By Dominic Jones
ONE of the immutable laws of the Web is that people spend more time on other websites than they do on your own.
Taking the time to understand what experiences other websites provide can help you design a site that lives up to your audience’s expectations and standards.
Companies considering an IR website redesign right now — and most of you should be — face a daunting task. That’s because the shape of the Web as we know it is undergoing a rapid and fundamental change.
Participation model emerges
The Web is moving from a medium primarily driven by information consumption to a new participation model. People are no longer happy to just take what you give them. They want to give back, share, interact, converse. It’s two-way, not one-way.
That is made abundantly clear by the latest report (PDF 86.5KB, 3 pages) from Web research firm Nielsen//NetRatings on the top Web brands in July 2006. It finds that “user-generated content sites” — platforms for photo sharing, video sharing and blogging — comprised five out of the top 10 fastest growing Web brands.
Image-hosting site ImageShack ranked fourth among July’s fastest growing Web brands, rising 233% from a unique audience of 2.3 million to 7.7 million. Heavy.com, a video sharing site, took the fifth spot, jumping 213% to 3 million unique visitors. Photo sharing site Flickr is sixth, growing 201%.
And then, of course, there’s the phenomenon of youth-oriented MySpace, which has grown 183% percent year-over-year from 16.2 million unique visitors in July 2005 to 46.0 million in July 2006. It is now ranked the 7th most popular brand on the Web, not far behind such heavyweights as Yahoo!, Google, and MSN/Windows.
Think about that for moment. A year ago, had you even heard of MySpace? Likely not.
Look at websites like MySpace for inspiration for your website redesign.
New development techniques moving mainstream
All of these fastest-growing sites have a few things in common. They are all participation-based and they all are using the latest technologies to enrich the user experience. They also share some look-and-feel commonalities.
It is unwise to ignore these sites when embarking on a website redesign. Indeed, Web companies like Yahoo!, which recently redesigned its homepage, are increasingly borrowing concepts and practices from the up-and-comers to keep their sites relevant.
In a recent report evaluating which technologies are likely to shape the near and long-term future, Web research firm Gartner said it expects technologies employed by fast-growing participation-based websites to become mainstream in under two years.
These technologies include AJAX, a web development technique to make websites work and feel more like desktop software. It is widely used by Google for some of its new products, including Google Spreadsheets. Other technologies we would add, only because they are far from mainstream on IR websites right now, include RSS feeds and Flash video and audio.
Substantial benefits to early movers
What is the potential benefit for you in looking at these new Web 2.0 sites when planning your next site revamp? You can look at an organization like the Associated Press, which Nielsen//NetRatings ranked as the third-fastest growing Web brand in July 2006.
The once-stodgy news organization achieved this sharp spike in use largely on the back of new innovations like its online video network, launched earlier this year, and its blog headlines collaboration with blog search site Technorati. The latter encourages bloggers to link to AP articles because it puts headlines from blogs commenting on AP articles right next to the article text on more than 400 newspaper websites. That’s a stroke of marketing genius if ever there was one!
The opportunities for corporate and investor relations websites to take advantage of new technologies and participation features are virtually endless. The benefits to your company’s brand and reputation can be huge.
However, don’t go diving into new technologies without careful thought and planning. It is vital that you choose the right tools, technologies and vendors right off the bat to avoid problems down the road.
And be especially on your guard for some of the things we’re seeing from big vendors like Shareholder.com and Thomson Financial. In some cases, their practices are simply bad for their clients.
In times of change like this, it will pay you to get an unbiased expert opinion from a third-party who understands your objectives and the expectations of your audience. Yes, that’s an unabashed plug for people like us, but it is honestly the very best advice we can offer.