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One and Done

big-site-vs-one-page-websiteAn area of our business we’ve seen additional client interest in over the past two years is one-page websites. While this is by no means a new concept, it’s an offering we started pitching clients shortly after the downturn in the economy a few years ago.

Initially, we offered one-page websites to clients due to restricted budgets brought on by the recession. However, after creating a few one-pagers, we found these sites to be an ideal solution not only for small budgets, but for organizations who had simple or common concepts to convey to users.

As a digital development agency typically focused on creating large websites with sometimes hundreds of pages and complex functionality, creating single page websites at first seemed counter-intuitive to our core business. However, after trying to “shoehorn” one-too-many relatively simple concepts or products into multi-page websites, we decided that was no longer an advisable route for some of our clients or their money.

Virtually any organization can utilize a single-page website for their online presence, but all too often businesses feel a need to populate pages with content that few-to-no users ever access. The About page for example, which is quite commonly the least trafficked page of any site.

So how do you know if a single page website is right for you? Well, in this instance, it might be easier to determine if a single page site is NOT right for you, and the single most important determining factor is … wait for it …

CONTENT

This is key and how we initially decide if a single page website is right for a client. If your product or service requires consumer education to convert, access to company credentials, staff members, various office locations, service levels, etc., you should consider a multi-page site.

In the end it’s all about understanding your users and your sales cycle. The more hand-holding needed to educate and/or credibility building a business requires to convert, then the more content you may need to be successful online.

And even if you require a mult-page site, even hundreds of pages, we always (and I mean always) recommend applying the KISS method to your content—Keep It Simple S … ir. Remove the noise and allow your users to access content on their terms and in ways that foster conversion.


What’s in a Budget?

dollar signWe’re often asked by clients, “how much does a website cost?” To which we respond, “it depends.” Sadly, this conversation can often times be a non-starter on both ends of the phone:

From the client side …
The client can interpret this as a shakedown … a “how much you got” kind of question if you will, where they inadvertently spend $X on a site that should only cost $Y, because they tipped their hat on their budget.

From the agency side …
It tells us the client has quite possibly given little (or no) consideration to how valuable this kind of investment is to them, or has little knowledge of the costs associated with developing a custom website.

We often liken the “how much does a website cost?” question to asking a home builder “how much does a house cost?” Most people can relate to the “house” question because we all know houses come in a wide variety of sizes—from the 2 bedroom / 1 bath starter home to the 10 bedroom / 5 bath / custom kitchen / 3 car garage / in-ground pool palatial mansion. Websites are much the same: the larger and more complex they are, the more time and thus money they take to build.

You may now be saying, “this is all entertaining, but how exactly do we go about determine a website budget?” Good question, and here’s what I recommend considering:

1) You Get What You Pay For
You’ve undoubtedly heard this phrase and it applies to building websites in a big way. Good developers and designers are expensive and this is reflected in the price of their work. So do your best when reviewing a proposal to NOT go straight to the price.

2) Cost Benefit
How valuable is a website to your organization? If you plan to sell products through your website or utilize the site as a lead-generation tool, then you can directly attribute revenue to your site. In this case, it’s much easier to justify a higher budget. Conversely, if your website serves simply as the “YellowPages” ad from the days of yore, then a low-cost “templated” solution may be your best bet.

3) Agency Referrals
Don’t just rely on an internet search to locate an agency for your website project. Rather, ask for references from other business, friends, etc., who’ve hired an agency to build their site. This will help you locate an agency that has a track record for actually delivering a quality product. And see if your contacts can share their budget … or at the very least a ballpark.

4) Marketing Budget
Ideally, if you have a marketing budget, then consider the above three items and determine what portion of that budget your team is willing to allocate to a website.

And finally …

5) Share Your Budget:
At this point you may be wanting to tune out, but stick with me. Once you’ve determined a budget or a range you’re comfortable spending, share it with the agencies you’ve located through your referral network. At this point, you’re talking to trustworthy agencies who have the chops to build what you need. Now, what you need to do is compare everything they can deliver within your identified budget. In this instance your agencies are not focused on being the cheapest (which you don’t want) and instead are focused on giving you the most for your dollar. In addition, this will help you weed-out those resources whose minimums are simply too much for your organization.

