By Jerry Tarasofsky

If you are under the impression that once your web site is up and running that most of the hard work has been completed, you have made a very serious mistake. Your web site is probably one of the most powerful and cost effective marketing tools you have and as such I suggest you view it as you would any other asset or investment and use it to its maximum potential.

This feature examines how, over the long term, you insure that your web site remains fresh and interesting and that visitors continue to have a positive and rewarding experience at your site.

If you have gone to the expense of hiring a web development team and in-house web-marketing people, it just makes solid business sense to properly manage and maintain your site. And to do that, you need to make periodic assessments of its performance, content, look and tone in order to keep it fresh and interesting. And of utmost importance, you have to continuously make sure the site is meeting the wants and needs of your web site visitors

Keeping your site fresh is really the challenge of managing change, so take a good look at every page on your site and determine which of the many pages are likely to change, when, and how often. Then create a schedule to insure those pages are reviewed regularly.

Although this analogy might not be right for everyone, imagine your site as a newspaper or a magazine. Would you want to read yesterdays paper over and over or read a previous month’s issue of your favorite magazine again and again? My guess is no. You would very quickly get bored with the same old content and you’d look for publications that were more current and up to date – ones that provided you with constantly changing content. The same principle applies to your web site visitors! If your site becomes stale, visitors will stop coming - plain and simple.

So where do you start? Take my word for it. Your web site will not remain fresh and up to date on its own. Make no changes and you run the risk of developing "Stale Site Syndrome" a deadly ailment that is sure to impact visitor satisfaction and potentially damage your traditional brand image. The formalized program I spoke of earlier is probably your best option to insure you continuously update the content and tools on your site.

It is my recommendation that you create a review schedule. Create appropriate categories for your site, and then identify within those categories, those sections of the site that to be reviewed daily, weekly or monthly based on your visitor’s needs.

One of the best ways to make sure your site continues to stay fresh and in tune with the needs of your visitors is to make sure your web site review program includes a strong dose of visitor feedback. Who better to tell you about your site than your actual visitors?

And a side benefit of analyzing feedback is that by listening to what your web site visitors are telling you, you can learn in many instances who they are and glean valuable information about them such as their purpose of visit and how often they travel etc.

So here are a few tips to help you map out a program to insure your site stays fresh and provides your visitors with a positive experience and encourages them to return and refer your site to friends and associates.

Is the content on your site still relevant? To remain fresh and current you must insure that your site language evolves with the time and that your content is not filled with obsolete information, outdated references or links that no longer work. Just one bad link can ruin the impression of freshness or one reference to a Christmas promotion in the middle of March is enough to send your visitors away. If you do choose to include time sensitive content in your site have a process in place to insure it comes down the minute the information has expired.

And one small hint – some of your site content may contain copyright dates. You should change those dates as the years pass – there’s nothing worse than visiting a site and seeing Ó 1999 when it’s the year 2006.

Are you providing your visitors with the right information? Can they easily access for example room rates or information about hotel amenities and services? Without easy access to this data, the chances of anyone making an online reservation are zero to nil. Changing content will also insure your site remains fresh. It is also a signal to frequent visitors that you are interested in meeting their ever-changing needs.

You should also consider updating the images on your site on an ongoing basis. But all of these suggestions must be in sync with your visitor’s needs so let them tell you what changes need to be made. The old-fashioned suggestion box in hotel lobbies works just as well on the web.

What about navigation? As previously mentioned, do all the links on your site work? There is no quicker way to encourage someone to leave your site than to point the visitor to link that is out of date or does not work. One of the best ways to learn more about visitor issues with navigation is to review the visitor feedback on your web site. If people are getting lost or are unable to find what they are looking for, they will be sure to tell you.

Finally, to insure that this all happens, make sure somebody in your organization is assigned the specific responsibility of completing the reviews and conducting the research and your site will remain fresh and in tune with your visitor’s needs!

Jerry Tarasofsky is CEO of iPerceptions Inc.