I’m literally the last person in the world who would disparage the tremendous entrepreneurship in the digital space, between Web Design, SEO, PPC, Social Media and what have you.
I mean, 20+ years ago I was out there selling websites not having a clue what I was talking about. But my one saving grace at that time was the fact that nobody else knew what they were talking about either. The industry had barely even been born yet – so there wasn’t exactly a lot of expertise or experience being touted in the market.
I’m so excited by the business opportunities in this space. I speak at WordCamps (the regional conference for WordPress professionals) all over the country specifically about entrepreneurship, sales, agency growth, etc. – and I absolutely love the spirit in this community. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an industry that’s such a breeding ground for self-starters and young entrepreneurs.
In addition to this space simply being so “hot”, one of the reasons so many people get into it is because it’s pretty easy to get started. You don’t need any sort of license or certification, a college degree, an office, staff, or any expensive equipment. With nothing more than a computer and an internet connection (or a nearby Starbucks), you can literally get into the web design and digital marketing industry instantly.
But the low barrier to entry in this business comes with downside.
Clients, for the most part, admit that they are not experts when it comes to this stuff. Even the savviest of marketers working in the biggest companies rely on their digital consultants or agencies for their expertise and insights.
But how does one assess whether the “expert” they’re relying on really has the experience required in building mission-critical, high-availability, scalable, secure, performance-optimized websites for major corporations?
The first thing to do is to look at and scrutinize the amount of effort and attention given to every aspect of the project.
There’s a dichotomy happening in the world of building and maintaining websites.
From our perspective here at emagine, having built 1,500+ enterprise websites over 20 years, we’ve seen the the development of websites become a more complex science, ultimately meaning increased costs and longer project durations. Some of the contributing factors:
• The design and layout of content. Sites simply look and behave differently from several years ago. If you look at a lot of websites from the early 2000’s, you had a homepage and one or two templates for all other pages. Today, content is truly king and is designed to engage the visitor. On many websites, each page is a unique instance of content with its own layout. Now imagine the amount of time involved in custom designing every page on a website vs. copying and pasting text into a generic page template.
• Multiple expert team members touching a project. I can remember in our early days when a web developer would double as an SEO expert (and maybe even a designer). Today, UX, Creative, SEO, Development, Content and QA are each distinct competencies (all strategically glued together by an advanced Project Manager to create a cohesive project experience for the client)
• Development. There’s a (very) common misconception that with the proliferation of tools like WordPress (emagine’s core CMS and the market leader by far), that developing a website is now an easy, fast endeavor. And in certain cases that might even be true. (maybe if you’re a dry cleaner or a pizza shop whose existence and image isn’t all that reliant on a professional, secure, national/global, stable digital presence). SMBs can often get by with a pre-designed theme/template and plugins/modules that are hastily (poorly) stitched together. But unless you’re a mom-and-pop, I advise you to heavily scrutinize the planning, process, timeframe, team, tools and (even) documentation that go into the development of your website. If you’re a multi-million/billion-dollar enterprise, whether you’re in Healthcare, Tech, Construction, Manufacturing or Professional Services – be very skeptical of any promise of rapid timelines or low-cost solutions. When it comes to the integrity. stability and sustainability of a website’s “engine”, you truly get what you pay for.
• Plan for post-launch maintenance and support. Think beyond launch. Today you must have a comprehensive strategy for the ongoing maintenance and support of your website. No matter how well your website is built, it’s going to need some ongoing TLC (and not just its content.) Think of your website a little bit like your car. Even the best-made vehicles require routine oil changes, tune-ups and tires and brakes being replaced over time. But add in the threat of hacks and it’s tantamount to someone breaking into your garage on a nightly basis and loosening your lug nuts. Today, more than ever, there are countless factors and threats that impact a website’s performance and stability.
• SEO. We inherit websites all the time that allegedly had been search engine optimized. In 70%+ of these cases, we find that there was in fact a feeble attempt at something called “SEO”, but not nearly the amount of appropriate effort given to research, content optimization and technical optimization. SEO is a fuzzy concept that can be completed in hours (with no results, or potentially even harm done to your Google rankings) or weeks. (done correctly)
• Integrations. Today, barely do we see a professional website that doesn’t require some form of integration. Most commonly with CRMs such as Salesforce, or marketing automation tools like Marketo or Hubspot – but also with a variety of Investor Relations sites, Applicant Tracking Systems, ERPs and more. While not always rocket science, these integrations require communications and strategy among all parties and thorough implementation and testing.
• CMS usability. User experience (UX) doesn’t only apply to the visitors to your website. You and others at your company are users of the system that manages your website. (whether WordPress, Drupal, Sitecore, etc.) Careful consideration goes into the design of the back-end experience as well as the front. It’s very common for website managers/owners to be promised a website they “can easily manage”, only to end up depending on the services of their web developer for even the most common content updates.
• Mobile. 70%+ of internet usage in the U.S. is on mobile devices. (according to comScore). With thousands of different mobile devices displaying your website, a web developer would be remiss in simply installing a plugin to handle a truly Responsive (mobile-friendly) website. Responsive websites must be built and thoroughly tested for many, many instances of mobile environments.
• QA. Web design clients are commonly handed sites to review that literally have not been reviewed or tested by the developers at all. Broken links, pages not loading, forms not saving data, integrations not functioning properly, content and graphics displaying oddly, the site working well on the developer’s favorite browser or mobile device but not on others (and the client being told the others don’t matter). QA, even on a relatively small site (say, under 50 pages) is about a 2-week process between reviewing/testing the site and making the appropriate fixes and adjustments. In certain cases, as budget permits, a 3rd party will be consulted to provide an unbiased fresh team of eyes on a site they haven’t themselves been working on for months.
Now back to the dichotomy…
Despite the reality that the items above have added time (and cost) to building a website properly, clients are being told (in droves) that projects can be accelerated by leveraging certain tools. Great news for the client!
Now add to that the fact that many clients want to hear (and believe) that their website can be built in 60-90 days and for a reasonable price. Voila! – you’ve got a match made in heaven.
Until the website –
• is hacked
• runs slowly
• completely falls apart when one of the untested plugins/modules requires an update in 3 months
• is penalized by Google for a myriad of reasons
• displays poorly on many devices
• is difficult or clunky to update
• fails to meet the client’s objectives
Let me be clear. By no means am I saying that web design entrepreneurs are intentionally misleading their clients or making false claims. From my experience, very few designers and developers are out there knowingly, willingly underestimating what’s involved with building a website that’s bug-free, stable, secure and optimized for performance, mobile and SEO (correctly). But knowingly or not, one thing is certain: they’re definitely underestimating what’s involved.
I can only attribute this to lack of experience. I mean, one of the reasons a tool like WordPress is so popular is because it can be relatively quick and easy to get a website up and running. But that doesn’t mean it should be. If a web developer doesn’t have extensive experience launching corporate/enterprise websites with national/global audiences, it’s likely he/she believes that it’s as simple as the site he/she might have launched for the landscaper. Or the blog he/she put together for the foodie sister-in-law.
Well, it’s not.
If you’re a serious enterprise with a lot at stake, the importance of building your website right can’t be minimized.
I know you might want to hear that your website can be built in 60-90 days for $X0,000. And you’ll find no shortage of web designers who will tell you what you want to hear.