In the end, a good business deal is defined when both parties (the buyer and seller) win. The buyer gets a product that meets their needs and for a budget they can afford. And the seller makes a profit on the service in which they’re in business to provide.

Keeping the above in mind will not only ensure your “new website project” is not a waste of time and money, but a venture that returns on the investment for your organization.


Why You Should Consider an SEO Audit

This could be phrased “why wouldn’t you consider an SEO audit?” for emphasis, but I don’t want to create any confusion over the value of the service.  While the word “audit” conjures up bad IRS memories or sounds like a snoozefest to some, it can be one of the most insightful online marketing tools available and I’m going to outline why it is hard to say “no” to doing an audit. Read More…


The 2-Year Web Project

T is for time.

Internally at my agency we now have a running joke – the two-year web site. This is mostly based on our experiences of the past six months.

Since mid-2011 I’d estimate we acquired ~six new clients who were escaping bad situations with other agencies taking excessive amounts of time to complete website development projects. And in the cases we experienced, the timeline always seemed to be around two years.

The conversation kind of went like this:

Client: “I’d like to see if you could help us out.”

Voltage: “Sure, tell me what’s going on and I’ll see what we can do.”

Client: “Well, we hired this agency to build our website and it’s been in development for about two years now, is XX months past due, and $XXk over budget.”

Voltage: “I’ve heard this story before.”

On the upside for my agency, a pretty low bar has been set. On the downside for my agency, we are now starting in a position of distrust and we’re immediately on the defensive.

My point is this … I understand. I understand where the client is coming from: why they’re distrustful, why they’re hesitant to start over, and why they’re considering just giving up on the project altogether. And while I thank the other agency for practically handing me business, I’d like to give them the “what-for” for making my job harder.

So why does this happen? In our experience, it seems to follow a standard formula. Here are the things to keep an eye on when starting any website project:

  1. RFP:
    Many companies initiate a web development project by issuing an RFP to agencies. They collect estimates form those agencies and then select an agency for the project. Make sure your RFP is written in a manner that will garner apples-to-apples pricing and deliverables from your potential vendors. Too many open ended requests (etcetera and miscellaneous items) and little specifics leave room for speculation and great variation in deliverables and pricing. In the case of some larger projects it’s well worth the time and money to hire a technology consultant to help with this process.
  2. Requirements:
    Whomever your vendor may be, make sure they plan to detail the requirements of your website project in a written format. If they don’t plan to do this, run. These requirements are essential and should be based on your goals for the site. By their very nature website requirements will be highly technical, so if you’re not technically savvy then make sure to ask lots of questions. If your vendor can’t explain the document, then run. If they can and you still don’t understand, then seek the assistance of a third-party IT professional who can check the validity of the document.
  3. Revisions and Approvals:
    Make sure you understand how revisions and approvals will be managed. Most agencies allow for two rounds of reviews and revisions on project deliverables – it’s an industry standard. And if you go beyond two rounds, you’re looking at change orders. This responsibility falls on both parties: a) the agency is responsible for communicating to the client the phase of revision being reviewed, and b) the client is responsible for making sure all decision makers provide input before submitting revisions to the agency. Change orders are not unheard of, and certainly not the death of a project, but run-away change orders can sour a relationship.
  4. Realism:
    You’ve probably heard the term “You can have it cheap, fast, or good. Pick two.” This truism never fails in the website development business. For example, good and fast work will be expensive, and fast and cheap work will be bad. Unfortunately, some agencies will tell you what you want to hear to get your project (it’s hard not to). If your website project is large and complex, then be prepared for more money, a longer timeline, and more in-depth discussions with your agency – it will pay off in the long run. And if that’s not possible and you need something cheaper and in short order, then consider a phased approach where you launch a minimum viable product and phase-out the less essential items for post-launch.
  5. Vendor Lock-In:
    Beware of systems that you don’t own, must license, can’t access or that beholden you to the agency that developed them. This is not always a bad situation, especially if you have an a-typical need that requires the application of specialized technology like vast e-commerce installations or CRMs (and even then, many open sourced solutions can be modified to fit your needs). But if you’re building a primarily content-driven website that sells products in a standardized fashion, accepts donations or allows users to register for an event (to name a few), then you probably don’t need a proprietary system. Some estimates state up to 80% of websites are powered by open source technology systems or are hard-coded in a standard programming language like PHP or ASP. Chances are you fall into this category.

