Changes brought by new media mean that websites have become the de facto presence for most life science companies. Customers no longer need to visit your exhibit at a trade show, they can experience your brand, order products, and get answers to questions on your website. It sounds like a no brainer, but the changes digital media bring have evolved a lot over the past 15 years, just look at Life Technologies/Invitrogen’s 1996 website to see how far we’ve come. The changes started gradually, with a pace that continually increases, and now the evolution has grown into a revolution. Because of wide-ranging changes in the way business is being done, it is always a good time to consider whether an “evolution” or a “revolution” of your life science website is needed to meet your objectives. Here are four key qualities you should keep in mind for success in life science web development:
- Branding. I recently surprised a colleague by telling them that their company’s fancy new website was built using a template common to many other websites. While they were disappointed, this practice is very common, and a good developer will put a lot of thought into which platform and templates to use (see also #4). Because templates are so prevalent, strong, consistent branding with unique identifiers are needed to ensure your website doesn’t look like every other website. Ideally, web developers will be guided and work closely with a marketing manager who understands the objectives and vision. Style guides, whether they exist as a formal document or within a marketing plan, will ensure that the branding, messaging, colors, imagery, and fonts are all consistent with your objectives.
- Content. After the style guide is created, copy must be carefully written to do the lion’s share of the work of the website, the most important being attracting and motivating all visitors, human or otherwise. A content plan, large or small based on the size of the company, will guide writers to consider the messaging, key words, repurposing, and lead generation. These guidelines, coupled with the process (#5) described below, will ensure consistency and will further lead you towards your goal. The importance of content cannot be overemphasized and we cover it often here.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO and content are inexorably linked, but you would be surprised how many life science web development projects completely ignore this piece, leaving a website to languish for years with poor SEO. In addition to considering key words in content generation, the infrastructure should support good SEO. For example, web page titles are one of the easiest ways to rank with search engines. Look at some of your favorite life science websites and see whether they’ve included a key word rich title, you’ll find a surprising number don’t (the title of a web page is shown in the very top left of your browser window). Many factors lead to good SEO, a good development team will be cognizant of them in the overall development, making it easier for SEO to be “baked in” to the design and further update processes.
- Platform. An crucial aspect of life science web development, where the website must perform many more functions, is the platform chosen. By platform, we mean applications upon which a website is structured, and examples are WordPress, Joomla, Hubspot, and Magento. Today most sites are built on a content management system (CMS) backed by a database connecting content, keywords, and applications (or “plugins”) that extend functionality. We recommend that even simple websites be built using a CMS for myriad reasons, including ease of update, improved SEO, and extendability. Although your company may be small, a blog, shopping cart, or technical service forum can be easily added if needed in the future. Moreover, your website needs to be functional on an increasing number of devices and browsers, and the platform chosen is of paramount importance to ensure success now and in the future. As with other aspects of the web evolution/revolution, the tools have become more affordable and easier to manage.
- Process. We speak with many life science companies who say they need to “get around” to updating their website, and often the most arduous step is getting started and then having the discipline to make the changes. Implement a process that employs creative briefs, templates with document control, and a sharing infrastructure to help guide the updates. You can likely find guidelines and templates on the internet to help get started. Additionally, don’t expect that your team will be able to make web content updates, etc. “in their spare time.” The web has become such an important tool that time must be allotted to the process of updating your website.
We hope that this list will serve to make your life science web development less daunting, and as always feel free to contact us for a free consultation and we’ll give you some pointers on your existing website and possible updates.