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Strategic Websites. What features should you look at for your company website?

I have often looked for information on what features are possible on a website. There are various articles out there on the web. But I have been unable to find an article that tries to list all the features that are feasible on a website.

 

While I will be putting down various features, it is by no stretch of imagination comprehensive. This is a constantly evolving field, and I doubt any single document could ever list it all. There are some technical articles with technology based features listed. There are a whole bunch of articles on Top 10 features etc. When I first started looking for some extensive documentation, I couldn't find any.

 

Especially documents that list a wide range of features to choose from, and more importantly written for a non-technical person . Without much more introductory or explanatory text, let me dive into the subject of this article.

 

Who will find this article useful?

This article is meant for Senior Managers, Marketing personnel, HR professionals and others who are looking for developing a website - for corporate use, community or promote their own business. The effort is ambitious, and please do add on features I may have missed out (am sure I will be missing out on quite a few).

 

 

Approach: While the easiest way to approach this exercise would have been to just list all the features that are possible and leave it to the user to decide what they need for which purpose, I have decided to list down features by likely end-use.

 

Examples and Links: I am well versed with the Joomla CMS (Content Management website) , and will give links to components and modules that are required for the features. Similar components and features are available on other CMS platforms, and also other technologies such as ASP, Python etc.

 

Why are the examples based on a CMS? : Well, one reason is that I am very familiar with CMS', and more importantly I believe that any website must be enabled for easy updates by non-technical people. Gone are the days when a website could be updated once a year or once in two years. If a website is not updated at frequent intervals, you will lose the very reason for having a website - which is to inform and keep your customers engaged. And this is most easily done only on a CMS based website - whether it uses a standard CMS like Joomla, Wordpress, Drupal - or is a custom developed CMS. If a non-technical person is not able to update at least parts of the website, then you are probably looking at a website that will cease to serve any purpose within a very short time frame.

 

Company websites

General features for all websites:

 

Content pages

Every website needs content in the form of articles. Irrespective of technology or platform, the final output is html pages. Depending on the underlying technology, there will be different ways to generate these pages.

 

For example, in a static html site, you can use a html editor like Dreamweaver to create these pages and upload them to the website. In a CMS like Joomla or Wordpress, you have the html editor built into the software itself. You can create the web pages from within the website itself. You can also create the web pages in a html editor - and then copy/paste the content into the built-in editor. More on this in some other article. For the time being lets leave it at this point - that we need a provision for creating and uploading articles.

 

Standard content pages:

 

Home page, About Us ,Management team, Products & Services, Contact Us, News, Investors, Financials, Careers, Job openings.

This is typically content you would find on most company websites.. For some of these pages, you may create static pages. Alternatively you may have an additional software component that will help you create these pages and manage them. At this stage - lets just look at the fact that these pages need to be created and available to the site visitor.

 

Help desk

If you are a company that sells technology, or products that need after sales support, you should look at a Help desk. Help Desk can be for any product - not just technology products. If you have a support team, or even sells products that calls for after-sales support, you can use one.

Your customers can request support over the internet. Your support can get these support requests in their email inbox and attend to them. Several help desk components also have a help desk administrator who can route support requests based on skills and availability.

This can be used for internal support too, and will be listed under Intranets and community websites as well.

Here are some standard Joomla components for you to check out the features:

 http://www.rsjoomla.com/joomla-extensions/joomla-help-desk.html

 http://www.freestyle-joomla.com/products/freestyle-support-portal

 http://www.imaqma.com/

 

Live Support/Live assistance

There are tools available out there that enable you to have a live text chat with your customers. You can either let the customer initiate the conversation, or you can pro-actively initiate it. The Live support/Assistance executive will be able to see visitors on the website. They will also have information on the IP and which country they are from.

 

Typically this feature is either used for support, or pre-sales wherein the user can have their questions answered immediately.

