As a web site consultant who focuses on the public relations role corporate web sites play, I’ve created the following quick tips for anyone to evaluate the public relations success of their web site. As you read this article, open your browser and see how your web site measures up.
1. Site map. Site maps are often misunderstood in terms of their usefulness on a web site. This Webified table of contents is a company’s savior for visitors unable find the information they seek in a timely fashion. Common mistakes include: Forgetting to update a site map when new pages are added; linking to a site map from only the homepage; the belief that a “thin” web site doesn’t deserve a site map; and poor naming. A site map should always be a “site map” and not “site contents” or “table of contents.”
2. Homepage text. Descriptions of your company, its purpose, and what visitors can expect from your web site are the best ways to extend the public relations effectiveness of your site. Failure to communicate this information up-front may create an undesired experience for first-time visitors, which has a direct impact the bottom line. Be brief in your descriptions, but don’t cheat your audience by assuming they know your business as well as you.
3. Unknown audiences. A new technology company began receiving large volumes of email inquiries from college and high school students about a new product. The information students sought was for papers and essays due within 24 hours. (Kids!) Not able or willing to answer the volume of emails, I recommended the company create a special section on their web site specifically for students and written with those last-minute authors in mind. This section became an excellent public relations tool. The company was able to build a relationship with students who may one day become consumers of their product, as well as reaching parents who can afford the technology today.
4. Title tags. A title tag helps readers orient themselves on a web site, especially when the page they are viewing is not self-explanatory. These tags are also used as headings when you bookmark a Web page. Titles should be short and simple. Most importantly, they should exist.
5. Alternative tags. Every graphic on a Web site has the option of having a text-based tag to display while it is loading. This was more urgent in the days before high-speed connections when users altered their browser preferences to not load graphics. Although high-speed connections are now common, alt tags are now necessary for search engine indexing. To see if your site uses alt tags, rest the cursor of your mouse on a graphic on your homepage. If a box small box doesn’t appear by your cursor describing the graphic, you could be missing a necessary alt tag.
6. Design continuity. If a company goes to the trouble of paying thousands of dollars to create a Web site, continuity of design should be a top priority. Users enjoy their web site experiences more when navigation is in the same place on every page, naming conventions say the same, and interior pages incorporate a similar design as the homepage.
There are certainly more than six ways to optimize your web site and put it on a course for public relations success. If you do not have time to review your site, consider forwarding these suggestions to your webmaster for their feedback. Be sure and ‘cc your public relations department or consultant to coordinate their efforts with your webmaster.
This article, written by Michael D. Driscoll, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.