Before you invest in a website for your business, you MUST do this

You’re launching a new business. Or maybe you’ve been in the same business for 30 years. In either case, you’ve decided that you need to build a website and do some digital marketing because…well, you’re not really sure why, other than because everyone else is. Not a very strategic way of investing money and resources.

Before you invest money or other resources into a website or digital marketing, you MUST have a strategy. It doesn’t have to be a 25 page document with graphs and advanced statistical formulas and analysis. You can spend tens of thousands of dollars on that once you’ve got a fortune 500 company. For now what you need is a clear idea of your business objectives, target market and competition.

Let’s expand on these 3 elements for each item you want to invest in, starting with a website (I’ll go through other digital marketing tactics in future posts).

Should you invest in a website for your business?

Business Objective

Let’s take it as a given that the primary objective for any business is to make money. So the question becomes, how is a website going to help you make money?

Ecommerce

If you’re selling products (ecommerce) then you definitely need to have a website on which to sell on. The question then becomes, does the website need to be your own?

Thousands of successful merchants do all, or at least the bulk, of their selling on amazon.com, ebay.com, etsy.com and other online marketplaces. The reason for this is because they realize that these marketplaces are where millions of people go to shop every day. How many potential customers will be visiting their own website? Definitely not as many (I think that’s safe to say).

And driving traffic to a company website will require investing in PPC ads, SEO, content marketing and social media campaigns — all the stuff that the major marketplaces are already doing. True, you will be paying some of that cost in the form of commissions to the marketplace. But most merchants understand that it’s worth paying, since they could never drive enough traffic to their own websites to match what they’re getting on the marketplaces.

Now there are reasons why you might want to sell your products exclusively on your own website including:

  1. To build your brand
  2. To avoid getting your prices discounted by Amazon (especially if you’re offering Prime).
  3. To avoid getting copied and undercut by competitors
  4. To capture emails of potential customers and then remarket to them

You can, of course, also sell on Amazon and other marketplaces as well as on your own website.

If you do decide to sell products on your own website, you’ll then need to decide whether to create a custom site or use a hosted ecommerce solution such as Shopify or BigCommerce. Your custom site will most likely be built using an ecommerce plugin like Woocommerce (for WordPress), Magento or OpenCart.

Branding

Whether or not you use it to conduct ecommerce, a website is a powerful tool for branding. Despite what your mom told you, people DO judge books by covers, and they will most likely create their first impression of your company based on your website. A modern, user-friendly and informative website will create a positive impression. It will tell potential customers that you are trustworthy, knowledgable and dependable. A crappy website will do just the opposite.

Because of the importance of that first impression, I’d recommend not having a website rather than having a mediocre one.

If I can rant about this for just a moment…I’ll sometimes see someone in my network sharing their brand new website. I’ll check it out and to put it mildly, I’m underwhelmed. It’s usually a Wix or Squarespace template, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Except that they haven’t applied any sort of design sense to make the template look good. So it looks like a million other mediocre websites built on these platforms.

Now, I understand the budgetary constraints of a small business or startup, and if you’re opening a neighborhood cookie shop, then this might be the right direction for you. But the people launching these mediocre (at best) sites are professionals trying to sell expensive consulting services to companies or other professionals. If I’m going to hire a high priced consultant for my company, it’s not going to be the one using a $10 per month Wix template.

In other words, if you’re trying to sell services for thousands of dollars, you need to invest in a website that portrays you as an experienced professional worthy of your fees.

To understand more about building your own website, read this post. Rant over.

Even if you sell products exclusively on Amazon, it’s still useful to have a website where customers can go to see the company behind the product they’re purchasing. And it better look respectable, or you’ll probably lose the sale.

Information Hub

If you’ve got information to share about your company, product or service, then you need a place to store that information. A website is a perfect information hub where people can learn all about you and your offerings. But if you just have a page or 2 of information, then a Linkedin or Facebook page could do the job just fine. Again, I’d recommend that over a mediocre website.

Onrush Digital Linkedin Page

Onrush Digital Linkedin Page

Target Market

Who is your target customer? How do they engage with you?

These are key questions to determine whether or not you need a website. Let’s focus on the cases where you would not need a website, since they are less common.

