04/05/2012

By Jon Smith, Author Of 'Smarter Business Start-ups'

Every Tom, Dick and Harry is trying to promote, sell, force their views, convert, inspire, turn on and sometimes steal from hapless users of the World Wide Web.

To decide that you want no part in the madness is terribly honourable but not terribly bright. It really is a case of: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em and then beat ’em. Promoting yourself, your product or your views on the web can be expensive and ineffectual and it can also be so viral and successful that you will be overwhelmed with demand.

But when you are up against all of this noise on the internet, how are you going to rise above and ensure that your site shouts loudest without puncturing eardrums?

Web users, by and large, are promiscuous — they will use your site for only as long as it continues to please them. When they’ve had their fill (or what they perceive to be all you have to offer) they move on to the next site. It is in those short few minutes, or seconds, depending on your performance (noticing any parallels here?), that you have the opportunity to hook them.

The best promotional websites are those that don’t confuse. They are clear in their message about what they are promoting, whether that be an organisation (e.g. financial services), a specific product (e.g. a new drink), or a concept (e.g. druid baptisms). The site, no matter how large, is geared towards this one purpose and no matter which page of the site your user visits, they understand.

You can still show depth and breadth within a promotional site, but this should not all be crammed onto the homepage. Let your navigational options guide the visitor to where they want to go and let users travel at their own pace.

The worst promotional websites are those that try to alert the user to absolutely everything on the homepage. The site’s owner feels that they are showcasing their entire offering; the visitor gets frightened, somewhat confused and leaves. More commonly, a website will be full of claims reinforcing quality, excellence, excitement and professionalism — yet the actual site is slow, badly designed and maintained. From this, the user will be quick to judge — the only thing being promoted is your incompetence. Not the desired effect.

Think of your favourite drink — alcoholic or otherwise. If you were designing a micro-site for that company, what messages would you want to convey? How would you promote that product and why? With the results, formulate a list of core messages — so ‘not over fizzy’ would become ‘competitive advantage’ and ‘tastes great on ice or straight’ would become ‘expanding market’.

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