During after-office hours, the component will show that no Assistants are online, and they can leave an offline message that gets routed to the Assistants, or pre-determined email ids.

Here's one on Joomla. There are similar components available for other platforms

 http://www.activehelper.com/

 

Events

If you are an organization that has regular customer events, you may want to look at advertising these events on your web site. Not only advertise those events, you may also want to have your customers register for those events online. While you could do this with static pages, this can be quite cumbersome to create and manage. Look at the time and effort involved in creating each event page, then also creating a registration form, uploading the page, creating a menu link to it. And if these are paid events, you have the additional problem to consider of how to collect payments.

However if you used an Events component, then you could do all these without any effort or needing to use a html programmer for each of these events.

 

Anyone who is given the rights to do so, can:

  • Create the event pages
  • Enable registration
  • Set the email id(s) to which the registrations can be forwarded
  • Even collect payments online if they are paid events

These components come with varying features, and you can choose one on your platform that meets your requirements.

 

Here are some components you may want to check out on Joomla:

 

A listing of all Events components on Joomla

 http://extensions.joomla.org/extensions/calendars-a-events/events/events-management

Here are some popular ones - Free and paid

 http://eventsnova.com/

 http://www.rsjoomla.com/joomla-extensions/joomla-events.html

 

Product catalogs and Case studies

If you have a lot of products or services and they need regular updating for prices, models, versions etc, then it is not a great idea to update these using regular static html pages. You should instead look for a component that anyone can update and manage. While you may assume that this applies only to

E-Commerce websites, fact is that any organization that deals with a dynamic product range or services should look at a component like this.

On Joomla here's one component that is available - meant specifically for catalogs

Here's a whole bunch of them on Joomla that you can adapt and use for catalogs:

 http://extensions.joomla.org/extensions/directory-a-documentation/directory

But here are a couple specifically for product catalogs:

 http://web-dorado.com/products/joomla-catalog.html

 http://dj-extensions.com/dj-catalog2

 

Photo Galleries

If you are an organization that needs to display photographs independent of your product pages and services, you may want a Photo Gallery component on your website. For example, if you are a Events Management company, or an Architect - you will want to show photographs, and lots of them. The only way to manage large number of photographs and also categorize them into Albums easily is to use a Photo Gallery component. There are plenty of them out there, each with differing features.

 

Here's a few on Joomla

For a complete listing visit:  http://extensions.joomla.org/extensions/photos-a-images/galleries/photo-gallery

Here's a couple of popular ones you can dive into for understanding the features:

 http://www.phoca.cz/phocagallery/

 http://www.admiror-design-studio.com/admiror-joomla-extensions/admiror-gallery

 http://www.joomlashine.com/joomla-extensions/jsn-imageshow-details.html

 

Display PowerPoint Presentations

You may want your customers to see your Product or Company presentation on your website. There are several ways to do this. One simple way is to upload your presentations on  http://slideshare.net or  http://www.slideboom.com/ and embed the code or URL into your content pages.

In slideshare and slideboom, you can opt to keep your presentations private or accessible to the public. For a small payment, you get a lot of features including privacy of your presentations.

 

If you are using Joomla, then there's a simple way to embed the slideshare presentations into your web pages so that visitors can view the presentation without leaving your site:

 http://extensions.joomla.org/extensions/social-web/social-display/documents-cloud-based/2441

 http://www.vdneutonline.nl/slideboom

 

Display Videos in content and as Video galleries

You may wish to demonstrate your products, or show video ads of your products. You can embed videos in a page, or you can have an independent video gallery. The vides can be uploaded and played from your server, or you can upload the videos onto YouTube and embed them into your pages or the gallery.

It is quite possible that you may want to keep your videos private, and visible only on your site. In such situations free service providers such as YouTube are not a good option. Hosting them all on your server may not be the best thing to do since it is likely to slow down your website. In such situations, you can use paid media streaming services from providers such as those listed below. There are many of them out there, and these are listed only as examples of what you can get.

