Website Myths Exposed
Amidst all the hype, misinformation and snake oil, how can you tell whether you're about to be sold a dog of website? Or already have one, for that matter.
Here are some of the common myths about websites.
Reality: A poor or inappropriate website will damage your business and alienate visitors. A website has equal capacity to enhance your business or damage it. Anything you do on the Internet through your website is magnified many times over. Your message gets out to more people, and whatever a visitor sees is their lasting impression of your business. People who turn away from your website are in fact turning away from your business.
When a visitor goes to your website, they can't see your face, hear your tone of voice or see your body language. The only frame of reference they have is their own needs at the time and their perception of your competitors. You have no opportunity to apologise, make excuses or explain anything they see on your website. You can't even see if they're interested, impressed, confused, anxious or irritated.
Your website, right there and then, is you. If they don't like what they see, they don't like you and they'll click off to go to your competitor.
In other words, whatever a visitor thinks when they leave your website, that's the lasting impression of your business - for better or for worse.
Reality: There has to be a reason for people to look for you, then a way for prospects to find your website when they do.
As harsh as it sounds, prospective visitors to your website don't care about you, your business or your website. They do, however, care about fulfilling their need that you are in the position to meet.
Simply building a website would be a bit like printing brochures and putting them in your bottom drawer. Even though search engines will find your site eventually, it still needs to be promoted.
You still need to direct target market traffic to your site.
The fastest way is to spend money on search engine marketing, but this can get expensive. Even then it's only relevant if your target market are likely to use the internet to look for your product or service. It can take months or even years for your URL to get near the top in response to organic searches.At no cost you can still get visitors to your site through affiliate programs, e-mail newsletters and partnering. Off-line tactics include simple things like signage and ensuring that your business card and correspondence contain your web address.
Reality: A website that never changes quickly becomes out of date, and eventually disappears from Google
The more closely aligned your website to people in your target market and their current needs, the more successful it will be. Everything that causes change in your business - competitors, client expectations, products, services, to name some - also affects your website. Your website has no option but to keep on changing just to stay current and relevant.
If you see a film on TV that was made only a handful of years ago, you immediately recognise it as "old";. Almost certainly it's the style, or cinematic language, that has triggered that recognition. The Internet is like that, too. Visitors can sense that your website is dated, failing to keep with the times - and that's the perception they'll have of your business.Google, too, pays more attention to websites that are constantly changing, and progressively ignores sites that never change.
Reality: The technology doesn't matter - customers care only about your ability to meet their needs. That is, of course, unless you're in the business of actually selling website technology.
Thinking that your website technology matters to your customers is like thinking that the brand of your mobile phone makes a difference to the effectiveness of your sales calls.
The only time website technology matters to your visitor is if it doesn't work, in which case your customers will click off your website and go to a competitor. Building your website with the latest technology that your target market might not have caught up with will make your site look as if it doesn't work.
Putting notices on your site that requires visitors to upgrade their own software will alienate them very quickly. They're at your site to get answers to a problem - they're not there to upgrade their computers!
Reality: You wouldn't call a telephone technician to advise you how to conduct your next phone conversation with a prospect, would you? Neither would you consult with the postman to help you with the content of your next proposal letter. And you certainly wouldn't obtain the services of a motor mechanic every time you needed to drive to the supermarket. So why would you entrust an IT person to manage one of the most important business development and marketing tools at your disposal? The technology that's behind your website is nothing more than a delivery mechanism for your message.
Using computer and IT people to manage the design, development and content of your website is likely to be one of the most damaging strategic mistakes you can make. You're far better off using a marketing expert who knows nothing about computers than you are using an IT person who knows nothing about marketing.
Reality: It depends on what you mean by the term “design”. It takes a great graphic designer to come up with the look and feel that encapsulates the four cornerstones of having a great website - what business you're in, who are your target market, what you're trying to achieve by having a website and what you want to say.
If by “design” you mean enabling ways to marry your business strategies with how the website will function to deliver the results you need, a graphic designer is unlikely to have the business and marketing savvy to enable the results you want.
Too often a great design that looks good on screen interferes with search engine visibility or site usability, frequently both.
It's extremely important that your graphic designer understands the crucial differences between print design and website design. What works on printed media rarely translates to a website
Reality: Getting high search engine visibility could well be the very worst thing you can do for your business.
If your website is not properly implemented, all you'll do is attract many more prospects to a website that fails to deliver on their hopes and expectations. In such circumstances, getting hits only creates many more disappointed prospects - and they're unlikely to return once they decide you're not worth doing business with.
It might also be that your target market do not use Google to look for your type of service. You might have such a strong off-line awareness in your niche industry that your prospects go directly to your website to validate you, rather than use search engines to look for you.
Only work on visibility once your website is really worth visiting, and when it is optimally aligned with your business, your market and your business strategies and goals.
Reality: Yeah, sure. Like every household needs a swimming pool.
Some businesses don't need a website at all. For example a corner milk bar, or that take-away shop next to the railway station. Or the lunch shop in an industrial complex that opens only for a couple of hours each day.
There's only one reason to have a website - that's because it will deliver some benefit to your business.
In general, retail businesses that cannot sell their goods on line and rely solely on passing trade are unlikely to benefit from a website. Such businesses that want to attract non-passing trade to their premises, even though they can't sell on line, are however likely to benefit from a website.
Reality: Only a small proportion of websites actually sell product on line. However, every website in some way sells the credentials of the business that owns it. Some do it badly, most are fairly ordinary and some - those of successful businesses - do it well.
