Does your resort look exactly like someone else’s?
No? Then your website probably shouldn’t either.
The brave new world of website development
Over the past four years, perception of website development has evolved (or devolved, depending on whom you ask) from a highly specialized field to something almost anyone can do. The truth is that a new, simpler option has been created. They key word in that last sentence is “simple”; do you consider your resort or your product simple?
The wave of the future?
This new option is the Content Management (CMS) platform.
Content Management Systems have been around for the better part of the past ten years but were originally custom built with a specific website and were created to allow simple copy and photo updates, usually only on pre-designated pages. CMS platforms, however, allow you to build an entire site “on top” of them so that they allow you to change just about anything on the site, including new pages and navigation changes.
The unfortunate consequence of this new technology is that all of a sudden everyone is an expert and people who can do little more than type call themselves website developers. This is similar to the trend of outsourcing programming overseas. All of a sudden everyone was a financial genius because they cut their programming budgets by 80 percent. Until they got fired because they had to call a real programmer to fix the outdated and poor work that was done by an amateur and there was no money in the budget. Websites are like anything else – you get what you pay for.
The humble beginnings of this trend… and how far it has come
By far, the most popular CMS platform is WordPress due to its ease of use. WordPress began as a program that made setting up your own blog simple enough that the average person with something to say could post it online. In my opinion, this was critical to the advent of social media as it legitimized the idea that everyone can post their thoughts and opinions online and you could follow people you agree with and not rely solely on mainstream media.
WordPress code was also available for free, providing equal access to everyone. As actual developers started to play with this free code, more complex websites started to be built with unique layouts and user communities started to develop. Now, if you had a question about a function you could ask other users and they would help you out. Today, you can buy WordPress templates on several websites and build a slightly unique site for your personal interest or small business. The growing misconception is that these themes and templates can properly represent complex resorts, especially multi-use and/or timeshare. [member]
If your needs are not very complex, you can have a good designer custom design a site on the WordPress platform and it will be very easy to make copy and photo updates. You can even add, move, and remove pages. Typically, complex resorts have so many events going on (and develop new programs and options so often) that they tend to use a more robust platform.
The most sophisticated and complex CMS platform is JOOMLA!. JOOMLA! is more of a custom CMS Platform. While far more complex than WordPress, it allows for infinite functionality and design. Here’s the catch… you need real and talented developers to build on this platform but the right team will build you the site of your dreams.
These developers, working with talented designers, will deliver a website worthy of the vast amounts of money you spend on marketing. It is also critical that this be one team. The designers have to know how to design for the platform or you will experience delays and disappointment.
The definition of “design” hasn’t changed
In contrast to print design, web design provides a series of technical challenges in addition to its aesthetic value. Websites are living and useable creative that acts as both a portal for information and an interactive interface for the tools provided. While a website should be visually appealing, vast detail is not always required. Take Google for example. Their design needs to lead the visitor through the site to both the information the visitor cares about and remain at all times focused on the critical path; in Google’s case the web search.
Website templates are often seen for a variety of website types – from straight code to Flash and Content Management platforms such as Joomla, WordPress, or Drupal. While a template may well help you devise a critical path and assist in organizing information, the design isn’t yours. A template is like house paint and, while it may be a good starting point to show your designers the overall feel you want, design is about adding the accent colors, address, landscaping, etc., that will make your house your own.
Hopefully you have a branding agency that can help you with design for the web. If you aren’t currently in possession of a brand book, creative brief and core creative for your property you DO NOT have a good branding agency on task. Regardless of how you proceed, it is VERY important that the team creating the interface for your site be either the creators of, or at least very well versed in, your existing brand. A design team will make or break even the most technologically brilliant websites out there. While you should love your tools and what they can do, always make sure they look good doing it.
It is imperative to the success of your website that it be designed by someone who understands your goals and most importantly your passion for your project. Think of all of the design people you spoke with while planning and building the resort. Why would you put its face to the world in the hands of someone who probably doesn’t even know it exists?
If your kid makes awesome refrigerator magnets and wants to sell them online, get them a WordPress template. If you just spent a fortune building a beautiful resort, hire a professional digital marketing firm.
How do you know if you are hiring the right firm?
Many non-digital firms have added website design to their suite of services by taking advantage of the simplicity of the template approach. Let’s think about that word “design” again. Choosing a template and, in some cases, changing its color scheme is NOT design. You didn’t build a pre-fabricated resort; don’t build a pre-fabricated website.
Here are some qualifying questions to ask anyone that you are considering engaging to build your new website:
1. Always ask for samples of a firm’s work and insist on speaking to the person who managed the construction of the websites in the portfolio.
2. Ask if the firm can build on multiple platforms and the differences between them.
3. Look at the firm’s website and ask why they built it the way they did.
4. Ask what percentage of the firm’s work over the past five years was digital.
5. As with any vendor, ask for references.
More important than the specific answers, other than regarding the references, is the confidence of the person you are speaking with. You should be looking for confidence and calm, easy answers. That should let you know if you are speaking with someone who is a true web design expert or someone who is pretending.
Your website is the first place people will go for information about you. In most cases before they make any contact with the resort. If you are about to build a website, think very hard about how you want to be represented at this first impression. If you already have a website, look at it for an hour and ask yourself if you are happy about how you are represented.
Steve Tassler, Principal, Xeputu
Steve Tassler is Principle of Xeputu, an expert online marketing agency which recently partnered with Perspective Group to create Perspective Interactive – providing an effective approach to online marketing programs exclusively designed for the vacation ownership industry worldwide.
Perspective Interactive brings a unique portfolio of products and services that span the entire spectrum of online and offline multi-media marketing, tailored specifically by industry veterans who are perfectly positioned to understand the needs of resort developers or vendors and create inspired campaigns. By using such crucial tactics as Search Engine Optimization, Paid Search, Repeat-Traffic Systems, Online Media Buying, Social Media and Email Marketing, Perspective Interactive can expertly manage campaigns to deliver results.
Steve is a respected authority on Interactive Marketing – particularly in applying new media and emerging technology to measurably increase brand awareness, engage buyers and drive online traffic to clients. With experience managing programs for more than 40 high-end fractional and private residence club projects including Capella Pedregal, Calistoga Ranch, The Phillips Club and Palazzo Tornabuoni, Steve’s early career included management positions at Deer Valley Resort and the prestigious Stein Eriksen Lodge where his team earned the AAA Five Diamond Award – a first for the state of Utah.
To find out how to improve your online marketing results, please visit http://perspectivemagazine.com/interactive [/member]