Why creating websites is like creating brochures – and why it isn’t

There’s a term that’s been going around the web industry for some time now, and it’s one that’s not greeted with enthusiasm.

The term is ‘brochureware’ and it describes a website that does little more than a brochure would do.

In other words, it is really a collection of words and images that is not cognizant of the wide range of sexy (in the mind of the developer) technical bells and whistles a website can offer.

But for many small businesses, even a ‘brochureware’ site is a considerable achievement when the most content you have assembled previously is about enough to fill a Yellow Pages display ad.

Brochures a great starting point

And if the statistics are to be believed, that too is a whole lot more than the bulk of smaller businesses, who still have nothing online at all.

Having been involved what must be approaching thousands of websites over several years, I’ve found that experience in producing a multi-page brochure for your business is a huge help when it comes to creating a professional website.

But there are also some significant differences which can easily disrupt the website creation process if they aren’t addressed early enough.

So to ensure your website creation process is as smooth as possible, here are the similarities and differences between creating a professional brochure and a professional website.


1. Cost

A smaller business creating a professional promotional resource for the first time is often taken aback by the cost. But a professional result takes considerable skill and time in creating the words, pictures, overall look and finished result, which all needs to be paid for.

Essentially, these creative elements are also required (amongst others) in creating a website.

So familiarity with the costs involved in achieving a professional print result are useful when it comes to website creation, because you will have a good idea of just how much budget is required to get the results you need to be effective.

2. Process

While the media of print and digital differ markedly from a technology perspective, from a presentation perspective they are quite similar as are many of the processes required to get a professional result.

So having experience in the process of creating a professional brochure or similar printed resource will be a huge advantage when creating a website.

3. Quality

Another saying in the digital world is ‘garbage in, garbage out’. What this refers to is that a website is the result of the quality of content on it. For example, poor photography going into the creation process will still be poor photography when it appears on the website. There are no magical transformations (though a professional will try to tidy it up as best they can).

So the understanding of quality content and processes required to yield a professional print result will be a great fillip to your web project.

4. Language and culture

Most industries possess their own language and culture that is often foreign to the first timer and both the print and digital industries are no different.

But in recognition of the fact that websites have many similarities to the print medium, much of the language has (thankfully) been retained – at least from a presentation perspective.


1. Permanency

One of the biggest concepts that those who have created brochures have difficulty with is that of content ‘permanence’: because in the print world the end-product of the process is the expensive printing process.

If there’s an error in the brochure, you either have to live with it and it’s often considerable embarrassment, or fund the often significant cost of re-printing.

But websites have no such permanency, particularly with most being underpinned by content management (editing) systems. Therefore it’s just not as critical if a production error is made because it can be rectified relatively cheaply and easily, even if it has already ‘gone live’.

2. Browsing style

A fundamental difference between print and online is the way they are ‘used’. People tend to spend much more time with a printed document, tending to read it in a linear and often ‘complete’ or ‘start to finish’ way.

Because in the past computers have so many other applications than simply ‘reading’ there has been a tendency for users to ‘skim’ webpages and move around them in a non-linear fashion. In fact, users may well start on a page other than the intended front or homepage due to both external and internal keyword searches.

This means that information is presented in a way that suits this approach, not to mention the ability to add video, audio, animation and functionality to the words and pictures of the brochure.

3. SEO

With brochures, words have no other function than communicating to the reader. Whilst websites are no different from a communication perspective, the choice of words and the way they are formatted has the equally important function of attracting the attention of search engines.

As a result, a website’s content and the presentation of it may differ markedly to that of the equivalent brochure – at least if you want to gain prominence among search engine results.

4. Platform

A very significant difference between brochures and websites is that the presentation aspect of websites is often underpinned by sophisticated digital technology.

Whilst the public may notice little difference between the content and presentation of a website versus a brochure, what they aren’t seeing are the technological features that allow businesses to publish, edit, automate and integrate content with a range of related features like CRM, email broadcast and so on.

5. Call to Action

Another significant difference between brochures and websites is that brochures are merely a presentation aid, unlike websites which aid seamless communication and transaction.

So when the user has finished with the brochure, they must then utilise another medium such as phone, mail or email to communicate with the provider. With websites, action is much more seamless due to its ability to launch emails, send forms, order online or engage in chat.

All told, experience in creating brochures is far preferable to not having this experience as there is much that can be applied to the website creation process. But it’s also important to recognise the differences so as to ensure there are no costly disruptions to the process.

In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond. www.theeteam.com.au.



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