Perhaps you are the type of business that, even if you could sell your product through your website, you might prefer to get customers into your premises, or otherwise contact you, so you can build a personal relationship.
Nowadays customers use the internet as a form of telephone directory. They'll go to your website to get an address or contact details and while they're there they'll get an impression of whether you're worth doing business with, long before they make physical contact. If your website delivers a customer to you, it's making money for you.
Reality: There is only one category of people who are interested in fancy graphics on a website – that's people who are interested in fancy graphics. People who want sounds go to sites like iTunes. Everybody else is interested in whether you have the ability, capacity or product to solve their problem or fulfil their need - the one that brought them to your website in the first place.
An appropriate video or informative audio has its place though. Hard sell videos don't work - it's too much like watching TV, where viewers get up and make coffee while ads are being run; on a website visitors just click off and find your competitor who gives them information instead.
Reality: It was certainly true in the past that a website was just a website, where the main role was to advertise your business. Then along came online shopping, but relatively few businesses want or need that.
Certainly you can have a website that does nothing but advertise your business, and if you're certain that is all you need, that's fine.
It's quite likely however that your business will benefit from having more than just a website
Nowadays websites are the gateway into key business activities, accessible by authorised staff wherever they may be. Examples include:
- Contact management, emailing and newsletter publishing
- Offline sales and inventory management
- Field sales force and maintenance personnel booking, management and time tracking
- Accounting and billing services
- Remote office administration
- Staff induction and training
- Collaboration between staff, management, clients and suppliers
- Community fundraising and event management
- and more
Snapsite provide far more than just a website - Snapsite Premier is a powerful content management system with e-commerce capabilities and Snapsite Enterprise is a comprehensive business automation system.
Reality: Thinking your website is about computers is like thinking that making a telephone call is about electronics, or driving a car is about mechanical engineering. Can you imagine how that sales call would work out if you depended on a telephone technician to tell you what to say?
A website is about your clients and your business, and your strategies on how to connect the two. It's about marketing and business development. It's about branding and reaching your prospective clients. It's about business process.
It's definitely not about technology.
Reality: We've all seen them. Those wild promises that you will “Get rich in 7 days”; “Lose 50 kilograms in one month without dieting”; “Get fit without exercising”; “Follow my plan and own 12 properties within 3 months”; “Guaranteed 75% return on your investment” and so on.
A guarantee to get to page one of search results on Google is just as credible - and just as misleading.
Sure, you might get top placement for some obscure search term that your customers will never use, but that's just visibility for its own sake - a waste of time and money.
It's easy to get top placement for searches on your company name - but that's for people who already know of you. However the key reason for visibility on Google and other search engines is so you will be found by that part of your target market who haven't heard of you yet.
Search engine visibility is mostly quality content plus an understanding about how search engines work, complemented by relevant links back to your website from other websites. It takes time to achieve and constant effort to stay there, because every one of your competitors is trying to do exactly the same thing.
Books and countless articles have been written on the so-called secret of getting to the top in Google. Nobody has found it yet. And as fast as the SEO gurus think they've found an answer, Google changes the way it assesses sites and makes result placements. And “clever tricks” are just as likely to get your website delisted, as BMW found out to their cost fairly recently. So, too, did J C Penney.
Snapsite have had brand new websites get to the top of Google in 1-2 weeks with multiple search criteria. We've had others that can only get to page 1 or 2 only after months of fine tuning. This site got to Google's page 1 on 10 different search phrases within 72 hours of going live.
Reality: If you pay for online advertising (AdWords in the case of Google) yes, you certainly get to the top immediately. If you want to get to the top through ordinary organic search results, it's a different situation altogether.
Website optimization requires patience and involves a lot of hard work. In any case, you will find that after all your hard work you feature really well on Bing, but on page 7 of Google - and vice versa.
You can quite easily get to the top of the search engine tree with some obscure search term that none of your clients will ever use. Apart from stroking your ego, what's the point?
Getting your site to the first page of any search engine should not be the primary goal. Whilst getting a high ranking is a nice side benefit, your real goal is providing service and information to your visitors through your website, such that your prospects become customers and that your customers stay.
Snapsite have had brand new websites get to the top of Google in 1-2 weeks with multiple search criteria. We've had others that can only get to page 1 or 2 only after months of fine tuning. This site got to the top of Google on 10 different search phrases within 72 hours of going live.
Reality: It's not a question of whether your business needs a website. Rather, it's a question of whether your customers expect you to have one. If you're a corner takeaway food store, it's hardly likely that your clients will expect that you have a website. On the other hand, if you're a consultant offering professional services, your clients expect you to have one.
It seems only yesterday that businesses were setting themselves apart simply because they had a website. Nowadays customers' expectations are such that a business without a website isn't worth knowing. Furthermore, if you don't have a website it's impossible to get listed in Google.
Having said that, a poor website is probably more damaging than no website at all.
Reality: Developers love the thrill and challenge of using the latest technology. Unfortunately it's often only developers and the IT community who use the latest browsers and browser plug-ins, so they're the only ones who can see your website in its full splendour.
The reality is that your customers couldn't care less. The majority of internet users don't have the latest and greatest, and your target market are probably using outdated (or at least not the latest) technology. The reasons vary - from the user not having any reason to upgrade to employees of a corporation not being allowed to use all browser features for cost or security reasons.
If you force your website visitors to have the latest technology when all they're after is the solution to a problem they have, you're more likely to alienate them than turn them into customers.
Your decision comes down to this - do you want to be seen to be using the latest web development technology, or do you want to engage with the most valuable proportion of your target market?