If you already have a website, you’ve already gone through the expensive and time-consuming web design process. You invested the average 2-6 month turnaround time, X amount of dollars, and after all was said and done, you still aren’t generating the amount of business that your competition is. From consulting with many potential clients, I find that at this point, most of them are frustrated and angry, and are quite resistant to consider my approach (which almost guarantees marketing success). Why is that? There are a variety of factors that contribute to this scenario, and with my experience in web design and online marketing, I will address each factor and attempt to tie it back to the big picture.
Pitfall 1 – No Marketing Plan
The first pitfall of online marketing, rather, marketing in general, is engaging the market without a sound marketing plan. Most clients, as per my experience, simply buy into the most popular marketing solutions available with hopes that it will achieve their goals. That’s like buying a car with faulty breaks. You may be able to drive off the lot, but once you really need to use it, you’ll end up getting into an accident. You will then have to spend more money on fixing the breaks (and possibly your entire car if you got into an accident). You were sold on the fine leather seats, CD player, and all of the aesthetic “fluff” that doesn’t contribute to the overall function of your “car”. Luckily, there are Lemon Laws in the automotive industry to prevent against this situation. Unfortunately this does not exist in Marketing.
To quote a popular architectural design principal, “Form Follows Function”. Basically, this states that the aesthetic form of a structure (this case being a website) should be predicated by or based upon its intended function or purpose. The many marketing options open for consideration does not present you with a buffet from which you can pick and choose from, and then likewise assemble into a collage of information with the expectation that it will produce the results you expect. The “car dealer” (being the web design company), is only concerned with getting your “car” off the lot as quickly as possible. And unless the company works a “warantee” into the proposal (which is often sacrificed to bring the project value down in order to close the deal), you will end up spending more than you had originally anticipated. In the meantime, you are still making monthly payments regardless if your “car” actually works. Remember, there are no “Lemon Laws” when it comes to marketing. In order to budget your expenses you must strategically map out each aspect of your marketing plan. This ensures your success based on a realistic set of timeline-based goals.
You must know how much to spend, when to spend it, and what you will spend it on. With a solid marketing plan, you can achieve your immediate goals while presenting the opportunity to achieve your future goals regardless of your initial budget. The idea is to spend what you can on the solutions you need now, to generate the results that will enable you to afford more expensive options in your marketing plan down the road. Depending on your budget, your marketing plan can span 6 months or 6 years. However long you set your goals for success are irrelevant because with a solid marketing plan, you will always maintain a healthy ROI. For more information on Marketing Plans, view this post: http://graphicsms.wordpress.com/2008/08/13/is-your-companys-marketing-plan-maximizing-roi/
Pitfall 2 – You think you know what you need
The second pitfall of online marketing is calling a web design company and saying “I need a website, and here’s how I want it to look”. As soon as you do that, you’ve already started down a path that will set you up for failure. The hardest thing I try to relate to my clients is that they only know what they want, not what they need. Biases are the number one factor that contributes to an unsuccessful marketing solution. The client’s “wants” are often based on what is popular, what someone else told them they needed, or what they see their competition using. Often times, the client wants a website in order to compete with their competition. That’s normal. However, after contacting the web design company, the client then tries as hard as possible to take control over the direction of the project. “I like this color, I like that image, and I want you to make the logo bigger” are just a few things that clients tell us to do, but in the long run, it ends up slowing down the process and detracting from the overall marketing success of their website. Just because a website is a very powerful marketing tool does not mean that you (the business owner) are knowledgeable enough to make the major decisions behind the look and function of your web presence (or the theories and tested strategies of translating your web presence into a sale or a lead). You may know your business, you may know your market, but marketing and advertising are not pet projects that you are set free to decorate to your heart’s content. You are paying for a service that hopefully, based on a proven track record of success, works. Most companies will allow you to make major decisions pertaining to the look and feel of your website simply because they want your money. They will give you your “leather seats, CD player, tinted windows” and so on, but don’t count on a web design company to actually put effort into creating a successful marketing tool for your company. They are there to give you exactly what you want because it is easier to close a deal by catering to your biases. They are taking advantage of the popularity of online marketing and know that you have no clue about how success is truly obtained on the web. For many web design companies, explaining to you and then executing a system that guarantees success for your company takes too long. They would rather identify the most popular marketing tool available (a website), put a fast-talking salesman behind it, and try to close the deal with as high of a value as possible.
Pitfall 3 – Assuming a Salesman will tell you what you need
The third pitfall of online marketing is assuming that a salesman knows (or is willing to tell you) exactly what your company needs to succeed. They are experts at identifying your wants, and will cater to them as much as possible to guarantee a sale. They may pick up some of the “lingo” along the way and sound like they know what they are talking about; but in the end you are still being sold a service based on the promise of success due to its popularity. Hence the reason web design companies exist in the first place. They are simply specialty market service providers and nothing more. Specialty service companies focus mainly on the “hot seller” (in this case, a website), while ignoring the other important factors that contribute to realistic marketing success.
