blueprint for a good website

Eureka moments can happen anywhere.

Mark Zuckerberg first tinkered with the code that would spark the social media revolution in his Harvard dorm room. Harry Potter came to J.K. Rowling in a dream. Howard Schultz envisioned a coffee empire while standing in line at a café in Milan.

In the case of Schultz, the Brooklyn-bred CEO who helped grow Starbucks from a fledgling coffeehouse chain into an international icon, the focus has always been on loyalty—brand loyalty, customer loyalty, employee loyalty.

Getting customers into his stores was one thing (considering there’s one on almost every city block); getting them to come back was a taller—dare I say, Venti?—order still.

We must earn the trust of our customers every day,” said Schultz, who returned to Starbucks in 2008 after profits cooled ahead of the recession. The company is on track to return to profitability in 2011, an about-face Schultz credits in no small part to renewed emphasis on the customer experience.

Your website is no Starbucks—that is, you don’t have the surefire benefit of a habit-forming chemical additive to keep readers elbowing their way on to your homepage as if you were giving away, say, Iced Grande Skinny Mocha Lattes (one cream, two sugars, please). But it doesn’t mean your content can’t be equally addictive.

Want to build brand loyalty through your website and keep readers coming back? Here’s hoping these tips from my fellow editors will enable your online home to channel its inner Howard Schultz—and, with some luck, your next eureka moment.

Know Your Customers

“Figure out the ONE thing you want readers to do when they visit your site and use that as your North Star when building it,” advises TMG content guru Kim Caviness. The online zeitgeist is full of promising new tools, from cell phone apps to user-controlled videos. Find out what resources work for your audience. And stick to your guns. “If you don’t, you’ll get results,” says Caviness, “but you’ll probably get the wrong results.”

Keep It Fresh

“Unlike an issue of a print publication, your website will never be finished,” says Melanie Padgett Powers, a managing editor of award-winning custom publications and frequent contributor to this blog. Sure, the thought sounds daunting—projects, after all, are supposed to have end dates—but your website is different.

“Don’t let the thought scare you,” says Padgett Powers. “Let it empower you.”

Your site should be timely, dynamic and flexible. Readers don’t want to return to same images and articles weeks or months later. Even on the smallest of budgets, it’s possible to develop an editorial schedule that allows you to update the site with fresh content that reflects the news and trends important to your industry.

For Megan Pinkston, senior online editor at the Journal of Accountancy, which targets financial professionals, the focus is on helping readers hone and improve their skill set. “Our editorial staff knows that to keep readers coming back, we need to consistently provide our audience with the content they need to know in order to perform their jobs accurately and professionally,” she says.

“By posting high-quality content on a regular basis, our readers know what they’ll find each time they visit our site. Each visit and page view is an opportunity to create a ‘repeat’ reader.”

Give ‘Em More

washington flyer website

Simply repackaging the same articles and features online does not a website make. The best websites serve as companion pieces to your print media content, says Michael McCarthy, editor in chief and content director of Washington Flyer Magazine & Media.

“Use the technology and unlimited space that the online world provides. Pretend that your magazine doesn’t even exist, and use the web to build franchises that you may not have considered in the past. At Flyer, we’ve done everything from photo contests to creating a real-time flight guide for passengers—the former is gorgeous, engaging and participatory; the latter is a traffic beast.”

Elizabeth Whittington, managing editor for, an award-winning news and information resource for cancer patients, echoes McCarthy’s sentiments.  “Our readers are looking for a different experience on the web than the one they get from the magazine,” she says. “We’ve learned that we have to not only offer content in a different way, but also create a community.”

Whittington uses the feedback she receives from magazine readers to drive the direction of the website. “Our blogs, message boards and social media give us the opportunity to interact with readers on a daily basis,” she says.

Read the Reviews

Web analytics can be a big help, too. Use the numbers. “If your top articles are always about food or fitness, make those categories mainstays in your editorial lineup,” recommends Chris Blose, an editor who works on print and online custom media projects for TMG.

If your website has a social component, be social,” says Blose. “If somebody comments on an article, particularly if they ask a follow-up question, respond appropriately or find an expert who can. People like to feel heard; if they feel heard, they’ll come back.”

[image: eklektikos]