Anyone can build a web site. That might sound strange coming from someone who seems to build them for a living, but it’s true. There are free web site building platforms everywhere, and the kid down the street from you that plays video games in his garage can probably whip one up in his spare time for next to nothing. A web site itself is just no big deal.
We often get calls asking “how much to build me a web site?” Our job at that point is to determine if the person really just wants us to throw up a site and walk away, or if they’re interested in growing their business through internet marketing, and making a web site one of the primary tools for that.
It can’t be the only tool, mind you. The myth of “just throw up a site, and search engine optimize it”, in terms of actually being particularly effective, is made evident by the fact that the highest search results for any simple ‘phone book search’ (New York Home Loan, Williamsburg Real Estate, etc) are simple phone book entries, most of which are free or carry a slight annual fee. In other words, you don’t need to build a web site, if all you care about is ‘getting found’ on the internet, because that’s what a directory listing is – it’s a web site. You probably already have several. Use Google Places, get yourself in Yelp and Merchant Circle, and be done with it.
The idea of “getting found” as the primary marketing strategy says that internet marketing is passive. Think of it like selling wholesale sports paraphenalia, and you sit in your office and wait for people to find you in the equivalent of a phone book, while there’s a stadium packed with fans 100 feet away – just begging for someone to buy a ticket, wear the company t-shirt, and start handing out free samples. The phone book entry (or internet equivalent – i.e. most web sites) is passive marketing, and the *least* effective form of it. Sure, it takes minimal thought, minimal effort, and you can just throw some cash at it, but it has a correspondingly modest rate of return too – a lower conversion rate than a concerted marketing effort that makes a web site just one tool in a coordinated marketing plan. A web site as part of a marketing plan, even if you just focus on the site itself, can be far more effective than a web site built without the components of an effective marketing strategy.
If you were stranded in the wilderness (like a lot of businesses with ineffective internet marketing), injured (business is slow), and alone (you don’t have an internet marketing consultant working with you), would you a) lie there and hope to “get found” or b) do something proactive like maybe build a signal fire to try to get your message out? The latter is the internet marketing – the former is throwing up a web site. Web sites are important, certainly. If you don’t stay in one place and focus, you can bring in all the planes and helicopters you want, they aren’t going to land. Lots of hits, no contacts. It’s just that you need a coordinated plan to get rescued – one that lets you bring in people while making it easy to find you (at a basic level) and, more importantly, interact with you.
If really what you want is just to throw up a web site, certainly we can do it, and so can anyone else. We’re good at it, sure, but you’re not really getting a lot of the value from us (relative to what you could get) or from anyone else by just putting up the equivalent of an online flyer and making sure search engines index it. That’s the internet equivalent of pinning printed flyers to the bulletin board at the local supermarket. It’s not nothing, but it’s not getting serious about your business growth, either.
Usually what we look for to signal whether a client is wanting
- a) an online business card (admittedly a more elaborated version of that, but that’s what most web sites really are, without being part of an internet marketing strategy)
- b) to grow the business (which is a broader goal)
is how much emphasis is placed on the web site (the passive hub for marketing) and the technical wizardry of search engine optimization or SEO ( the basics that get the site indexed) vs. the larger context of things that grow the business (e.g. social media, value added content, engaging the audience, proactive marketing, etc.) and also how directive the client is vs. seeking guidance and expertise. If you’re telling us “I want this on it, and this on it, and this on it, and I want it to be like this guy’s site, but without this…” etc. then you’re not asking us for our expertise, or to think about your larger marketing success and business growth – you’re not asking for a consultative approach – you’re wanting a web site. It’s a product more than a service.
We get that, and there’s nothing wrong with it, per se, and we’ll certainly do it. Often clients will come back to us a year later and ask “what can I do to grow my marketing?” Sometimes they’re surprised when we say, “Well, first I’d really change and overhaul some things on your web site, and then…” After all, what you told us to do may not be the most effective thing you could do, and the technology may have evolved, and the social climate (the market) may have evolved – whether that’s just in terms of style, or in different marketing approaches being effective. Plus, a web site geared for involvement in an internet marketing plan is different than a web site situated as the point in and of itself. We may have provided some consulting, of course, but if you didn’t do the things we prescribed beyond just throwing up the internet billboard along the information superhighway, we’d likely revisit those – the active marketing efforts that generate, typically, higher return than simply web site building.
At the outset, though, we’ll assess whether you want a consultative relationship or one that simply implements your instructions, and we’ll do whichever you prefer of course. Sometimes we’ll push back and say “We’ll do that, if you want, but it will damage your search engine value or your marketing effectiveness or your social media effectiveness – should we proceed?” We just need to hear “implement anyway” or “no, do it the way you think is most effective” or “let’s set an appointment to consult”.
Often, in fact, clients who either come back for consulting and help after a site is built, or include that kind of ongoing relationship from the outset, are impressed with what’s really possible to grow their marketing effectiveness. They came to us thinking “web site” and they discovered, later (if they weren’t interested in it up front) that our core competency is internet marketing and business growth. Sometimes, sadly, they’ve spent thousands on “off the shelf” marketing packages (that’s what a web site was to them, and so it was easy to keep thinking in that mode) from online marketing companies with lots of hype that promised to drag clients to them kicking and screaming in an almost automated way (as though people are drones). In fact, the most money to be made amid the confusion of the new social marketing, while people haven’t yet figured out what social media means and how web 2.0 marketing works now, is by convincing people that nothing has changed and by extracting fees for pay and walk away solutions. We’ve written about some of the earmarks of this kind of marketing. It’s like profiting off of a hurricane aftermath for those marketing companies – confusion, technical jargon, and the myth of technical wizardry (as we call it) are their friends. We simply won’t sell those myths – not at this company.
Instead, we prefer to make sense of the new marketing, with and for our clients, and help them constructively market themselves in ways that deliver the most bang for the buck, without distancing them from their prospects – which is the death knell of a marketing effort in the new social media environment. We could make more money the other way, selling jargon and promises of automated success, but our clients wouldn’t, and we have a general philosophy: if we keep our clients in business, they’ll keep us in business. The new marketing is all about engaging your community and growing a base of prospects out of that. The web site, in fact, is rightly a central piece of online real estate in that process but, by itself, it’s just a web site. We can’t ensure every client does what we tell them to do, but we will at least tell them, if they want to know.
Our advice? You want more than just a web site, if you want to be effective in web 2.0. You want a coordinated internet marketing effort. Sure, it has to begin somewhere, but build the site right – at the very start. And build it with an eye to your next steps, not as an “OK, copy this. OK, now paste this in. OK, we’re done – see ya.” solution. Or – if that’s really what you want – just say it up front, and it’s fairly easy to accomodate (you drive, we build). Or get the kid down the street to do it. If you’re building a site because you want to grow, though, make sure building web sites and doing SEO are *not* the primary competency of the company you’re working with. Get a solution that brings in lots of elements, to include those surely, but centers around the broader goal of helping you grow your business.