If you build it, will they come?

Build a Web site and they may come, but it’s a better bet to first create a clear corporate strategy and understanding of your audience.

Randall Craig, president of Toronto-based Internet Marketing Associates Inc., spoke recently at Internet World in Toronto about common Web site implementation mistakes and how to avoid them.

“You spend so much effort and time building something, but how are you going to get people to come there? And more importantly, how are you going to get people to come back? And if you can’t get people coming back, then what’s the point of having that site as a resource?”

According to Craig, IT staffers often face a lack of support or technical knowledge at the top management level.

“If the senior management doesn’t understand it, if they don’t understand at least how to surf the Web, that will run you into specific problems.”

Organizations that don’t have precise project plans or locked-down specifications will also run into problems quickly, he said. Another common implementation mistake Craig has seen involves too much preparing and not enough action.

“A Web site works very, very quickly. It’s not a quarterly publication, it’s not something that happens annually. If you do too much planning, the needs will change. It’s much better to get something up and deal with shorter time horizons and do many mid-course corrections, than holding off for months and months until you’ve actually got something,” he said.

Often, there is little or no integration between marketing and communication strategies within companies, he added. “It’s amazing how many marketers might not be aware of all the things the technology can do, and how the technology people are often not aware of all the marketing objectives that are going to be important that particular year.”

Using outdated systems, having little or no network or hardware infrastructure, and not taking the time to update the sites regularly also reflect poorly on the company and its overall credibility, he pointed out.

On the other hand, some organizations make the mistake of being too “bleeding edge” — going overboard on new technology.

“A lot of the sites we develop are fairly new and fairly innovative. But there is a certain cost to being on the bleeding edge, so far ahead of the pack [where] instead of using tried-and-true technologies [a company uses] a particular marketing approach that is so far ahead of a consumer’s expectations.”

Craig said companies with the most successful sites work on customer service and marketing integration, sufficient publicizing of the site, ensuring it’s an ongoing project rather than just a “launch,” making content relevant to the target audience, interactivity with the user and having an intuitive user interface and appropriate graphics.

“Have something that involves the user, because if you take a look at the purpose of many Web sites it’s to move people along the relationship curve, and at a certain point they want to use you for one reason or another,” he said. “And if you are able to engage the person, whether it be with database queries or calculators, it moves them way, way forward.”

According to Craig, some key survival tips for companies include making sure hardware has enough scalablity to grow with demand, choosing the right target browser, implementing clear security policies, doing automatic back-ups and ensuring these are in working order, having system integration fail-safes in place, identifying where the bottlenecks are and diversifying the responsibilities across the firm as much as possible.

“Because if one person leaves, and it was the main idea person, your risk level goes way up as well,” he said.