In the end, consideration of the above will go a long way in keeping your project on time, on budget and you and your technology partner on speaking terms.


An Unsubscribe Page Done Right

I’ve been tired of Groupon for a while, but I finally decided it was no longer relevant to me and unsubscribed.

After three terrible experiences, I just couldn’t see myself using it any more. So, of course, I ended up at their unsubscribe page.

Groupon's Unsubscribe Page

It’s is great. The layout and functionality of the page itself gets out of your way and let’s you do the deed quickly-there are no dark patterns or hoops to jump through. The Punish Derrick messaging is hilarious in a low brow college humor gag sort of way. In fact, I liked it so much I almost signed-up again… (Then I remembered those three terrible experiences, but that’s another post.)

Regardless, it’s an excellent use of humor and user experience that (even though I was canceling my membership) left me with a positive memory of the organization. Once again, it reinforces the importance of user experience and the fact that opportunities abound, even in the most unexpected places.


Half of Small Businesses Don’t Have a Website

H is for Half

It’s true. And as a small business owner of a web development agency, I was shocked when I read that statistic. Do a simple Google search on the subject and you’ll find multiple articles and quotes like:

Of the 55 percent of small business owners who don’t have a web site, 57 percent say their businesses will never have one …

On a daily basis, I talk to businesses of all kinds – from small to large and everywhere in between. The common thread is a desire for success and business growth, especially in this lethargic economy.

So the question persists, why are so many small businesses hesitant or apathetic about establishing an online presence for their business? After all, small businesses are fighting every day for market share, recognition, and the chance to prove their product or service is just as good or better than their larger, more established competitors.

I fear these small businesses are failing to understand that a website is often times the first interaction a potential client or customer will have with their business. Fail to show up on a Google search and your business instantly takes a few steps down on the credibility ladder. A business that ignores the power of this first impression is leaving opportunity and dollars on the table for their competitors to easily snatch-up.

Now some of you may be saying, “I get it, but I just can’t afford it” or “I don’t know where to start and certainly don’t have the time or knowledge to do it myself.” Both of those statements are understandable, but the cold hard facts are as follows:

  • The internet is obviously not going away
  • As gen-Xers (like me) and younger generations born with the internet at their fingertips move into decision making positions, the internet will only increase as a factor in the buying process.

Even the simplest of websites can help even the smallest of businesses look as professional and polished as their big competitors.


The Power of Who

Everyone knows the saying “it’s who you know.” I can personally vouch for the validity of that statement as it’s worked in my favor as well as against it.

But, there’s another “who” we sometimes forget or lose sight of as business people and that’s “who WE are.” How do we define ourselves and our business and how do we provide our contacts and prospects with the tools to describe the “who” as it applies to us?

One of the most powerful tools we have as business people is our identity – the definition of who we are as a business in a succinct and memorable fashion. And the assets at our disposal to accomplish this include the following:

1) Identity:
Make sure it’s easy to understand, well designed, exudes quality and is used consistently. Brand dilution happens when logos change across media or over time. Brand standards can go a long way in combatting this issue and can be accomplished easily.

2) Messaging:
Can people tell what you do in the fewest number of words possible? That sounds simple enough, but all too often buzz words and lofty etherial sales-speak takes the place of clear communication. In the age of tweets and short attention spans, the 500 word description and “think outside the box” verbiage no longer apply. Keep it simple and get to the point ASAP. I’m talking short – think 25 words. And if you want to be able to tweet your description, it’ll need to be less than 140 characters.

