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Focused Content Still "King" Online

Ever notice how some web sites grab your attention and hold if for hours, even to the point where you must consciously drag yourself away from the monitor?

In an age when web sites truly rate a "dime a dozen," discovering a really great web site feels more like finding a $10 bill on the sidewalk than merely surfing the Internet.

Whether their creators did it on purpose or not, virtually all successful web sites share the following characteristics:

First, every good web site focuses on a specific, narrow, "niche" audience.

Imagine the difference between a light bulb and a laser beam.

Both provide light, but the laser focuses its light with pinpoint precision, while the light bulb diffuses its light in every direction.

In other words, successful web sites don't try to sell cooking supplies to people interested in the latest fishing or hunting equipment.

They specifically provide content on exact topics of interest to their target audience, instead of trying to offer all things to all people.

Second, with the exception of personal, family, or hobby web sites, every web site operates with the ultimate purpose of turning a profit.

Unfortunately many web sites make this their only purpose and, thus, fail miserably in their attempts to succeed online.

We saw how blatantly greedy, self-centered web sites failed in the "dot-bomb" era... and it got ugly.

On the other hand, successful web sites make money as a result of providing products, services, and information of obvious value for their targeted visitors.

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They win by putting the needs and desires of the visitors first and get rewarded in the process.

Next, virtually every good web site shares something in common with successful newspapers and magazines: great headlines!

Any web site that makes it over the long haul does so by quickly communicating the main theme of the web site with a compelling headline or opening statement that pulls people into the text.

Most people surf the Web in "stay or bail" mode, meaning they constantly evaluate everything they see on whether they should keep reading or click away to another web site.

The headline or opening statement on any web site represents the single most powerful factor to influence people to stick around and find out more, or hit their back button faster than you can say "Windows Blue Screen of Death!"

Finally, once a good web site pulls a targeted visitor into the text, they provide focused, benefit-oriented product information, articles and other content that plays to the reader's built-in mental radio station, WII-FM (What's In It For Me)!

By providing narrowly focused content, the web site satisfies specific desires for the audience and, if it's a topic of intense interest, holds their attention for an extended period of time and gets them to buy.

The next time you get a "great idea" for an ebook, Internet business, or someone approaches you with a "can't miss" online tech stock, pull out this list and use it to evaluate the big picture.

Understanding how and why web sites succeed or fail can help you predict the ultimate fate of just about any online venture.

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About the Writer of this Article

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Coporate Website Content Design Failures

Examining the failures of the web content design of many enormous consumer corporations.

When you think of the world's most successful businesses, what names come to mind? Most likely, consumer-oriented giants such as Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Sheraton, Disney, IBM, General Electric, and IBM. Not only have they spent billions on advertising to buy their way into your head. They offer convenient products and services that have made them a part of your life.

But when you think of the most successful web sites, what names come to mind? Names like Google, Yahoo! Amazon, AOL, Kazaa (for better or worse), and Hotmail.

The late-1990s mantra about the web being a disruptive technology that would destroy traditional companies may have been overstated. But a decade and a half into the web's existence, it is clear that the world's leading corporations have been sidelined on the web.

The biggest shopping site is not walmart.com but amazon.com. The biggest map site is not randmcnally.com but mapquest.com.

Established companies have usually only been able to buy their way into this market through acquisitions (as with Microsoft's purchase of Hotmail, which it used as a base for creating MSN).

Why, with few exceptions, were the world's most successful web sites not launched by the world's most successful corporations?

Many Big Name Companies' Web Sites a Vast Waste of Time for Visitors The McDonald's web site talks about food, but has no real menu. The Coca-Cola USA web site has no clear ingredients list or nutritional information, no recipes for floats or mixed drinks, no company history, and nothing else useful to people who like Coke. All that information has been inexplicably located on the " company" page, which on every other web site is used for investor relations. The Johnson and Johnson web site has useful information if you can access it--when the author attempted to open it, it crashed two different web browsers (Internet Explorer and Mozilla) before finally yielding (to the Opera browser).

Many big-name companies' web sites offer lessons in what not to do in web design. The biggest lesson by far is not to sacrifice usability in an attempt to look cool, and never forget why your users came to your site in the first place. McDonald's may be the world's largest restaurant chain, but it didn't get that way because of its web site.

Why Big-Budget Websites Are More Often Bombs than Blockbusters The web sites of many successful corporations (both B2C and B2B) are like big-budget Hollywood movies that spend millions on stars and special effects, and a quarter of a percent of the budget on the script. Worse, the special effects of blockbuster web sites are far more annoying than impressive.

Special Effect that Bombs Number 1: Flash! When web sites don't offer any content--any useful information to read--what do they put up there instead? Spinning Coke bottles. Chicken McNuggets and French fries that zoom out toward you when you position your cursor over them. Changing pictures of generic-looking office buildings and men in suits (on the web site of real estate giant CB Richard Ellis--but that essentially describes the generic look of many corporate web sites).

Of course, Flash can be used as a way to present content--words, both printed and recorded, and pictures that actually illustrate something. But more often, it is used to impress. And most often, it ends up annoying. Who wants to spend the better part of a minute waiting for a rotation of generic pictures of smiling models?

Special Effect that Bombs Number 2: Splash Screens You type in duracell.com expecting information on batteries--which you will find, if you have the patience not to hit the "back" button while the site shows a picture of a battery revolving painfully slowly. On www.mcdonalds.com you're met with pictures of happy children playing with Ronald McDonald and a menu to select what country you're from. Johnson's and Johnson's web site shows a logo before automatically redirecting you to the main page--that is if it doesn't crash your browser first (which happened when the author tried to access the page on May 2, 2004 ).

Another way big consumer corporations' web sites from Schick to Mercedes-Benz to Thomas Cooke waste your time with splash pages is by making you choose what country you're visiting from. This could have been detected automatically, or at least, useful worldwide content could have been placed on the homepage, with an option to choose a country prominently displayed.

Splash pages are the internet equivalent of making patrons wait in line out front before letting them inside. Unless a site belongs to a night club or a professional services firm with too much business, this can't be a good idea. On the web, where the "back" button and the URL bars loom temptingly, making people wait is business suicide.

Special Effect that Bombs Number 3: Overbuilt or Badly Built "Dynamic" Functionality Every web surfer has a story about a shopping cart that malfunctioned just when they were about to click "purchase" on something they really wanted. Or a detailed form that lost all the information after the "submit" button was pressed. When there are so many good "dynamic" sites out there, why are there still so many bad ones? Part of the problem may be overbuilding and needless custom design. There are already excellent Open Source databases out there, which can be endlessly customized and updated by any skilled designer. Yet many companies prefer to spend their money reinventing the wheel so they can have their own proprietary technology, even if it doesn't work.

Sometimes, dynamic content can distort the way an entire site presents itself. If the dynamic content is so complex that it presents problems for many users, it is unlikely the dynamic content is worth it. On disney.com, your first greeting is a message that your computer is sufficiently up-to-date (or not) to handle the site. Is that really the magical and fun impression you want to give visitors?

About the Writer of this Article

Joel Walsh is the founder, owner, and head writer of UpMarket, an online copywriting / internet marketing services firm & web content provider to small and medium-sized businesses.

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