By Joe Thomas, founder and owner of Left Brain Digital
There’s a lot riding on a website that’s working for a business. It has to convey brand and professionalism, communicate the right message and engage visitors. Every detail plays a role, from the logo to the text to the design and functionality.
One of my recent clients, Marsha Friedman of EMSI Public Relations, understood that so well, she put off developing a badly needed new website for five years.
“I knew how important every detail was, so I was afraid the process would be long and painful and still, in the end, I’d be dissatisfied,” says Friedman, who happily (for me!) reports just the opposite was true.
I’m amazed by the calls I field almost every day from high-level brainy types who have this fantastic website designed by the hotshot friend of the nephew of their sister’s third cousin. But their product, service or book is just not selling from the site.
Usually, my first thought is to offer them a discounted handful of magic beans and tell them to hope for the best. But alas, I’ve run out of magic beans.
They’ve spent months, even years, developing their business or products, writing their book or becoming an expert in their field. Then, three weeks before they launch into the market, they find the least expensive “web guru” to build their site. Approached this way, 9.7 times out of 10, they will wind up with a somewhat functional disaster.
Oh, but they love the look! There’s a blinking leprechaun, some neat-o scrolling text and, of course, really hip music that plays when visitors hover their mouse over the little thingy at the top. Surely, they’re destined for greatness.
Unfortunately, under the circumstances described above, they would have to be a toilet paper manufacturer with inventory two days after the world runs out of toilet paper to have any kind of measurable success.
There are five things I tell every prospective client I talk to, so they’ll avoid falling into the “waste trap:”
Have A Clear Understanding Of Your Objective.
If you don’t know or understand your needs and goals for your website, you can’t explain them to your web developer. Think it through, and if you don’t understand the hows and whys, do some research. Your web developer, regardless of his or her talent or expertise, will be only as effective as your explanation and/or description.
Allow Enough Time to Fully Develop Your Plan and Your Site.
You can’t be effective if you just slap six web pages together with a “Buy Now” button. Sorry, it just doesn’t work like that, unless, of course, you are the aforementioned toilet paper manufacturer. Fully develop your strategy and content before you jump in. You can’t build a house without the right tools, materials and adequate time. Developing a website is no different. Without a blueprint, you’re just throwing darts at a board.
Don’t Be Married To It.
Prepare to adapt. Don’t get too attached to your initial website idea. In fact, be prepared for change. An experienced developer will help mold your initial concept into a polished, functional and, hopefully, beautiful destination. Your developer should help you navigate the pitfalls and you should trust in his or her expertise. When your developer gives you advice, it’s a good idea to listen—most of us have made all the mistakes already.
First Impressions Mean Everything.
The concept, content and message of your website are ultra-important. On the Internet, image is everything. Your site needs to clearly convey your message or describe the benefits of your product or service, and visitors should be able to easily find the information they’re looking for. You have 8 seconds — yes, 8 seconds — to “capture” their interest. The first thing your visitors see will make a huge difference in whether they stay or rush off to the next site. Of course, having the perfect website won’t do them a bit of good if their book, product or service is awful, or if you don’t get people to stop by.
You Can’t Sell What People Can’t Find.
So now you have this perfectly developed website. It’s beautiful; it WOWS! But you’re not selling squat. Why aren’t people ordering your propeller hats? Because nobody knows about it. Without traffic, your website means nothing. So, your next step is media exposure, from building your social networking connections to getting seen and/or heard in print and on TV and radio.
If you’re working hard on getting publicity and exposure, it would be a sad thing to drive all that traffic to a site that makes people turn and run away as fast as they can. Don’t make your website an after-thought; before you know it, your little propeller hats will be flying off the shelves.
Joe Thomas is the founder and owner of Left Brain Digital, a web development company. He’s an award-winning web designer/developer with more than 18 years of experience in print and web design and development. Thomas’ work became a major influence in graphic and web design in the “Y2K” era of the Internet’s dot-com explosion.