assigned a value to the client’s business and can in turn be used as the basis for an ROI calculation.

“For others, we might be looking at softer measures such as the quality of the ‘brand experience’. Once again, these deliverables can be assigned a value but the calculation of this may be a little more complex; for instance, what the cost of delivering the same level of ‘brand experience’ through alternative media channels would be.

“Part of the interactive agency’s role should be to prepare this information and analysis in a ‘digestible’ and relevant format.

“From experience, few clients fail to get excited when they start to see how incredibly accountable and effective interactive communications can be.”

Tony from Code: “Online activity is very measurable. That’s one of the key beauties of it. One of our clients, Venture Portraits, uses banner advertising to drive new customers to the site, track what they do when they get their and, most importantly, know how many coupons for photography sessions they are selling as a result. This gives them a very clear cost of acquisition and allows us to constantly re-evaluate how the site can improve the conversion rate.”

What’s right for me? Search engine optimisation or search engine marketing?

Tim from Red Rocket: “In a nutshell, if search engines are right for you, then the answer is both.

“Optimisation means that your site employs programming techniques to get as high up the rankings as possible (be wary of using ‘trick’ methods that could see your site being added to the ‘banned’ list). Search engine marketing covers a range of methods where you pay to advertise (for instance, banner ads) or pay for each person that clicks your entry in the ‘sponsored links’ section of the results (known as ‘pay-per-click’).

“They each have their strengths, but together ensure that you pull as many relevant members of the searching public as possible to your site. It’s worth noting that as a private company or small organisation, the search engines don’t want you at the top, they want big name portal sites like “The Guardian Online” up there. That’s why, from time to time, they change the way they prioritise their rankings. It’s always a joy to see weeks of work disappear in smoke one morning because the rules changed the night before.

“At least with search engine marketing, the only people we have to stay one step ahead of are the competition!”

How will we manage website content?

Neal from Digerati: “You have three options. The first is to employ a web content manager to do it for you. web-skilled people are easy to find and much more affordable these days, so having your own web guy or gal need not cost your company the earth.

“The second option is to have a Content Management System (CMS), either off the shelf or custom built for your site. A CMS will only work with pages that are data-driven (that is, have a database which holds the page content). The advantages are that you don’t need a skilled web person to change your site – you can do it yourself, albeit to pre-defined templates. But a CMS can be costly to implement, and might prove to be inflexible as your site grows. The trick is to plan for most content eventualities so that your CMS can accommodate you.

“The third option is to use a product such as Macromedia Contribute, which allows a relatively unskilled person to edit the content of web pages, while enforcing design and template rules. However, you will need a web-skilled person to both integrate and set it up.”

Ben from Rippleffect: “Businesses should now be managing the majority of their website content through secure online Content Management Systems. These systems are web-based and are developed to enable easy-to-update facilities, removing unnecessary technical input. There should be no reason why in today’s environment businesses should still be dependent upon the in-house ‘IT Guy’ to update and manage their website content.”

Why does my website not look the same on everyone’s computer?

Chris from WebXpress: “They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but on the web everyone is looking through a different set of glasses: their web browser. Even if two people are using the same version of Internet Explorer on a PC running the same version of windows, their screen size and resolution could be different and they may have their browser window open at an irregular size. If the user is partially sighted, they could be using an extra large font.

“Luckily, the inventors of HTML, the language of the web, decided that they would leave the decision as to how a website would be displayed to the browser software. So, when we include text in our pages we can hint at a suggested font and justification, but the browser can override this, depending on its owner’s settings.

This is how it should be, if you want to make the most of the size and shape of the surfer’s browser window. The site pours onto the screen, making its own layout decisions.

“The alternative is to break this feature by making everything, including the site text, an image, effectively turning the flowing water of HTML into ice, resulting in large scroll bars and tiny fonts for people using lesser equipment.

“Your site should look different on different computers if you want to accommodate the widest possible audience, but there’s no reason why it can’t look good in all cases.”

Should I use Flash for my website?

Simon from Fuse: “Like any other piece of communication, you need to choose the right media for the job and consider your objectives and the requirements of your target audience.

“Flash is the perfect development tool for generating interactive online experiences. It’s a great way to provide immersive content and allow your audience to interact with your brand.

However, use it in the wrong circumstances or use it badly, and it can become cumbersome and frustrate your visitors. For e-commerce or dynamic data driven content the chances are your visitors will want the process to be as quick and simple as possible so Flash may not offer the best solution. Get it wrong and the results can be catastrophic. Does anyone remember boo.com?”

Tony from Code: “Of course, but when appropriate, it is a great tool for brand enhancement but has implications for search engines and accessibility. Let your digital media company make these decisions and don’t get stuck on it.”

Am I really obliged to make my website accessible?

Kirstie from Reading Room: “In most circumstances, the answer is yes. In Great Britain, Part 3 of the Disability Discrimination Act requires providers of goods, facilities and services to avoid the less favourable treatment of disabled people and also to make reasonable adjustments to any practices, policies or procedures which make it unreasonably difficult for disabled people to make use of the services they provide. In particular, the Act explicitly refers to “access to and use of means of communication ... and information services” as examples of services covered by these provisions. Insofar as a website in itself constitutes a service, or is the primary medium for the delivery of a service, it will therefore be covered by Part 3 of the Act.”

Lianne from Moonfish: “Aside from legal obligations, having an accessible site has many commercial benefits. Your site will be more efficient, easier to maintain and could deliver higher search engine rankings. It will be accessible to a much wider audience, including the 9 million disabled people in the UK alone. General usability will also improve, maximising conversion rate and the ability to successfully meet the needs of your visitors. You can also be confident in the fact that your site reflects good corporate social responsibility, which will enhance your brand image.”

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