Alternative Media: Websites that Click

Who does your site speak to anyway?
Jan 01, 2005

Many companies get caught up in discussions with their agencies about rich media, paid search, and scalable databases. Yet most pharma companies still haven't mastered one important fundamental—developing a site that speaks to their audience and gives users the information they seek.

This article discusses some basic tactics that will help companies develop more relevant sites. It examines the issues of fair balance, content, information architecture, usability, and design. These elements, when executed properly, draw consumers into a site and keep them there.

Sandra Holtzman
Balancing Act The most successful websites will benefit both end users and sponsoring companies. Yet most of industry's websites are tipped in favor of the company. It's easy to see why that happens: website project leaders are more often concerned with what management wants than what end users need. That often results in websites in which the company talks only to itself—losing valuable audience members in the process.

AIG hosts a website ( that is fairly typical for companies that offer many products and services. It has a lot of good, useful information, but its presentation makes visitors view and work through many pages that don't pertain to them. There are five key menus—Individual Consumer, Business, Insurance Professional, Financial Professional, and AIG Corporate. Yet the company highlights many more choices—such as two tabs for "Corporate Information" and a link to its TV commercial—making the page extremely noisy.

Point of Differentiation
Compare this with General Electric's website ( which uses three key drop down menus on the left to guide visitors through an enormous amount of information. (That's no easy task, given that GE represents a large group of corporations under its umbrella and contains easily more than 100,000 pages on its site). The process of finding information is easy, however, because the website is cleanly and clearly designed, and it is defined by end users and their needs.

AIG's website is unnecessarily dense and confusing, while GE's is full of white space and simple to navigate. In practice, most pharma websites fall somewhere between these two extremes.

Know Your Audience To build an effective website, companies first need to listen to the people who will be using the site. So do some research—and try doing it in a different way.

Many companies traditionally conduct focus groups to gain information about what will work and what won't in the market. However, those focus groups are limiting the success of websites from the get-go because they offer participants a choice of ideas crafted by the company.

A new approach, called Open Mind research, puts end users, the company, and the agency together to brainstorm and reach a consensus about websites, branding, and messaging. The format lets end users tell companies how they want to be "told and sold," and gives companies an opportunity to gain insight about what's important to consumers. Specifically, audiences reveal:

  • Why they come to your website
  • Why they stay on the website
  • Why they return to your website
  • Why they recommend your website to others.

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