Note: Though written in 2016 - the lessons still apply
Every three years or so my company website starts to look and feels stale and dated. I don’t know if there is a study out there to back this up but this is what my 12 years of consulting experience (8 years with a website) has taught me. It has become clear that people’s expectations for a website “experience” are constantly evolving. Social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram, and YouTube have influenced the web audience to desire bite sized pieces of information preferably through media such as videos and telling photos. On line stores like Amazon too have influenced expectations along these lines.
I am a consultant. I help businesses who are struggling for one reason or another. My clients are serious people burdened and kept awake by serious challenges. If things have gotten to a point where they need an outsider to help you can bet they are prepared to research options. My old website was tailored to that research. It provided the client some things to think about in the way of solutions and why I was the best guy who could help. But now even this audience wants the same type of information presented differently - in meaningful bite sized nuggets.
Oh, and one other observation. Two years ago less that 1% of my web traffic came from devices other than a desktop. Today 21% of my traffic is from mobile or tablets.
My old content ladened, static website had run its course. (Good bye old friend - you served us well).
So you might be asking, because of the title of this article, why I took on the challenge of designing and building a website myself rather than contract the project to a web developer or marketing firm. I have three reasons for doing this. First reason, given the importance a website is to any business I feel as a consultant I must know enough about the process to credibly advise my clients through it.
Secondly, so I know what kind of effort and skills are involved and thus the value attached to such a project. And the third reason is to fully understand what a business owner must know about his/her business and customer BEFORE he/she begins this undertaking.
That said here are the top five lessons I learned from this one-month project:
1. Know everything about your business - your growth plan and your target customers. This is not something you casually hand off to a marketing firm or web developer to figure out. You should be able to articulate your 3-year strategy (your web presence is but a tool to help get you there), details about current state (customer/product mix etc...), your target customers, your competitors, and the landscape in which you compete. With regard to your customers, you should know how they shop, what they value about your company, what products and services they favor, and what their expectations are when they land on your site. (By the way, this is by far the most requested service of Allegro Consulting - growth strategy development.)
2. Know the difference between the skillsets of a web developer versus a marketing firm. Web developers are best equipped to bring functionality to your website whereas marketing firms bring creativity and design. Asking a web developer about layout, colors or the appropriateness of artwork would be like asking the carpenter to design your house. Likewise, expecting a marketing firm to efficiently create the coding for a web form or transaction integration would be equally outlandish. To get the most out of this important marketing spend, task the experts to do only what they are most trained for.
3. Don’t outsource the content. Once again if you know your business and you know your customer then you know best how to connect with them. Sure it is ok to have a third party edit your writing but you have to take charge of the messaging. This is not something you outsource.
4. Web audiences will scroll. It used to be that you had to worry about putting the most important content “above the fold”. This is no longer the case. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter people are now use to scrolling and will automatically do this when on a website. Here is a great article on this subject.
5. Preserve your URLs. If you have a strong Google ranking be careful about how you introduce change to your website - especially the URLs I learned it is very important that you do whatever you can to preserve your old URLs (exactly) even if they are not an ideal name for your pages. Don’t throw them away as there is valuable Google history there. If you can’t use them in your new rebuilt site use a 301 redirect rather than discard. Here is an article about that.
Let me know what you think of my new website. BTW - I used a pretty impressive tool to build it - a company called Webflow.
Remember, your website is a marketing tool and the role of marketing is to attract "qualified" prospects. It is incumbent on you to understand what is a "qualified" prospect and how they go about researching then buying your type of product or service. It is also your job to know what differentiates you from alternative choices. Don't spend the time or money creating a new website until you know this information cold. These are the topics covered in a well run strategic planning engagement. And this is what Allegro has been doing for metro Atlanta businesses for over 14 years.