  1. Local based on-demand service
    Plumbers, electricians — any kind of service that you need NOW can do just fine with a Google Business page (to make sure you get into the Google local listings) and a Facebook page. Any ads you run will have your phone number, which is how people will be contacting you. Your local pizza place can probably do fine with the same. If you want pizza, looking at Facebook page to order will do it for you.
  2. Entertainment related
    Entertainers can showcase themselves nicely on Facebook and Instagram, since a good deal of what they do is visual and can be expressed in a few good photos. How much do you really need to know about the juggler you’re hiring for your 5 year old’s birthday party? You’ll usually find them on a service websites like Thumbtack or Bark.

Of course, don’t forget Youtube — where you can post as many videos as you need to explain and showcase your product or service. Google also likes showing Youtube (which it owns) video in its search results, so it’s a great SEO strategy too!

If you’re a service provider or a small local business, you can most likely do fine using social media and a Google business page. But if you’re a company or consultant, you should have a website — as long as it’s a quality one. If you can’t afford one, then stick to social and Google page.

Competition

Finally, to determine whether or not you need a website, look at your direct competition. If someone does a Google search for plumbers and the top 2 local results are you, with no website, and your competitor with a website, the searcher will most likely click on your competitor’s website. Of course, if it’s really shitty they might move on to the next listing. But they will probably be wondering why you don’t have a website and assume that you’re “old fashioned” and behind the times. For a plumber that might not matter that much. For other services it could be a deal breaker.

For services which are not required at that very moment (like all types of consulting), consumers will spend time researching options on the internet. That means they’ll visit a bunch of websites and try to decide whom to contact based on their first impressions. We spoke about this in the branding section above.

Bottom line: if your direct competitors have a quality website, you’d better have one too (preferably a better one).

Take Aways

  1. Before investing money or resources in a website for your business, review your business objectives, target market and competition to determine whether you actually need one or whether you can do fine with a Google Business Page and social media pages and posts.
  2. No website is better than a mediocre one.
  3. People will judge you by the impression they get from your website.
  4. If you’re trying to sell expensive products or services, you need a website that reflects that. Unless you personally are a designer and writer, you’ll need to invest in professionals to get the job done right.

Stay Tuned

In my next post I’ll speak about whether you need to invest in a mobile site or app.

Why Chemical Companies Are Updating Their Websites

We recently attended NYSCC (New York Society of Cosmetic Chemists) Suppliers’ Day at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, where we had the chance to speak with dozens of companies in the chemical industry who told us they were interested in updating their current websites. The reasons that they gave were similar, although not all applied to each company.

Here are the top three reasons that companies gave for wanting to update their websites:

1. Image
The overwhelming majority of the company websites were built over five years ago, with many going back to well over a decade. While they may have been up do date when they were first built, today these websites look ancient. Can you imagine wearing the clothing you worse in the 1970’s today? Unless it was Halloween, you’d be laughed out of town or possibly hauled away for psychiatric observation.

Your company website represents your company’s image. A modern, well designed website creates a winning first impression and instills confidence in potential customers, clients and business partners. On the flip side, an old fashioned, outdated site does the opposite.

The companies we spoke with understand the role that their website plays in representing their image and creating a successful impression on potential customers and partners. They want to be viewed as innovators with cutting edge expertise and service, and NOT as the old guys that time left behind.

2. Structure
In addition to their website design, many companies acknowledge that while they have good content on their websites, the information is not organized efficiently. That makes it very difficult for users to find the information they’re looking for. it also makes it hard for companies to make sure users get to see the information they want them to see.

Many of the companies whose websites we looked at have dozen, or even hundreds, of pages but there’s no easy way to navigate to those pages. They often have home pages that are cluttered with all sorts of stuff, some important, some trivial.

The most important aspect of an effective website is a well organized structure and navigation system that allows users to easily find and access the specific information they want.

3. Admin
Another major complaint by companies was that they are unable to easily update and make changes to their website content. Their sites didn’t come with any sort of admin panel to allow them to easily modify/add/delete content. So if they need to make an important change they are stuck needing to call an outside contractor and pay them to do it. That equals wasted time and money.

