Mistakes in SME Web strategy; a web consultants view

According to economic forecasters there are over 4 million small businesses in the UK, and many will have a website. Unfortunately many of these businesses will not be able to answer the following in a strategic manner;

  • Why have we got a website?
  • How do I know what its doing?
  • Has it been built correctly to work for a user, be found in search engines and fulfil my business expectations?
  • How do my customers expect to “use” my business in the digital world?

Sadly there are many common mistakes and pitfalls to watch out for. Broadly they fall into the areas of Agency, Measurement and Customers.

AGENCY

Typically, a business owner has come up with the view they need a website. They have scoped out what they want on it (“what I want to tell my people”), got a list of the sites they like, and come up with a number of what budget exists in the business to commit to this “must have” bit of brand presence. They then pick an agency or consultancy (local/met at conference/someone else liked them). So what then happens….

  • Web Development Agency build site to “budget” which doesn’t reflect the worth of the tool.
  • Client given a CMS (Content Management System) to do all updates and little or no training…. so at best its badly used.
  • No independent CMS is used and client has to beg agency to make weekly changes; and pay for them… or
  • … worse… site built in Web Development Agencies own, bespoke CMS making any chance of being able to move the site very expensive. And in the main, an agency in-house CMS is never as good as the open source/enterprise versions.
  • Web Development Agency builds a basic site with no search optimisation; farmed it out to junior (or an offshore developer in India or Romania) and got precisely what was asked for; with no best practise or meaningful advise.
  • “Stage 1” is delivered…. paid for… but Stage 2, the final fixes, takes an inordinate amount of chasing and wrangling. So the Web Development Agency was paid at stage 1… so where’s the incentive to do the “snagging”?
  • You discover the URL you found is now registered…. to the Web Development Agency… so you now don’t own your own brand name website…

Measurement

You want a website. Fine. So now justify it in real terms. Go on…

  • how many visitors do you need to generate how many sales or sales leads?
  • How many sales, over what time will pay for the site?
  • What’s the intangible benefit and can you estimate a value?
  • How will you know what visitors you get/from where/what they did?

The second cardinal sin is no measurement. But as you are new to websites how would you know what is the right measurement? What is the conversion average for your industry (and don’t quote what your competitor put out in a press release; that number is likely to be very well massaged).

  • No analytics added…your business does run on stats doesn’t it? So why no stats for your web site?
  • You only get numbers from the Web Development Agency… ever wondered if you get just the best data, not the bad news?
  • The Web Development Agency have “their own stats package” which means if you move your hosting etc. you loose all the data…
  • Have you got third party verification of specific sales on your website? Have you the ability to trace all sales to sources? There is a free product that does this….Google Analytics! And it’s a lot easier to set up than most people think. Web Development Agency trying to charge £500-£2,000 for this are making a huge profit (and yes, I have experienced agencies making such charges of naive clients).
  • And if you have anlytics who reports on the numbers? Good web marketing consultants will train you, give you report parameters to collect and aid in stats interpretation. Did this happen with your Web Development Agency?
  • At the click of a (free) button you could see this;

Customers

The first, key issue is that the website owner is rarely one of their own customers….”Hu?” you say?

Well, there is many a business owner/manager who will state that “…that’s not what I’d expect a website to do” or , classically, “that’s not how I use a website”. Such statements, uttered by plc heavy hitters and one-man band business owners is the death knell to most web strategies. Assigning one’s own web habits to entire customer groups is both bad management and only guaranteed to create a website the clients would buy from….not their customers.

Website owners also often have views of who they want their customers to be….Ever thought about researching to ensure your “ideal” customer is the one buying from you? The business owner who recently told me “…my customers don’t use the web, don’t have it at work,” hadn’t.

Have you checked the assumptions that your customers are one age group, not another. That the supposedly none-“social” 55 year old’s are actually very savvy facebookers and twitterers? What about the browsers? So your on your beloved Mac, as is the Web Development Agency developer. What do your customers actually use? Have you checked? Do you design for IE7 or Safari because you love your iPad (although only 9% of your customers actually use one at present).

Conclusions

Businesses too often enter the digital marketing world with a desire to “have that”, “do something like the competition” or “I love that”. Such so called web strategies are doomed to fail from day one. A good business person is one who recognises a weakness and compensates; brings in web strategy consultants and/or ecommerce project managers to ensure the project delivers the expected results, solutions and against budget! Very often an agency will give the client precisely what was asked for; not questioning if it was the right thing to do, address the right customers or delivered the tools the client needed to truly measure and market effectively. Of course some agencies do deliver the tools and solutions to fit the market requirement; this isn’t always what the client asked for!

But too often, for the expediency of profit, what is delivered is a “car without wheels”!

So, your latest web marketing project; has it “wheels”? Or do you need your web strategy managed by people who can interpret the needs, judge the tools and deliver a solution that actually benefits your business?