Creating and Maintaining an Effective Interactive Website

Esteemed panelists from the Entertainment Professional Publicist Society discuss how to create and maintain an effective interactive website. Panelists consist of Howard Brodwin, Managing Director of Team Marketing Systems, Jeff Gordon, CEO BrightWise, Cherri Senders, President of Senders Communication Group and Maria LaMagra of MLM Public Relations who moderated the discussion.

The first topic addressed is answering the question, “What kind of website do I need?” Jeff Gordon said his company uses a worksheet to define the client’s needs. Once they have the objectives, they can work backwards to develop a site that addresses the client’s goals. Defining these goals can sometimes become confusing and the question came up, “Do you want to build a website or do you want to build a business?” Obviously, the website should be an integral part of the total business operation. It must support and embellish the client’s marketing, advertising, and public relations efforts.

There are several types of sites. One is the simple static site, much like a yellow page ad. Another is the dynamic site in which content is constantly changing. This might include news and product updates, or even interactive elements like email responses, blog postings and comments, or the ability to make online purchases. Collecting email addresses of visitors is another facet of the dynamic interactive site.

Navigation around the site is an important design consideration. If one has to travel three, four levels deep to retrieve desired information, a person may become lost or loose interest traveling further. A simple dashboard arrangement with click-down menus is one way of addressing this problem. Topics can be arranged in an outline format allowing users to travel from category to sub-topics and quickly reach the desired destination.

The reason web-users travel to a specific site is to obtain information. And the information on that site is called content, be it in text, photos, or graphics. Writing strategic content should be relevant to the target audience. Trying to cover too much can muddle the objectives and site visitors will leave unfulfilled. Writing good content requires getting into the mind of your constituents and addressing their needs. Language, tone, and online persona are important factors to consider in writing content. Focus on benefits to visitors, not on features, keep the language simple, and use emotive words as people make decisions based more so on feelings.

Keeping your audience engaged and coming back is also an important part of building an effective website. Cherri Sender suggests updating your site regularly, a minimum of two times a week. She also suggests using multiple platforms to move your message. These might include Ezines articles, newsletters and links to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Estimating the cost of a website is another topic discussed. Many factors go into coming up with a figure. A simplistic static website with multiple pages, menus and photos would come in at the low end. A complicated dynamic site with videos, interactive tools, and shopping cart functions could be a much higher. It all depends on the functionality of the site and the number of bells and whistles. Thus the cost range could vary from a little as $3,500 up to $35,000 depending on the site’s complexity.

The advent of mobile devices with online capabilities has upped the need for multiple platforms. In order to serve this growing mobile community, compatible download systems for I-pods, Smart Phones, etc., must be installed. There are content management systems that can take care of these compatibility requirements.

SEO, Search Engine Optimization, is a complex issue of optimizing your website to increase its chances for a high search engine ranking. In essence, you want to land on page one of Goggle. Numerous plug-ins will help with this task. Some of the factors that determine SEO rankings are relevant page titles, Meta descriptions, and keyword tags. Cross-browser compatibility, functional links to relevant and high traffic sites, and having photos captioned and file tagged can also affect one’s SEO ranking.

Site effectiveness measurements can be obtained via subscription services such as quantcast.com and compete.com. Alexa.com offers a free ranking service. Howard Brodwin, however, states that Alexa’s results can be juiced by sites knowing how to work the system. Rankings are not always indicative of a site’s effectiveness. One must also factor in the size of one’s target audience, the number of hits, page flips and the fulfillment of visitor’s expectations. Another factor is audience recognition of the product or message and the depth of their recall.

The key to creating and maintaining an effective interactive website is having a conversation and listening to one’s audience. Then constructing a site based on this dialogue, one that informs, communicates, connects, and entertains. Building lasting relationships by providing credible content and re-occurring benefits are other ways to establish and maintain such a site.

Erik Sean McGiven is a member of Entertainment Professional Publicist Society, and writes copy for various websites. He has worked as a publicist on numerous low-budget films, along with book authors, actors, and non-profit groups. He now works in the industry as a producer, writer, director, and production designer.