4. SEO
Although many of the companies we spoke with get most of their business through referrals or direct sales, most told us that they get inquiries from the web and that they would like to get more. To get found by Google and rank highly in Google search results, a website needs content that is properly optimized (SEO – Search Engine Optimization). Most of their current websites are either not optimized at all or have ineffective SEO.

5. Ecommerce
Many companies who sell products in smaller quantities or smaller pieces of equipment expressed an interested in setting up an ecommerce store on their websites to see directly to consumers. In addition to increasing their revenue, by selling online they can cut down on the number of small inquiries they get on the phone, which would allow their staffs to focus on serving their large, wholesale clients.

How we can help

At Onrush Digital we build modern, well designed websites that reflect companies’ expertise, integrity and experience. We structure each website to be fully user friendly, allowing users to find the information they need quickly. We also build eommerce websites that work efficiently and seamlessly.

Every website we build comes with a content management system (CMS) to allow you to update, change or delete any content on the website without having to call and pay anyone else. We also optimize every page on the site according to the most current SEO standards so that it can easily get found by Google — and your potential customers.

In addition to our design and development work, we also write and edit content for the website.

To see a case study of a website we built for a company in the chemical industry, click here.

Final Word

If you’re considering updated your company website, we have the experience and expertise to design and develop one that you’ll be proud of and that will impress your customers and partners.

Contact us here or give us a call at 973-797-9896 to learn more and get started.

How much does professional web design cost? [ 2019 ]

When considering building a new website or redesigning an old, outdated one, the first question business owners or stakeholders ask is how much does professional web design cost?

Some smaller business owners without much of a budget, or just looking to get the cheapest deal possible, try some of the following options:

  • Put an ad out for a high school or college student who’s “good with computers”. That shouldn’t run you more than a couple of hundred bucks and a sixpack or two.
  • Post an ad on freelancer sites like upwork.com or freelancer.com (there are lots more out there) with a budget of a couple of hundred bucks and a (virtual) sixpack or two.
  • Get your son’s best friend’s cousin to do it for just the beer.

If you don’t have any more to spend, these might actually be your best options, so give it a shot. But if you do have a more substantial budget to invest in building a business website, you’ll be better off going a different route.

As in most things in life, the rule is: you get what you pay for. If you choose to go with an inexpensive offshore company you find on one of the freelancer sites, please make sure you read this article — Pros and Cons of Outsourcing Web Design and Development to India — first. Getting the type of website that meets your expectations from an offshore company or contractor might prove much more challenging than you think.

Another route you can take to save money is to do it yourself. There are lots of online services that provide you with the online tools to build a website yourself for a monthly fee that includes hosting, such as wix.com and squarespace.com, which can run anywhere from as low as $10 to several hundred dollars. You can even get a site for free if you don’t mind not having your own unique URL (web address).

The downsides to the DIY method are:

  • You’ll have a limited number of templates to choose from
  • You’ll need to do all the work yourself
  • The features you’ll get are limited
  • Customizations are either out of the question or an extra charge
  • If you stop paying your monthly rent, you lose your website, regardless of how much you’ve already invested. It’s basically like renting a home instead of owning it. To read more about this concept read this – Are You Still Renting Your Website? You Should Consider Buying.

But if you’re a company with a reputation you care about and want to enhance, or if you’re a startup looking to create an online presence that will help you earn respect and be taken seriously by clients and competitors, you’ll be wise to invest in a quality web design company that you can trust and work with effectively.

web design - what to look for

What to look for in a web design company

Here’s a list of things you should look for when hiring a company to design and build your website:

1. Company Stability

You want to be sure that your web design company will be around to answer questions and deal with issues that will arise after they’ve completed your website and gotten paid. This can be challenging when working with freelancers, especially if they’re based offshore.

Building a website can be done from a laptop just about anywhere in the world, including that dream beach in Thailand. This works great for freelancers who like to stay mobile and on the road. It’s not so great for an established company who needs to know they have someone they can call and get a response when necessary. The money you might save up front will be offset later by the aggravation you’ll face when you need help but your designer or developer is no longer around to respond.

