The goal of our buyer beware series is to help business owners make informed business decisions when it comes to online marketing. Previously, we have released a general warning about some online marketers engaging in questionable practices, as well as a blog about being aware of “black hat” SEO techniques.
Today’s topic is websites.
Over the past year, we have been asked to review numerous websites; and, unfortunately, many of them are not properly structured for search engine optimization or conversion. As a result, they have to be modified, or even worse, re-developed from scratch.
Why Are You Investing in a New Website?
The first question you need to ask yourself if you considering an investment in a new website is: “why”?
- Is it to simply have an “electronic brochure”?
- Do you want your website to be found when people do online searches using search engines such as Google or Bing?
- Are you going to sell products or services through your site?
- Do you want your site to be an integral part of your lead nurturing and conversion strategies?
Understanding the specific role your website plays within your business development process is the crucial first step – if you don’t have clarity on this issue, it’s unlikely your site will support your business objectives.
You also need to establish objectives in order to evaluate and select the right company to develop your website. This decision will have a significant impact on whether your site meets your expectations.
Is Your Website Living in the Past? (New Sites Can Be Guilty of This Too)
In the early days of the Internet, the primary objective was to create a professional looking site that people could reference if they wanted information. These sites basically functioned as electronic brochures: “this is who we are and what we sell”.
They were typically static – the content didn’t change and once these sites were developed they were basically neglected.
There was little or no thought given to the prospect; where are they in the buying cycle, what information do they require, how can we make it easy for them to do business with us, are they educated about our industry, etc.
This was all a business needed in the early days of the Internet, but times have changed.
Fast forward to today. Websites are central to an online marketing strategy. They are expected to be lead generation machines and conversion tools. Prospects are not only looking to find potential product and service providers through online searches, they are also vetting them online. Even if your site gets found, if it doesn’t do a good job of “putting your best foot forward”, then you won’t even get a chance to compete for the business.
Selecting a Web Development Partner
If you just need to refresh the look of your current website, there are many web design companies who can do that for you.
On the other hand, if your site is going to be a strategic component of your business development efforts, the list of companies who can effectively do this is significantly shorter.
If you want to ensure whether a web development company will be able to deliver based on your business objectives, the first clue is if they ask you about your business objectives. If this isn’t the first thing they ask, then it’s a red flag.
If they pass this test, then ask them the following questions:
- Are they prepared to analyse the performance of your current website?
- Are they going to perform a proper, in-depth keyword analysis?
- Are they going to do competitive analysis?
- Are they going to help you develop your conversion strategy?
- Are they going to help you develop your positioning strategy?
- Will they produce detailed wireframes based on the information they gather?
- Are they going to develop all the site content so that it differentiates you from competition, provides prospects with the right information, and is optimized for search engines and conversion?
There are many more questions, but these are a good starting point. (Don’t hesitate to contact me at [email protected] if you want additional questions).
The point is that if you are investing in a site because you want it to support your revenue growth, then your web development partner must understand your business priorities, perform the requisite research and take a strategic, business oriented approach.
Make sure you put them to the test by asking questions before you make a decision or a commitment.
Building a Website that Supports Your Business Goals
As mentioned, if you just want an electronic brochure, then start with design, with a focus on how the website will look. If this is the case, the content will be based on literature you likely have in hand already.
However, if you want your website to produce tangible business results (leads and conversions), you need to start with structure, not design. Basing a site on structure requires an understanding of your objectives, the competition, how your target market searches for what you do (keyword analysis), your positioning strategy, the content visitors expect when they land on your site, your conversion strategy, etc.
Structure is about laying out the site, page by page, based on a logical hierarchy, targeted keywords, search engine optimization on-page attributes, calls to action, and prospect expectations. This manifests itself in a set of wireframe diagrams that detail how the site should be organized and how it will flow.
It’s about understanding the needs of searchers and search engines before development is initiated.
We refer to this as an “outside-in” versus “inside-out” approach. It’s being marketing-driven as opposed to simply focusing on what you think prospects deem important in making a buying decision.
To WordPress or Not To WordPress?
Many business owners are not aware of the software platforms on which their website is built. For small and mid-sized businesses, websites should be built on a Content Management System (CMS).
There is no reason for a site to be custom-coded (built from scratch) unless you are a larger corporate entity with a significant budget and programming resources. We have seen too many orphaned sites where the developers are long gone and nobody can make changes or updates to the site.
The most common Content Management System by far is WordPress – it is the de facto standard for CMS platforms.
If you are a small or mid-sized business, your site should be built on WordPress because it gives you the greatest amount of control:
- There are many WordPress programmers, so if your relationship with your current web development company sours, you can easily find other programmers proficient in WordPress.
- You will be able to add/change/update content without the use of a programmer, so once again you are in control.
- There are many off-the-shelf add-ons for WordPress (“plug-ins”), which means capabilities can easily be added at minimal incremental cost.
We get pushback from programmers about WordPress flexibility and security, but these criticisms are unfounded. We find these arguments somewhat self-serving and are often about programmers wanting to maintain control over the client.
As with any technology option, there are pros and cons. For small and mid-sized businesses, the pros of WordPress far outweigh the cons.
A Note about Template Sites
Lately, we’ve seen a trend towards web development companies using templates or themes to build sites.
The advantages of templates are that they have a modern look and are relatively inexpensive to build since the design has already been done.
However, the disadvantages are that they can be somewhat inflexible, and they may not have been developed with search engine optimization or conversion in mind. They tend to be based on a scrolling, flat structure (not many categories/pages) versus having a unique page for each targeted keyword category or specific keywords.
They tend to look nice, but the templates don’t necessarily support an optimal site structure for business development purposes.
The Final Word
If you don’t give considerable thought to these issues before you embark on a new website development, then you may end up being frustrated and disappointed. The site might look great, but if it doesn’t drive the business benefits you were anticipating, then it’s not a good use of your hard-earned money.
We’ve seen too many situations where sites that are relatively new are either in need of extensive work, or even worse, need to be re-developed.
So make sure you give these issues careful consideration before you make an investment in a new website platform.
Buyer Beware – Online Marketing
We will continue to post articles in this buyer beware series to highlight the things you should look for when selecting online marketing service providers.
We’re offering this information because online marketing has become a key business development activity, and you can’t afford to have these efforts compromised by companies that don’t know what they are doing or that are engaging in unscrupulous practices.
Our hope is that by educating you about these issues, you will make sound business decisions; thereby ensuring that online marketing contributes to long-term, sustainable revenue growth.
Core Online Marketing is an online marketing services provider with extensive expertise in business development strategy. We assist small and mid-sized businesses with all tactics within an online marketing strategy; content creation, website development, SEO, social media, database marketing, etc. Contact us for a free initial consultation.
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