 

Video streaming services

 http://wistia.com/

 http://www.streamingvideoprovider.com/

Components on Joomla that allow you to display videos - from various providers as well as content from your own server:

 http://www.joomlarulez.com/

 http://www.joomlaworks.net/extensions/free-premium/allvideos

 http://www.joomlaboat.com/youtube-gallery

 http://extensions.joomla.org/extensions/social-web/social-media/video-channels

 

Testimonials

Customer testimonials are very reassuring to potential clients. Every organization must make an effort to collect testimonials from their customers, and get their permission to display them on the website.

If you are an online company, you could also provide for customers to leave their testimonials on the website.

Testimonials can be created in static html pages, and displayed using components that display headlines of articles/pages. Alternatively you could look for and find a testimonials component which is easy to update, and will display testimonials on the home page, or elsewhere as you want it to.

You can check out features of various Testimonial components on Joomla. You will find similar components on other CMS platforms and other technologies as well

 

 http://extensions.joomla.org/extensions/contacts-and-feedback/testimonials-a-suggestions

 

Clients & Client logos

Irrespective of whether you have only 5 clients or 500, visitors to your site will automatically develop greater confidence in your organization if they can see a listing of your clientele. You can either list them on a static html page, or better still have scrolling logos of your clients on the home page.

Here's some Joomla components. Similar will be available on other CMS's and platforms

 http://extensions.joomla.org/extensions/ads-a-affiliates/sponsors/18011

 http://extensions.joomla.org/extensions/ads-a-affiliates/sponsors

 

Newsletter sign-up

Your website is the place to collect and generate leads efficiently. Apart from contact forms for specific information, you can have a box for your visitors to subscribe to newsletters from your organization. Visitors who sign-up are obviously interested in your products and services . You can use these contact details to send them newsletters or sales messaging, or invite for events and so on.

You can collect the newsletter subscriber data as stand-alone form data, a simple email to you with the user data, or automatically subscribe them to lists in a Email Marketing application such as Mail Chimp or Aweber.

Once they subscribe, you can even automate it for them to receive a welcome email with some interesting information.

Here are some newsletter sign-up components on Joomla

 http://extensions.joomla.org/extensions/content-sharing/mailing-a-distribution-lists

 

Email Marketing Platform

If you are an organization that uses Email Marketing as a strategy, then you may want to have a Email Marketing platform built on your own website. This gives you the flexibility to mail out as and when needed without worrying about the economics. Some Email Marketing applications built specifically for a CMS - can also pull out excerpts of articles, blogs and discussion forums, and automatically generate a newsletter to be mailed to your subscribers.

Here's a couple of Email Marketing applications on Joomla

 http://www.acyba.com/

 http://extensions.joomla.org/extensions/content-sharing/newsletter

On a generic platform, you can look at:  http://www.interspire.com/emailmarketer/

 

RSS Feeds

There are two ways that RSS Feeds are used.

One if for you to pull in feeds from other websites, and display them on your website - typically on the home page. Maybe you would like stock tickers, the weather, bullion prices, forex trades - or practically anything that is relevant to your business.

The other way that RSS is used, is to generate RSS feeds for your website. Maybe latest articles, discussions on the discussion forum, special offers, news etc. Visitors can subscribe to these feeds and get updates from your site regularly.

Here are some components for RSS feeds in Joomla

 http://extensions.joomla.org/extensions/social-web/social-display/rss-readers

 http://extensions.joomla.org/extensions/content-sharing/rss-syndicate

 

Bulletin Board/Discussion Forum

This may not be something that you look at for plain Vanilla company websites. But if you are a business that offers technical support, and especially in the Information Technology area, you must look at a Discussion Forum for users. This facilitates not only asynchronous discussions and support, but over a period of time the Discussion Forum itself becomes a Knowledge Management repository.