3) Brand Assets:
This includes brochures, business cards, your website and any other vehicle that transports your brand to your markets’ eyes. Keep these simple, informative and go for quality. If your collateral is cheap, that perception will transfer to your business offerings.

4) Networking:
Apply all of the above to this. Networking can literally be done anywhere – coffee shop, wedding, convention, online, etc. If you can flip someone your business card, it reflects a quality business, they can find your website and tell what you do in a matter of seconds, your efforts will be that much more effective.

Hone your “who” to be easily understood, remembered and portable. In this fashion your identity can serve as an extension of you and your sales efforts – working on it’s own and through others and preceding your business before introductions ever occur. So when the time comes to approach a new prospect, your “who” has a better chance of already being known.


The Responsibility of Always Being Right

s-is-for-served

The customer is always right, right? So when we’re the customer, how do we handle the responsibility of being considered “always right?”

Some people/organizations handle it gracefully while others wield it like a sledge hammer crushing all who dare beg to differ. You are paying a vendor for their services and thus there is a reasonable expectation of quality, service and that promises be met. It’s an important dynamic and it is in all of our best interests to manage our vendor relationships with responsibility and professionalism. Here’s why:

  1. Paths cross and word travels fast: You’re most likely working with a vendor because they service many companies like yours and work within the same space. If you tend to be a tough client to work with, they’re going to remember and when they evoke your name, you don’t want their opinions to be negative towards those with whom could become your client.
  2. Be careful on your way up: Quite simply put, you never know when your vendor may become your client or when you may need something from them. Once again, there’s a good chance your fields of business are related and whether it’s advice you need, a client referral, a favor or an opportunity to assist them with a project they have, you want to be known as the go-to, easy to work with group.
  3. Brand advocates: The best kind of marketing is word of mouth and anyone will tell you that “who you know” plays a HUGE factor in getting your foot in the door with a new client. Your vendors can become some of your best brand advocates. They talk to people in your industry and to people who may be seeking your services and if you work with them on a regular basis they’re going to know the kind of work you deliver. Treat them with respect and they’ll be more apt to speak your praises to people with whom they have solid relationships.

I’d recommend viewing vendors like any other business relationship; hold them to their promises, but be professional, and respectful. The relationships we have with vendors can benefit us both if managed properly.


Is It Time for Business Cards to Go?

C is for clutter.

Are business cards a thing of the past? As I was throwing away 50 or so old business cards, I realized I never look at them. If I want to contact someone, I email them. If I  need to call them, I run a quick search in my email client and get their phone number. I haven’t touched my fancy-pants rolodex in years and honestly it’s probably the next thing to go from the top of my desk. How long before business cards are gone completely? When will they join 8-tracks, vinyl, CD’s, zip drives, phone books and newspapers for that long ride off into the sunset of irrelevancy? What will take their place?

Here’s a few contenders that are taking the problem on in one way or another (no affiliation):


Firing The People You’re Working For

B is for bye.

It can be when you’re 16 and working at a hometown sub-shop or in the prime of your professional career, but most people experience the dreaded firing process one way or another if they’re in the business of being in business. Whether your being the one let go or the person letting someone go, it’s NEVER an enjoyable experience.

It’s a scenario we’re all familiar with, but what about when the tables are turned? What about when the subordinate in the situation fires their boss, the company they work for, or their client? It’s an odd thing, it goes against everything most dedicated hard-working “give-it-your-all” people have been taught, but necessary.

We recently parted ways with a client and it was our choice as an agency to “let the client go.” So how does it come to this? Well, in this case the relationship was no longer productive for us or for our client. And I suspect this is the majority of instances where this situation should and does occur. As an agency owner, it’s a tough decision to essentially tell a client’ “we no longer desire to work with you and no longer want your money.” Yikes!

This decision did not come lightly, but after much consideration we decided it was the best decision for all parties involved. We believe in the end, this bittersweet parting will prove beneficial for both our agency and the client. The client will be free to pursue an agency who better fits their needs. And we the agency, will be free to pursue clients who’s needs are best served by our skill-set.