What’s behind your website?

A colleague of mine recently asked me for advice on social media strategy which resulted in us exposing some serious flaws in her company’s on-line presence which left me wondering – just what lies behind most websites and how effective are they?

During the course of a couple of hours chatting over the various business values of LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook we got round to talking about the company website. My colleague, let’s call her Jane, co-directs a small business that is doing quite well. A viewing of the website reflects the high quality products and services she provides.  The problem is that it’s doing nothing for her business other than sitting live on line. Jane knew this, but being busy running the business, she had not found the time or expertise to help her fix the problem.  Jane loves the look of her site but she’d discovered that it had not been optimised for search engines by the people who built it – a small oversight they no doubt neglected to mention when they passed her the bill. Being forward thinking, Jane had considered investing in an effective e-commerce site, so she asked a couple of providers what she should do to make the website actually generate some business. As is often the response from new providers, the advice was to scrap it all and start from scratch with a new, all singing, all dancing e-commerce site  – a snip at around £5,000 with £300 monthly up-date charges. Needless to say, in these testing times Jane was not too chuffed and the site remained pretty to look at but pretty ineffective from a business perspective.

This led me to ask one or two people to take a peek at the site and let me have their opinions on what could be done.

First of all I was impressed with the speed of response from the web designers I contacted. I had several assessments in my inbox within two hours of asking for help – top class response there.  I’d only asked for a heads-up rather than a full breakdown of issues, solutions and costs but nonetheless I got information that gave me, and Jane, much food for thought.

Everyone liked the look of the website. The images were good, the layout nice and crisp and it presented an image of a good quality provider. However, behind the images all was not well. Jane’s assumption that there was no SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) was spot on. There was nothing in the structure to make it attractive to Google or any other search engine. So should it be scrapped as suggested? Not at all!

The consensus was that the site could very easily be ported across to any one of a number of content management systems such as Joomla or WordPress which would allow Jane to change the information and images on the site as and when she wanted. It would also mean she could add the blogs she already writes for industry sites and magazines – exactly what she wants to do.

Prices varied but the average cost was coming in at around the £1,500 mark; a dramatic improvement on the first quote for a site that would be more appropriate to her needs. In truth Jane did not need a full E-commerce site, her customers would not use it as they prefer the personal touch which on-line services cannot deliver. She had overlooked the golden rule of all marketing – if it’s not going to connect with your customers, then don’t do it.

When we got down to specifics on what was needed technically it seemed like basic errors had been overlooked. Jaspal Sahota from Vitis PR highlighted the lack of expected key search phrases in the content while Laura Goodrum at Kudos PR recommended an updating of the menu structure to a modern table format.

Aside from the technical issues there were some straightforward (and easy to overlook) issues to address. There were no testimonials at all, the contact mechanism was static and the Google place map was not linked – most of these could be done by Jane or anyone else for that matter.

The whole conversation went full circle when Tim Marchant of Computer Troubleshooters East Suffolk ran his eye of the website. Tim claims to be the first person in the UK to have run a specialist SEO agency, so he should know his onions. Tim concurred with the others that the site was not a basket case but did need some attention to make it effective. However, Tim pulled the whole thing back to strategy when he commented that Jane would be throwing good money after bad if she did not base any changes around a comprehensive Internet business plan “otherwise (Jane will be) just spending more money with little prospect of getting any return,” which is surely the whole point of being on-line in the first place.

And that is the critical issue when it comes to any on-line marketing activity. If it does not fit with a well thought out strategic plan it is likely to be a waste of money, effort and time.  Whether you are pumping your Twitter feed, gaining more friends/likes on Facebook, expanding your contacts on LinkedIn or promoting a new offer on your website, it won’t make a penny’s worth of difference if it is not aimed at the right market and your target customers are not there to pick up your marketing messages.

I have seen businesses throw thousands away on building, redesigning and scrapping websites. I have listened to SEO specialists try to sell the latest gizmos, bells and whistles that will get your site at the top of the rankings but when push comes to shove it tends not to be rocket science. Get the basic fundamentals of marketing right before you spend a penny on your website. Invest in what lies behind your Internet marketing and you will get a return on investment – fail to do that and you will be pouring more money down the IT drain.

Jane and her partner are now focussing their energies of how to integrate their on-line activity with their overall marketing strategy – as she said; that advice was the most valuable of the lot. When they have done that, they will know precisely what lies behind their website.

Written by Graham Parker MA MCIPR

Graham Parker MA MCIPR

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