It is commonly believed that to be successful digitally all one has to do is to create a website. This is a mistake. Having a website is a necessary condition to participate in the eco-system of the Internet accessed by the public, but not a sufficient condition. This a starting point, but more needs to be done to fully realise the benefits of the digital eco-system.
But first, before we dive into the multi-faceted activities required to participate in the digital economy, one needs to understand the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW or web as it is commonly referred to). Even though the two terms are used interchangeably, the reality is that the two are different, but complementary. The Internet is a tele-communication network that connects multiple computing devices to one another. This network is maintained by many parties on a collaborative basis and is governed by inter-governmental participation under the aegis of the International Telecommunication Union. The WWW is a means of accessing the Internet by the lay public who do not have the technical knowledge to access the Internet, but it is by no means the only way the lay public accesses the Internet. For example, email services use the Internet without the WWW. Hotmail, the first WWW based email service became popular rapidly because it used the WWW protocols to create an email system.
Three components are required to fully realise the benefits of the digital eco-system – the web presence, native functionalities and adoption methods used.
The Web Presence
In today’s eco-system a web presence actually means an Internet presence, encompassing a website, social media, trade and recommendation channels, apps. Depending upon the nature of the outcomes one expects all of these or a combination of these would be required.
Take for example many of the new-age online services such as ride sharing, food delivery, etc. For these services an app is the most critical element of their Internet presence since that is the primary vehicle through which their customers interact. They may or may not have a website and their social media presence is mainly for marketing and a means of tracking their online reputations.
On the other hand, for a shopping site like Amazon, the website would be the centerpiece of their web presence given their large inventory and the different nature of shopping behavior for different categories. Their app would likely be supplementary to the core website, more for user and transactional convenience, rather than as the primary means of interaction.
The key to good web presence is the User Experience (UX). UX is often described as ease of use or pleasing to use. Good UX though goes beyond just ease and pleasantness. Most online interactions are in a do-it-yourself mode. In such a case, when users are unable to understand instructions or unable to find information to decide easily, the UX can be frustrating. Therefore, good UX, by definition, should also include artefacts that help the user engage with the web presence meaningfully for a satisfying interaction.
Think back to the irritation one may have had in instances such as, say filling up the telephone number in a form, and an error message pops up with the message “wrong telephone number”, even when repeated checking shows that the number you have entered is correct; or when submitting a long and lengthy form, an error message pops up with the message “session timed out”.
Whatever the web presence that one’s business demands, it is imperative that the UX is well thought out and it be focused on providing the user an interaction that leaves the user satisfied. Such an experience will be more profitable and yield greater conversions than otherwise.
The term ‘native functionalities’ refers to features and functions that are available by default on the Internet. However, these features and functions need to be actively mined to be usable and cannot be expected to be available merely because one is on the Internet.
These features help the online business in marketing, in aggregating commonly available information and data, in rendering content among other things.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the most ubiquitous feature that anybody who wishes to use the public web should use, but many don’t, because they do not know how to use it. This is because using native functionalities requires an understanding of how the technology works. For example, performing SEO is part art, part technology and part content. Without amalgamating these, the results will not be achieved.
The third aspect fundamental to web success is an active programme of enabling adoption and, importantly, tracking the adoption.
It is estimated that there are over 1.5 billion websites. However, only 200 million or so (less than 15% of all the websites) are active. While even that number is enormous, it shows how only a fraction of all the websites that are built are actually using the Internet infrastructure effectively.
Adoption of one’s web presence, whether a website, an app, social media presence or any other requires an active process of engaging with potential users and getting them to use it. This engagement is not only for selling goods and services online, but also using services such as banking or payments online. Without a cohesive plan that covers adoption, the digital initiative can come to a shuddering stop!