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What makes a successful website?
By Jim Schakenbach, Managing Partner, SCT Group, Inc.

Without content there is no website and any good site developer will tell you developing and maintaining informative, compelling, and valuable content can be one of the hardest parts of creating a website.

There's an interesting trend in the business press these days regarding websites - I've noticed more and more articles focusing on site design when discussion turns to what makes a successful website. Here's a news flash - just talking about the do's and don'ts of site design is like telling half the story. Without content there is no website and any good site developer will tell you developing and maintaining informative, compelling, and valuable content can be one of the hardest parts of creating a website.

Put another way, focusing on just site design is like having brand-new designer luggage - it may be great looking and could work well, but there's nothing in it yet that you need for your trip. To be sure, this is not the web designer's fault - after all, their job is to create a site structure and make sure it's attractive, intuitive, functional, and easy to navigate. But while design may be where the magic happens, content is where the selling happens. And isn't that why businesses create websites in the first place, to help them sell better? Since most web design firms prefer to concentrate on design (and rightfully so), content's got to come from somewhere and it's usually the client or a third party: a marketing communications or advertising agency, or a writer. But wait, it doesn't stop there. The best websites are constantly evolving and long after the design is approved and posted, the content needs to be refreshed regularly to maintain interest, value and searchability.

There's that word - searchability. Search engine optimization. The Holy Grail of web strategy. All the great design won't mean a thing if the world can't find you, and ideally find you before they find your competition. Design really doesn't have much to do with search, except when a designer makes the mistake of using too many graphics and not enough real text which can seriously hinder searching. Search has everything to do with the words in a site -- both the text visitors read and the keywords behind each page.  To achieve and maintain searchability and the highest possible rankings, a website needs to be "refreshed" early and often. That means posting new content on a regular basis - news and events, product information, industry backgrounders, case studies, employment opportunities. Lots of words that are valuable and searchable so that a website can achieve its maximum value. Good site design is critical, but content is king.

There's yet a third component that receives scant attention - site statistics. These are the critical data that any good internet service provider (ISP) should be able to provide that shows site traffic patterns, entry points, time spent on pages, and other vital information that will help the site owner determine what, where and when to revise both content and design. Operating a site without good stats is like operating a motor vehicle with a tarp thrown over the windshield. Sure you can drive, but sooner or later you're going to run off the road.

So when the discussion is about websites, the talk needs to focus equally on design AND content. Site design needs good content to give it value, content needs  good site design to give it form and function. Design AND content -- without either one, the other is useless.

The SCT Group Inc. is a marketing communications agency specializing in science, communications, and technology accounts. For more information, please visit our web site at http://www.sctgrp.com/ or call 508.919.2092. Technology Spoken Here.

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