Most websites fail miserably at the only thing they were ultimately designed to do: Generate sales.
Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on where your website stands, most websites fail because of one simple reason:
They were created BACKWARDS.
Let me explain what I mean with the graphic below from a leadership perspective (a graphic on the technical perspective follows later in the post):
(Click on image to enlarge)
(Note: Please feel free to use any original image in this post on your website, just link back to this post as the original source.)
You see, what often happens is that in a rush to get a website on the Internet and start branding, selling or collecting customer information, a business and the leaders responsible for that website, don't take the time to ensure that they are creating a sustainable and highly converting Internet presence.
Let's call this the "Ready, Fire, Aim" approach vs. "Ready, Aim, Fire" -- with an extra "Fire" thrown in the mix.
- Ready: We need a website... (Mild panic)
- Fire: We need more traffic! (Panic level rises)
- Fire Again: Wait, the traffic isn't converting, we need more conversions! (Really panicked)
- Aim: Sigh...we need to redesign our entire online presence. (Resignation)
So What Goes Wrong?
This is a classic case of basic human nature rearing its ugly head on a broad scale.
If I told you as an owner, CEO or high level leader of your company's Internet presence -- and for that matter pretty much anyone who has ever built or owned a website -- "Hey, this is going to take 3-6 months because we need to make sure we get it right..." you're going to take a deep breath, not say a word for about 30 seconds and then unleash a diatribe about launch dates, deadlines and "can't miss" product releases all relying on a website to get the word out.
This is all very understandable - we want things done NOW and results even sooner.
The thought of taking any extra time to get your web presence done right complete with back end systems and strategy, deep analysis and research, and a sound actionable marketing plan to convert visitors into sales, just feels like too much to bear when you've got anxious board members, stakeholders or the CEO or business owner staring at a blank "coming soon" page.
As often happens, those who don't truly understand Internet marketing, branding, strategy, how to increase market share, and what it takes to create a successful online presence, are more interested in expediency than they are in making sure that things are done right.
Actually, that's not true.
They want the best of both worlds:
Great...would you also like top 10 rankings for all your keywords and an 8 PageRank home page within 3 months to go with that?
Why This Approach Fails Every Time
What most business leaders and website owners need to realize is that you'll wind up costing yourself MORE in the long run -- both time and money -- working backwards trying to fix something that was terminally broken from the very start.
See if the following (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) scenario applies to your business or, ahem, someone you know:
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Ready: We need a website
- You quickly bought a domain name without thought to branding, ease of use, or SEO. So what if your domain name has 3 hyphens in it and is 70 characters long? Customers will easily remember it and search engines will love it.
- You then hired a cheap designer, purchased a web "pro" package, or asked someone you know personally or within the company to create a website mock-up.
- Next, you looked up some competitor's websites and keywords (or skipped this step entirely), and other sites that you thought looked good and copied what they were doing.
- In your infinite wisdom, you and your "team" decided that the "Buy Now" button should be purple and in 4 places on every page and that your navigational bar should contain precisely 20 drop down menus, along with other cool design features your "team" thought were vital.
- Your mock up was "good enough," approved, and was then sent to the programming "team" to code.
- The site had bugs and flaws, but you had to launch.
Fire: We need more traffic
- You were excited about the new launch...but then what? Oh yeah, you needed traffic!
- So your business reached out to everyone you and your "team" knows in an effort to drum up buzz and go viral: friends, family, colleagues, and other websites and businesses, but for some reason it didn't work.
- You then decided to try this whole "social media" thing because that was absolutely guaranteed to work. After all, your kids are on there all the time, and last you heard, Facebook had over 1 Billion folks using it.
- Next, you threw money at the wall like spaghetti to see what would stick -- PPC ads, Print, Directories, Paid Links, Content Creation, E-mail marketing, and more -- oh my!
- The site still wasn't really getting the traffic you expected, but all this "hard work" started to pay off -- you were now seeing incremental traffic -- but it was costing you.
Fire Again: The traffic isn't converting
- Something just wasn't right. You were spending a lot of money and time on traffic and lead generation, but what little you got didn't pay off and certainly wasn't returning your initial investment.
- You and your "team" read some blogs about SEO, Internet marketing and sales strategies.
- Your "team" then decided that the "Buy Now" button should instead be red and be included in 2 more places on every page.
- You changed the images you were using on your home and product pages.
- You modified your META tags and added some ALT tags to your pages.
- You stepped up and hired a friend or asked someone internal to rewrite the ad copy on the site.
- You added a Verisign, Authorize.net or BBB logo to your checkout page.
- You lowered your prices -- then raised them again.
- You offered coupons, specials and other discounts.
- You started sending out 3 newsletters a week instead of 1.
- Unfortunately, even with all these awesome improvements, your site still wasn't converting sales -- at least not enough to justify this whole "Internet marketing" thing.
- You decided to turn everything off, reevaluate the situation and devote your time and money to other initiatives.
Aim: We need to redesign our entire online presence...
