We teach a seminar called Websitetology to try to educate clients on web 2.0. We also teach a fair number of other ad agencies (even the local competition) because, well, that’s the kind of people we are.

One of the things we stress is that if you aren’t on the first page of Google you don’t exist, and that content drives traffic. Build valuable content and they will come.

Unfortunately, it’s falling on mostly dead ears. Even huge advertisers like Apple, Burger King and BMW don’t seem to understand how to port their marketing to the web properly. It’s not about how your site looks, especially your “home page”- it’s about the content on every page: every page is home for someone- about something.

So- it was good to see new media bigwigs Avenue A/Razorfish do a study to confirm what we already knew- excerpts from the Ad Age article follow- with a short primer on what we know works on the web:

Do Home Pages Have a Place in Web 2.0’s Future? - Advertising Age - Digital
Avenue A/Razorfish: Brands’ Main Sites Decline in Importance as Consumers’ Reliance on Search Grows
By Abbey Klaassen Published: October 01, 2007

Garrick Schmitt was sitting in a meeting, listening to a client talk about the need to make its website “Web 2.0-compliant,” complete with tag clouds and profile pages. “Tag clouds?” thought Mr. Schmitt, VP-user experience at Avenue A/Razorfish. “Really?”…

The request seemed curious to him — do that many people really use tag clouds that a brand marketer’s website needed to incorporate them? Surprisingly, he couldn’t find the answer to that question. So he decided to find out.

The following months, his team conducted a study of almost 500 connected consumers to figure out how people were using marketer websites and forecast what would be important in web design during the next year…

‘Sanity check’
The report, out today, will serve as a “sanity check” for some early Web 2.0 adopters and technophiles. And, he said, “for more traditional marketers, there’s a whole new world we have to introduce them to.”

One of the most surprising things the team found was how many people are starting their online shopping with search — more than 54% of the study’s panel, in fact. The idea that more consumers are coming to brand sites through the side door of search means search engines are starting to circumvent brands when it comes to online shopping. While a consumer looking for a pizza stone offline might drive to her nearest Williams-Sonoma, in the online world she’s more likely to just type the product name into Google and see what comes up.

“Marketers need to stop thinking so much about their site and more about what’s happening outside their site, such as widgets, viral and search,” Mr. Schmitt said.

It also means home pages are becoming less important as search drives those visitors deeper into a site, meaning marketers need to treat product pages like home pages, adding navigation and sharing functions.

Bookmarking together
Speaking of sharing, social recommendations continue to grow in importance. More than 85% of people on the panel used “most popular” links on sites to decide what to look at and more than 55% made purchase decisions based on user reviews.

“Peers still drive consumer preference,” Mr. Schmitt said. “Nothing else even comes close.”

Another trend: Incorporating more data into design. While designers and developers have many rich technologies at their disposal, they also have better ways to mine behavioral data and adapt their sites in real time.

Four tips for digital design

  1. Make content portable with widgets and RSS so people can interact with it anywhere.
  2. Turn on consumer ratings and reviews and allow commenting wherever possible.
  3.  Invest in online video.
  4. Think outside your site — how do search, social media, offline ads and blogs relate?

Search logs, site analytics and behavioral data can provide guidance for design, as can offline channels such as call centers…

Oh, and what of those tag clouds Mr. Schmitt set out to analyze? Almost 65% of consumers never use them; a little more than 11% use them all or most of the time.
One of the first things we ask our seminar participants is “how often do you check your web stats?” We’re lucky if most even know what they are. While stats are a good starting point- they are also valuable to learn what’s working and what isn’t.

Right now, a post we have about an Apple TV spot is routinely drawing 90% of search directed traffic to this site- traffic that should be going to Apple’s site. But, the difference is- Apple built a pretty site, and we built a useful one. Spend millions on an ad to drive interest in your product and desire more information- but have potential customers show up here, instead of on the well known Apple is inexcusable.

Brand advertising and home pages are fine- but, in the end, it’s really about building a place online where your fans can find everything they want to know about each product you make (or have made in the past). That is the “Home Page” of the future- the home of your product.

What do you think?