The Digital Trinity

There's certainly no shortage of websites today - Netcraft's September 2012 Web Server Survey showed more than 190 million active sites, and VeriSign reported recently that the total number of domain names has surpassed a record-breaking 240 million. Whichever way you look at those numbers, that's a lot of competition from which your Web business will need to stand out.

To become a "premier" digital destination (those which control the majority share of voice or are a well-known and dominant market provider), enterprises need to do everything right, very little wrong and stay a few steps ahead of the competition. This is achievable through the use of innovative technologies and by leveraging the many "best practice" techniques to remain top of mind and ultimately become revenue rich.

Based on Website Magazine's eight-year history in this industry, these are the only ways we've encountered to become one of the elite digital brands. If you know of another, do let us know.

To actually achieve the illustrious status of being a "premier" website (perhaps the top 10 in your niche, for example), businesses must 1) provide a reliable infrastructure and maintain a high level of performance within their software applications, 2) master customer acquisition and retention - through promotional channels (including organic search, social media, advertising and email) and 3) continually work to understand the user experience to optimize conversions - through improvements to offers or on design and usability, and focus on enabling analytics solutions to power and inform any future improvements and critical business decisions.

Few enterprises, even those few established or emerging elite brands that earned the respect of, and investment from, the digital business community, are able to consistently provide a digital experience that simultaneously meets or exceeds the expectations of companies and consumers alike. Make no mistake, it most certainly happens and as a Web worker you're well aware of what you could learn from the most successful enterprises on the 'Net.

For this reason, Website Magazine is producing an extensive guide to the Web's premier digital destinations in its upcoming Web 100 Guide (available January 2013). It addresses what makes these brands and companies so successful; what they are doing "right" currently in their own words; and where they expect to grow their businesses and improve their digital campaigns in the future, as well as how they plan on getting there.

Website Magazine's Web 100 is a profile of 100 companies in six categories including finance, lifestyle, retail/consumer goods, news and media, technology and service providers. When developing a project of this scope, it's important to have baseline criteria, a virtual philosophy if you will, for determining what makes a premier Web destination. So what does it actually take to reach those lofty heights?

Infrastructure Reliability & Software Performance

To become a premier website, high reliability and optimal performance should take center stage. Without, the general experience provided to users is not one that warrants a return visit much less a conversion.

Do enterprise-level sites worry about downtime? Of course! Infrastructure and general performance problems impact every business - regardless of size. But big companies stand to lose the most. GoDaddy's recent DNS outage, which impacted millions of its clients, was certainly not an anomaly in the world of tech. Amazon's high-profile S3 failure in early spring left many noteworthy companies struggling to regain their presence and full functionality - and further, encouraged them to seek out solutions to the problem should it arise again. A quick ping of the top websites reveals quite a bit about their infrastructure choices - from their use of content delivery networks and server frameworks to which Web hosting company or solution they've entrusted to ensure reliability and performance.

Software performance is another area where enterprises can differentiate themselves from the competition. Software bloat is a very real and pervasive problem, but those enterprises that stay focused on creating the optimal experiences, removing unnecessary features and optimizing the on-site engagement, are those that routinely receive kudos for their Web properties.

Customer Acquisition & Retention

It's impossible to become a premier site without mastering the art and science of customer acquisition and retention. Big sites receive big traffic (another reason for infrastructure reliability) and are willing to spend big money (and resources) to get it and to keep those users they've brought into its digital fold and maintain a relationship that increases their lifetime spend and builds brand advocates rather than detractors.

The top sites receive millions of visitors from organic listings on Google and Bing. In some instances, spend millions of dollars monthly to attract users from the countless advertising opportunities available - paid search and display - and lest we forget, invest their remaining resources into social. They'll even use email as a foundation of their acquisition and retention efforts.

The point here is that the best brands on the Web understand the importance of continually bringing in new users and make efforts to keep them in the proverbial stable. It's certainly not easy to do, but it's much more difficult if you're not continually exploring new opportunities - the channels and formats and devices that capture our collective attention - and working doggedly to prove to users why your brand is better than the rest.

Analysis & Optimization

Making continual improvements to digital properties is part and parcel of the fast-paced industry you're involved in. Web workers can know within minutes exactly what is and what is not working, making adjustments on the fly for the benefit of their campaigns and their business. Or at least, it could happen that way. What's unique about the top brands listed in our upcoming Web 100 Guide is that you will nary find one that does not admit to the importance of analytics within their campaigns and broader digital efforts and doesn't optimize their 'Net business's presence with the information they've found.

The Digital Trinity in Focus

You'll also be hard pressed to find a company/brand in Website Magazine's upcoming Web 100 Guide that, knowingly or not, doesn't abide by the Digital Trinity. You likely won't even find any that only focus on one or two alone. The reason, and it's the focus of this publication, is that without balance between these elements (harmony if you will) you're missing out on something very important to the success of your enterprise. For example, if your site or applications are unavailable, what use is it to acquire customers or initiate retention campaigns for your best customers? Not much. The Digital Trinity can be seen in the top destinations on the Web, and you'll see it all in action in January 2013 with the release of Website Magazine's inaugural Web 100 Guide.