It should be unnecessary to say it in this day and age but just for the record –Your website is the single most important weapon in your marketing arsenal. Don't believe it? When you're looking to make a major purchase where is the first place you turn to educate yourself before going to a store? You are not alone. A 2010 Cisco study showed that 74% of consumers conduct research on the Internet before making an in-store purchase.

Now that we got that out of the way, here are the top twelve things a brand website has to do in order to be effective:

1. Look good

People judge books by covers and brands by how they look. Do you think Apple’s success has more to do with the excellence and consistency of their ID, user interface and graphics, or the efficient use of system resources by their proprietary operating system? Yeah, must be the tech stuff.  Beyond the look of the product itself, your brand is being judged by the looks of your packaging, printed materials, advertising and most of all by your website.

2. Be fresh

Web site home pages that rarely if ever change are boring and discourage return visits. If nothing changes on your home page you’re telling your customers that there is nothing going on with your brand, it’s dead. Good websites make it easy to change messages, images or banners on the home page. If it takes the intervention of a web developer to make your home page look new and fresh you have the wrong web developer.

If you can easily change your home page, make sure you’re doing so at least once a month. Got a new review? Post it on the home page. Got a new product? Give it star status. Running a promotion? Feature it on the web page. Do you support charities? Give them some love online.

3. Have quality authoritative content

Recent changes to Google’s search engine algorithms reward high quality, authoritative content more than anything else. The old “blackhat” SEO tricks of web spamming links and dummy sites will be punished with lower rank or banned outright. As we have been advising our clients all along, content that educates, informs and entertains will bring visitors coming back to your site. With Google’s new algorithms, quality content will improve your search engine rank and bring you new customers.

4. Be easy to navigate

Oh right….your site is easy to navigate! You know that it’s easy because you know where everything can be found. But the odds are good that first time visitors won’t be able to easily find what they’re looking for. How do we know this? Because we’ve looked at most of the CE sites out there and almost all of you are organizing your products by series. Sorry, real people don’t think that way. Think like the customer and organize by product category, or location of use or size or color, whatever makes sense to consumers in your market niche.

Mother-in-law research is a good way to test navigation schemes – use neighbors, relatives and office support staff to tell you how they would look for a product. Have your web developer make at least two dummy home pages and navigation schemes and test them with real people.

5. Get right to the product

Sorry to break this news to you, but web visitors don’t care about you, your rich history and your undying dedication to sonic purity and the American way. They care about your products and their benefits. How do we know this? By studying page view statistics. “About Us” and “Our Story” pages are among the least visited pages on a site. Make it as easy as possible to get right to the products.  

6. Have deep depth 

A visitor to your website should be able to get to anything they might possibly want to know about your products down to the last detail – what it’s made out of and why, how to set it up, why it’s better, how it compares to other products in your line, what other consumers and experts think about the product, what it looks like from every angle, exact size down to the millimeter, etc. etc. That’s why they’re there – to get all the information on which to base a buying decision! Sites with multiple layers of data and resources allow customers to go as shallow or as deep as they need.

7. Take names

By this we mean take names and email addresses. Every page should have an area in which a visitor may opt-in to your email list. Your fans want to hear from you! Make it easy for them to tell you how. If your site does not have an email collection box on every page and if it doesn’t automatically update your campaign manager email list, fire your web developer.

8. Register purchases

Are you still using mail-in “warranty” cards? Stop that! We’ll bet you a case of beer those cards are sitting in a file drawer and you’re doing nothing with them. By providing an on-line option you’ll double the percentage of people who register their purchases, you’ll further build your database of consumer email addresses, give yourself an opportunity to do some basic market research and provide better customer service all at the same time. 

9. Allow consumer product reviews

In the eyes of most consumers the most reliable source of product recommendations are other consumers. There is a really good reason why every online retailer has a robust system for web visitors to post reviews. If your site doesn’t, it should. By encouraging customer reviews on your website, consumers are much more likely to visit and remain on your site during their research. If consumer-written reviews sound scary, there are means to prevent crank and nuisance reviews. Bad reviews can happen but they can be managed and turned into positives. We can show you how.

10. Display suggested retail prices

This one can be controversial. In some cases, such as in the custom installation segment, it may not be a good idea to display MSRPs. But customers really want to see prices; it is a vital data point in making a product choice. If you don’t show price you can bet your bottom dollar they will leave your site to find someone who will, and it may not be one of your authorized dealers.

Some of you may be sensitive to showing prices to web visitors who are outside of North America. First, the Internet has no borders – they’re going to find out anyway. Second, there are technical means to display different prices to different web visitors depending on their location. Visitors from the EU will see the SRP in Euros while visitors from Australia will see prices in Australian Dollars. Or you can choose to block price visibility altogether from anyone outside of the your home market. If your web developer doesn't know how to do these things, talk to us.

11. Serve your partners

Your dealers and members of the press will want to help you promote your brand if you make it easy for them to do so. The press wants readily accessible high-resolution product images (multiple angles, lifestyle and light-table varieties), logo images, press releases, technical white papers, contact-info for your press agent and a press kit. Never password-protect assets intended for the press. That’s a sure way to be passed over for free PR.

Your dealers want most of the same things the press needs with the addition of product training materials, upcoming product announcements and price sheets. Sensitive dealer assets such as dealer price sheets should be password protected of course but if you’re not going to post sensitive materials like that, skip the passwords, they just restrict access for no good reason. No harm is done if consumers get your high-res images or your press releases.

12. A good dealer locator

And of course what dealers want most is for you to send them consumers who are interested in buying something. Dealer locators with map functionality are easy to do and ubiquitous. What’s harder is to make sure your dealer list is up to date and relevant to the consumer. You need to have policies and procedures for culling non-active dealers from your list and identifying custom installers with and without showroom facilities. There’s little worse than sending a consumer to a non-stocking or non-displaying retailer.

What’s your score?

If you can honestly say that your website meets all twelve of these criteria you must be a CE Marketing Pros client. If you score 7 to 11 your web and marketing teams are doing well but can improve a little. If your score is lower than 7 you are missing key opportunities to market your brand effectively.  It’s time to gather all your website stakeholders for a serious discussion.



Paul DiComo and Al Ballard are former Polk Audio and Definitive Technology marketing executives whose new company, CE Marketing Pros, helps CE companies market more effectively and stand out from the competition in a crowded and confusing marketplace.