Users will find answers to frequently asked for support on the forum, and it will save substantially on support costs. You will also find users helping each other, and maybe even provide some inputs to your product development teams.

You also get the indirect benefit of higher SEO rankings since Discussion Forum posts get a very high ranking from search engines.

 

Discussion Forums on Joomla

 http://extensions.joomla.org/extensions/communication/forum

 http://extensions.joomla.org/extensions/communication/forum/7256

 http://www.kunena.org/

A couple of other stand-alone forums

 http://www.vbulletin.com/

 https://www.phpbb.com/

 

Surveys

Often organizations would like to have opinions of site visitors and customers on a wide range of topics. You could look at creating a survey on public websites like SurveyMonkey ( http://www.surveymonkey.com/) and invite your subscribers/customers to take a survey.

Alternatively you could have software to build surveys right on your website, and prompt them to take a survey while on your website. Your site visitors may not all be your customers or subscribers, and you get additional data, that you wouldn't have got if you had used only your subscriber/customer data. Even though you have the survey on your website, it doesn't stop you from inviting your subscribers and/or your customers to take the survey on your website.

 

Here are some survey components on Joomla

 http://www.corejoomla.com/products/community-surveys.html

 http://www.joomplace.com/elearning-extensions/surveyforce-deluxe.html

 

Blog

A blog is a great idea to add updates on your site, and share information with your site visitors. You can use it to demonstrate the company's thought leadership, explain technology, or just keep them engaged with the organization with interesting industry snippets and news.

If you have more than one person capable of blogging, then you could have a multi-user blog. Having a blog as part of your website not only keeps your site visitors engaged, but also helps you generate more traffic through search engines.

WordPress is a great blogging platform. You could also have a blog integrated into other CMS' and every technology has its own version for integrating a blog into the website.

Here's the Joomla blogging component:

 http://stackideas.com/easyblog.html

 

User Comments

User comments on articles and web pages are a great way to build audience engagement. Positive user comments also help build your image and brand, at practically no cost to you. User comments can be integrated into most websites irrespective of technology. The components also allow you to decide on which pages you can enable comments, and on which you don't want the feature.

Here's some commenting components on Joomla

 http://www.joomlatune.com/jcomments.html

 http://extensions.joomla.org/extensions/contacts-and-feedback/articles-comments

 

Social Bookmarking and Social Media

I would suggest that use of Social Media is first examined for relevance. I personally think that Facebook Likes have no place on a Company website that sells to other Businesses. But it has become a fad, and one sees all kind of businesses trying to engage on Social Media, and displaying some content on their websites.

Having said that, there are several ways that websites can be linked to Social media and display content from those websites, as also transfer website contents to your social media.

 

Social Bookmarking/Social Share

You can let users bookmark your page on their social media accounts such as Facebook, Linkedin etc. To enable this you display Social Media icons on your website. When they click on it - they are redirected to the Social Media website and allowed to post the URL of the page they came from as a bookmark in their Social Media accounts.

There is a theory (maybe true once upon a time) that the more the incoming links you have coming to your websites, the higher will be your google page rank, and search engine rankings. But this has been abused so extensively by SEO companies building hundreds and thousands of social media links, that google probably discounts their value quite a bit. So you should look at social bookmarking only as a user benefit for bookmarking your pages, and not from any SEO perspective.

 

Here are some Joomla components that allow you to easily enable this feature on your website (all technologies have this easy add feature)

 http://www.compago.it/software/41-compago-software/347-facebook-twitter-google1-plugin-for-joomla.html

 http://extensions.joomla.org/component/mtree/social-web/social-share/social-multi-share

 

Facebook Like's

If you have a facebook page for your business, you can set up an 'like' icon on your website. When users click on it - they will be able to post a comment. The comment and a link to your company page are posted on the user's timeline.

Display Facebook Like pages on your website

Instead of a 'Like' icon, you can opt to display a 'Like' box on your website. In this box, you can choose to display pictures of people who have liked your pages, and also have a 'Like' icon for users to 'Like' your Facebook page.

