Because I do for my clients, many of whom want it. I do this to increase my company’s brand reputation. But the truth is, even if I was out of work I’d still just be looking. Because it’s awesome.
Having said all this, it is with distressing regularity that I find customers looking to launch their businesses into the 21st century in a single, colossal and above all, affordable leap. And on the other side of the coin, I meet clients with sites clogged by a decade’s worth of treasured “tools” and apps all aimed at selling niche markets niche products. In both of these cases, I feel, the vanity of “awesomeness” outweighs the purpose of a website: to communicate with an audience.
These thoughts come to me as I recall a recent meeting with a client who needed a complete rewrite of their website. After years of neglect, a conga line of underpaid junior programmers made the best of an increasingly bad situation. The result was a WordPress website that literally no one in the building could manage. Content had been hard coded into theme files, just to get it done. Plugins ran amok, conflicting with one another and using coding practices abandoned with PHP4. Worst of all, the site advertised for brands the site didn’t carry any longer and key features for customer capture were not reliably working.
But, my customer declared, they’d never be able to keep up with the websites of their competitors. Those sites had special apps aimed at giving the customer the right information right where they needed it. Those sites had fancy graphical elements and Flash applications that were meant to drive the customer toward setting up an appointment at a local store.
“But,” I asked, “does the site actually do any of that?”
The answer was, of course, that we don’t know and can’t really know. Maybe all those fancy apps have gotten them tons of leads. Maybe they get the company absolutely no leads, but just look pretty cool. Regardless, the point is that you want the lead, not necessarily the toy.
The fact of the matter is that any customer who has visited your site – regardless if they’re “organic,” self-directed visitors or if they’ve followed a paid link somewhere – has already shown a tremendous amount of interest in your products. Certainly, if I type your website address into my browser, I’m already interested; followers of paid links have also made a choice to visit. You might not need to work so hard to get them to participate. Just ask nicely.
eCommerce websites have a harder job. Services sites like medical data portals or FedEx have a much harder job. But if you distill your business needs down to their essence, the purposes of a website may actually be shockingly few. Few, that is, but important. Stop chasing every cool new gadget and focus on your purpose.
I recall a book I read in my youth wherein a wizard tells his young acolyte that, “any gift that you can’t throw away is a trap.” The same rule applies to web sites. If some shiny thing that you own or want to own prevents you from tossing it aside to focus on your needs, it’s just getting in the way. It’s sapping resources while the real needs of your company go unanswered, either because you’re afraid to throw away a long-cherished toy or insisting on punching the square peg of your company’s business through the round hole of High Technology.
Start fresh!! Focus on the now. Identify your goals and quantify success. Simplicity is quite liberating, if you let it be.