Business issues you should consider before you launch your website

Website launch party imageAt The Levels we agree with the mantra that it’s all in the planning!  Every now and again we’re asked what we think are the most important business issues to consider when launching a website and we keep coming back to that mantra.

Write your business plan, consider your customer, understand your market and your place within it.  Once you’re confident you have a great product, you’ve engaged with a web development agency and you’re about to hit the “Go Live”  button stop for a minute.   Take a look at the site afresh and go through the following check list.

1. SEO AUDIT

Run a full SEO technical audit of the site: However good (& or expensive!) your web development agency is, it’s vital that you take another look at the site from Google’s perspective.  It doesn’t matter how powerful your content is or how numerous your site back links may be, if you don’t have a clean & searchable site you’ll struggle to place well at Google and the other search engines.  An SEO audit of your test site will allow you to fix any major issues before you launch.

2. ANALYTICS
In order to measure the success of your site and to spot any usability issues it’s vital that you’ve deployed an appropriate web analytics tool.  Spend some time with your provider or your web development agency configuring the tool to measure  the success metrics applicable to your business and to flag any usability issues that might present themselves after launch. If you’re spending any money marketing the site then ensure that your agency or marketing department is using your analytics tool to track these campaigns as well.
3. eCRM PROCEDURES & POLICIES
We all hope that no one will ever be critical of our site or the business we run but in reality everyone likes to complain some of the time!  Before you launch you need to understand exactly how you will deal with negative comments or complaints.  Have a clear & documented eCRM policy in place.  Ensure  that everyone in the organisation is aware of this and understands escalation policies. 
4. CONTENT POLICY,  CHECKLISTS & TRAINING
If you have a team of writers or contributors adding to the content at your site you need to establish the ground rules.  Work with them to establish a tone of voice and brand identity that will colour all of the content you deliver to your users. It’s also vital that they’re considering how their content will be consumed on-line.  Are they trained to write for the web? Are they aware of SEO considerations when uploading content?  Have they been fully trained on your content management system?  If you’re running a content heavy site it’s worth considering a “Writing for the Web” training course to refresh even the most experienced journalist on the latest trends and techniques.  

5. CHANGE MANAGEMENT
As with any business it’s vital that everyone involved in the launch and development of the site has clear sight of the change management responsibilities and procedures.  You must have well defined & documented sign off polices in place and quality checking on any changes that effect the user experience.  Many a great website has been ruined by a lack of change management. 
6. TEST, TEST & TEST AGAIN
Before you launch you need to test every element of the user experience again and again. Have you delivered a site that meets the needs of your users or the assumptions you have made about them?  If you have the resources to run lab tests to observe users travelling through your site then do it.  If your launch budget doesn’t run that far then ask your friends, family and colleagues to play with the test site and let you know what they make of it.  It’s better to delay the launch of a site which subsequently meets the expectations of your customers  than to launch with a substandard product.  TEST, TEST & TEST AGAIN

Foursquare gets a make over but will it make a difference?

Foursquare imageIt’s been 2 years since Foursquare was launched and after obsessively checking in where ever we went & “making life a game” we Levellers pretty much lost interest in this social media service that asked for a lot yet seemed to give little in return, especially here in the UK.

Now, according to a company blog post of late last night, Foursquare is finally getting a make over and a whole lot more functionality. The aim of the game is to drive engagement and loyalty and stop the churn that’s been a big problem for the service in the past.

So, what are the new features?

1. Discovery – The new “Explore” tab aims to deliver recommendations to you based on your past behaviour, the behaviour of your friends and your loyalty to certain places.  The recommendations also include a bit of sophistication around time of day & day of week targeting. This information is driven by check ins, so arguably the more the check in the better the recommendations will become.

2. Encouragement – The concept of “Life as a game” has always been central to the Foursquare concept and this makeover sees a dramatic change in the leaderboard functionality to encourage us all to play a little harder.

The old leaderboard (and its simple points system and Sunday night reset) is replaced with a sliding 7-day barometer of you and your friends. Check-ins now trigger points for dozens of different types of actions – everything from discovering new places, trying new types of restaurants, visiting new cities, getting groups together, hanging out with old friends, and a few things you might not expect.

In their own words “From the early days, we’ve heard stories of foursquare’s game mechanics being a subtle motivator for trying a new restaurant or venturing a little further away from your local haunts. We’re excited to see how some of the new elements we’ve added will encourage people to actively explore the world around them.”

3. Loyalty – To self centred and materialistic folks like us, what we get back from a service that asks for as much input as Foursquare does is pretty important in getting us to use it.   So, Foursquare have introduced a whole lot more functionality aimed at merchants and businesses that are looking to reward our loyalty.  They’ll now be able to offer Specials to groups of friends, regulars, new customers, Mayors or simply anyone and everyone.  As users we’ll also be able to see Specials nearby, so it’s easier to find places that reward foursquare users.

So, in short a whole load of new stuff that aims to get us playing more but importantly rewarding us for doing so.  Will it get us back in the game?  Well, in our case, if the rewards are good enough, then the short answer is yes.  But will this be enough to drive global expansion of the service and compete with the likes of Facebook Places?  We’re not so sure it is.  To our minds Foursquare remains the domain of the hipster urbanites who can actually get value from the service but it’s difficult to see this rolling out to a more general population.  But good luck Foursquare, any social media service that tries to take a little bit back from Facebook is a good thing.

The new functionality rolled out on Android and iPhone last night, so get updating!

To read the blog post in full http://blog.foursquare.com/2011/03/08/foursquare-3/

As Apple force through their 30% tax will we see a new “beer and sandwich” culture emerge?

Bad apple image For those of you who’ve had your attention to digital media distracted by events playing out in the Middle East and New Zealand then it may be news to you that Apple intend to charge publishers to it’s iPad and iPhone platforms a whopping 30% of subscription revenues.

The plan proposed by Apple would require that those who wish to distribute their online content to iOS devices (which includ the iPad and iPhone) would be required to offer users an option of subscribing directly from their application.

Apple would then take nearly one-third of the selling price for the online product. Previously, users had been able to purchase products through their Internet browser and sidestep Apple. The publishers were then able to collect 100% of the revenue from their sales. Also, links within apps to purchase products in this manner will be banned as of the 30th of June.

Publishers in the UK and US have reacted angrily to the proposed “tax” and there have been lots of suggestions that Apple are about to back down.  But we at the The Levels think that this is the very last thing that they’ll do.

The power has shifted and publishers better get used to that.  As the divine Pete Cashmore says ” unless a media company is able to build a better tablet or a better phone or convince customers to return to paper magazines and newspapers, nothing changes the fact that the publishing industry has lost control of its most valuable asset: distribution. It was always the printing presses and the delivery trucks, not the words themselves, that were the seat of the publishing industry’s power. The audience has moved elsewhere,”

So, for the smaller and niche publishers the 30% tax is going to be a reality.  But, we also anticipate that there may be more than a few back room beer and sandwich deals going on between Apple staff and the heavy weight publishers.

For some like News Corp there will always be a deal to be done that doesn’t involve handing over vast amounts of revenue to Apple and for others like Conde Nast there are advantages even to Apple to be associated with key influencer titles such as Vogue and GQ.

Smaller publishers saw the iPad as the answer to many of their collective dreams, and launched headlong into their perceived nirvana forgetting that Apple operates a closed walled garden that’s in place for a reason.    Apple are now cashing in on their dreams.

So, I guess the choice for the smaller player is either pay up or flip flop your way to Android.  And for the big guns, cheese & pickle and a pint of Bass it is then!