Reader Tech Question #1

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Is there a rule of thumb yet on how frequently a website can and should be redesigned, or does it really not make any difference?

Kristi Lowell, Director of Marketing, RDS, Indianapolis

Because a credit union's website is a single piece of an overall branding strategy, the frequency in which it should be redesigned is dependant on the goals your institution has established and the timing of additional marketing campaigns. Your website, like in-branch promotions, direct mail, and advertising, should deliver a consistent message that is an extension of the services being offered to your membership.

Instead of thinking in terms of radically redesigning your website every 12-18 months, which could harm branding efforts and confuse members, consider incorporating elements of change within the site's design that give the appearance of an updated site. For example, use four to five randomly loading images on a page instead of one static image that may become stale. This technique gives the appearance of having a new look while maintaining brand consistency.

Keeping the content of the website up-to-date and accurate is essential and the overall design of all marketing initiatives, including your website, should tie back into a larger branding concept. If the site is viewed as one part of a larger marketing initiative, the redesign process will be driven by a shift in strategies, not by days on a calendar.

Dick McConnell, Aftech, Malvern, Penn.

There is no one-size-fits-all timetable. A web site should reflect the credit union and change often enough to convey changes in the credit union (but not so often that it confuses rather than informs). You can accomplish this by integrating your site with other marketing/communications activities for consistency of theme, image, and message. Three quick checks to see if it's time to change: Does your web site lack desirable functionality? Is your printed material more modern than your website? And how does your site compare to sites of other credit unions and banks in your area?

Terry Treadwell, director of Market Strategies, Summit Information Systems, Corvallis, Ore.

The only definitive here is that there are no general rules of thumb, it's an art not a science.

I have not seen a credit union website yet that couldn't be improved-all credit unions should consider their website as an ongoing continual improvement project.

Most credit unions can make improvements in nearly every area. Here would be my "in general" list:

* General navigational simplification and the addition of self-service tools such as a well-constructed site map and search capabilities.

* Development of a comprehensive online "Member Support and Help" center. Including information organization, content/tool and forms additions to maximize member online self-service and self-education ability.

* Focused expansion of the online information available for all key product and service areas. Using a "central home page approach" for each product and service will greatly enhance the ability of a credit union's members to come to the Website and self educate on what the credit union can currently provide (and wants to promote) to them in terms of services and benefits.

It also helps if a credit union is fostering the development of appropriate incentive plans, product pricing and eMarketing strategies to motivate both employees (to sell) and members (to use) the web/Internet banking channels.

In general, I also find credit unions with room for further improvement in general "ease of member access" areas. They need to pay attention to broken links and how they are linking to third-party sites.

Most credit unions also need to enhance their security and privacy information-making all of the information readily available from all pages within the site and also putting it into "plain english."

This process works best when a credit union has an e-commerce team using a disciplined project management approach. It's really a continual monitoring, review, planning, revision and reward process. It is important to gain perspective from every angle: marketing, technology, member support, operations, internal audit, external audit, branch delivery, HR, finance, lending, members, Internet banking vendors, the outside development group. The more the merrier, in this case!

The process can start by logging all member and nonmember problems, issues, questions and uses of the website. What has the credit union staff learned about how it is used, what members like about it, and what they find frustrating.

It is also helpful to analyze what pages/features are looked at and used the most. Use statistics taken from the web server are also valuable for determining how to redesign a Web site.

The question: Does it really make a difference? Absolutely! Take a look at how easy the top penetration Internet banking leaders such as First Technology CU, Citibank, NetBank and Virtual Bank make it for their members. Conversely, members having a poor experience on a website do not want to go back.

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