Enjoyable Internet Time With Best Behavior

Internet is Hard: Website Edition

“The purpose of business is to create a customer.” – Peter Drucker

We’re always thinking about how all the different elements of a “brand” interact – from your logo, to your location, to your window, to the world: your website. Make no mistake, web development can quickly turn into a dumpster fire if things go poorly, but if you’ve got a process and support structure that keeps things moving, the fire can be controlled and even be a positive experience for you, and most importantly, YOUR CUSTOMER. Before we ever talk pixels, design, or “pretty pictures,” we want to understand why everyone’s going through all this trouble in the first place. So, let’s “get our act together” and break all of the scary stuff down into three questions:

WHAT, WHO, and HOW MUCH?

WHAT:
This seems silly, but it gets to the heart of your purpose. Literally, what are you doing? Do you sell a product? Do you sell a service? Do you do both? Do you publish content? Are you fund-raising? These are the kinds of “obvious” questions that we have to ask to determine the “what.” For instance, what kind of FUNCTION does your website need to provide for your audience, and what are the best tools to provide that function? Identifying the top functions of your site is crucial, and sometimes it’s hilariously simple. I’m still baffled when I visit a site on my phone and I can’t click a number to call someone. Maybe that’s function #1 for you, and that may not be super sexy, but if it translates to another engagement with your audience, then let’s go for it. (For the record, we do that anyway. It’s really silly not to at this point).

“WHAT” things to consider:
Will you want the ability to update the website content yourself without breaking the internet? This is gonna take a “CMS” or “content management system,” which allows for updates/uploads and edits of content without having to code your way out of a hole. There are many options out there, and a lot of them are terrible. We stuck our flag in WordPress a long time ago, and found it to be the most user-friendly, adaptable CMS for all kinds of industries and all kinds of sites.

If you’ll be selling your wares or raising your funds (lets call it…e-commerce), what kind of platform is best for your audience? You can bake e-commerce right into your site with Woo-commerce or go with a month-to-month service like Shopify. You’ll also want to look into payment options – fortunately this has gotten waaaaaay better recently, and you have a lot of great options, like the old standby PayPal, or newcomers like Stripe and Square.

Will you want to have video content on your site? Great. Wait, how big is a video you ask? Even the smallest dumpster fire .gif is around 2mb, so you don’t want to upload videos directly to your site. The two most widely used video hosting services are YouTube (Please click on this link. It’s Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers singing Islands in the Stream.) and Vimeo. YouTube is great for monitizing through ads and searchability, but you lose a lot of control over what is played before/after your video (which can be…uncomfortable). Vimeo is typically our platform of choice because we have total control over our quality, and we can specify exactly what plays/what gets shown/and it’s ad free.

Will you publish original content? If so, you’ll want to think about a blog. This requires a lot of effort and is not attended to lightly (more on that in a minute).

Use great images. We use istockphoto.com or shutterstock.com for high quality, affordable, royalty free images for just about anything. If you’re reeeealllly operating on the cheap (as in free) then you can visit Pixabay. DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT Google something and download it from the images. You could get in major copyright trouble AND it’s just kind of a dick move.

Use great photographers. Again, this comes back to the “how much does a house cost?” question, but it pays to have your work presented as beautifully as possible. We work with folks like Bill Foster, Shawn Poynter, and one of our favorite architectural photographers is Denise Retallick.

Use great copy. What is the voice of your organization, and how do you keep it consistent? Another investment, but one that pays off in spades, is a writer. Our very own writer and content specialist, Dana Nies, spends a terrible amount of time getting the details right on every page before anything goes live.

WHO?
After we’ve figured out who YOU are, let’s learn about your audience. It’s time to look at a website not as a wall between you and your audience, but a big, easy to open window. Who buys from you and why? Who listens to you and where are they? Who consistently supports your cause? No one knows your audience like you do, so we want to know who you’re talking to and how they need to receive your message. And maybe, the most important question of all: Who do you WANT to be your audience? It’s like dressing for the job you want, not the job you have, so get your shoes shined and your hair combed just right.

It’s time to look at a website not as a wall between you and your audience, but a big, easy to open window.

“WHO” things to consider:
Do you have an email database? This could be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or as complex as a Salesforce CRM. If it were the 1850s in California, these direct contacts are what would be considered the “gold in them that hills.”Are you sending an e-newsletter? It doesn’t have to be all the time, but if you’ve got a lot going on, OR even better, you’ve got something to say that benefits the industries you serve, then get that information out there. We prefer Mailchimp.

Do you want an email database? If it’s about time to grow your influence, then a great tactic is to publish a whitepaper about topics that have a broad interest to the people you serve, and your website can be home base. And, if your content is really interesting and contains actionable intelligence for your audience, ask for an email address before downloading. It’ll be worth it, and they’ll come back the next time you go into the mines.

Will you also be doing outreach via social media? Where are your customers hanging out and why would they want to hear from you? For example, you’re probably not gonna find a lot of drink specials on LinkedIn, and you’re not gonna find long form scientific articles on Snapchat, so pick one, maybe two, channels and do them REALLY WELL.

Avoid this fate at all costs. Ask What? Who? and How Much?


HOW MUCH?
If you ask how much a website costs, you’re going to get the same answer as if you asked “How much does a house cost?” It’s up to you to realistically determine what kind of house you’re looking for AND what you can afford. Remember, it’s not just about the pixels and pretty pictures, it’s about growing your business.

“HOW MUCH?” things to consider:
What is your budget? If you’ve determined the “WHAT” and “WHO,” it’s time to figure out how much that audience is worth in money AND time. A website is not just an investment from a checkbook (I think that’s still a thing); it’s an investment of time, energy, and people, and you should plan for it the same way you would for any business development.   

If it’s all about making your first mark and getting your name out there (I’m looking at you first-time entrepreneurs, musicians, and “solopreneurs”)…I’m going to make a suggestion. Please don’t spend a lot of money on a website. There are affordable subscription options, like Squarespace, with plenty of templates that will get your name and service/product/hot air balloon rides on the Internet. Invest the time to learn about “WHAT” and “WHO” and then spend the time to navigate the uncertain waters of the web. It will be time-consuming but worth it.

So, how much DOES a house cost?

If you feel it’s time to work with an agency (admittedly, we are an agency), then get real about your budget, your timing, and your goals. A well-done custom site, built and designed from the ground up, is a big process and takes a little while, typically two to five months, depending on size and complexity. And a well-done custom site can run anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 (or more). So, how much DOES a house cost?

If you’re working with an agency, who will be the point person during your web development project? Not three people. Not two people. ONE PERSON. While there may be a ton of discussion and ideas, there are a lot of decisions to be made, and your developer needs clear answers to move forward. Communication is key here and it is glorious (thus avoiding dumpster fires altogether).

Who will maintain your website once it’s live and kicking? Who will be trained on WordPress to update/add pictures/create forms/check analytics? This is a real responsibility that can get overlooked, so plan ahead for a long relationship with your website.

Website development is a big topic and we only skimmed the surface today. I’m looking forward to digging into the details as our own blog continues to grow (on WordPress, natch), and I hope that this post has made the Internet a little less hard. In the meantime, keep sharing cat memes and keep your act together.

Chris McAdoo,
In charge of strategic yelling.

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