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?
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?
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:
- To build your brand
- To avoid getting your prices discounted by Amazon (especially if you’re offering Prime).
- To avoid getting copied and undercut by competitors
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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).
- 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.
- No website is better than a mediocre one.
- People will judge you by the impression they get from your website.
- 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.
In my next post I’ll speak about whether you need to invest in a mobile site or app.