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Top Ten Mistakes a Company Can Make on the Web

by Lee Le Clair, CTO, Ephibian

1. Trying to do too much at first.
Creating a Web site or business is like making a bet. The technology and work to implement functionality cost time and money, but there is a potential payoff. Emphasis on potential. Many businesses feel pressured to get on the Internet having heard only a lot of hype. In that kind of situation, the prudent thing to do is to place a small bet and learn everything you can. That means a small project with clear goals and metrics for success. Win or lose, you'll have learned a lot and then you can make better decisions about placing your next bet and what size it should be.

2. Using the Web like an existing media channel.
Too many entrepreneurs think that because of the 24 x 7 nature of the Web, all they need to do is pump out their information on a Web site and the customers will come. Unfortunately, the landscape is littered with companies that were going to be the next great content portal. These companies failed to take into account the business basics of knowing their market and their competition. Take the time to understand what's available and unique about the Web and how it applies to your business. Exploit the things that make the Web unique to differentiate your business, versus building your business around the Web.

3. Unrealistic expectations about technology.
A lot of businesses assume that technology has reached the point where you don't have to think much to be successful, the technology will take care of it. That has never been the case and still isn't. Technology will let you do almost anything given enough time and money. The key to keeping the cost vs. the return at a reasonable ratio is understanding and making the technology do what it does best, while freeing people to do what they do best.

4. Creating your site around your organization instead of your audience/client.
This mistake is most common in large organizations where the design is too internally focused and has an inconsistent user interface. Most users of a site could care less about an organization's structure or divisions. Design the site around a customer's anticipated tasks. Do it well, and you will have a lot of happy customers.

5. Overly elaborate page design.
You've seen them by now. They look wonderful in demonstrations but often suffer in real-world use. Be careful in selecting a graphics company that has a deep understanding of and experience with the Web, as opposed to print-graphic shops that are looking to expand their business. The two media are vastly different. Test the possibilities in real-world conditions.

6. Content, content, content.
Just like location in real estate, content makes up the heart of a Web site. Remember that for the Web user, your site is your company: information, customer service, drivers or manuals, interoperability, ordering, etc. Therefore, take the time and care to ensure that you represent your company well on the Web. Your competition is just a click away.

7. Poor link and navigation design.
You'd think that people would know by now but poor linking and navigation design are the bane of many sites. The vast majority of site users will be dumped unceremoniously into some detailed aspect of your site from a search engine, and not through your carefully crafted splash intro page. All of your pages should be designed to allow users to quickly get their bearings and further navigate or get out of the site.

8. Not writing for the Web.
Writing for the Web is different than writing for most other media. It's fine to write well, but typically found a layer or two down in the site - when it's certain the user has found what they're looking for. At the initial levels, things should be brief because the text at that stage is still really part of the navigation.

9. Common sense not required on the net.
Businesses fight a tough battle to survive at every level. The first waves onto the Internet seemed to think this didn't hold true as long as you were competing on the Internet. Clearly, that has not proven to be the case. To be successful online, you should have the business sense to be successful in a traditional business, plus you should be very knowledgeable about the specific advantages and disadvantages of taking it to the Web. Technology and the people to competently manipulate it are well worth the expense.

10. Estimating the personnel impact.
Companies venturing onto the Web often miscalculate the impact on their personnel and responsibilities. Sometimes they anticipate they need too many people, and others underestimate by incorrectly assuming the Web will eliminate the need for many of their current employees. People are valuable but expensive resources. Make certain you consider what your business will require in terms of upkeep and maintenance on the Internet, otherwise it may well not be worth the effort for your particular business. If you create a site where you indicate the content will be updated often but then find it takes too much time, you will likely alienate customers and possibly hurt your company's reputation in a way that's difficult to recover. Decide upfront what resources will be required to maintain your Web initiative on an on-going basis.