Web Sites: "Build It, And They Won't Beat A Path To Your Door."
Of course we all remember the days when having a company web-site was a novelty. The first round of "dot-bomb" stock market speculators left a hefty round of bankruptcies in their wake, along with a small handful of bezillionaires. Their mantra was simple: "Build It, And They Will Come."
Whups. Didn't happen that way.
Today, what is the proper role of "a web site" in your business? What role should it serve, and what roles ought we not expect it to serve? How much money should you invest in it, and for what reasons? Well, since we are not(!) "in the web-site business," per se, we think that we have valuable insights.
Your Web Site Is Not ...
- Your web site is not the way that companies discover your business. No one actually "does a Google® keyword-search and picks the first entry that appears on page one." Never. Today there are hundreds of millions of web-pages that might be produced for a very-ordinary search (such as "spark plugs"), so no one seriously tries to "stumble upon" you. Therefore, quite frankly, "SEO = Search Engine Optimization" is for naught.
- Your web site should not be the number-one goal of your company's marketing efforts. Customers do not do business with you because you have a web-site. They merely expect it. Having first discovered that your company exists, they are most likely to turn to your web site for much the same reasons that they once thumbed through a stack of your marketing brochures. Or, being established customers, they expect to be able to use your web-site to avoid "having to pick up the phone to find out whether they actually need to pick up the phone."
Your Web Site Is ...
- Your web site is "the initial, passive, presence" of your business, and is likely to be step-one of new customer contact. A web site is, at the very least, "the marketing frontispiece that basically costs nothing." You can project any initial "first impression" that you wish, and back it up with any number of additional pages of supplementary information, basically for nothing.
- Your web site is a gazetteer and news-boy that you don't have to hire. You can easily leverage "what digital computers do best" – sorting and searching – to enable your customers, and potential customers, to satisfy their questions effectively and without bothering your staff.
- Your web site is a natural and efficient entry-point for both initial and ongoing customer relationship management. "Why is it necessary for me 'to call you, during regular business hours in your time-zone?'" Very good question. Customers generally appreciate being able to ask you a question, or to check on the status of their order, "as directly as possible." (And, they quite-possibly do not expect to interact with a human customer-service agent ... unless they specifically want to.)
- Your web site can be, in some(!) cases, a direct link to the order/fulfillment process. If your business essentially consists of the delivery of "a thing," whether that "thing" is custom-made or not, then the customer might well expect to conduct the entire transaction on-line at your web site, or to complete as much of the preliminary paperwork as possible ahead of time.
"Your Web-Site" is ... Probably ... Well ... Ordinary.
The very first commercial web-sites that were created were, most certainly, "a voyage into the unknown." But, "twenty-odd years later, not so much." The World Wide Web today contains ... uhh ... billions(!) of commercial web-sites. So, the taxonomy of actual business requirements has by now become very well-known. Likewise the technical implementation that is needed to effectively fulfill these requirements has become a commodity requiring only targeted specialization.
(Full disclosure: the web-site that you're now viewing was constructed entirely using off-the-shelf software, with bare-minimal customization, and it costs us less than $10 a month to maintain it on a very-beefy [Amazon®] cloud server. Sure, "it's just a 'boutique' web site," but there are hundreds of millions of sites out there just like it, all of them fulfilling legitimate business requirements very cost-effectively.)
"Early adopters" of web technology, therefore, face a somewhat difficult and uncertain choice: "should we continue to plow our efforts into 'the Devil we know,' however familiar (or nefarious?) it might be, or should we break with the past?" On the one hand, your staff has of course become extremely familiar with "the Devil's ways," and has therefore quite-naturally grown to view business processes "from the Devil's perspective." But, on the other hand, is it ultimately a dead end for the business?
- Unfortunately, the myriad technical issues that come into play here are anything but(!) simple. Today's world is chock-full of coffee-shop companies who are eager to tell you "how good it's going to be" if you just toss out the baby with the bathwater. But, we know better.
Realistically, your assessment should be based on an assessment of how invasive the web-site actually is: how closely is it tied to your back-end business process? (Normally, there is a certain amount of "falsework" that is in-place to enable your present web-site software to function with your back-end systems as it now does, but this might – or, might not – be superficial.) Given the enormous parallel advances that have recently occurred in e-commerce technology, you might well be eager to break from the past. The question, of course, is how to get there safely.
We always begin with a methodical present-state assessment that is our first stand-alone (and paid-for) deliverable to you. We look thoroughly at your web presence and the systems with which it intersects. We look at the need for "hardening" to prevent attempts at invasion, data corruption or data leakage. We look at your self-description of your computer-enabled business processes – sales or otherwise – and assess how well your present software benefits or hinders these processes. We consider whether the system should be fully or partially replaced, and/or if new systems or interfaces should (and, could) be built alongside of it. And we do these things without the expectation or goal of actually doing any of the work, should there be any.