Your website is your real location--think of it as your online office. This is where the "official" version of everything belongs.
Your Facebook page is a place to socialize--think of it as the lunch room, coffee shop, or after-work watering hole. This is where people will engage in "light" conversation and banter. It is a good place to post links and news of interest in your field, but which are not directly related to your organization. Important conversations (such as meetings, policy discussions, and so on) probably do not belong on a social website, and are better handled on a forum or blog discussion on your website. Although you can announce that those discussions are happening via Facebook, with a link back to the actual discussion.
Your Twitter feed is a place for timely announcements--think of it as an announcement over a PA system.
Let's take a typical example of something that could involve all three online services, and see how each could play a role that compliments the others without pointless duplication. Say you are hosting an important event - an annual conference:
Website: your website should host the official event calendar and description, possibly with online registration and other event-related services.
Twitter: this is for timely announcements, so use Twitter to send out short notices for things like registration openings and deadlines, changes in itineraries or agendas, and perhaps a welcome and thank you note at the actual start and end of the conference.
Facebook: add a brief event announcement, which points back to your official web page. You can make this a Facebook event if you like, but that is optional since you aren't really using Facebook's calendar services. Pre-event announcements are helpful to build interest, but Facebook really excels at post-event socialization, such as posting results, awards, photos and albums, or videos. These are the sort of things that people enjoy reminiscing and bantering about in a social medium like Facebook.
Search Engine Optimization should be a standard component of any organization's marketing plan. Search Engine Optimization can be done in-house if you have the time and resources available. Here are a few tips to follow:
Remember: SEO should be part of every company's marketing plan. Long-term strategy can produce long-term payoff.
Warning: Companies that try to trick search engines can be blacklisted. Understand your vendor's philosophies and SEO strategies
...but it can certainly be made to look like one. Most first-timers to the web build their first sites as brochure websites, describing their mission and services, and providing some basic contact information. The resulting site is simple, cheap, and easy to maintain, but it may not be much more than a glorified yellow-pages ad. It certainly does not take full advantage of web technology.
...but it can certainly be made to look like one. The advantage of online magazines is that they contain informative articles on whatever subjects are appropriate to the site, which helps to attract viewers. The disadvantage is that they may trap you into treating your web pages as static documents that are simply read and then discarded. Web pages are much more than articles wrapped in a slick graphic design.
Brochures and magazines are communication tools, but they are examples of one-way communication. You push your content out to the viewer, but receive nothing back. More sophisticated websites engage in multi-way communications, which gives not only a richer user experience, but also provides the site owner with useful new data and content. Any time you encounter an online form on the web, you are dealing with a site that receives information from the user, in addition to giving information out. Furthermore, many websites are connected to databases that serve as sources of information to display (such as catalogs, event calendars, and so on). As new information appears in the database, the site automatically grows in scope.
An old web adage is that you should offer something for free. The internet is full of free information, and your website is competing against many others for the attention of users. The more barriers you place between the user and the information they would like to view, the more likely they will just go somewhere else to find it. "Free" in this sense means "freedom" just as much as it means "zero cost". For instance, users treat their privacy as having value; if you ask for their e-mail address or name before giving out your information, many users will decline unless they have no other choice. In this age of spam and viruses, one's personal e-mail address has equivalent-to-money value.
Just because you are online doesn't mean visitors will automatically come to your site. Just as you cannot expect to run a booming retail outlet in the middle of nowhere, you also have to ensure that your site is well positioned to draw visitors to it. Website position is not quite as simple in concept as retail location, unfortunately. Good website marketing depends on how you expect people to find out about you. If you are expecting to draw the general public in, then search engine placement may be critical. Getting yourself indexed in appropriate web directories is also important. If you are marketing direct to customers, on the other hand, they need to know your website address, either from your published materials, email, or other means. And of course, once you get them to your website, you also have to keep them there, and possibly even entice them to return again another time.
For anything other than the simplest brochure websites, regular content updates are a must. Sites that require frequent or high-volume updates may absorb a lot of manpower keeping the site current. Skilled IT personell (aka. "webmasters") can help, but sometimes this can make the problem worse, since the webmaster can become a bottleneck. Often the webmaster's particular area of expertise (eg. graphic design) won't match the areas of work they get flooded with (eg. editing content, database management). More people for your web team can help, if you're lucky enough to have the budget for that. Otherwise, you should consider how a content management system can help to automate the process of updating your site.
Just because websites are publicly accessible on the Internet, doesn't mean they have to be build exclusively for the public. Many websites have private or members-only areas ("extranets") for more private or secure functions. These sites leverage the global reach of the Internet to give a small organization a computer network that can be accessed from anywhere. There are even many hidden sites out there that are built for single-person use; that one person gets their own private computer network tool that can be reached from anywhere in the world at near zero cost -- which is very useful for travellers.
