by: Thomas Young
Previous blog posts have focused on understanding usability and visitor needs to improve website design. In our four-step process, step two, design and development, also includes website technology and the technical side of how websites are constructed. This blog is a review of what business leaders should know about web marketing. This essential knowledge includes a basic understanding of the technology behind their company website and how the development process works. This post is a summary of that process.
Business Leaders Must Know the Basics and Be Involved
Technology has become a critical part of business and the top leadership in any organization should clearly understand the strategic value of technology for their company. Business leaders can no longer make the excuse of not understanding technology fundamentals or passing it on to others for strategic implementation. Technology is simply too important and today’s business leader must be a much more active participant in technology decisions. Poorly- or ill-informed technology decisions within a company can have huge consequences.
The technical side of digital marketing is one of these areas. Business leaders do not need to know every detail of website technology, but they do need an understanding of the fundamentals, so they can make better business and budget decisions. Here are a few key points business leaders must know about website marketing technology to better lead web marketing efforts.
Open Source Software Versus Licensed Software
The original business model for software was based on software ownership and the sales of licensed software products. This business model is much less popular as groups of developers collaborate to create free software. This software is called open source software. Developers then make money by selling software extensions or plugins and offering programming support and development services. They can also take the free software and create an application or website that users pay to access.
Most of the software needed to run a successful website marketing program will fall under the umbrella of open source software. This has changed the software industry and the trend continues as younger generations of software users make use of open source software and fewer people pay for licensed software. This has resulted in open source web development software such as WordPress being used as the development platform for a very high percentage of small business websites. It is important to note why this trend is happening and know it is expected to continue.
Content Management Systems (CMS) for Website Development
CMS is a term that is used to refer to software programs used for website development purposes. A CMS website development platform allows anyone to edit the website from any browser with a simple login. This has put web marketing more in the hands of sales and marketing professionals and less in the hands of IT staff.
The current trend in website development is to use open source CMS programs such as WordPress. WordPress is currently the fastest growing and most popular website platform in the world because it is free, open source and easy to use. Most business websites can be built in WordPress at a very affordable cost and those sites will perform very well.
Plugins and Extensions
These are website add-ons that add functionality to a website’s performance. All the major CMS website development platforms have hundreds of these plugins available at a relatively small fee. Examples include shipping calculators, form generators, calendars, shopping carts, database management tools and more. It is important to remember that these plugins must be compatible with the most current CMS version running your website and will need regular updates.
Templates Versus Unique Designs
There are two approaches to website development in a CMS platform such as WordPress. The first is to build a site with a predesigned template and the second is to convert a unique design into WordPress. Design templates can be purchased for little cost and can make the development process go quickly. However, you’re limited to the scope of the plugin and if the template becomes popular, your site may look like other sites using the same plugin. We recommend a unique design for your company based on the strategic vision of your web marketing plan and the needs of your target market.
Technology and e-Commerce Marketing
There are many e-commerce options available and it is a highly competitive market space for software. WordPress does not have an e-commerce system as part of its software, but there are many e-commerce plugins and systems that are compatible with WordPress. This approach is best used when you have minimal e-commerce needs.
High level e-commerce websites should use a dedicated online shopping development platform. These platforms also come in CMS, open source and proprietary systems. When deciding if you should sell online, consider this rule of thumb: If your company can sell products and services online, then you should implement an e-commerce system to develop new revenue streams. You will be surprised at what will sell on the Internet!
Once you make the leap into e-commerce, you must make the commitment to learn all you can about the technology that powers online sales. This is beyond the scope of this book; however, the Four-Step Process and web marketing strategies discussed in these pages are the foundation for online success through e-commerce marketing.
Website Technologies and Multiple Devices
Long gone are the days when the Internet was only available on a desktop computer. There are now dozens of screen sizes, tablets, smart phones and other methods for people to find your website. You must be aware of the percentages of users visiting your website from these varied devices by reviewing Google Analytics data and by visiting your company’s website on a variety of popular mobile devices to see what site visitors are experiencing.
Responsive design gives your website the ability to automatically modify each individual web page to the user’s screen preferences so web content can be viewed on a variety of screen sizes, and this is an excellent option. You may also consider a mobile website or app for smaller screens and tablets. This is definitely an issue to deal with, and your site should take advantage of the various approaches that allow you to display and update a unique site on a variety of devices from one administrative area.
Web Marketing Reporting
There is a technical component to selecting, tracking and setting up effective web marketing reporting tools. The Internet is loaded with web marketing reporting tools. Whether you are tracking e-mail, social media, content, web leads, web stats or just about any online metric, there is a reporting tool available to track that information. Google continues to be the leader in web marketing reports with Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools and other Google apps. Visit the resources section of this book for more web reporting resources.
Web-based technologies are the tools used by your team to implement and make your web marketing strategy a reality. An understanding of how these tools are used and the pros and cons of each of the technological options available to business leaders will lead to strategic results. Understanding the basics of technology results in smarter business and marketing decisions. Most IT professionals will recommend what they know best and this may not be the best alternative for your business. Understand technology so you can play an active role in selecting the right tools for your company’s online growth.
- Make time to learn the fundamentals of web marketing technology.
- Build your website in an open source CMS platform, such as WordPress. Evaluate WordPress as an option for your website development platform.
- Do a few Google searches to compare various e-commerce platforms and make sure your IT department brings you the pros and cons of each system.
- Set up Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools and other Google programs as the core of your web reporting.
- Make sure your technology is enhancing your web marketing results and not getting in the way.
- Visit BuiltWith.com to see what technologies are used to build any website and for stats on the most popular website development platforms.
Thomas Young is the CEO and founder of Intuitive Websites. He is an author, speaker and digital marketing consultant. Order Tom’s book “Winning the Website War” to get more digital marketing insights.