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Let’s face it – every Website on the Internet is a “marketing Website”. Whether it is a company trying to sell a product to a customer or a 15 year old high school girl trying to sell herself to her friends on MySpace, Websites are designed to promote a brand, product, person, company or idea to a global audience. And it works and works well. The question is then how to transform your B2B or B2C Website to rise above the rest and be worthy of recognition.

For almost a decade and a half, the Web Marketing Association has watched websites evolve and become important communication tools for marketing and commerce. Our WebAward competition for Website development has recorded more than 24,000 site reviews and recognized the best websites in 96 industries each year. Based on this award program research, here are four ways to make your website a more effective part of your online marketing efforts.

Focus on Content – Content is what people come looking for on your site. While every sites is different, straight information often does not always cut it any more. Users expect much more when they come to a Website looking for product information. They want to see links to manuals, customer testimonials or ratings, and virtual demos. Content today needs to be entertaining as much as it is informative. As browsers go mobile, be sure your content is suitable for mobile browsers and consider special content just for mobile visitors.

Make the Site Come Alive
– People what to be entertained and use all of their senses when they come to a Website. The experience is what makes a lasting impression. Sound can be a powerful tool. I remember one WebAward winner that allowed you to click on difficult medical words to hear how they sound and to learn to pronounce them. Simple technology that provides a valuable experience can give a user the confidence needed to talk a medical provider on important personal issues.

Appropriate use of Flash can also add much to a site. 73% of last year’s WebAward winning sites used Flash to enhance the user experience. Flash can enhance navigation and be used to create outstanding3D product demos for products and virtual tours for restaurants and hotel Websites. At the same time, overuse can make a sites seem cluttered and overwhelming.

Personalize the Experience – Databases changed Websites from flat hard-coded html pages where everyone saw the same thing every time, to dynamic pages where everything is added on the fly based on the needs of the specific page at that time. This also allows Websites to know their customer better when they return. Amazon.com is a great example of this. Every time you return, you can see past searches and purchases as well as what other buyers of those products were interested in as well.

Be careful that personalization does not become a barrier. Some Website make it hard for me to return by not remembering my username and password. Security feature? Not to me it isn’t. It’s bad customer service that will end up having me find another site. Yes you can target offers to me if you know who I am, but if all you do is target me, then I’m likely to know it and move on.

Consistent Brand Experience – What consumers experience online should be complimentary to what you are trying to accomplish offline. All too often interactive developers loose focus of the brand intent when implementing the online brand strategy. Often silos between traditional advertising and interactive departments result in opportunities being missed. The Internet can help you target you brand messaging to a tighter audience, but the brand values must be consistent everywhere the consumer interacts with the brand.

Bottom line

Websites today are too important as a branding and sales tool to not spend the effort to make sure that you stay on the cutting edge within their industry. Remember everything is relative when it comes to website development. It does not matter what Mercedes is doing on their Website – unless you are BMW. Focus on what your competitors are doing and make sure you keep the needs of the customer as priority one. This will help you stay one step ahead and make sure your efforts put you in good light when a potential customer is choosing between you and your competition.

William Rice is President of the Web Marketing Association, sponsor of the annual international WebAward competition for Website development. Now in its 14th year, the annual international WebAwards competition sets the standard of excellence in 96 industry categories by evaluating Web sites and defining benchmarks based on the seven essential criteria of successful Web site development. The goal of the Web Marketing Association is to provide a forum to recognize the people and organizations responsible for developing some of the most effective Web sites on the Internet today. Entrants benefit from a Web site assessment by a professional judging panel and the marketing opportunities presented to an award-winning Web site. For more information, visit www.webaward.org.

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