- After staring at the same old, tired, worn and cash-draining website, you realize you need help.
- You look around for experts to help you and come to understand that you did everything backwards.
- You wonder how much time and money it's going to take to fix your online presence...
By the time a company reaches out for help (once they realize that they aren't experts and what they did is not working) the entire strategy needs to be pretty much executed from the ground up at a huge cost to the business -- which is why they so often put it off as long as humanly possible.
If you're reading this right now, you know who you are.
How To Make Sure This Doesn't Happen To You - Ready, Aim, Fire
Now that we understand what went wrong and why you're not seeing the results you want, let's now focus on developing the basic fundamentals of your Internet presence.
Without first tying your marketing efforts into a specific strategy, conversion factor or lead generation system, you're basically throwing money at a problem (low rankings, lack of traffic, low conversions) for the wrong reason (you think you want higher rankings, more traffic) when instead the question or concern that should be addressed is this:
How do we get MORE conversions and sales once a visitor reaches our website?
Here's a simple 3-step process that we use with clients every day at Biquitous based on our proprietary 3-Phase Internet Marketing Execution Framework, that will help you avoid the "Ready, Fire, Aim" problem, and ensure you build your website and Internet presence right the first time.
(Click image to enlarge)
Phase 1: Strategy
==> Ready - Plan BEFORE Taking Action
- Take a 30,000 Foot View: What is the objective of your entire Internet presence and online marketing strategy?
Nothing happens until you understand the exact purpose of your online marketing as it relates to your current corporate strategy and future business objectives. How will your online presence be a conduit towards the one goal that you REALLY care about: increasing sales, and with it, cash flow?
- Evaluate Your Online Presence: With the clarity of your company, business and online marketing strategy in place, you then need to look at your current website and online presence in order to fix what’s broken or ensure that it is built properly the first time.
This means taking a deep look at things like:
- Accurately depicting the value and services that you offer potential customers
- Colors, branding and message
- Infrastructure and level of sophistication needed to serve your company objectives: i.e. is the website for customers, vendors, employees, or a combination of all three?
- And finally, usability for both existing and potential customers, AND your internal staff and vendors
- Analyze Your Competition, Marketplace and Target Audience: Your business doesn’t operate in a vacuum and neither will your website.
You'll want to gain a full understanding of:
- Your top 5 competitors (believe me, there are ALWAYS competitors!)
- The marketplace where you will be doing business - both online and offline
- Your target client/customer avatar (full demographics, frustrations, etc.)
- Understand Potential Customer Behavior: Now you'll want to specifically delve into how potential clients and customers will use or are using the Internet to find and interact with your company.
Specifically you'll want to know:
- Do your current and potential customers use search engines, social media -- or both -- to find your website?
- What keywords are they using to find your website? What keywords convert the best? What keywords can you easily rank for and which will take longer to rank for?
- What call-to-action, value statements and content are needed to get them excited about your website or click the “Add To Cart” button?
- What types of colors, website design, user interface and other criteria does your website need in order to keep visitors on your site longer and ultimately convert them into leads and sales?
- Zero In On Your Highest Priority Outcomes: Most business leaders don’t know the purpose of their website, social media and online presence.
Is it to entertain, get new leads, close sales, inform, generate buzz, help your vendors or sales team, customer service or outreach, a combination of all of these, or something else entirely?
Before you can even think of executing an online marketing strategy, you need to know the top 1-3 outcomes you'll want to achieve from the traffic that lands on your website.
Result of Phase 1 - Ready:
By the end of Phase 1 (Ready), you’re not only going to create a cohesive picture of your ideal customer and how they’re using the Internet to find and interact with your company, but more importantly, you’re going to align your company’s business objectives and sales goals with your online presence to create a bold, powerful and strategic Internet marketing action plan.
With a deep understanding of your business and your strengths -- as well as your weaknesses -- you can now deploy a comprehensive online marketing action plan and begin implementation in Phase 2 - Execution (AKA: Aim).
Phase 2: Execution
==> Aim - Execute To Perfection
- Fine-Tune Your Online Branding and Corporate Identity: Your company needs to make sure that your branding and corporate identity speak to your target audience.
Specific attention needs to be paid to the use of color, graphics, artwork, images and design, to ensure that from your business cards and letterhead, all the way through to your website, everything matches and presents a cohesive, polished and appealing corporate identity that builds off of your entire online marketing strategy to increase credibility with your current and future customers.
- Create an Engaging, Professional and Highly Targeted Website, or Modify Existing Site: Now it's time for the real "AIM" portion of this process, or the one that most leaders skip entirely the first time around.
From fun and frivolous to professional and streamlined, the final design of your website should have the desired effect of being engaging while also encouraging your potential clients and customers to utilize your online presence for its intended purpose – whether that’s to inform, entertain, generate buzz, attract leads or convert sales.
- Incorporate Best Practices and Functionality: I tell our clients all the time that a visually appealing website is great – but a visually appealing website that converts visitors into sales is the ultimate objective. Your website now needs to be fine-tuned for Search Engine Optimization (SEO), e-Commerce, increased conversion rates and brand affinity.
