Let’s Get Real About The Web
The web is an enigma for small businesses. Although it’s true the web offers exposure that just a few decades ago was unimaginable to an organization with a modest budget, it is the one marketing resource where more money is thrown away with a minimal to no return on investment (ROI). There are more lies, misrepresentations, over hype, and under-delivered services on the web than any other marketing resource. These exaggerations and misrepresentations can be found from the modest freelancer to the large corporate provider.
This is not an opinion, it’s an absolute fact. The treacherous waters of the web translates to failure for most, mediocrity for others, while a select few manage to navigate through all the pitfalls to find a slice of measurable success.
Like the mythical Sirens of ancient mythology, the web promises easy success through false perceptions and the web evangelists preach a sermon to reinforce this belief… and why not? Sensationalism and the lure of easy success sells books, websites, SEO, social media, and other lucrative services.
The web with all its potential is failing miserably for the majority of small businesses. Website builders and other web development services are thriving in this sea of confusion at the small business’s expense. Many prey upon the average small business’s desire to have a cheap, powerful, yet easy-to-use website plan.
A good example are outsource services. Outsourcing simply means hiring an overseas firm for services. It didn’t take long before US businesses realized that foreign countries do not understand the culture of the US and that outsourced work was usually problematic from a technical, design and logistics standpoint. Years ago it was common to acquire a new client that was frustrated after staying up all night waiting to connect to an overseas provider. The agony of being helpless and dependent on a company halfway across the globe was humbling to say the least for many small businesses treading water. Although outsourcing is still used by businesses today, it seems many have learned it’s not a viable solution.
Website templates are another common pitfall. Some small businesses would do a little research on Joomla, Drupal, WordPress, then buy, or worse, use a free web design template to create their website. While the industrious, small business is proud of their efforts to create their website inhouse, valuable customers see these websites in a different light. Online shoppers discern their site is a cookie cutter template. This, of course, means their site and business, is gauged as amateurish and their marketing dollars are squandered as viable prospects flood to their competitors.
Today a new Internet snare has made its way on the market: Website builder programs. “Just pick a template, customize it, and get found” was a paraphrased recurring slogan announced by these impotent titans. Website builders are thriving because they know businesses want to avoid the initial hit of a custom design and the work associated with proper web development processes. What they don’t tell you is that website builders are the new proverbial “belly flop” of the web. The same old problems exist: It’s a template, customized by a non-professional (usually the small business owner), and “getting found” is a far cry from pushing a button. At best, it’s a “bait and switch” game, at worse they are the Brutus to the small business’s Caesar.
Then there are the usual culprits sprinkled in to complete the confusion: College students, the hobbyist, the bloated design agency, developers with no marketing sense, and the mega giant hosting companies. Each one of these solutions have its own set of hurdles for the small business.
But buried in the nooks and crannies of the confusion are good resources with an added value that is not over hyped, cost-effective and a realistic resource for small businesses trying to make it in an increasing unfriendly economic climate.
Usually a business stumbles across these rare gems after a rocky path filled with failures, over-promises, poor design, and non-existent after-the-sell customer service. But does it have to be that way? Do businesses really need to throw away their hard earned marketing dollars countless times before figuring it out, or worse, go out of business never really knowing what went wrong in the first place?
In my two decades working in the design and marketing profession, I know a few things about small businesses aside from their tight budgets and stressful lives. Each of them have worked hard in their own business and knows that success is never easy. It requires work, resources, and sacrifice.
So why is it that many businesses have the polar opposite mind-set when it comes to website development and Internet marketing? I think it comes to down to the fact that cheap services marketed with overpromises are just too much of a temptation or the confusion is too vast to wade through.
I’ve heard many small businesses resonate statements destined to breed failure such as, “I will go the cheaper route and if it works a little I will put more into it.” Of course, professionals realize a cheap site doesn’t perform in a proportional fashion to one that’s professionally planned and implemented. Instead a nominal site is buried deep within the Internet, and in the off chance someone does find it, the customer usually leaves the site due to the overall site’s poor presentation. If the site does generate a level of success, it’s often due to factors beyond the scope of their ineffective web campaign, such as a word of mouth, repeat customers, etc.
“In the end, a poor website strategy doesn’t give a proportional indicator of what a professional, well thought out plan could offer. The web is just too competitive to be that forgiving.”
If the state-of-the-web teaches us anything, its that website builders and other inadequate solutions make a lot of money while most businesses they serve fail. Think about it: If success on the web was a simple website builder or using an inexperienced freelancer, then everyone would do it that way.
Like a clean up crew after a hurricane, I’ve picked up the pieces of a business floundering on the web. I have heard countless times, “the web doesn’t work for me”. The process of reprogramming the disillusioned business into the real world with real expectations has become part of the job.
I can help save you from those woes, but like in other aspects of your business, you need to come to terms with reality of the Internet. It will require planning and in 99.9% of the cases, you will not be able to do it yourself. If you don’t have an exhaustive background in design, marketing, strategic planning, SEO, and web development, you are not one the .01%.
Like in the game of chess, you can’t simply play thinking one move ahead. This is a sure recipe for chalking up a loss. Your plan must involve a strategic plan and then it must be implemented with conviction. Your website and internet marketing plan should have a strong foundation so that it can grow to fit most foreseen and even unforeseen needs.
The benefits to a strong foundation are much more than just being able to expand and save money on wasted attempts. It also helps prevent your business was going backwards.
The one thing that frustrates me more than anything is preparing to go on a trip, getting a few miles down the road, and then having to turn around to get something that was forgotten at home. Anytime you reinvent your website, you also are essentially going backwards. Even just moving a website can create issues behind the scenes. Two websites with the same content can have indexing issues, general site structure and loading problems that fly under the radar of a business looking at the site from a visual perspective. And like a cancer, these problems although not seen, are reeking havoc under the surface and costing the small business money, opportunity, and in some cases, long-term survival.
So I’ve decided to make a type of survival guide to equip the typical small business. It’s really up to you to determine if my advice merits your trust, but I can assure you that reading this book will at the very least, place you in a better position to make good decisions when it comes to the web and avoid the snares of the questionable service providers that plague it.
I know your situation and what’s its like to try and stretch every dollar, especially in today’s climate. What I am going to tell you may shock you or fly in the face of what your friends and business associates will tell you about the Internet, then again, maybe not. Keep in mind, I am telling you this from the perspective of working behind the scenes for over two decades in marketing and design.
I can’t emphasize enough I am painfully aware of the financial limitations of a startup or small business. Given enough capital, I have no doubt that startups would hire a consultant, strategist, graphic designer, web developer, SEO firm, SEM services, social media expertise, etc. But this is the real world. You have to put food on the table and make those “Rob Peter to pay Paul” decisions. Having someone post something on Facebook once a week simply takes a backseat to whatever fire arises for your business. I’ve seen what’s been sold to businesses and what’s actually delivered. I’ve been there during the clean-up and listened to the horror stories of wasted dollars and blown time lines. Simply said – I get it.
And here’s the sad part: Web services are not getting better. In writing this book, I have created several projects to test the current state of the web. One web service is currently running 45 days behind on making 2 small changes on a project, but they did find time to send me the invoice with a request to pay it before the year ends (this paragraph was added December 29, 2013). If it wasn’t sad, it would be comical to see how many web services operate today and get away with it.