Pitfall 4 – Assuming Custom Web Development Means Better Results
The fourth pitfall of online marketing is buying into the concept that Custom Web Development means better results. The word “custom” in the web industry is simply a fine white line that sales people like to tread in order to quantify a higher project value, establish a stream of residual income, and discredit companies that utilize 3rd party services. Most “custom” web design companies are simply stop-loss based, acting more like a game of blackjack than a reputable service provider. By that I mean it’s simply a game of making more money than you lose. Simply put, they generate 100 clients, finish 20, stretch out the process for the remaining 80, and in the meantime, accumulate 100 more clients. 60 out of 80 of the original remaining clients will stay on-board due to a contract, while 20 will end up pulling out. By the time the original 20 have pulled out, they will have gained yet another 100 clients. Once your company has exceeded the estimated hourly value associated with your project, you are then labeled “Problematic”, and fall under the category of the original 80 clients that get stretched out on the project timeline. The reason that your project may exceed the estimated hourly value associated with your project is simple. Salesmen are experts at throwing numbers at you until you give them your money! How ironic! They are intentionally deceiving you by promising a product that will achieve marketing success without fully accounting for it in the contract. Once your company becomes labeled “problematic”, the company will attempt to deal with you as little as possible (if at all), while still charging you for hosting, or any other timeline-based forms of residual income that were established at the start of the project. This is comparable to a “car payment” (referring to the car analogy mentioned in the second paragraph). Essentially, you are then paying for something you will never get (or at least something that isn’t what you expected), and unless legal steps are taken (or breaking contract), you are almost guaranteed to be “put on the back-burner” indefinitely. Feel like complaining? Once a project manager or sales representative becomes familiar with your number on Caller-ID, you are that much more likely to reach their voice mail.
Now I’ll get back to the issue concerning “custom” web design. Did you know that there are many Free or Open Source options that you can consider to implement into your website? These options are free to use, with only one small debatable drawback. Most free or Open Source options tend to include a small link or graphic somewhere within its content that identifies itself with the company who created it. When most of my clients are presented with this scenario, they tend to think “why would I want to advertise another persons product on my website?” First of all, it is free! Second, many of the solutions that are available as open source can cost many thousands of dollars to custom produce. Third, you are taking advantage of the reputability and proven track record of 3rd party companies into your website. This makes you look better, not worse. Fourth, the benefits of the open source options that are available far outweigh a small link to the developer’s website. The options you choose to use in your site will make it more user-friendly, provide the visitor with Traction Incentives (reasons for keeping them on your site longer), increase the value that users associate with your site, and will result in referrals, return users, and an increase in lead generation or sales from your website. Lastly, utilizing Open Source or 3rd party software in your site is implementing the SaaS Business model (Software as a Service). The SaaS model is built with the idea of utilizing or hosting business-critical IT applications off-premise. These applications are then licensed or charged based on usage or transaction (in this case, the cost is a link to the developer’s site), and offer all the latest innovative Web-based applications developed for individual use. The applications thereby distribute (and thereby reduce) adoption and ownership risks by efficiently fulfilling services critical to the operation of the company. The beauty of utilizing 3rd party services according to a marketing plan is that you still have the option to go “custom” once you have generated the results that will allow you to afford it. For a list of 3rd party services that I offer with my company, please visit http://graphics.ms/resources.html
Pitfall 5 – Relying Solely on PPC and SEO for Online Marketing Success
The fifth pitfall of online marketing is relying solely upon Pay-Per-Click (PPC) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to generate qualified leads and online sales. PPC and SEO are indeed powerful tools to drive relevant traffic to your website, but without first answering the question of “what happens once I get a visitor to my site”, your return on investment drops significantly. Most companies tend to use PPC and SEO as an excuse to avoid the more costly prices associated with website design and development. However, the success of PPC and SEO is based on the mentality that if 1000 visitors come to your site, and 20 make a purchase, your monthly marketing budget is paid for. While this may be true, this mindset is very limiting as you are losing out on over 98% of potential business that you are already paying for. I’ve seen companies that invest upwards of $10,000 per month in PPC and SEO campaigns, but still do not generate nearly as much business as their competitors who invest half as much. Why is that? To answer that question, you first have to understand that PPC and SEO campaigns are only small parts of a successful marketing plan. When utilized at the right time, and after several other aspects of a marketing plan are set in motion, PPC and SEO can be very powerful tools to generate business for your company. However, relying solely on driving traffic to your site with little or no attention given to Brand Identity, Traction Incentives, and usability, you are losing over 98% of the market share to your competition. The company who drives the most traffic, has the strongest brand identity, keeps the user on the site with traction incentives, and presents their website content in the most user-friendly layout are almost guaranteed to close over 7/10 qualified leads. That’s a 70% ROI (and market share) compared to 2%.
There are many possibilities to consider when approaching the marketing of your business. If done according to a sound marketing plan, you will achieve your goals faster and they will be less costly. Don’t start purchasing or investing in marketing solutions without fully understanding how they will be used to produce results for your company. If you spend only what you need to spend on the items that will allow you generate results necessary to afford more expensive solutions, you will enable your company to compete (and most likely overcome) your competition down the road.