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Using Rich Media in Your Marketing Web Site

Multimedia, sometimes called rich media, has increased in popularity for as broadband use has exploded. Audio clips, music, video, virtual reality, and Flash animation all fall into this category. If rich media appeals to you, here are a few reasons why it might be worthwhile for your marketing Web site:

  • The media adds marketing value. It might extend your brand, help sell a product — as a virtual reality tour of real estate or a complex product might — or explain a process or service, as a video could. It might also demonstrate your capabilities, such as music clips for a composer selling songs online or animation for a Web designer.
  • It makes the site easier to use or otherwise enhances the user's experience. For instance, a live Web cam at a daycare center offers clients security and reassurance — assuming access is password-protected so only parents can view it.
  • The goal for your Web site demands it. A site that earns its keep by advertising might use rich media techniques to keep visitors on a site longer, encourage more page views, or attract repeat visits.
  • Your target audience wants or expects it. Younger audiences are much more attracted to rich media than older ones; a consumer audience with time for entertainment is more susceptible to rich media than a busy, business-to-business (B2B) audience of engineers — unless there's a reason for the rich media, such as a product demo.
  • You need rich media to stay even with, or ahead of, your competitors.

If you're now convinced that rich media is right for your site, here are a few other important considerations before you take the final plunge:

  • Will your target audience have the plug-ins, know-how, and access speed to take advantage of rich media?
  • Can you afford the cost of doing it right? Good multimedia is rarely cheap. If you can't afford to do it right, don't do it at all. Visitors won't know what they're missing, but they will know if something doesn't work properly or looks terrible.
  • Can you locate professionals to create the rich media, whether a good audio recording studio, a videographer, or an animator? Very few Web designers can do everything, but they might know subcontractors who can help. As always, review portfolios, get several bids, and check references.
  • Can you launch your Web site without rich media and add it later, or is it intrinsic to the purpose and design of your site? Adding features later lets you test site operation and assess the value of your baseline site first. Later, you can announce new features in e-mail, newsletters, press releases, and on the site itself. Implementing rich media can delay the launch of your site, as it might be the most complex and time-consuming element of your site.
  • Can you display your Flash, video, or other rich media on a page other than a splash page? (A splash page is an introductory Web page used as a lead-in to the home page. Splash pages are usually graphically intensive or use rich media, but lack navigation other than a link to enter the site. A splash page with navigation is called an entry page.) Search engines can't read Flash pages.
  • Can you give your visitors a choice of viewing a Flash versus non-Flash version of your site?
  • How much use would justify the expense? Will your statistics display the number of visits or downloads for your rich media? Can you track an association from rich media access to business outcome?

Do not use rich media just because you can. Establish a reason, an objective measure of value, and a way to measure impact on something other than your ego.

If you're uncertain about rich media, apply the KISS principle. (Keep it simple, stupid.) Be sure that sophisticated rich media will be worth the investment of money, time, and effort that it will take. It's nice to have bragging rights but even nicer to have a profit.

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