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Popularity Contest: The 3 Most Requested Web Services

Jan 31, 2008
This month marks the start of my 8th year planning Web sites. (Believe it or not, that first site is still live. And no, I won't tell which one it is.)

In that time, our Web design & development firm has launched hundreds of sites, and we're looking forward to many more successful projects. But this anniversary, I'm taking some time to reflect on what I've learned about our clients and their primary needs.

Far and away, the three most popular Web services we provide are:

1. Search-engine friendliness: get your site to rank high
2. Flash animation: make sure it looks good
3. Content management: make free updates forever

In other words, people want sites that are easy to find, easy to update, and easy on the eyes. About 90% of the Web sites we build have these elements, so let's break each down a bit and talk about why they're so popular.

Search-Engine Optimization

If you build it, they will come. Well, not quite.

According to some studies, 50% of first-time visits come from search engines, so of course companies want to rank well. But when a project begins, most clients don't understand what this entails.

Very briefly, the 3 key steps:

1. Pick the right phrases to target
2. Build pages that are relevant for those phrases
3. Promote your site by encouraging incoming links

In other words, research, write, and reach out.

There is a lot more we can tell you about these three critical tactics, but we'll save the rest for a future article.

For now, here's the key point: if no one sees your site, it isn't helping your business.

Flash Animation

Good Flash exists for a great reason: if it communicates quickly and clearly--and drives visitors' eyes to the most important message--then animation can be very useful. But Flash for its own sake will do more harm than good.

Many visitors stay on a Web site for only a short time. Think of your own behavior online: you've probably visited thousands of sites for less than 10 seconds.

Now consider your site: How can you convey your message in such a short time? With Flash animation, you can direct your visitors' attention and share information using simple text and imagery.

Of course, Flash does more than communicate quickly; it can also help your site look more current. Animation increases the shelf life of your Web design.

The key is to keep it clear and concise. Communicating with Flash is like introducing yourself to a 12-year-old on an elevator: attention spans are short and time is limited. Once you have visitors' attention, use Flash to guide them deeper into your site by providing a Learn More button.

But use caution: visitors tend to dislike intro animations--even when a skip button is available. It's best to put Flash right on your home page.

Content Management

The good news: The Internet is not a static medium, which means that you can keep your visitors up-to-date on your business's latest news and developments--and keep your clients coming back for more.

The bad news: the Internet is not a static medium, which means that you have to keep updating your site to ensure its value.

A content-management system is an interface between you and the techy computer coding that makes your Web site work. It enables you to make fast and easy changes to your own site.

Since most content-managers exist online, it's easy to make updates from anywhere, at anytime. Best of all, you'll save yourself the ongoing hassle and expense of contracting with an outside firm for every tweak.

Of course, some changes (like a new animation or feature) still require the help of a Web-design team. But content-management systems allow you unparalleled control over the content of your site: use this application to edit copy, add pages, upload photos, and more.

Change is the one inevitability of your Web presence; how you prepare for that change is up to you.

Here, we've offered you three great and easy ways to stay on the cutting edge.

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About the Author
As a Principal and Strategic Director at Orbit Media Studios, Andy draws on his knowledge of marketing, usability, and interactive design to lead strategic planning for the firm and its clients. Orbit specializes in Web, print, and video design & development. Orbit Media Studios.
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