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Senior Money Memos

THE WEBSITE PARADOX

INTRODUCTION

There are some surprising differences of opinion among the business community about websites and the Internet. Some are convinced by the astounding results they have obtained through their websites. They are convinced that this way of marketing far outstrips traditional marketing methods. Perhaps the greater majority are not so convinced. They sometimes have paid large sums of money for websites that never seem to get many visitors. Any visitors that do visit the website rarely seem to become active prospects for the company.

In this newsletter, an evaluation of the effectiveness of a sample of websites for significant businesses in the Greater Montreal area will confirm why the majority may feel the way they do. One of the reasons why this occurs is what is called here the Website Paradox.

THE WEBSITE PARADOX

The paradox is one that many web designers may relate to. A client will come to them with a request for a website. Often the client is enthusiastic to have the website on line as promptly as it can be done. The project rolls along, but then gets held up waiting for input from the client. Sometimes the delay in receiving the input can stretch into weeks and months. What has happened is that the Website Paradox has struck. The Paradox can be set out as follows:

  • Most companies know that a website is an important proof of credibility and an important sales generator.
  • Management is often too overloaded to determine what should be on the website.
  • As a result, many websites are weak representatives for their companies and do little good.

This occurs because creating a selling-effective website is a major undertaking. Management usually has its hands full already in the normal activities of operations, marketing and sales.

PRINTED BROCHURES VERSUS INTERACTIVE WEB SITES?

Some may feel that working with a graphic designer on a printed brochure may be somewhat similar to working on a website. This is not at all the case. Although there can be some effort involved in developing a print brochure, at the end of the process all you have is a box or two with 2,000 or 4,000 copies of the brochure. It is a static object and the hard work is yet to come in trying to get it into the right persons' hands and have them read it.

A selling-effective website is much more complex but many times more effective. When done well, it can travel reliably over the Internet and be seen by someone who is unknown to your organization: a prospective purchaser searching for a potential supplier. Provided the website functions well, then it will encourage the purchaser to contact the company and the selling process can continue. This is much more complex than designing that simple printed brochure. One website guru has even suggested that graphic design plays only a minor part in effective websites. You can read more on that in a recent blog entry, Can Graphic Designers Do Website Design?

The answer is of course that graphic designers can do website design. However they must learn a number of new skills to do so effectively. Equally, management must be ready to resolve a number of other factors if their website will be fully selling-effective. Before examining this in detail, let's see how well companies are doing currently as represented by some websites for significant companies in Greater Montreal.

RATINGS FOR SOME GREATER MONTREAL WEB SITES

The findings within this section are a confirmation that the Website Paradox is a reality. The analysis is based on the first 50 companies alphabetically in the iCRIQ database for companies in Montreal and Laval in the Manufacturing and Services section with sales between $ 25 million and $ 50 million. Only companies with head offices in this area are included. In other words, we are dealing with substantial companies who might be expected to be capable of investing in an effective website.

[The names will not be publicized in this newsletter, but if anyone wishes to request the list of names then send a message. Any company on that list can request their own evaluation on a confidential basis.]

 

Measures of visibility and traffic
Web pages indexed in a Google search for site:www.thewebsite.com

Back links to the website as given by a Google search for link:www.thewebsite.com

An Alexa Rating for traffic to the website is available via www.alexa.com

The evaluation of each company website was done fairly quickly as a potential purchaser might evaluate the website. This included a view on how easy it was to navigate around the website and how attractive an impression of the company was created. In addition, some summary measures of the visibility of the website and an approximate measure of the traffic to the website were evaluated. These measures are described in the panel to the right.

One key aspect was the extent to which the website functioned as a sales representative providing needed information and encouraging contact with the company: these websites are labelled SR. The reverse of this is similar to an electronic business card, in other words a passive source of information with no call to action: these websites are labelled BC. The 50 entries fell into the following categories:

Category Details Number %
None No website 8 16%
NoNo Website creates a negative impression of the company 7 14%
BC Like a simple business card 2 4%
BC+ Like a complex business card 15 30%
SR- Adequate "sales representative" 15 30%
SR Competent "sales representative" 3 6%

Source: SMM analysis of websites for 50 manufacturing and service companies in Montreal and Laval with revenues between $ 25 million and $ 50 million as listed in the
iCRIQ database - October, 2005

 

The results can be displayed in a bar chart showing the percentage of the 50 websites falling into each category.

Website selling-effectiveness analysis

In the chart, it may be noticed that there is a trough between the BC+ group and the SR- group. This illustrates the 'digital divide' that occurs with the Internet. The Internet is a superb way of making connections. Those companies to the left of the trough (64%) are the wrong side of the digital divide: their websites, if they have one, are not helping them to make connections. Those companies to the right of the trough (36%) are on the right side of the digital divide: their websites have the potential of tapping into the power of the Internet for making connections.

