Do-it-Yourself Websites – Don’t
by Bernd Hansen
As a webmaster, I often come across websites where the head of a firm/organization – or a key team member – has decided to tackle the job of designing and handling the website themselves. With the constant messaging from Godaddy, Wix and others encouraging self-made websites – and touting how easy and wonderful they are – no wonder so many become tempted, and actually do so.
As in martial arts, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Here’s my strong arguments why you should give this approach a VERY careful second look, and find out what “free” actually costs you.
1/ I Can, Therefore I Should
No, you definitely shouldn’t. Any more than you should handle your car’s next paint job with a brush and some cans of enamel. Or your next dental cavity with some woodfiller and a spatula. There’s a reason why Wix and Godaddy promote free website builders. As humans, we LOVE free stuff. And we also love the feeling of creating something neat after a short learning curve. These companies know how to open a honey jar in bear country. Their goal, of course, isn’t to give away free stuff; it’s to get you inside their doors, then find ways to upsell you a bunch of related stuff, like domains, ssl, better website tools, etc.
To put it in perspective, ask yourself these 3 questions:
1/ How many hours experience do I have under my belt learning/practicing website strategy?
2/ If I looked at a role in my firm that requires a lot of experience/background, how risky is it to bring in someone to handle it, that has only 10% of the experience/background needed?
3/ If you hire an inexperienced contractor that’s a lot cheaper, but 5 years later your foundation starts cracking, how much did you really save?
Of course, if all that were true, we’d also be living in mansions. Underwater.
Like any service, experience and training count. And they should. With the constant changes in mobile and web technology, even those of us that eat and breathe it every day are constantly running to keep up.
2/ I Like Doing It Myself
Nothing wrong with that. There’s a creative rush we get when we make something artistic, and websites do just that for many with creative urges. There’s a business principle at play here though, that is very worth revisiting: if our goal isn’t clear, the result will usually be even muddier. If your goal is to have your website help market your business, then having is also be your easel is NOT a great idea. If you want to play a part in the website, hire a tutor, and project leader to channel your contribution properly. (In other words, hire an experienced web developer, and be his/her assistant).
3/ I’ll Save a Fair Amount of Money
No, you won’t. Any more than you’d save money by not repainting the interior of your business when the paint starts to look ratty. Or replacing that cracked glass with a sheet of plywood. What you save in “expense”, you’re very likely to lose on the other side in lost additional revenues, reduced customer retention, and higher costs of customer acquisitions.
Think of all the visitors you hope to draw to your website. Then, ask yourself: how will I measure how many have a “wow” experience visiting the website, versus an “ok” one, or an “underwhelming” one? What has MY experience been when I’ve gone to websites of companies I’m interested in? How many have impressed me? How many have left me feeling “so-so” about their online presence? Or worse?
If you want to swim in the deep end, I dare you to do something: get an experienced web developer to do a Holmes on Homes appraisal of your site when you’re done. You’ll want to get this type of feedback BEFORE you do trial and error with your customers.
4/ I’ve Done My Own Site, It Looks Fine, and My Customers Tell Me They Like It
EVERY site will get its share of positive feedback, especially from people that know and like you. And the work you’ve put into the website design MAY look pretty decent. On a desktop. On a high speed connection. But then someone goes to your site using a smartphone. On public wifi. And suddenly, it’s now a “grrr” experience. The page’s images are bloated in file size, and load slowly. The content on the smartphone screen is all squished to one side.
We’ve, in effect, made our customers our site’s guinea pigs. Beta testers. Over time, some might tell us “hey, we had a problem loading your site”. Most won’t.
It’s the stuff we “aren’t aware of” that bites us, often without us realizing it. Not our fault, just human nature. But all you have to do is look at companies like LL Bean and Amazon to realize the power of really paying attention to website strategy. The principles they use – maximizing online effect – applies to any size business.
Again, read the last sentence of the previous section – about getting a web developer to do an objective appraisal.
5/ Ok, You’ve Scared Me Off – Isn’t There ANYTHING I can Do?
NOW, we’re talking. Definitely. And this is where it starts to really get fun, AND productive. Here’s how YOUR contribution can help and make a HUGE difference:
- Write some blog posts: Google LOVES original content, and so will your customers – and prospects. If you own a restaurant, you can share interesting info on key staff, recipes, kitchen techniques, etc. People LOVE “behind the scenes” stuff.
- Go on a tear throughout the internet, and find places to submit your site to. Make sure you’re in high-value places such as yelp, yellow pages, Apple maps, etc. A lot of these listings provide opportunities to include extra info or photos, so take full advantage. A good SEO consultant can set you up with a tasklist.
- Do some serious learning about SEO/SEM. Search engine optimization and search engine marketing. There’s great tutorials and resources online. As your website gets some traffic history behind it, you’ll starting having data that can help you improve your website’s contribution to your business. The more experience you get, the better able you’ll be to work with SEO consultants to develop effective strategies.
- Go to Facebook university. Ok, there isn’t actually a university, but there ARE learning tools/tutorials out there. Your Facebook page is able to do social media marketing VERY well (Facebook and a website complement each other, and each has their own unique strengths and capabilities) . Every bit of improvement you have in your Facebook skills will pay dividends. Simple things such as organizing your photos properly, cleaning house occasionally (deleting old, no-longer-relevant content, for eg.).
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