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October 2, 2010
Fat and Old Websites and What to do About Them

I think websites are like people. They either grow fat and bloated as pages are added and sections are expanded, or sites start to look dated as they’ve grown old in Internet time (think dog years times two).

What should you do? Whether it’s your agency site (quick aside: I was in a webinar led by a highly regarded Web guru who said ad agency websites are the worst!), your client’s site or your personal website, it’s time to get with the times.

Throw out the site map

You heard me. Throw out the site map. I think the site map is long in the tooth and ready for retirement. Sure, it tells you what content goes where. But the emphasis on the site map comes at the expense of the site design.

A great many sites have bounce rates over 25 percent. That means for every four site visitors, one hits the home page and bounces off to the next site without ever visiting any of your pages. If you paid for the click thru, you just got robbed.

I believe the emphasis should be on the design and navigation. Explore different design treatments. On a recent project, we came up with five design treatments for the home page and navigation that were really more like concepts. The client loved the breadth of thinking and how directions differed and tied to the brand.

How will people navigate through the site? Visit mlb.com and mtv.com. See how when you roll over the top menu options, it drops down and takes up real estate? I think that’s a neat way to offer one-click access to a lot of content. How would you show that on a site map? You can’t.

Build to search

A week doesn’t go by that I’m not asked to integrate keywords into content. Some days, I feel like I work for Google. My point is, don’t build the site and then optimize it for search engines. Think about search during the development process.

For example, who’s the target audience for the site? All too often sites are built for multiple audiences -- prospects, customers, vendors, employees, and investors. It gets muddy real fast. In the site I’ve used as an example, we built the site for prospective clients. This allowed us to talk directly to them as prospects rather than keep the content company-focused so it could apply to everyone.

Back to search. With a defined audience, you can use keywords and terms they use to find you. For example, for my client, a translator, I used Google’s Adwords Keyword Tool (free, I can send you a one-pager on how to use it) and saw a connection between the audience and what the company excelled at. The search term was “technical translation,” not the most popular, nor the most competitive, yet right on with my client’s strength. Knowing this going into site development, technical translation played prominently.

Search is a funny thing to work on. Nobody knows for sure what Google is doing. It’s like the Colonel’s secret recipe. At the same time, Google wants to help and puts out plenty of instructional videos and content on Google Caffeine, quality score, Google Instant Search, etc. There are other search engines for sure, but until I’m told different, Google rules the roost.

Does it have to be a website?

You know the running joke about creatives. How many creatives does it take to change a light bulb? The creative’s answer: Does it have to be a light bulb?

These days, serious people are seriously questioning the need for a website. Why not just create a Facebook page or a Ning social network site and skip building a website? Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far just yet.

Perhaps a great example is Disney, a brand I know like my buddies know Apple. Disney.go.com is huge but Disney just launched a user-generated site http://memories.disneyparks.disney.go.com/ where park visitors can upload photos and videos of their Disney theme park vacations. Is that magical or what?!

Maybe you need both -- a website for your client or agency and one that you just monitor and let who it’s for run it.

Today’s lesson: If you have a fat or old website, get with the Og program. Throw out the site map, build to search, and innovate beyond the ordinary website. For inspiration, check out the website I helped created for my language-translator client -- sh3.com. If you have clients in manufacturing who sell globally, SH3 can manage the translation, not to mention make you look good.

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Mike Ogden is a digital/senior writer based in Kansas City. Ad agency stops have enabled him to create for major brands like American Century, Capital One, Sprint, and USAA. Seasoned and sharp with a touch of gray, Ogden, aka Og, is known for creating and championing ideas. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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