This is not to say that the SR and SR- websites are as good as they might be. None of the websites are in accordance with the HTML standards as determined by the W3C organization, the ruling body on website standards. This could mean that the websites will not appear correctly in all web browsers. If a visitor wishes to print out a record of a web page, then only 3 from these 18 websites will give a printer-friendly record of the web page.

It might have been expected that companies of this size would have websites that would perform well for them. This analysis shows that it is only a minority that do so. Part of this is caused by the Website Paradox: company management find it difficult to free up the necessary time to work on the website.

There is another contributor to this poor performance. This might be called the Web designer's dilemma.

WHAT THE WEB DESIGNER CAN DO
- THE WEB DESIGNER'S DILEMMA

Web Design for many business owners is something for which they might hire a graphic designer. However there are fundamental differences between graphic design and Web design and it is important to understand these. With graphic design of say a printed brochure, everyone sees exactly the same printed brochure when it is produced. The graphic designer is completely in control of the final impression.

With a website that is accessible via the Internet, different visitors may see the website in completely different ways. This is influenced by the hardware and the software they use to browse the Internet and view the web pages. In addition, the website is interactive so that visitors can move around the website. Again different visitors may follow different navigation routes and may have quite different paths around the website. The web designer must decide, with the owner of the new website, whether all these different visitors should be accommodated or whether some must be left with a possibly frustrating experience.

Some of the topics the web designer may need to be familiar with are the following:

  • Usability
  • Accessibility
  • Web Standards - to ensure cross-browser compatibility
  • Search engine visibility
  • Conversion rates
  • Printer-friendly outputs, if required.

Unfortunately it is not possible to handle all these issues. The exact balance will depend on the objectives for the website. This is the dilemma for the website designer. What is the appropriate balance of all these factors.

WHAT YOU AS THE WEBSITE OWNER MUST DO

Although the web designer has a pretty full plate, the website owner has, if anything, even more factors to work on. The most weighty relate to the company Marketing strategy. What is the best way to beat the competition? What is the company's USP (Unique Selling Proposition): the reason why prospects should buy from the company rather than the competition. In addition there is the question of the content of all web pages. That requires compelling copywriting to encourage prospects to explore more and make contact with the company.

When the website has been completed, there is also the task of making sure that the website content is correct in every detail and functions as it should.

WHAT MAY GET FORGOTTEN

So both the website owner and the website designer have very full plates of items they are responsible for. Certain topics often do not get the attention they deserve. The following deserve particular attention.

Searchability

A good proportion of the traffic to the website should be coming via search engines. These may well be prospects who are searching for potential suppliers, so it is important to attract as many as possible. Search-engine friendly websites are created not only by looking carefully at the text-content of the web pages, but also the 'hidden' elements such as web page titles, the ALT tags for images and the description metatags. Since search-engines are continuously updating how they assess the web page content in their search algorithms, it is important that this work is done by someone who maintains up-to-date knowledge on what now works and what now does not work. This is particularly important since some old practices are harmful and may even cause the website to be banned from the search engines.

Usability

Usability is the technical term used to describe the ease with which website visitors can navigate around the website, find the information they are looking for and complete the tasks they wish to do. It is important to adopt a potential prospect's viewpoint in checking out how easy it is to navigate the website.

Credibility

The website must instil confidence in the visitor so that they are ready to explore and commit to work with the company. There are a number of ways of building this credibility and certainly anything that could destroy this credibility must be eliminated. So there should be no pages under construction or 'Coming Soon', all grammar and spelling should be correct and there should be no typos. This requires painstaking thoroughness in checking every web page.

THE EFFORT AND SKILLS REQUIRED

To do all this effectively requires a team that has all the necessary skills, has up-to-date knowledge of the Internet scene and has the time to do all the tasks within a timetable that will ensure a selling-effective website online by the due date. Some management groups will find they do not have the time availability to do all that is required from them. In any case, it is useful to have an outsider perspective in testing and refining the concepts involved in the web pages. It is rare that the web designer will have the time, knowledge or business experience to be able to fulfill this role. It is therefore often useful to include an Internet Marketing specialist in the team for this reason.

CONCLUSION

The general quality of websites on the Internet is not impressive. That may well apply to your competition as well. They may even be behind the 'digital divide'. So if you can make your website selling-effective, you will outshine them and should be more successful in achieving your sales goals. SMM will be happy to help you figure out your best approach. Our help can be configured to meet exactly the needs you have. Our strengths, experience and creativity can complement those of your company. So write us a Message today on what you're looking for without obligation.

Barry Welford

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Added to site 3 November 2005
As a service to your readers, why not link to this article on The Website Paradox.
Permalink: http://smmbc.ca/newsletter-50.htm

 

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