Your Website is an Investment, NOT an Expense. Demand ROI
Business owners often have a difficult time defining the role of their Website.
They confess to feeling overwhelmed by technology, and rather than deal with the complexity they settle for a site that's less functional than a business card or a billboard. This is a mistake.
In this day and age, viewing your Website as a necessary expense rather than as an investment that's expected to produce a return is such a critical misstep that it's difficult to even frame the magnitude of it in words.
The "billboards and business cards" approach to your site guarantees that you'll be throwing your money away.
It's like a bricks-and-mortar retailer deciding to locate their flagship store in the basement of an abandoned factory in a ghost town - then closing the door and not telling anyone about it.
So what's my advice if you're thinking "I just need a 5 or 6 page Website that tells people what I do and how to contact me"?
The billboard site is only useful as a stopgap solution while you get your act together. Don't get stuck there.
Don't throw your money away. You can do better. You can be better.
Take a grown up approach to your online presence, forget "billboards and business cards" and hire the right expert to advise you. If you don't, you'll just keep wasting money trying to cut corners.
Suck up that ego and admit that you don't know this game or you'd already be winning it.
The reason you're viewing it as a cost instead of an opportunity is that your approach guarantees lackluster results.
As a Consultant, I see this a lot.
It's so prevalent that it's a recurring ethical concern.
Clients approaching a business Website with this mindset are demanding that I let them pay me to do them a disservice.
Some Web Designers and Developers are either unethical or they don't have the chops to see it, but we have an obligation to at least try to steer Clients in the right direction.
"So how do I ensure a Return on my Investment" you ask?
It's actually pretty simple. Do your homework.
Websites seem like a complicated morass of obscure technical terms and difficult concepts, but when you strip away the jargon, it's very straightforward.
Step 1: Strategize
I've framed this as a single step for simplicity's sake, but this is actually a big ask with a lot of detail.
This is where small business owners break down and give up without allowing themselves to embrace the process.
It's like making a business plan; another process many small business owners give short shrift. It requires you to think about your whole business and put your online presence in context.
There's very little value in creating a site without thinking it through in exquisite detail. A scattershot approach can produce results, but a well thought out strategy inform your efforts in a way that saves time and money.
You don't need to write a complete business plan for your site, but that's actually a great idea. If you do this right, you'll be close to having one anyhow.
Step 2: Deploy
You've defined your target market, specified the metrics you'll use to measure success, decided on a Strategy for your overall business that includes your online presence.
Now it's time to figure out how you're going to Deploy it. Are you going to do a wholesale replacement of your existing site or add functionality? Is the deployment going to happen in stages or all at once? How does your budget impact your approach? Are you relying on increased sales in one stage to bootstrap the next? You need to figure this out and have a frank discussion with whoever's leading the project about this.
A Deployment Plan can come in many flavors, there's no fixed framework that will work for every business in every situation. Don't presume you know it all.
You need a competent expert to guide this process, and you need to be honest about budgetary constraints, staffing, expectations and level of commitment.
Step 3: Measure and Adjust
This is where you see your ROI
Google Analytics, Facebook Pixel, Pinterest Analytics, Amazon's Athena - there's a fantastic array of tools available to help you collect and analyse your data.
Do NOT get lost in the minutiae. Focus on your bottom line and other Key Performance Indicators.
You don't need to know it all. Ideally, this isn't your department except at a very high level. Someone else should own it in collaboration with other technical staff or consultants.
Either insist on access to a "Dashboard" that gives you an overview, regular reports, or a synopsis of the game plan informed by whatever combination of solutions you chose to implement.
What you need to think about before (re)building your site?
Your Marketing Objectives
This is the key component of your Web Strategy. It's what you'll be using to measure ROI.
These might include:
Increased traffic to the site
Brand awareness and brand building
Other Conversions like signing up for mailing lists or downloading special content
Loyalty and Retention
Your Target Audience
People roll their eyes at this one, like it's so obvious it's almost insulting to ask them to define.The truth is, many business owners haven't bothered to figure it out properly, and it's costing them money every day.
You need to appeal to individuals, not some imaginary mass that includes everybody.
In order to do that, you need a clear idea of who you're talking to. This is why knowing your target market is crucial.
In terms of online marketing, knowing where to find your target market is also key. What websites and social networks do they frequent?
Your Site's Content in Context
Your site may be targeted at specific demographics, but there's also the customer's level of engagement to consider.
You don't want to put the same content in front of an idle browser that you do for an informed customer. You need to have different kinds of content available for different stages in the sales cycle.
That means thinking about what will appeal to the first time visitor, the visitor who's already considering buying, and the informed customer in need of expert guidance.
All three types of content need to be thought through and included in your site, so brainstorm.
Now you've defined your Marketing Objectives, you've got a Target Audience and you've planned different types of content for people at different stages in the sales cycle.
Now it's time to think in practical terms about how this is going to fit in to your daily business practices:
Who's going to do the writing?
Who's going to make the videos?
Where are we getting the pictures?
What's the schedule for all this?
Is this realistic or pie-in-the-sky?
Is it fair to dump this on [insert name here] or is that a recipe for resentment and poor performance? Do they really have time for it?
Does it make more sense to outsource it or hire someone new to focus on it?
Think this through and be brutally honest with yourself.
Don't kid yourself that an already fully engaged employee is going to be able to do this well. They won't. If you're going to add it to somebody's already full workload without helping them free up the time for it, you may as well take $5,000 in cash and give it to a panhandler every month for the good it will do your business.
You need someone to take ownership of this, that person needs to be rewarded, and that person is NOT YOU.
Deal with it.
Promoting Your Business
Ads with generic marketing copy that's designed for broad appeal read like exactly that. Nobody likes to be sold to, especially not in a transparently self-serving manner. People might want to buy, but they're looking for a fit. That is, a company they feel like they actually want to buy from.
Luckily, there's an easy way to figure out how to do this.
Once you've decided on what promotional platforms make sense, you don't need to rely on your gut or suck your ideas out of thin air. You can look at what's working for your competitors, or for Fortune 500 brands in your industry.
Most importantly, every online venue for promoting yourself is track-able in real time, so you can SEE what works and what doesn't, and adjust your approach accordingly.
NO EXCUSES. DO IT.
Again, you need someone to take ownership of this, that person needs to be rewarded, and that person is NOT YOU.
You're the boss. Demand results, and delegate.
Once they're defined, and before the redevelopment of your site is underway, TRACK Key Performance Indicators on your existing site, presuming you have one.
You need to establish a baseline against which to measure performance.
Track how people are finding you, track which keywords work and which don't, track which pages get the most engagement, track sales, etc. - track whatever you can right now.
This is what we talked about in "Your Marketing Objectives".
Remember to Delegate!
Not every Corporation has a Chief Technology Officer.
In small business - Incorporated or not - it's pretty normal for the "C Suite" to reside in the owner's brain.
I've got a friend whose business does $20 million in business yearly and supports 30+ employees, with a globally distributed supply chain and manufacturing, and it's all in his head! He's a brilliant guy, but that's a problem. He's stuck without a successor and afraid to retire.
In a best case scenario, that's what happens to people who don't delegate. Most people aren't as bright as my friend though, and there's really no bottom to that pit.