With a few years of building websites for small-to-medium size business behind me, I’ve made some observations regarding critical thought process gone awry, severely hampering the project and the resulting satisfaction of the client.
1. Having the position that your website is an all-inclusive marketing strategy.
Sometimes I feel like clients starting a website project think it’s going to ‘rain customers’ once they get their site up, and they won’t have to do any other marketing. The internet is a great tool in your marketing and promotional toolbox. But it should not be your only tool.
Sure, there’s Google. And there’s people out their searching for your products and services at this very moment. Part of your strategy should be to isolate and attract those people. But it shouldn’t be your entire strategy. One of the things that makes a website highly useful as a sales and marketing tool, is it’s ability to compliment other forms of marketing. Whether it be direct mail, advertising, directory listings or good old fashion pounding the pavement & handing out business cards, your website can be an assisting entity in supplying additional information, and giving your leads a direct and easily executable call-to-action.
Bottom line: I think as general rule, when projecting the contribution your website will make in your overall marketing plan, take the percentage of business you’d like to be generated from your website that is realistic, then cut it in half. Once you’ve done that, determine how you’ll fill that void with other marketing efforts. This serves a dual purpose:  You will have a conservative, safe projection for your business that will give you an idea about viability of your plan. And,  It insures that you won’t be lazy about your marketing. By forcing your self to fill your strategy with additional channels of promotion and marketing, your potential clients procured and retained will increase.
2. Assuming that users will “play around” on your site for enjoyment.
You love your business. It truly interests you. Why else would you do it in the first place? It seems like a good idea to create interactive multimedia, extensive image galleries, games and more – to create a level of awareness and appreciation in visitors – that your business deserves. Unfortunately, your clients and customers won’t show that kind of intricate interest. They’ve come to your site, because they need something. And since there’s hundreds of options to look for what they need besides your site, they need to find it, and obtain the information quick.
Bottom line: OK, this is kind of harsh. It’s not that no one will spend extended time on your site. But it’s safer to assume that a vast, vast majority will not (And Probably truer too). That way your site and content is streamlined for the quick-fix, and you can add additional layers for those who click around looking for extra goodies.
3. Thinking that the written content on your website isn’t important.
It’s surprising how much I come across this. The client wants a website. They have lofty expectations for the way it should look. Yet, they haven’t made a single consideration for what the site will say on it.
“People don’t read website copy.” Is a mantra I’ve heard. It’s one I won’t outrightly disagree with. It’s true, in general, web surfers rarely read in detail. But not all “surfers” are potential customers, and potential customers do read content. Not to mention Google, who could read (and index) your content weekly.
Bottom line: Your content is important. Write it like every sale depends on it. Keep it simple. Use keywords, but don’t over do it.
4. Making decisions on design, user experience, and content positioning – based solely on the way the site looks on your one machine, in your one browser of choice.
If you use IE 5, and demand that the site looks good when you look at it, then fine. That can be arranged. Of course it’ll cost more, and the returns you’ll actually get are insignificant. Because guess what? Did you know there’s an IE 6? Wait –did you know there’s an IE 7? …And actually… Did you know there’s an IE 8? I won’t even mention Firefox, Safari, Chrome, and other browsers. But they all display websites (sometimes drastically) different, and they’re all more popular then your precious 10-year old browser.
What’s my point? Even if you aren’t behind the times with your browser of choice, and for the sake of argument lets say you happen to use the most popular browser out there. More then Half of the people who visit your site still use a different browser then you. And that number is growing. Add to that the fact that everyone has different screen sizes, and some maximize browser windows while others keep them smaller.
Bottom line: Your web designers/developers should be looking at your website in multiple browsers and multiple operating systems. And when they design and create your site, they generally should be making considerations for low-common denominators. Trust them. They might not be able to see your screen, but they have a better idea of what’s on everybody else’s then you do.
5. Losing sight of the value your website can perpetuate, and selling the development short (or long).
I’ve been in the web design/development game for several years now, and along the way I’ve learned about sites that clients paid too much for. I’ve also dealt with clients who couldn’t find the value in building a website at the cost I estimated.
The only thing that matters of course, is the value perceived by the client. Unfortunately, many times, a business owner doesn’t really understand the full implications of value that a website has. In fact, sometimes they only want to have a website because “It’s something every company needs to do.”
Bullshit. (Pardon my lack of professionalism – there’s no other way to convey my feelings on this.) If you can’t think of a specific reason why a website would serve a benefit to your company, don’t build one at all. Of course, it’s pretty easy to come up with basic reasons. For example, you might just want to have your phone number listed on the web so people can call you. If that was it –if that was all you really wanted, the development costs of such a site would be very, very low. And in comparison, the value per cost would be very high, since, compared to being listed in a phone directory, it’d be a fraction of the cost. It’s when more an more parts of a site get added to form a large composite, the recognition of value starts to get blurry.
Bottom line: Evaluate all aspects of what you want your site to do and be. Understand the implications of cost for each component and weigh that against the value you see in it. If you don’t understand the value, ask the developer to explain it. If he can’t sell you on a reason to include a specific detail, trash it.