It’s tough to know exactly who you’re dealing with, since a well designed website can make a single freelancer working out of his closet look like a fortune 500 company. One way to find out is to check out the company address. If there isn’t one then you’ve got your answer. Also, if you google the address you should see a Google Earth photo of the place of business. If it’s a private home (or a beach), you’ve got your answer.

This is not to dismiss the option of using a mobile freelancer working from home. Just make sure they’re planning to be around for you in the long run.

2. Trust

Trusting the people you work with is probably the most important thing to look for. You’ll usually need to pay at least half of the total cost of the website up front, so you must be sure that you can trust your web design company to get the job done to completion. Once they have your money, there’s no way you’ll be getting it back.

How do you know if you can trust the company you’re thinking of hiring? You can google them and check out their address to see if their “for real” and not just a guy in his bedroom. But the best way to see if a company is for real is to meet face to face. This is why so many companies prefer working with local agencies. They know who they’re dealing with and where they can reach you. There’s a high degree of comfort in knowing that the company you’ve trusted with your online image is just a car ride away.

That’s not to say that working with someone you’ve only met via email or skype is going to be a disaster. I’ve had positive experiences working with contractors remotely whom I never actually met or even spoke with. It was all done via email. But that usually only works when you’ve got very specific requirements and tasks that need to get done (like creating a specific function or graphic) and you can effectively manage those tasks and hold the contractor responsible every step of the way.

Most companies looking to hire a web design company aren’t interested in managing every step of the design and development process. They’re looking for the company to guide them through the entire process and handle every aspect of the project from inception to launch. You need a company you can trust to accomplish that. Going local is a great option to find that.

3. Communication

Being able to clearly communicate your requirements, objectives and ongoing feedback is vital to the success of any project. A “misunderstanding” between you and your web designers could cost you time and money. That’s why it’s imperative to hire a team that you can communicate with effectively and easily.

You also want to make sure that when you do communicate, you’re speaking to a stakeholder or decision maker as opposed to a middleman who will then have to relay your message to the people actually doing the work. For example, offshore companies often employ native English speaking representatives who handle sales and client interaction. But once the sale is made and the papers signed, they usually pass you off to an offshore project manager who might not be so adept at American style communication. That’s when miscommunications can occur.

Just because a company is local doesn’t mean that they aren’t outsourcing their work overseas. The only way to find out is to ask straight out. You might not get the whole truth and nothing but the truth every time, but if you don’t ask you definitely never will. In any case, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with a company that outsources tasks overseas, as long as the project is being closely managed and directed by the local team, who can address your questions and concerns on the spot. You shouldn’t have to wait for or rely on an answer coming from somewhere halfway around the world, especially when time is of the essence.

4. Marketing Expertise

A website is a marketing tool to help you achieve your business objectives. Its design and content should be geared towards achieving maximum marketing impact. The web design agency you hire should have marketing expertise. Otherwise you might end up with a beautiful design that is totally ineffective in achieving your marketing objectives (which equals huge waste of money).

5. Technical Expertise

You also need to make sure that your web design agency has the technical expertise to turn its design into a effectively functioning website that is fast, secure and easy to manage and update. Also, all designs must be responsive, which means they’ll look great on mobile devices and tablets.

6. Content Expertise

Who’s going to write your website content? If you plan to create all of your content inhouse, then you can move on to the next item. But if you can’t, or you need help editing or transforming your inhouse content into content that is more marketing oriented and user friendly and engaging, then you need to make sure the company you hire has content creation and content marketing expertise.

7. SEO Expertise

Getting found by search engines and ranking highly in their results is vital. SEO, search engine optimization, must be taken into account when building the structure of the website and applied to every page on your website. Your web design company must be able to ensure that you appear in Google search results, especially the local ones. Since SEO requires ongoing work to maintain and improve search engine rankings and performance, your agency should provide you with a proposal for an ongoing SEO strategy and campaign.

8. Analytics

Launching your new website is only the beginning. To get the most out of it you’ll want to track and analyze how many people are visiting it, where they are coming from and what they are doing once on your site. This information can help you understand where to direct your marketing, how to improve your product and what changes to make to your web design, content and SEO to make it more effective. You’ll want to make sure that your web design agency knows how to track and analyze your metrics data and use it to improve your website to get more business.

