You’ve seen good companies out there - maybe even been a part of one - with a not-so-great website. So, why do bad websites happen to good people? I’ve talked to many, many people - good people, at good companies - who poured blood, sweat, and good money into a website only to end up in tears.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be like this. After reading this post, you will be in complete control of your website’s fate. I’ll go over the 4 things you, as non-design/developer, can do - need to do - to make sure your next redesign is a success.
What is a Successful Website?
If you’ve browsed the internet at all - which I’m guessing you have since you made it here (good job!) - you’ve seen a variety of sites that look great...but that doesn’t mean they’re successful. We generally work with professional services firms, for which we provide the following definition:
A successful website is one which establishes a brand, facilitates sales, generates leads, and provides data with which to measure and improve itself.
So, it’s important for a site to look good, but that’s not enough. Ultimately, the website must contribute to business goals. Here are the four keys to making that happen:
Key 1: Evaluating Contractors/Agencies Correctly
If you don’t know how to evaluate web workers, you’re basically leaving your success to pure chance. Many companies spend a lot of time talking to a variety of agencies, and they get distracted by fancy design, low prices, and fast-talkers. But none of those things do you any good if your website is ineffective at driving sales.
How to do it right
This could (and will) be an entire post itself. For now, here are the bullet points for giving yourself the best odds of finding a stellar design and marketing partner:
You just need to answer two questions (and I recommend doing this before even considering budget):
- Can they do this well? (ability)
- Will they do this well? (trustworthiness)
Can they do this well?
Look at past projects that were similar to yours. Were they successful? Don’t be distracted by flashy design. Success for service-based businesses is generating leads and assisting with sales. Also, consider the scale of what you’re doing - if you have a large project, make sure they have a large team - and vice versa. For a small project, the communication inefficiencies in a large team hinder more than help.
Will they do this well?
This is more difficult to evaluate, but it can be done. Pay attention to how many intelligent questions are asked in the sales process. Are these from canned questionnaires, or are they really getting to know your business? Get references, call them, and have a specific set of questions prepared for each. You’re not calling for conversation, you’re calling to gather intelligence. Lastly, you may be in a situation where you know another agency or person that is experienced in this area who, for whatever reason, are not able to work on the project. If so, hire them for an hour or two to evaluate other finalists in your process. We have been hired in this capacity and saved our clients well over 10% of the project.
Key 2: Let your Design Partner Control the Process
You’ve hired the right company - a competent, trustworthy partner. It’s time to let them do what you are paying them to do. The two most tempting pitfalls for clients are demanding changes to designs, and trying to force unrealistic deadlines.
It can be hard to be told ‘no’ by a vendor, but it’s important to listen. Web design and marketing are at once subjective and abstract, and critical to your business - it’s no wonder some people try to take control of the process. It feels safer. It also defeats the purpose of hiring experts, and as difficult as it is, you have to let them do their job.
How to Do it Right
Feedback: Make sure any feedback you give has a good business reason behind it. Bring up aesthetics if you must, but in general leave that to the designers. Here’s a good rule of thumb for working with us designers: Use our heads, not our hands. If you give us a problem, we can solve it. If you give us instructions (e.g. move this red line to the left) you take our brains out of it, and, well, our brains our much smarter than our hands.
Timelines: Websites are both creative and technical endeavors, with many details to consider. Unfortunately, none of these things lend themselves to rush jobs. It’s like baking a cake: if the recipe calls for 60 minutes at 350 degrees, don’t think you can get the same results baking for 6 minutes at 3,500 degrees. These things should not be rushed. I’m not saying don’t ask for a shorter timeline if needed, but if you’re told that your request isn’t a good idea, trust that and adjust.
Key 3: Be Prepared to Work with an Agency
While you won’t be doing the actual design or development, you still need to put in time and effort to create a great site. It’s a collaborative process. I’ve worked with clients that were excited about the idea of a new site, but did not have the time or even the assets needed to complete the project.
When these things cause delays of months or even weeks, it does more than just push out the delivery date. Even when everything is well-documented, the strategy and creative ideas fade in people’s minds - both the client and the web team - and the final product can suffer.
How to do it Right
You can start reaching out to agencies before you have all these in place, but make sure the following three things are checked before engaging:
All assets that the designers will not be creating (if you’re not sure, ask): Logo, images, other graphics
A single point of contact on your side for the agency to work with directly: Someone who has time, i.e. not an employee that this is dumped on in addition to their already-full-time responsibilities. That doesn’t work.
Time set aside for any busy decision-makers to review work and provide feedback throughout the process.
Ask your agency partner beforehand what they expect your time commitment will be, and get at least a general timeline of when and how you will be expected to participate.
Key 4: Budget for Marketing After Launch
The website is indeed a critical piece of your marketing, but it is not the only piece. Digital marketing is the fuel needed for your lead-generating site. You might have this done in-house after the site is launched, or you might outsource it. Whatever the case, have a plan of attack to drive traffic to the site.
The most common pitfall here (aside from ignoring this completely) is underestimating the time it takes to do online marketing well. It’s very easy to spin your wheels on social media with little to no results, to write a few blog posts before getting too busy, or to hire an inexpensive agency or freelancer to throw your money away for you. These are not thing successful marketers do.
How to do it Right
This isn’t difficult, it just has to be done. Form a plan that includes both:
- A specific, realistic monthly budget. This could be a time allotment for an internal person/team, or a dollar amount to outsource the marketing
- A goal that has real value to your business. Traffic to your website may at one point yield a return, but it’s not the end goal. How much revenue do you need from your marketing efforts?
If you don’t have these already, going through the exercise of coming up with these numbers will reveal a lot about your business and is a great jumping off point for discussion with agencies.
- Pick the right partner
- Let them do what they do best
- Set aside time and resources to complete the project
- Set a budget for ongoing marketing that is separate from the website
Do these things, and you will greatly increase your odds of building a great, effective new website.