Business and the internet effect

It’s hard to imagine how a business could function effectively in 2013 without the internet. Yet the development of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee and his team came about relatively recently in 1989, whilst internet giants like Amazon and Google first appeared on the scene in the 1990s.

As one of the pioneers of early web design, I have seen huge changes in the industry. Initially, the internet was much like an empty street – not much traffic and it was easy to get people’s attention. In fact, when my company Freetimers built its first client ecommerce site in 1998, there were only 400 competing sites worldwide. However, times have changed and that figure is now several million, meaning that whichever industry you operate in, your business now has to work much harder to be found – and to attract potential customers.

Are you easy to find?
A website is of little use if it can’t be found, which is why search engine optimisation, or SEO, is such a vital part of site development and maintenance. With ever increasing competition, business owners need to face the fact that they have to commit time and resources to ensure that their website remains competitive. Some of these rising costs can be attributed to Google’s behaviour, as well as the success of social media sites. For example, in order to rank well on Google, a site needs to be highly relevant with good quality back links, whilst also playing an off-site content competition game, churning out reams of fresh articles and blog posts every month.

Over the last five years, an increasing number of companies have realised the necessity of integrating internet technology with their business processes, making it an essential part of the organisation rather than a desirable extension. We advise our clients that the needs of their business should drive the website design, programming and marketing – not the other way round.

Good design comes at a price
Design has moved on since the rudimentary designs of the early millennium. As download times have improved, further enhanced by the advent of broadband, design has become increasingly important – and complex. The design bar has been moved substantially up, so in 2013, creating a good visual impact with relevant product or service information is an essential part of any company website.

So much more can be done now that download times are quicker, enabling the use of interactive features such as virtual tours, 360° images, web chat and online ordering. And, whilst keeping a site up to date with the latest user experience enhancement technologies comes at a cost, the question is, can you afford to not to?

Social media – opening up a new arena
The phenomenal success of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube opens up a whole new competitive arena for a range of businesses. Furthermore, Google’s latest ‘Penguin’ updates to its ranking algorithm are starting to embrace the importance of key social media sites. Basically, assuming everything else is equal, if your competitors are proactively engaging in social media, for you to compete with them successfully, you will have to do it too. It also facilitates greater customer interaction, crucially enabling businesses to listen to what their customers want – and then give it to them.

Making a commitment
My experience developing and maintaining websites over the last 15 years has proven that the most successful sites involve a high level of engagement, requiring the commitment of time and an adequate budget to continuously improve the site, SEO, social media and general internet presence. As a third party developer, we encourage this engagement to involve the site owner as this is more likely to result in visitor and sales increases. Having a high ranking on Google is achievable if you know what you are doing and where the website owner is prepared to commit to make it happen. Unfortunately, too many web companies build sites and then move onto the next project with clients often complicit in this because they view their website as design driven, instead of business driven.

However, as the ‘shop front’ of a business and often the first point of contact and interface between the site owner and customers, the initial website is just the beginning. The real work comes after, both in terms of SEO and in improving value, including integrating and automating business processes. In fact, we spend more time and money helping clients to automate and improve business processes than we do on design – with the result that some clients have achieved website visitor growth in excess of 7000% over a period of several years.

Moving with the times
When you work with technology, you have to accept that it never stands still. To stay current, an important part of what we do is predicting trends well in advance. For example, the explosion in popularity of smartphones over the past five years means that websites will increasingly need to become mobile friendly. However, very few websites have yet to properly address this next essential phase of technology.

Having a strong internet presence is a vital part of your commercial success and growth. However, due to the speed at which technology evolves, these changes need to be incorporated into your site to take advantage of the benefits that new technologies offer. No matter what industry you work in, if you want to stay competitive, you need to take a proactive approach to your website and keep up to speed with all the opportunities and facilities that it offers. Because if you don’t, you can be sure that your competitors will.

Greg Poulson is founder and Managing Director of web developers and SEO specialists Freetimers Communications ( Set up in 1997, the business works with organisations from across a range of industries, making long term strategic partnerships with clients a focus of the company’s practice.