July 7, 2016
Whether you’re developing a new platform, building your brand, or just sharing some pics, a website can be custom built to your purpose. That’s the beauty of the web: whatever your objective, you can create a site that helps further that goal.
And with social media and tools such as Weebly and Squarespace, building a digital presence is easier than ever. Unfortunately, this ease of creation — and the pressure to be everywhere all the time — has many companies trying to put the cart before the horse, building websites and apps before they fully understand their goals.
This means many companies fail before they’ve begun. They have no clear purpose and no clear path to turn visitors into customers. They try to please everyone and do everything; instead, they end up with nothing.
Before building a digital presence, companies need to ask themselves why they’re doing so in the first place.
Leave Failure in the Dust
As exciting as your product or service may be, if you don’t have clear objectives in place before you set up your digital presence, you could very well be dead on arrival.
Even majorly successful companies such as Google have found this out the hard way. Look no further than Google Wave to see a product with enormous potential that failed utterly, thanks to a lack of clear messaging. In hindsight, Wave was an excellent communication tool for teams — akin to Slack or HipChat — but because Google failed to focus on that one area or even communicate its practical applications effectively, it flopped. Hard.
Here are four strategies to make sure your digital presence doesn’t meet the same fate:
1. Do your homework.
Find out who your customers are. Test different prototypes to see which styles they like best, using tools such as usertesting.com or invisionapp.com. Ask yourself where customers are going to find out about your site or product — through Google? Word of mouth or social media? Paid ads? There are a lot of avenues for exposure, but focus on one or two channels that reach the majority of your users and strategize around them.
2. Establish cross-platform consistency.
Set the tone with a strong tagline, a style guide, a focus on your audience, and a consistent brand across all your digital properties. Your style guide should cover elements such as what buttons should look like and what colors and fonts to use. Companies sometimes undervalue brand consistency, but it goes hand in hand with strong brand recognition. Style guides are vital to building a successful, visible brand.
3. Keep things simple.
The jack-of-all-trades approach is rarely the right one for a digital-first product. Simplicity is always a better, more intuitive experience for first-time users, which helps them become repeat users. It’s much more effective to excel at one thing than to be average at 100 things.
In some cases, choosing simplicity may even mean bypassing whole platforms. Instagram didn’t have a way to access its feeds on a desktop until three years after launching, choosing instead to focus on mobile. And Apple still doesn’t have an official Twitter account for marketing new products, mainly because it likes to maintain tight control over its image — something Twitter makes it hard to do. Your presence, no matter where it is, should serve a specific purpose. Otherwise, it may be less of an asset and more of an albatross.
4. Create a splash page with a strong call to action.
Once you figure out your site’s main purpose, create a clear next step for your customers to take. The splash page — where your customers form their first impressions — should tell them exactly what to do next. Direct new users to watch a video, download a PDF, enter an email address, download an app, or more. This isn’t relegated to just your website, either; social media accounts can also have a call to action — in your profile or in a pinned tweet, for instance — that drives users to your website or directs them to an event or app.
There’s no magic formula for creating an effective digital presence, but there are clear paths forward. Create products that are simple and understandable, and make sure your objectives are obvious not only to you, but also to your users. This way, you can create a road that actually leads you to success — not one simply paved with good intentions.
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