An individual web site (or a section of a large site) can have only one primary purpose and remain effective. The primary purpose of all web sites can be:
- Alternative Distribution,
- Build Traffic or
- Build Product Demand.
An alternative distribution site is distributing information (e.g., catalogs, product information, manifestos) through an alternate channel. The most common alternative distribution sites are online stores. This category can also include sites that distribute information or services to members or subscribers online. One of the more interesting experiments in this type of site has been Stephan King’s online distribution (i.e., publication) of his serialized novel.
Alternative distribution sites often require more development of the backend programs, particularly security, and in user interface design. This is where the bulk of the time and money are spent. The success of an alternative distribution site is usually measured functionally such as accurately handling transactions, number of downloads and so on.
Traffic building sites are seeking eyeballs. They want lots of visitors so they can convey a particular message. The most common traffic building sites are information sites such as cnn.com, salon.com, morningstar.com and so forth. These sites are usually attempting to attract a particular target market to expose to advertising or PR. This is often the purpose of Phase 2 of a SOHO or independent professional’s web site. The success of a traffic building site is usually measured quantitatively by the number of unique visitors, the demographics of the visitors and, hopefully, the impact of the advertising upon the visitors.
But what about the dancing hamsters and babies?
While gimmicks, such as multimedia presentations of dancing 3-D babies or bobbing hamsters, can generate a lot of traffic, they are usually not effective in creating a professional image or conveying a memorable message, especially since they are rarely designed for a specific target audience beyond impressing other technologists. Out of the millions of people who visited the “Dancing Baby” site, few could even remember the site’s other content — or even the name of the designer who built the baby! In addition, the appeal of a gimmick is short-lived and, unless it hits the right demographic, unproductive. Even folks who just want the “Fame & glory of it all”, are trying to get their messages across.
Traffic building sites require fresh content constantly. Site maintenance, particularly adding and replacing content, eats the majority of a traffic building site’s time and budget. There are some forms of “self-generating” content such as online mailing lists, bulletin boards, classifieds and so forth, but these require larger backend development and regular monitoring and maintenance. They can be very useful but should be approached with a serious study of maintenance demands.
Build Product Demand
The product can be many things from tangibles to political action. Sites designed to build product demand can range from extremely complex sites with multimedia and interactivity (such as those promoting new youth-oriented movies or games) to simple online brochure sites. The purpose of product building sites is to generate name recognition and increased interests by prospective clients or customers. From the standpoint of maximum return on minimal time and financial investment, the “brochure site” is often the best initial option for the independent professional or small organization. It can also be expanded and built upon, acting as a foundation for further online development. Often these types of sites begin adding traffic building content targeting the audience of their products or services via internal advertising.
A site that effectively builds product demand provides the necessary information for the potential client or customer to see a benefit to themselves of following the action desired by the site builder. This can be very simple and direct, such as this site, or complex, such as the Sony or Nintendo sites. Ideally, there should also be a call to action included throughout the site just as there would be in an effective print brochure or broadcast ad. The success of the site is measured by the amount of inquiries (e.g., email) and name recognition generated.