Here are a couple of Joomla components that do this:

 http://www.perfect-web.co/images/joomla/modules/mod_pwebfblikebox/facebook-like-box-sidebox-navy.png

 http://bowthemes.com/joomla-extensions/bt-facebook-like-box.html

 

Display Facebook Wall Posts

You can display posts from your Facebook wall on your website. Here's a Joomla components that helps you do this:

 http://store.webkul.com/Joomla-Extenstions/Facebook-Wall-feed.html#

Twitter

You can display Tweets from any Twitter account (not just yours) on your website. Here's some Joomla components that can help you do this

 http://extensions.joomla.org/extensions/social-web/social-display/twitter-display

 http://www.joomlavi.com/joomla-extensions/jv-twitter.html

 

What else can you do with Social Media?

There's lots of other stuff you can do with Social Media. In order to get a feel for what's possible, spend some time on the Joomla Extensions page - and see various features. Choose the features you would like on your website, and you will find that the same thing can be done on any website irrespective of the technology with which the website is built.

 http://extensions.joomla.org/extensions/social-web

 

Banners

Banners play a pivotal role in defining the visual appeal of any website. It's important to know that there are different kinds of banners, and different implementations of banners.

 

While this write-up will use the Header banners (width is usually 960 px and above) as an example, Banners of varying sizes can be used across different parts of your website - for example - client logos, or advertisements etc.

Check out this website for some standard banner sizes apart from the header banner:

 http://banner-sizes.kahi.cz/

 

Sliding Banners

This is the type of banner used in most websites. You can have multiple banners set to change in pre-defined intervals. Almost all of them have a provision for special effects for slide transition.

 

Full width Banners with only images

You can have sliding banners created only with images. This means that you have images of the desired size : say 1024px x 350 px (widthxheight). You may have some text on the image - but the text is put on the image at the time of image creation itself. So the text also is part of the image.

Full width banners with Text Headers and text

 

These are components in which you use the full width images for sliders. Along with the slide selection, you will also have an option to put in a Text heading, and a few lines of text. These will display on top of the banner. The point here is that you don't have to put the text on the banner as an image - which is what you would do if you didn't have the option of adding text separately in the Banner Slider component.

 

To get an idea of various types of banner slider spend a little time on these Joomla components. You will get similar ones even if you are not developing your site on Joomla

 http://extensions.joomla.org/extensions/ads-a-affiliates/banner-management

Flash/HTML 5 Animated banners

 

This is not used extensively. One reason is the cost of developing a flash animation is significantly higher than using static images in a Slider. The other reason is that they don't always display well on mobile devices. These banners will have to be developed by your developer using various software tools such as Adobe Edge Animate.

 

Content Presentation

Typically we would like to get a lot of content - either full or as a teaser into each page, especially the Home Page of the website. And if it's teaser content, then the visitor would click on the headline or the text and will be sent to the page with the full content. An extreme example of this is News and Magazine websites. In news sites, you will see only the headlines and click through to details for topics that interest you. It is possible, and many websites implement variations of this type of content presentation.

It is not feasible to cover all the different ways to present content here. But I will cover some standard ways of doing it.

 

Accordian Text

This is a good example taken from Shape.com. Clicking on each headline - will open up a panel with text in it. Typically the text is kept short - with one panel always displaying text, and the others are hidden. These can also be like sliders - with a new panel opening at preset intervals of time.

 

Tabbed Text

Instead of an Accordian as shown above, you can also place text in tabs.

 

Features from Articles

With some components, you can create feature boxes like the ones below from your articles. Each of the feature box has text that comes from an article. Clicking on Read more leads you directly to the article. If you have several articles, you can rotate these at pre-set time intervals. You could have a total of none articles - displaying three at a time, and changing to the next three - say every five seconds.

 
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