Tech Bytes

Nov. 21, 2006
While managing editor Jodi Richards is out on maternity leave, we asked Editor Tom Smith to providessome of his insights on a topic facing many business managers today - how to make ultimate use of a company's website.

The exam has been turned in and now I am waiting on pins-andneedles for the results.

I've just spent the last nine months working on my first web project. It has been nine months of research, surveys, consultations, and interviews. I've toyed with different designs and argued with others over these designs. In the end, I will not know how my plans will or won't work until the new site is in use.

Some may think web design is a creative or theoretical science, but in the end it's a crapshoot. All the key decisions are based on gut feelings as to what the web user wants.

My charge was to update the Cygnus transportation websites and make them compelling enough to generate significant daily traffic. I set about looking at competing websites to determine what additional information Cygnus could give without charging a user subscription fee.

There are some very good websites out there published by huge organizations - but they charge an arm-and-a-leg in annual subscription fees. At the opposite extreme, some sites do nothing more than host the parent print magazine and provide a bunch of links. Unless you don't get a copy of their free magazine, these sites have no compelling reason to visit on a regular basis.

It became apparent that there are sites (frequently government ones) that are rich in raw information. Yet, these are either difficult to navigate (How did I get to this page?) or are just too deep in material to visit often.

So I have set about creating my dream sites - full of news, full of regulatory stuff, and full of free information for which others charge. Our mission is not only to provide a comprehensive snapshot of the daily news, but also to provide much more news-you-can-use, aka business intelligence. The mantra: "Visit me daily, Visit me daily, Visit me daily."

One major trick to web publishing – you need to push your information to generate traffic. You cannot rely on people coming to your site out of habit to check out what's new. The emailed e-blast or e-newsletter can be the key vehicle to keep readers informed. The newsletter provides teasers on current headlines, with those all-important links back to the website. There are a variety of software programs that will measure just how effective the e-blast is in motivating readers to both open the email and then follow-up with a website visit. I'm just beginning to comprehend the many ways these programs slice-and-dice readership information.

When we've provided daily coverage for recent aviation and mass transit trade shows, we sent out daily e-blasts summarizing our convention coverage. On average, these e-blasts drove up daily site visits by a couple hundred. One mass transit blast drove more than 600 people to that site on a Friday morning!

Perhaps the most challenging day came in August when TSA suddenly imposed the liquids ban because of a possible terrorist attack on nine U.S. airliners. We wanted to provide the readers with more than just the wire news. For the first time (and certainly not the last) we reached out to other Cygnus websites that specialize in police, fire, and security operations. We tapped their reporters and their experts. We also deputized any company employee who happened to be traveling that day to provide us with information for a blog.

The power of the special e-blasts and events were proven that day. Our daily site visits were 5,000 more than the previous day.

There's one more advantage of an e-newsletter: It's another advertising venue. Advertisers are very interested in 'buy blocks' on an e-blast because those audiences can be targeted. Nothing is more valuable to them than a highly targeted list.