How much should all this web design stuff cost?

Before we can answer that, you need to determine the kind of a website you want and what your website requirements are.

Informational

A strictly informational site, often called a brochure site, provides the user with information about your company, services and products and, most importantly, the best ways to contact you. This type of site doesn’t have much functionality, other than social media integration and a contact form. The number of pages really depends on the amount of information you need to convey.

Marketing

A marketing site is an informational site that is geared towards acquiring leads. It will usually contain things like landing pages, lead magnets, intake forms and backend interfaces to track leads. There could also be an integration with an email service that would send a series of automated emails to nurture the leads (otherwise known as marketing automation).

E-Commerce

If you’re actually selling products on your website, then you need it to be built for ecommerce, which includes the entering, displaying, selling and tracking products in addition to providing buyers with a password protected account and shopping cart. E-commerce sites come in various degrees of complexity with a wide variety of available features, depending on your requirements and budget.

No matter what type of website you choose, it must have a Content Management System (CMS) to allow you to easily administer the site and add and update content. You shouldn’t have to pay a developer to add or update your site content, unless you simply don’t want to bother doing it yourself.

Finally, as a wise man (or woman) once said, “Timing is everything.” You want to make sure that the company you hire can complete your project within an agreed upon timeframe. There’s nothing worse than a project that should take three months dragging on for six or more. Often the reason for the delay results from the client’s unpreparedness or procrastination in provided the necessary assets to the design company. But assuming the client does his part, there’s no good excuse for a company to promise a completed website in X months and then taking 3X to actually deliver it.

Now that we’ve reviewed all the things you need to look for in a web design company, it’s time to talk price.

Our average project, which includes web design, content, technical stuff, marketing, SEO and analytics typically starts at around $10,000 for an informational site. Prices vary depending on your requirements and could be substantially higher, or in some cases lower. Ecommerce sites usually start at around $15,000.

Of course you can find cheaper quotes from all sorts of places (remember the high school kid we talked about early), many of which are located in far off locations. If that’s the route you decide to take, God bless. But if you decide to invest in a team like ours or a similar one in your local area, then you should be prepared to make the reasonable investment required to get the job done.

If you’d like to get more guidance or a price quote, please contact us.

Are You Still Renting Your Website? You Should Consider Buying.

The concept of “renting a website” might seem strange at first. Renting an apartment makes sense. But renting a website? Why would anyone do that?

Well, many small businesses are renting their websites instead of owning them. There are companies that specialize in renting websites to accountants, lawyers and many other professional and business services providers. Visit enough small firms on the web and you’ll start to see surprisingly similar websites including design, content and images. That’s because these firms pay a monthly or annual fee for a templated and hosted website. They’re renting.

Why would a business choose to rent instead of own their own site?

The main reason is cost…at least upfront cost. Assuming that you don’t have the ability to build a professional looking site yourself, you’ll probably have to lay out a few thousand dollars to have a really good one built for you. The prices will vary depending on the features you want and if you need the content written for you. If you choose to rent, you might need as little as $100 per month to get started. We’ll get deeper into the numbers soon, but the bottom line is that your initial investment is minimal compared to owning your own site.

So why shouldn’t every business rent their website?

Here are 3 reasons:

1. Total cost
Most website venders that specifically target professionals such as lawyers, accountants and mortgage brokers (to name just a few) charge in the neighborhood of a hundred bucks, which includes hosting, template, proprietary CMS (content management system) and rudimentary on-page SEO.  They usually offer extra SEO and marketing packages that can drive up the cost to several hundred dollars per month. (NOTE – I’ve specifically chosen to not mention specific vendor names, but you shouldn’t have much trouble finding them on Google).

What many website renters don’t realize is that if they stop paying the monthly rent, they lose their website. Even if they get to keep their content, it won’t be easy for them to transfer it to a different, non-proprietary, platform like WordPress. So while the upfront cost for a website is small, after two years of renting you’ve spent enough “rent money” to have been able to own your own custom site free and clear. If you’re paying extra for SEO or other services you’ll probably hit that mark after just a year. After year two you’ll probably be paying more for your rental than if you were an owner…and you still lose it all if you stop paying!