Building an interactive website can be a complex undertaking. It is analogous to building a house. You should have a blueprint that includes future forecasts as well as present undertakings. Otherwise you may find that you are not able to add that 2nd storey to your house, and will have to start all over from scratch. When you begin building your site, remember that construction is initially focussed on things like the foundation and layout. The wallpaper and paint (ie. your graphic design) are details that do not concern your construction crew, however much they may concern you as the homeowner. In the view of your contractors, you will be able to change the paint and wallpaper as much as you like once they are done, but if you get the foundation wrong, then your wallpaper plans are irrelevant.
Many people view a web page as a simple document, like a page from a magazine (see above). However, if the web page has been composed from information taken from a database or a web form that the user has entered data into, then this document is not so simple. In fact, you also need special software that knows how to take all that information, and assemble it into the web page that the user actually sees. What this means is that a complex website is not really a collection of documents at all, but rather a bunch of computer programs that know how to build web pages on the fly from the content that they are provided with.
If you are managing a project to build your own such website, that means that you are not overseeing the production of documents, but rather the engineering of a software system. It would help to have some understanding of software development processes (especially issues such as developing your business logic and software testing), to better handle the issues that arise.
Pre-packaged web software systems are available that may suit your needs, but their extensibility may be limited. Feature sets may be fixed, or there may only be a specific set of add-ons available. If you need to add new functions, find out if you have to do this through the original vendor, or if you can shop around (or even do it in-house). You should also consider what sort of ongoing support is provided, and what your options are if the vendor goes out of business or stops developing the product.
95% of them are invisible. As mentioned above, an interactive website is primarily a software project. Software is all about function, but many newcomers to the web are distracted by websites' form (ie. the visible elements, such as graphics and text on screen). The visible elements of your website may be a very small fraction of everything that is going on there. This also means that your web developers could be making huge strides in your project, with little or no results that are visible to the end user. If you are overseeing a web development project, be sure to understand all these hidden components, so that you can tell the difference between a project that is going like gangbusters on the "back-end", and one that is stalled and in need of help.
Before you begin developing your new or updated site, make sure you understand what technologies are going to be used. Making the wrong decision could negatively impact your search engine rankings well into the future.
Almost all search engines are designed to index websites written in HTML, not flash, so an all-flash website can be disastrous for search engine rankings. If you use a flash intro, make sure you provide a "skip intro" link in HTML. And if you use flash extensively on your site, you may want to provide an HTML alternative for the benefit of search engines, as well as users who don't have flash-enabled browsers.
Frames make it difficult for search engines to index a site because with frames you usually have multiple pages, perhaps even an entire website, all sharing the same URL. It's URLs that search engines index and link to, so frames make it difficult for them to direct people to your content. There are some instances where frames are useful, but you are generally better off avoiding them if you can.
Some search engines may rank a regional domain name like ".ca" lower than if it was ".com" domain. However, it is generally believed Google is NOT one of these search engines. In fact if you have a ".ca" domain then you should get a higher ranking at Google's Canadian branded version, google.ca
Splash pages can hurt your search engine rankings because they usually have little or no content for the search engines to index. This means that the primary URL for your website will get a low ranking. This is especially bad because the other websites that link to you will probably be linking to that poorly-ranked splash page, so you gain little benefit in the rankings from those links.
Search engines generally don't penalise dynamic websites, but they will try to avoid complex database-driven sites. The reason is that the number of pages in such a site could be virtually unlimited, putting the search engine at risk of wasting its own resources, and of putting too much strain on the webserver by requesting pages too quickly and possibly crashing the website. A good rule is that if the URL contains a question mark, then you can question whether a search engine will ever see it.
The quickest way to lose a customer is to let them get lost in your site. The number one reason why someone leaves a website is that they can't find what they are looking for. It is essential to organize your site in a way that follows the theme you are trying to promote. It should be a natural choice, and users should know which link or button to click to learn more or order your product and services.
A good method for testing how easy it is to navigate your site, is to ask people who've never seen it before to go on and try to find some specific information, while you peer over their shoulder. This can be a quick way to discover poorly designed or misleading navigation links, or problems with the site's organization.
Keep it inside:
A common mistake made by web designers is to offer a link on the first page of the site that will take people out of your site and to some other page. Ensure all third party links open in a separate window so people can easily get back to your site.
Keep it simple:
Big scientific or technical terms will turn your audience off. What good are they if people reading your page cannot understand what it is you are trying to sell.
Keep it truthful:
Don't try to deceive your visitors. Make sure they know what it is you are selling, promoting or giving away.
Keep it fast:
Most visitors still do not have high speed internet. Use graphics sparingly to illustrate your point or product and keep in mind that 30 seconds waiting seems like an eternity to potential customers. Keep the graphics small so the page will load quickly.
Keep it informative:
Savvy web users want information that is well presented and easy to find.
Keep it polite:
Don't ask for too much information. People do not like receiving unwanted e-mails. Make sure the visitor knows what the information they are giving is going to be used for. Do you need their date of birth? Do you need their gender? Think about the information you're asking for, and ask yourself, would I want to give this information out?
Keep it correct:
Nothing casts doubt like a website that has spelling errors or misplaced links. Your visitors are going to wonder about doing business with you.
Keep it search engine friendly:
Understand what technology you are using and the impact it may have on search engines and your ranking.