This means making sure that:
- Your site navigation is clean and easy to use
- Your website architecture is properly integrated for SEO
- Keywords are being incorporated into your website’s META tags and ad copy
- The specific actions and conversion factors that you want visitors to take are front and center
- And finally, that your entire website and online presence are fully optimized and revolve around your most desired outcomes
- Integrate Social Media and Web 2.0 Interaction: Putting the finishing touches on your website development means customizing your own Web 2.0 and social media strategy to align with your overall company objectives.
This also means your site must be completely user-friendly and interactive through opt-in forms, newsletters, video and other interactive elements like reviews and site comments, that will allow you to stay front and center with your target audience, and more importantly, make them feel that they have a direct line of communication with your company.
Some of the social media and Web 2.0 strategies that might be right for your company include:
- Autoresponders/E-mail sign up forms
- Social media integration (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.)
- Q and A
- And other social interaction strategies
If a specific medium is not right for you, don't use it just because it's popular or your competitors are using it!
Result of Phase 2 - Aim:
Put it all together and what you get is a beautiful and functional piece of art that not only looks great, but ultimately increases your bottom line and expands your company’s brand affinity and loyalty, and is something you can proudly share with your customers and vendors.
Through this systematic website design and development process, your business will now be in possession of a polished, refined and amazing end-to-end online presence that will be ready to deliver customers 24 hours a day. Now it's time to deliver traffic in Phase 3 - Results (AKA: Fire).
Phase 3: Results
==> Fire - Drive Traffic
With everything set up and in place, NOW is the time to drive traffic to your website, experiment with various visitor and lead generating services, and closely monitor your conversion rates in order to adjust accordingly.
Some of this will be done through "free" traffic and lead generation (sometimes known in the industry as "Inbound Marketing") with the rest coming through paid sources.
Of course, if you have a staff or hire a team to do any work for you, and even if you are slaving away doing it yourself, there is no such thing as "free" traffic because everything has a cost whether that be time or money.
Here is a rundown of some of the ways you can and should increase traffic to your website depending on your needs, goals, target market and budget:
(Click image to enlarge)
The above graphic was inspired by a post by Rand Fishkin from SEOMoz about inbound marketing.
Here's a brief rundown of each form of traffic generation -- this was not designed to be a comprehensive list:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Pay-Per-Click (PPC/CPC)
- Display Advertising
- Social Media
- Content Marketing
- Link Building
- Press Releases
- White Papers
- Document/Presentation Sharing
- Q & A Sites
- Direct/Referral Traffic
- Social Bookmarking
- Content Curation/Aggregation
My advice, and what we do at Biquitous, is to focus on the top 3-5 of these mediums/sources of traffic that will yield the highest return on your investment in both time and money.
For example, if you are just starting out, simple execution of an SEO/inbound link strategy will yield incredible results for a limited budget for low/medium competition keywords.
On the flip side, if your business is more seasoned and already ranks relatively well, executing a strategy that revolves around content marketing, PPC/CPC and display advertising could be the best way to take advantage of your well known brand that wasn't converting previously, but because of the work you did in Phase 1 and 2, now will convert a higher percentage of visitors from those sources.
- Ongoing Collaboration and Execution: This includes campaign management and monitoring of your current initiatives: i.e. creating new marketing initiatives, testing and refinement of current initiatives, continuous expansion and implementation of your initial action plan, and new strategies and campaigns when appropriate.
Result of Phase 3 - Fire:
What good is a website if nobody finds it or interacts with it?
You're now ready to start generating and driving traffic to your higher converting website, monitoring how that traffic converts and making adjustments as necessary.
Be forewarned that this entire process is an iterative one.
Therefore, you are never "finished" per se, but rather always monitoring, adjusting and creating new ways to deliver not only traffic to your website, but more importantly, ensuring that the traffic you do receive converts at a high level.
There's a saying that I think is apropos for when you've already done things backwards:
No matter how far you've traveled down the wrong path, turn around.
Most websites fail because they were created BACKWARDS.
Once you realize why your online presence is struggling and not yielding the results you intended, it's important that you fix what's wrong rather than simply giving up entirely and allocating your budget to other initiatives because you are too frustrated or don't know how to address your current problems.
By utilizing the 3-Phase Internet Marketing Execution Framework that we use at Biquitous, you can take the action necessary to create an online presence that works from the ground up the right way.
Then you can focus on the important stuff -- generating traffic, leads, and ultimately, sales.
At the end of the day, you don't care about complex strategies, processes and to-do lists.
As a business leader, you need real world results, and beyond that, a clear path to achieving those results, with a rational and strategic way of measuring them.
Your online presence should be an asset to your company and continuously generate measurable and repeatable cash flow.
You and your team will never achieve your desired outcomes if you work backwards and merely focus on traffic to the detriment of conversions.
Instead you must build a sound Internet marketing and website design strategy that was well thought out, researched, tested and implemented to perfection.