In my experience I find that most website renters don’t do the math and miss the fact that they’ll be paying much more in the long run.

But what about hosting and maintenance costs? You can pay as little as around $5 per month for hosting on Bluehost.com or Godaddy.com, and they’ll provide you with the customer support and maintenance you require. Most small professional services companies don’t need more hosting power than that.

2. Flexibility and control
There are hundreds of valuable plugins and tools available, most of them free, that can enhance your website and make it much more effective and productive. Unfortunately, website renters can’t take advantage of them because the proprietary CMS thats powering their template won’t allow it. You’re basically restricted to the features that the template service provides, and nothing more. It’s like being forced to use a 5 year old computer or cell phone instead of upgrading to the latest model. Not too many people would stand for that.

3.  Differentiation
When I was researching this post I visited quite a few local professional firms and easily began to pick out which ones were using a particular template service because not only did they look the same, but they had much of the same content. I’m not just referring to the identical whitepapers or reports that live on the templated resource page of each of the sites. I’m referring to the actual page content. It was almost identical from one site to the next!

Now if I was looking for a lawyer or accountant to entrust my personal finances and future to, I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so to someone who is too lazy to write a few original pages of copy.

To get business you need to differentiate yourself from the competition and prove that you’re a notch above them. Using the same template and copy as your competitors just doesn’t cut it. Do you agree?

Now I’m not knocking all subscription based website providers. Some of them are good at what they do. But with a little effort and a small investment, you can own your own site, stand out from the competition and control your digital destiny. And you’ll save a lot of money in the long run.

 

 

5 Reasons Why We Use WordPress to Build Amazing Websites

You might think of blogging when you hear WordPress, because that’s how WordPress first started out in 2003 — as a blogging platform.

Since then, Wordpress has evolved into a robust open source Content Management System (CMS), which is an application for organizing, editing and publishing content from a central user interface. It’s currently the most widely used CMS — about 73 million websites and counting!

There have got to be some good reasons why so many are choosing WordPress over the older Joomla and Drupal CMS applications. We think there are, which is why we use WordPress for all of the websites we build.

1. Easy to update and maintain
While we love updating and managing the websites we build for our clients on a long term basis, we realize that not all clients have the budget for that. Many just prefer managing and updating their site in-house. WordPress makes that a breeze. The user interface is easy to learn and use so that anyone, regardless of technical knowledge can comfortably manage the basic elements of their website and add, delete and modify content. We offer our clients training to make sure they can manage their sites on their own.

wordpress website

Image Source – smashingmagazine.com

2. SEO Friendly
Just listen to what Matt Cutts, the head of the Google spam team, has to say about the SEO benefits of using WordPress for your website.

Basically, WordPress takes care of all the structural requirements necessary for Google and other search engines to find and crawl your site — which is what SEO is all about.

There are also great free tools that you can add to your WordPress site including the Yoast SEO plugin that make optimizing your website easier and more effective.

3. Plugins
A plugin is a program that adds functionality to a WordPress site. There are tens of thousands of free plugins available that do almost any task you can imagine, from creating a form to tracking visitors on your site. You can add plugins directly from your WordPress dashboard with a single click. The possibilities are just about endless. On other platforms you might have to pay a developer big bucks to create the functionality that you can download for free on WordPress. Would you rather pay or get for free??

4. Help
If you do run into problems with your WordPress site or have a question about making a change or adding something new, you won’t have to look far for an answer. Since WordPress is so widely used there’s an enormous amount of information available. Just type your issue or question into Google and you’re almost guaranteed to find multiple solutions. And if you decide you need a developer, you’ll have plenty of choices.

5. Growth
As more people adopt the platform, WordPress continues to grow, add new features and become more effective. You don’t need to worry about WordPress becoming stagnant or obsolete. It’s as vibrant as ever, and just getting stronger!

The days of static, hand coded websites that require a developer to make even minor changes are long gone. We’ve chosen WordPress as our platform of choice to make it easy for our clients to manage their own websites if they so choose.

For more information about how you could use WordPress to improve your website and digital marketing, contact us today.