By John Fraser
Like most journalists, writers, barflies and other layabouts, I spend a lot of time on the Internet.
Quite often I am reaching out to link up with companies or government departments, those who pump out info which may be of use, of interest. Or not.
However, while most organisations have an online profile, far too many have shit websites, where you can waste a lot of time and get nowhere.
In my long and extinguished career, I have myself helped with the content of websites, so I understand the motivation and the fears of those who host them.
Given the increasing importance of this communications tool, I have a few ideas which may guide those who have the task of managing websites – a far more demanding and difficult job than it may at first seem.
A website is important because it serves as a shop window, the first point of contact between you and interested clients, suppliers, analysts and all sorts of other irritants – who want to know who you are, what you do, whether and how they should approach you.
Keep it simple, please
In terms of content and design, the landing page of the website should be as easy to navigate and to scan as possible. By all means, provide a lot of detail which can be accessed through drop-down menus and other portals, but for this initial handshake with a visitor, it should be simplicity itself. Who are you, what do you do, and how do people get in contact? Pretty photos are fine but don’t sacrifice info to aesthetics.
Contacts are vital
A well-designed and managed website should be an invitation to engage, and should not annoy and frustrate. I often seek the media contact of an organisation when I surf around a website, and this is often a fruitless search. They normally post their media releases and communications to investors – but frequently the contact details are missing from these. Instead, you are invited to fill in a contact form, and more often than not this is a waste of time. If you employ people to engage with outsiders, put their cell numbers and e-mail addresses in a prominent place, for all to reach. If you don’t give a toss about the world, close down the website and piss off down the pub.
Keep it accurate and updated
Government departments are the worst, but all too often we see websites which need a daily spring-clean, which are of more interest to historians than to those of us living and working in the present. One news site in South Africa has had a story saying President Cyril Ramaphosa is in Brazil – which has been there for the many months since his return. It looks bad – and, after all, a website is a showcase. If you look sloppy here, where is the confidence that you are not sloppy everywhere?
So get working on an efficient, friendly, helpful website.
And then we can chat about the minefield which is twitter………